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Identifying the Issues in Christian Entertainment

by Richard O'Ffill

It is not unusual these days to hear that, in classes where our children used to be taught why they should not attend the theater, they are now often being taught how to attend the theater. When asked for an explanation, those who are giving this kind of advice respond that, inasmuch as the children are going to attend the theater anyway, we might as well teach them how to discern the good from the bad. This often ends up being the best of the worst or the most normal of the abnormal.

If it is true, and I believe it is, that a person's theology is a reflection of their personal morality, it should not come as a surprise that those who are teaching these things are themselves likely to attend the theater on a regular basis.

I am not sure, but that an article in Adventists Affirm on Christian entertainment is anything more than preaching to the choir. I sometimes wonder if, after all is said and done, we are only perpetuating the old saying that a person persuaded against his will is of the same opinion still. Nevertheless, where there is life, there is hope.

There are a large number of people who are genuinely perplexed, because they used to look to the regular channels for guidance and counsel in matters having to do with Christian standards. However, there seems to be a short in the circuit, and the channels that we traditionally looked to give the trumpet a certain sound, in many cases, seem to be throwing in the towel and saying, "There go the people; I must follow them, for I am their leader."

In the past we would turn for counsel to the Spirit of Prophecy, which God graciously gave to prepare the generation that would be alive when He would come the second time. The Spirit of Prophecy is not ambiguous on the subject. As they say these days, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know God's will in respect to Christian entertainment. Perhaps a large part of the apparent differences of opinion on this subject comes from the diverse understanding of the word “entertainment.” Perhaps the term “Christian entertainment” is an oxymoron. The word entertainment as commonly understood in the modern culture is probably not a word that lends itself to the sacred, but rather to the profane. Words such as recreation, rest, a change of pace and the like are not nearly as subject to misuse and abuse in their practical applications.

In this article I will not quote from the Spirit of Prophecy. At the end, however, there is list of relevant references, which is, of course, in no way exhaustive. I have tried to go deeper than simply address whether we should go to the theater or participate in one kind of entertainment or the other. The purpose of the Christian life and, therefore, all that has to do with entertainment involves doing the will of God. And we cannot know how to please God until we are clear as to whom God is; therefore, this aspect will be addressed rather extensively.

Although all sides of any religious issue these days reference God, I suspect we may not be talking about the same God. This should come as no surprise to us, because our Lord said that in the last days many would come saying they were the Christ, but do not believe them (Matthew 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 our language, and 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. For this reason we must begin by defining terms and, in this case, determining whom we are talking about. It would be pointless to sit down among peers and discuss how God wants us to live as Christians if, in fact, we were not talking about the same God.

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. Of all God's attributes, which are what He has revealed to us about Himself, none is more foundational and explains more clearly the essence of God than does the revelation of His holiness (Leviticus 11:45; 20:6). Holiness is God's highest attribute and 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—and indeed has—resulted in the invention of false gods. All the false gods that fallen men and women have invented throughout the history of this planet are those which have resulted when men have not understood, or have refused to understand, Who is the true and living God (Isaiah 45:5).

We can rise no higher than our concept of God (Isaiah 55:8,9). The consistent refusal to acknowledge the holiness of the Almighty has resulted in crafting gods in our own image.

If the Old Testament teaches one thing more than any other about God, it is that He is a Holy God. Although the New Testament reveals through Jesus Christ His love, forgiveness, and mercy, these attributes are meaningless unless they are understood in the light of His holiness.

One of the root meanings of the Hebrew word for holiness (qodesh or ko'-desh) is “apartness” or “separateness.” The significance of this is immediately apparent. Inasmuch as God is separate and apart, those who would serve Him must also be set apart, the meaning of the word “sanctify.” In Jude 1:1 it is written, "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, and called." Those who come to a Holy God must necessarily become a holy people. We are no longer our own; we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).

Separation in itself is not holiness, but 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 us holy. In Scripture, when a vessel, cup, altar, or instrument was set apart for divine worship, it was never used for common purposes again. No one except the priest could drink from the golden cup. The altar could not be trifled with. The bronze laver was not for ordinary washings; even the tongs were never to be profaned by any common purpose whatsoever.

