The Christian And Movies

The problem of movie attendance is a perennial one. It apparently dates back to the invention of the movie itself and must, it seems, be faced with each new generation of young people. It is a problem compounded by the advent of television which makes of each home a potential movie theatre. While our Churches have never taken an official stand on the movie, generally speaking movie attendance is condemned as being incompatible with the walk of the Christian in the world. 

This was also at one time the stand of the Christian Reformed Church. As early as 1928 the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church faced the question of theatre attendance as one item in the well-known trio of worldly amusements: card playing, dancing and attendance at movies. At that time these worldly amusements were condemned by the Church and the members warned against their evils. It is interesting to go back for a few moments and discover the reasons why movie attendance was frowned on. The reasons were four. 1) Attendance at movies might cause a brother to stumble. 2) No one knows whether a play or a movie is good or bad until he has seen it. 3) Some so-called good movies are worse than the bad ones. 4) Occasional movie attendance may develop in a person a taste for movies. 

Now these grounds on the basis of which movie attendance was condemned are rather interesting. What is particularly interesting about them is the fact that Synod did not condemn movies per se. The objections were not principle objections, but practical. The movies themselves were not condemned; rather movie attendance was condemned because of possible bad consequences or because of possible misuse of the theatre. 

One would not have had to be a prophet in 1928 to predict that this decision would not really settle the movie question. It is really a wonder that the decision lasted as long as it did. Repeatedly overtures were brought to Synod to review this decision. But as many times as these overtures appeared, they were turned down and the decisions of 1928 reaffirmed. 

That is, until 1965. At the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1965 another overture was received to reconsider the decisions of 1928 and a study committee was appointed. This committee reported back to the Synod of 1966 and the report was substantially adopted. The decisions of 1928 had proved unworkable and were in fact being openly flouted in the church. 

The crucial part of the report, which was also adopted, was that attendance at good movies was permissible. There were especially three reasons given to support this contention. 1) The first part of the argument is that entertainment, amusement and recreation are permissible in the life of the Christian. 2) Secondly, the committee argued that along with newspapers, radio, music, art, television, etc., the film arts are a legitimate cultural medium. 3) And thirdly, the committee stated that we may expect good works to be produced by the ungodly because of the gracious restraint of sin. This puts the matter squarely into the area of common grace. 

We only want to comment briefly on the logic of the Synod of 1965 for it was rather shoddy to say the least. The first part of the argument (that entertainment is permissible in the life of the Christian) is, in itself, a true statement. No one, I think, will argue with it. What is extremely difficult to see is how this can be an argument to justify movie attendance. The assumption seems to be that any form of recreation is permissible. At least this is the assumption if it is used in support of movie attendance. But surely even the committee would not go so far as to say that all the recreation of the world is legitimate for the Christian. Some wicked find recreation and amusement in drinking. Others in drugs. Others in fornication. The mere fact that recreation is legitimate has nothing at all to do with the movie question. 

The second reason given above is worse yet from the logical point of view. For one thing, Synod simply lumped together newspapers, radio, music, television and the film arts. And it called them all legitimate cultural media. This is precisely the point that needs proving. It may be that newspapers are legitimate cultural media; but there is no proof. It may be that television is a legitimate cultural medium, but Synod offered no proof. Whether the film arts are a legitimate cultural medium is again assumed to be true. One does not prove the point by putting the film arts in the same bag with music. 

Further, the question is: What is meant by "cultural media?" Especially this question is crucial when one faces the additional question: Whose culture? The culture of Babylon? The culture of the wicked world which the apostle John warns the believer not to love?

But supposing that one would grant that the film arts are a gift of God not to be despised by the Christian. Does this still condone movie attendance? There are different types of film arts. There are the movies shot on an 8mm camera of the children playing in a swimming pool in the backyard. There are the movies which are used for educational purposes in driver's training programs and biology courses. There are the movies which present the wonders of creation and the lives of foreign people in attractive travelogues. But these are quite obviously different than the movies which contain dramatic productions. But this basic and fundamental difference is ignored in the report and with the poorest sort of logic the Synod simply put them all together and labeled them "legitimate cultural media." 

It is not strange that this has led to a very sad situation in the Christian Reformed Church. There are movies produced in Hollywood and elsewhere which are given favorable reviews in church periodicals even though they are condemned by the world itself as being brutally violent, sexually perverse, and of little if any redeeming social value, (Rev. VanBaren documented this assertion in an article several months ago in the Standard Bearer. Our readers are urged to look up that article and re-read it.) 

What brought all this to mind and what is really my purpose in writing of this is the January 21 issue ofThe Banner in which were found several articles which tell in a vivid way what the fruits of this decision have already been. 

One article is entitled "Movies: What's The Answer?" This article is written by Karen Devos, an English teacher in Grand Rapids, Mich. Some of the statements in the article are shocking evidences of what has happened since the decision was taken. 

