The Christian and Entertainment (3)

Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was suggested that the questions submitted in writing after the speech at First Church in April, and the answers given to them, be included in this final article on entertainment. The dozen or so questions fall into four distinct categories.

A.What about vacations where we cannot worship in our Protestant Reformed Churches?"

Can we observe the Sabbath while on vacation?

What are your thoughts concerning vacationing over Sunday away from our Protestant Reformed Churches?

What type of discipline should be taken in the Protestant Reformed Churches for members who are absent for months at a time?

These questions show that there is a real problem in the churches in regard to keeping the Sabbath holy and vacationing. We confess that we do not know the answers to all the questions that come up in this regard. We are aware that at least two consistories have addressed pastoral letters to their members, warning them against this trend and pointing out the dangers that are involved. These issues are also addressed regularly in the preaching of the gospel: the delight of the Sabbath properly kept is set forth, and the evil of Sabbath-breaking is warned against. By some these warnings are being ignored. This situation presents great difficulties for the elders. The first difficulty concerns consistency. How can the elders call upon those whose church attendance is spotty when everyone knows there are others who are elsewhere for two, four, or six months a year? The second difficulty concerns officebearer nominations. How can men be nominated for the offices if they are not present in the congregation to do the work required, and to be good examples to the flock? Anything that strikes at the well-being of the congregation and interferes with the marks of the true church (faithful preaching, proper partaking of sacraments, and Christian discipline) is clearly wrong. The problem of poor church attendance must be addressed, the evil must be rooted out, and this can best be accomplished on the individual, personal level. Perhaps the following will be helpful:

1.Long absences from the congregation remove one from the supervision or oversight of the elders. Although the promise is made at confession of faith that one will submit himself to the government of the church, some willingly place themselves in a position where this becomes impossible. The elders are caretakers of our souls. Through them Christ works our spiritual welfare and safety.

2.Long absences from the congregation deprive one of the pure preaching of the Word of God. We find it ironic that when some return home from their long vacations they remark how good it is to hear sound, Reformed preaching again. Or we find it discouraging when others talk about the good preaching they have heard in churches which differ radically from ours in doctrine, life, and worship. Have they no discernment? Do they not care? Let those who find it easy to worship in any church where they happen to be ask themselves the question, "Why do I have my membership in the Protestant Reformed Churches?" Doesn't the answer to that question mean that we are in our churches as much as possible?

3.Those long absences prevent the faithful use of the sacraments. The Lord's Supper is celebrated in the congregation. Babies are born and presented for baptism. But these important signs and seals of the righteousness that is by faith are often missed by some. Further, we hear reports that some members take communion in other churches. This is wrong! One implication of our practice of guarding the holy table from being profaned by exercising "close communion" (allowing non-PRs to partake with us only after an interview with the elders to examine confession and walk) is that we do not partake in other churches either. How can we individualistically partake with others who cannot partake with us at home? How can we partake with those who work on Sunday, or are union members, or are divorced and remarried, or disagree with our doctrinal positions? Is this lack of good order, perhaps a chafing under our practice of "close communion"?

4.Long absences from the congregation do much damage to the communion of the saints. "But now God has set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (I Cor. 12:18). Although the apostle has in view the body as the church of Christ in all ages and places, his teaching also applies to the local congregation as a manifestation of the body of Christ. There God has placed us; there we are to suffer and rejoice with fellow believers. But when we are elsewhere, saints are hospitalized and unvisited by us. Saints die and families are not comforted by us. Babies are born, marriages entered into, confessions of faith made — all of this without the knowledge of those who are who knows where.

5.May we never be gone from our congregation? We would never want to make such a rule. Certainly we may visit with relatives from time to time, perhaps worshiping with them on the Sabbath. There may be the need to be elsewhere for medical treatment, or one's health requires a warmer, drier climate for a time. But those who are absent from the congregation month after month, as a matter of choice, must be warned sharply against this practice by the elders. And if the necessary changes are not made, they must be disciplined for neglect of the means of grace. And those who are repeatedly absent for shorter periods — a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there — ought to reexamine this practice in the light of Isaiah 58:13, 14.

B.Do the Protestant Reformed Churches actually have a stand we must abide by regarding movies, or do we consider it up to the Christian himself — the same as with dances?

What you mention about drama is what some simply write off as bad drama. Can good drama (that is to say, school skits and religious movies) be lumped into the same category or not?

Is there any drama that is wholesome, or that teaches any moral good?

Is it fair to liken television-viewing (drama) to Baal worship?

Why do we need an official stand by classis or synod to avoid those sins which are so clearly condemned by Scripture? Doesn't a little sanctified wisdom show us that viewing movies and television leads to impure thoughts, improper language, silently partaking in the blasphemy of others, discontented attitudes, and wicked behavior? No, movie attendance is not a matter of Christian liberty, nor is social dancing, which is mentioned in the same question.

We get off on the wrong foot when we try to judge this issue on the basis of content: good drama or bad drama, moral lessons or immoral teaching, constructive influence or destructive examples. Certainly the content of almost 100% of dramatic productions (movies, television programs, plays, skits, operas) place these things out of bounds for the Christian. Besides, how do you know what the contents and influences are until you have viewed the drama? Too late then! Are we going to look to the world, the world at its most depraved and ungodly state, to teach us moral lessons? Why cannot we take the Catechism to heart when it teaches us that all images are to be condemned, and "God will have His people taught not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word" (L.D. 35)? Scripture is sufficient!

