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Identifying the Issues in Christian Entertainment

by Richard W. O'Ffill

How should Christians choose their entertainment? On what should they base their choices?

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To paraphrase a contemporary expression, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know God's will in respect to Christian entertainment. Differences of opinion on the subject result from different understandings of the word "entertainment." In contemporary culture, "entertainment" is a word that does not lend itself to the sacred but to the profane. By contrast, words such as "recreation," "rest," and "a change of pace" are not nearly so likely to be abused.

In this article I will not quote from the writings of Ellen G. White. At the end, however, I have added a short list of relevant references. I have tried to delve deeper than simply addressing whether we should go to the theater or participate in one kind of entertainment or another. The purpose of the Christian life and, therefore, all that has to do with entertainment involves doing the will of God. I am convinced that we cannot know how to please God until we are clear about who God is. Therefore, I will first address the question, Who do we mean by "God"?

Who--or What--Is "God"?

Although all sides of religious issues these days reference God, I suspect we are not always talking about the same God. This should come as no surprise, because our Lord said that in the last days many would come saying they were the Christ (Matt 24:5).

It has been said that if you take over your enemy's language, you make it impossible for him to communicate his ideology. The devil now speaks the Christian's language. As a result we may be using the same words that have come down to us over the generations but they may not mean the same thing. This is why we must begin our discussion of entertainment by defining "God." It would be pointless to sit among our peers discussing how God wants us to live if we were not talking about the same God.

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God Is Holy

One of our problems in the contemporary context is that we have generally studied more, learned more, and experienced more about sin than we have about holiness. Yet of all God's attributes, none is more foundational, none explains more clearly the essence of God than does the revelation of His holiness. God says of Himself, "I am holy" (Lev 11:45). Holiness is God's highest attribute; it is expressive of His very being and nature, His infinite moral perfection. To discuss the love of God, His mercy, His forgiveness, and His grace, without having a clear concept of His holiness will result in a serious underestimation of the person of God and may well result--and indeed already has resulted--in the invention of false gods. We can rise no higher than our concept of God. The consistent refusal to acknowledge the holiness of the Almighty has resulted in crafting gods in our own image.

One of the root meanings of the Hebrew word for holiness (qodesh or kรณ-desh) is "apartness" or "separateness." The significance of this may not be immediately apparent. But inasmuch as God is separate and apart, those who want to serve Him must also be set apart. This, indeed, is the meaning of "sanctified." Jude 1 begins, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified [set apart] by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ." Those who come to a holy God must necessarily become a holy people.

Separation in itself is not holiness; it is the way to holiness. There can be a separation that does not lead to holiness, but there can be no holiness without separation. We must be aware at the outset that inasmuch as holiness is an attribute of God, it is not what we are or what we do that makes us holy, it is the presence and glory of God that makes holy. In Scripture when a vessel, cup, altar, or other instrument was set apart for divine worship, it was never again to be used for common purposes. No one except the priest could drink from the consecrated cup. The altar could not be trifled with. The bronze laver was not for ordinary washings; even the tongs were never to be used on ordinary candles.

Should articles that come from the hand of man be holy and man who has come from the hand of God be profane? The Scripture says in 1 Peter 2:9, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Out of darkness. Separate from evil. Set apart to live in the light of God's holiness.

In the Old Testament are many other texts that call us to holiness: "I am the Lord your God, ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy" ( Lev 11:44). "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God. And ye shall keep My statutes and do them: I am the Lord which sanctify you" (Lev 20:7, 8). "Ye shall be holy unto Me: for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from other people, that ye should be Mine" (Lev 20:26). "I will be hallowed among the children of Israel; I am the Lord which hallow you" (Lev 22:32).

If there is one external influence that is doing more than any other to compromise faith in God, it is television.

The issue of entertainment in the Christian life cannot be settled until we first understand that God is holy and that we who are His possession purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ are set apart in this world to will and to do His good pleasure.

In view of this, is it unreasonable to expect that we who have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ should find it incompatible with our profession to participate in the types of activities that brought about His death? Surely to do such would be incongruous, totally inconsistent with our high calling.

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A Compromising Influence

I am convinced that if there is one external influence that is doing more than any other to compromise faith in God, it is television. It is not necessary to do longitudinal sociological studies to say that television as watched by the average Christian is incompatible with what we ask the Holy Spirit to do in our lives. Many who profess the name of Jesus might more accurately be described as peeping Toms, voyeurists, and sadists. TV is a celebration of the sins for which Jesus died.

In a practical sense we are wasting our time discussing Christian entertainment so long as we fail to factor in the impact of television, inasmuch as TV is the master key in the devil's hand to sabotage the spiritual life of professed Christians today.