The article begins in these words:

Many orthodox Christian churches have long taken the stand that commercial movies are an evil or "worldly" amusement and should be avoided by Christians. Whatever value that policy may have had in the past, it is now obsolete. It is obsolete because any survey of almost any group of under-thirty Christians will reveal that most of them have seen at least one film in a theater in the last year, and it is obsolete because television has taken to showing last year's movies (or that of the year before) in prime time almost every night of the week. 

The number of films on television has made it almost impossible to avoid movies. Therefore, I suggest that we stop treating movies as an avoidable evil and start making some intelligent, Christian analyses of them and decisions about them.

It is that little word "therefore" with which the last sentence begins that bothers me. What it means is that what has preceded is proper justification for movie attendance. We are surrounded by movies. We can hardly avoid them. They come to us from all directions, Therefore they are good. It would seem to follow that if an evil comes at us so often that it is unavoidable, then this "evil" becomes permissible for the Christian. What kind of argumentation is that? 

But the author goes on. She readily admits that there are bad movies which are "easily identifiable." There is also a whole philosophy of life and value system which is "subtly propagated in many movies" which is contrary to the Scriptures. But this latter need not deter anyone from attending such movies, What is needed is not so much that the Christian stays away from them but rather that he "might begin by learning something about how to interpret and evaluate films." 

Then comes this paragraph.

As a college student I saw an Ingmar Bergman film, Virgin Spring, in which a man rapes a girl as an act of revenge. I will never forget the terror of the girl as the horror of what the revenge seeking had done to the man. The scene, one that many people would (and did) object to, was actually one of the strongest statements I've ever seen that seeking vengeance is destructive and evil. And there was certainly nothing in the scene to arouse sexual feelings.

If it were not all told in such a serious tone, one would think the author was being facetious. Not only do ungodly men have something of value, something Scriptural, something Biblical to say to the Christian; but they say this in depicting in dramatic production a monstrous crime. 

In the same issue of The Banner we are informed that a corporation has recently been formed called B.E. Productions ("Better Entertainment for the Entire Family") "to produce and distribute (for profit) full-length, wide-screen, Hollywood motion pictures presenting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, based on the infallible Word of God." 

At a cost of $600,000 the first movie has been produced called "The Ballad of Billie Blue." It opened in Anaheim, California on December 8, 1971 and in Grand Rapids, Mich. the first week of February. Already another film is being prepared entitled "Run Baby Run" which is based on a best seller of the same title. The reviews in the Grand Rapids Press were enough to convince any sensitive Christian that this "Christian" film was, apart from the whole question of movie attendance, not fit for a child of God. But we need not rely on the Press. In the same Banner a favorable review of the movie appears which reads in part:

By the time you have followed Billie Blue's tempestuous career, lived through his heartaches, laughed through his lighter moments, and finally have a moment to reflect upon all you have seen and heard, you can't escape the conclusion that the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ has been effectively presented, and you feel right about praying that thousands of non-Christians may be led to buy tickets to this show. 

The Ballad of Billie Blue is not beyond criticism. In fact, since previewing, constructive criticism has been solicited and taken seriously, to the extent that some scenes have been cut and some excellent footage added. (We wonder if these scenes were cut to secure a "c" rating. H.H.) But even so, this movie has its full share of violence and sex and repulsive characters. Sensitivity to the realities and problems of our society make this almost inevitable. To reach our adult world, the producers, in this film have had to focus on tragic adult situations. Billie's wife Mae is a vixen devoid of morals, and she shows it in every movement of her body, every word she spits out, every deed she does. She's an unfaithful wife, and a disaster as a mother. Her degeneration into professional prostitution comes as no surprise. . . .

That such a filthy piece of pornography should be produced by Christians is one thing, horrible in its own right. That this should be presented and praised as an effective means of bringing the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes one gasp in astonishment and revulsion. What is being done to Christ, the Christ of God, in the name of religion? 

The conclusion of the matter is that the stand long taken by many of our leaders that dramatic presentations are evil in themselves because drama is evil is a correct one. We have not time or space to argue the case here. There are articles in formerStandard Bearers and Beacon Lights which present the matter clearly. With this position we are in complete agreement. And we are increasingly convinced that such a principle objection against dramatic productions is the only one that can stem this terrible tide of worldliness which is infiltrating the Church. 

One more remark. The article referred to above speaks of the movies brought into our homes by television. I must say a word about this. Whether our parents know it or not, the fact that they watch dramatic productions on television is a terrible stumbling block to our young people. They have spoken to me many times of the fact that. they see no wrong in going to movies when these same movies are watched avidly in the homes from which they come. I must admit that I am on the side of our young people in this case. What is evil in Studio 28 is evil in the family room of the home. Paul speaks in Ephesians of the sin of parents when they provoke their children to wrath. Among other things he surely points to this evil in our lives as well. We may not and must not be stumbling blocks to our children.