But content is not the root of the issue. The question that must be asked is, "Is acting right or wrong?" Men more capable than I have shown conclusively that acting itself is sin. The distinction between imitation and impersonation must be appreciated. We may imitate those of pure moral character: God, Christ, the apostles, the saints. But we may never impersonate anyone! To impersonate is to pretend you are someone else, good or evil, and to induce those who watch you to believe that you are someone else, good or evil. That's playing around with personality, which is a distinct and unique creation of God; and that's playing around with corruption or holiness, both of which are terribly serious before God. Acting is simply hypocrisy. By the way, the Greek word for actor is hypocrite. 

We recall two interesting remarks made on family visitation some years ago. A man said, "If I watch television for a couple of hours, I can't pray at night." Another man said, "Watching television causes me to lose my judgment of things." How true. Let us be warned. For further reading on this matter, we recommend the pamphlet "The Christian and the Film Arts," by Prof. H. Hanko, available from all our evangelism societies. We recommend also a series of articles in the Standard Bearer by Rev. Barry Gritters entitled "Renewing the Battle: Drama, Television, Movies" (Vol. 69, 70 of the SB).

C.Could you clarify what you mean by saying that professional athletes are cursed: What Scriptures help us here?

I was wondering if passages such as Philippians 3:13, 14; Hebrews 12:1; and II Timothy 4:7 might also inform your position on sports? It seems to me that the apostle Paul may have been a bit of a sports fan.

The remark was made that professional sports of every kind, and 99 if not 100% of professional athletes, are under the curse of God. We could have included much of college sports, the entire movie and television industries, and those who are engaged in popular "music." Professional sports are under God's curse because they produce nothing truly worthwhile for God, man, or beast. They are merely the opiate of the masses, rather successfully drawing men's attention away from the issues of life, and fleecing them of their money in the process. The athletes, though splendid physical specimens, are actually among the most depraved in our society. They are all Sabbath-breakers. They are heady, high-minded, proud, and boastful. Among them are found adulterers, whoremongers, union members, alcoholics, substance-abusers, divorced and remarried individuals, all in higher percentages than in the general populace.

The Catechism asks, in L.D. 32, "Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?" And it answers, "By no means, for the holy Scriptures declare that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God." Biblical proof for that answer is I Corinthians 6:9, 10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5, 6; and I John 3:14, 15.

Can professional athletes be converted to God? Of course they can, if God wills it and works it. But then they are no longer professional athletes, but ex-athletes who mortify the old man, and with joy of heart live according to the will of God in all good works.

As to Paul being a sports fan, we really have no idea. The Scriptures are silent on this matter. He was a studious and industrious man, filled with zeal for his work, both before and after his conversion. I rather doubt he spent any time watching sporting events. But that's really not the question in regard to those quotations cited. As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul wrote to those who were acquainted with the Olympic Games and other contests. With that familiarity in mind, he used figures from the games such as fighting and running to illustrate the truth of the Christian life. Keep in mind, too, that Paul was inspired by the Spirit of truth to use these figures. And that means that sports, games, and races are not per se wrong.

D.Do you have suggestions as to how I would go about changing my home from the entertainment-centered type to the dining room table type?

We will try. First of all, know that such a change is possible. Your question indicates a desire to have your family life more closely conformed to the biblical model. Sometimes when we look at how it goes in our families, we almost despair of making the necessary changes. But we are assured in Philippians 4:13 that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Secondly, praying about these changes is absolutely essential. Prayers by the father and the mother in the quiet of the night when all alone with God. Prayers about these very things with the children in family devotions. The fervent prayers of the righteous availeth much (James 5:16). As we confess to God our failures as parents, our inconsistencies in instruction and discipline, as we express to Him our longing to have strong, covenant homes, God forgives us for Jesus' sake, and grants us our holy desires. But then pray for wisdom to initiate these changes too. This is possible to accomplish, but not easy.

Thirdly, the difficulty lies in the fact that for a long time we have made television-viewing, bad music, lack of worthwhile family devotions, and failure to communicate a part of our daily lives. We are all but stuck in a deep rut. And the difficulty is especially great when older children and young people are involved. Generally, their concern for holiness and spiritual growth is not very lively. Their abhorrence of the world is not fully developed. Some would rather listen to friends than to their parents. So you may experience sharp opposition from them when steps are taken to root out worldliness, and to make of the home a citadel of holiness and truth. Even so, this can be done. Occasionally we read of families that have succeeded in turning off the TV for a month or a year. Even without a spiritual motive this has been done. And they discovered that more worthwhile activities filled the void. How much more is this possible, permanently, with those who possess the power of the Spirit and grace of God!

Finally, make every effort to have at least the evening meal together. Read and discuss the Word of God. Reflect on the sermons that were preached on the Sabbath. Speak words of encouragement and correction. And make plain as parents what Joshua made plain to Israel: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

We speak and write these things in love for the church of Christ, in love for the Protestant Reformed Churches, and in love for the church of the future.