Some years ago, my work had taken me away from home. At the end of the work day, my hosts escorted me to my motel. Traveling can be a lonely business; you can't go home at night!

On this occasion, after returning to the motel I ate supper. Soup and sandwiches cannot last all evening, so after supper I sat down and turned on the TV, more to keep me company than anything else. I did not watch HBO or pay TV, I watched only the local channels. Finally it was time to retire. I knelt beside the bed and prayed.

The first part of my prayer was about the usual things, but when I got about half way through I stopped. I couldn't continue. What I was saying didn't make sense. You see, I heard myself asking God to make me like Jesus.

How could I ask Jesus to give me a new heart when I had spent the last several hours watching people lie and kill and steal and make sport of illicit sex? How could I pray for the Holy Spirit to give me the mind of Jesus when I had been filling my brain with the mind of Satan? I knew I couldn't have both.

I decided then and there which way I would go. If I really wanted a holy life I would have to, as they say, put my money where my mouth is. I would have to bring my life into line with my prayer. The Scripture says that by beholding we are changed (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). We must live consistently with what we ask God to do for us (read 2 Tim 3:5).

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"Jesus Went to Parties"

In order to justify participating in worldly entertainment it is not unusual for some to point out that Jesus associated with sinners and therefore so should we. There is no doubt that Jesus could often be found in the company of sinners. But we should not for a moment think He visited red light districts to participate with prostitutes, but to call them to salvation. He visited adult book stores, but only to share His faith with sex perverts.

Jesus was accused of drunkenness and gluttony ( Lk 7:34). But it would be wrong to think He participated in drunken orgies to save the lost. Sinners did not lead Him into sin; He called sinners into righteousness and holiness. He told the Pharisees, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mk 2:17).

I am concerned by those who assert that Jesus went to parties. Although it is recorded that He attended certain festive occasions (Jn 2:1), it could never be said He went to parties as the word is understood by our generation, where people get high on drugs and immorality. Those who think otherwise err (2 Cor 6:17). God is holy, and He will have a holy people, set apart from the world in harmony with Jesus' prayer: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (Jn 17:15).

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Our Worship Styles

The corruption of our worship styles in many places has come about, I believe, because many are bringing into the house of God on Sabbath the lifestyles they practice the other six days of the week. I could expect that a person whose music is worldly six days a week would feel more comfortable with "Pray Around the Clock Rock" than with "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

I can suppose that a person who is continually exposed to the fantasy of video, television, and the theater will feel more comfortable if the worship service is dramatized. But we are sinners gathered before an awesome Judge. It is the Word of God that leads sinners to repentance.

The Christian lifestyle may be seen as lived between two walls. One wall is that we are a holy people and as such are set apart from the rest. The other wall is that the Christian cannot love the things of the world and maintain his allegiance to God. 1 John 2:15 says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." James 4:4 makes the matter even more serious: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."

These texts go beyond a simple discussion of what may be "right" or "wrong." They extend the principle of Christian lifestyle to exclude whatever is "of the world." This embodies perspective, value systems, and culture. There is such a thing as guilt by association!

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"But It's My Culture"

Much is said these days about culture. Unholy entertainments are approved as simply a part of the culture to which we happen to belong. But the way I see it, the way we live, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, or North America, is either to the glory of God or it isn't. To say that something is justified simply because it is done a certain way "in my country" is not true. It makes no difference where we are. The test of every component of our lifestyle must be the Word of God and not the way it is done in a particular place.

Every culture--in any place at any time--must be tested by the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Philippians 4:8. These passages provide a universal description of how a Christian is to live. There are those who use Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, to justify certain types of behavior. But have you noticed that people are more prone to identify with David's adultery than with Joseph's victory?

Although there is a clear morality and a clear immorality in lifestyle, there are also lifestyle considerations based on what might be termed holiness (apartness) considerations. We have learned that those whom God will make like Him He must first separate from the rest.

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You Can Always Tell a Sikh

During eight years of my ministry my family and I lived outside the United States. We had the opportunity to begin our mission experience in what was then the Southern Asia Division in the country of Pakistan. The subcontinent is rich in cultures and subcultures. I was surprised to learn that in that part of the world who a person is is manifested in their name, the way they dress, their language, and even in the way they eat.

An interesting group who live in the Punjab are the Sikhs. It is easy to recognize a Sikh. The men wear turbans. Their hair is long but neatly tucked inside the turban. The men have full beards, which are nicely shaped by an elastic band that comes down from the turban. On their wrists they wear silver bangles, and somewhere on their person they carry a symbolic sword. Their last name is likely to be Singh, which means "lion."

One has only to see such a person to know who he is. A Sikh who begins to change his lifestyle and omit the characteristic marks of his religion is, to that extent, opting out of the religion. It is important to note that many of the people groups, including the Sikhs, have customs and lifestyles that are not in themselves moral issues. Yet they are definitely issues that identify the person as part of the group.

This phenomenon leads me to conclude that it is not strange for God to expect those who are born again to be noticeably different from those who aren't. This would not necessarily be just in issues

It is not strange for God to expect those who are born again to be noticeably different from those who aren't.

of faith and morals, but their lifestyle itself would set God's people apart. For those whom God would sanctify (make holy) He first separates.

Returning to the example of the Sikh, a Sikh is recognizable because of his differentness. Is it unreasonable, then, that a Christian should be recognizable for the same reason? Let us cast this illustration in a negative light. Suppose that child molesters always wore orange neckties. Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with an orange necktie, under those conditions I would not own one. I certainly wouldn't wear one, and I doubt that any of my readers would. First Thessalonians 5:22 says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Is it not surprising then that some Christians adopt values and lifestyles promoted by those who make no pretense of faith in Christ and who are in fact warring against the commandments of Jesus?

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One Message for All

In the Old Testament God called out a people who were to prepare the world for the Messiah's first coming. The doctrine of the Messiah was a message not just for the Jews but for the whole world. In the same way in these latter days He has established a people to carry a message that will prepare the world for His second coming. That people is the Seventh-day Adventist church.

In the case of the Jewish nation, the corruption of the people entrusted with the message represented a threat to the integrity of the message itself. So in these last days, corruption of the people to whom the last warning message has been entrusted represents a threat to the integrity of the message we have been commanded to give.

It is no wonder then that as confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy erodes, the message that will prepare a holy people to meet a holy God is at risk. To put it plainly, to corrupt the messengers is to compromise the message. Just as a surgeon makes himself free of organisms that would infect his patient, so the people of God will be sensitive to anything that would endanger the integrity of the life-and-death message God has given them to proclaim.

The illustration of a surgeon may also be compared with priests in the Old Testament. A level of purity was required of them that exceeded the purity of worshipers as a whole, just as the surgeon, because of his special mission, must be without contamination to an extent not required of patients in the waiting room.

It has long been recognized that we become like those we admire. Paul wrote that by beholding we are changed. Many habits and lifestyles are not, of themselves, moral issues. But in seeking to follow the customs and habits of the rich and famous, a Christian is slowly and perhaps imperceptibly changed to reflect values and ideologies of persons who are not seeking the kingdom of God.

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Summary

This article, with the exception of mentioning the impact of television, has not been a long list of dos and don'ts. As a church, we may have made a mistake in the past by living according to an "approved list." Given the fast pace of our changing culture, the list could never be up to date. For this reason as people of God we must understand the issues and principles involved. Know this, whether we live in one culture or another, whether we be of one generation or another, in all we do, whether we eat or drink, we will--by the indwelling Holy Spirit--do all to the glory of our holy God (see 1 Cor 10:31).

On contemplating the matter of Christian entertainment, which is a part of the Christian lifestyle, we will consider it only a matter of personal opinion, local culture, or a generational issue unless we can agree that how a Christian lives is determined by God. Inasmuch as holiness is His foundational attribute, those in whose lives He dwells by His Spirit will live only in the context of holiness.

Finally, it must be seen that separateness is necessary to protect the identity of those called to bear God's special message for this hour (Rev 14). During the Gulf War a soldier's uniform was not a moral issue; it was a life-and-death issue, because his uniform indicated which side the soldier was on. Likewise, Christians will avoid anything that might cause anyone to confuse their identity, because to do so puts at risk the message that is to prepare this generation to meet our holy God.

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Relevant References

My Life Today, "A Social Life," p. 211.

Mind, Character, and Personality, Volume 1, "Dangers Facing Youth," p. 313.

The Adventist Home, Chapters--"Recreation Is Essential," "What Shall We Play?", "Recreation That Yields Enduring Satisfactions," "How the Christian Chooses His Recreation," "The Lure of Pleasure."

Testimonies for the Church, Volume Three, "Dangers and Duties of Youth," p. 222.

Special Testimonies on Education, "The Manifest Working of the Holy Spirit at Battle Creek," p. 82.

Manuscript Releases, Volume Nineteen, "Experience of Golden Calf an Example for God's People Today; Danger in Pleasure Seeking, Especially Among Youth; Development of a Christian Character," p. 113.

The Signs of the Times, Feb. 23, 1882, "Among the Churches--Arbuckle."

Ellen G. White in Europe 1885-1887, "Homeward Bound," p. 318.

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