Should articles that come from the hand of man be holy, and man who has come from the hand of God be profane? For this reason the Scripture is clear in 1 Peter 2:9, "But 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." And again in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

In the Old Testament there are many other texts that call us to holiness: "For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (Leviticus 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" (Leviticus 20:7,8). "And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from other people, that ye should be mine" (Leviticus 20:26). And finally, "I will be hallowed among the children of Israel; I am the Lord which hallow you" (Leviticus 22:32).

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 purchased possessions by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, are set aside in this world to will and to do His good pleasure.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that we, who have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ, would find it incompatible with our profession of faith to participate in the very types of activities for which He died; to do such things would be incongruous and inconsistent with our high calling.

I am convinced that if there is one external influence that is doing more than any other to compromise the faith, it would be television. It is not necessary to do longitudinal sociological studies to be able to say that television, as watched by the average Christian, is incompatible with all we are praying that the Holy Spirit would do in our lives. The things that are watched by many, who profess the name of Jesus under other conditions, could only be described as Peeping Tomism, voyeurism, and sadism, and amount to a celebration of the very sins for which Jesus died.

In a practical sense we are wasting our time discussing Christian entertainment so long as we are not factoring in the impact of television, inasmuch as it is probably safe to say that television is the master key the devil uses in contemporary society to gain entry and sabotage the spiritual life of the professed Christian.

On one occasion some years ago, my work had taken me away from home. At the end of the workday, my hosts escorted me back to the motel. Traveling can be a somewhat lonely business, especially when it comes to not being able to go home at night.

On this occasion I returned to the motel and 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 came time to retire for the night. I showered and prepared for bed. When the time came, 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 just stopped praying. I couldn't continue. What I was saying didn't make any sense. You see, I heard myself ask God to make me like Jesus. That is when I recognized the problem with my prayer.

How could I ask Jesus to give me a new heart when I had just spent the last several hours watching people lie, kill, steal, or whatever they had done? How could I pray that the Holy Spirit would give me the mind of Christ when I had been entertained watching just the opposite? I knew I couldn't have it both ways. I decided then and there which way I wanted to 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 it clearly, that by beholding we are changed (2 Corinthians 3:18). Sadly, for many, we are often not living consistently with what we are asking God to do in our hearts (2 Timothy 3:5).

In order to justify participating in worldly entertainment, it is not unusual for someone 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 would habituate the red light district to minister to prostitutes or the adult book stores to share His faith with sexual perverts.

Jesus was accused of being a drinker and a glutton (Luke 7:34). But it would be a mistake to think this meant He would participate in drunken orgies to save the lost. A close reading of Scripture indicates that, although Jesus was found in the company of sinners, they were not the sinners who were "into sin." Rather, they were sinners who were sick of sin and who wanted out (Mark 2:17).

I am particularly concerned by those who assert that Jesus went to parties. Although it was recorded that He was present at certain festive occasions (John 2:1), it could never be said He went to parties in the sense of the word as understood by this generation, where the people get high on drugs and immoral acts are practiced. Those who think otherwise err (2 Corinthians 6:17). God is Holy and will have a holy people who are set apart from the world in keeping with the prayer of Jesus, that though we are in the world we must not partake in its evil ways (John 17:15).

The corruption of our worship styles in many places is a direct result of the fact that many are bringing into the house of God the lifestyles they practice with impunity the other six days of the week. A person whose music is worldly six days a week feels more comfortable with "Pray around the Clock Rock" than with "A Mighty Fortress is our God."

A person who is continually exposed to the fantasy of video, television, and the theater will feel more comfortable if the worship service is acted out rather than realizing they must personally come as sinners before the awful throne of the Judge of all the earth.

The Christian lifestyle must be seen as being lived between two walls. One wall is that we are a holy people and as such are set aside 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," and extend the principle of Christian lifestyle to exclude whatever is "of the world." This embodies perspective, value system, and culture. There is such a thing as guilt by association!

Much is being said these days about culture. Unholy entertainments are being passed off as simply a part of a culture to which we happen to belong. The truth is that our culture is the way we live; and 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, because something is done a certain way in this country or another justifies it, 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. We can make a mistake in this regard by classifying certain kinds of activities as folkloric.

All culture in any place at any time must be tested by the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Philippians 4:8. These portions of Scripture are a universal description of how a Christian is called upon to live. There are those who use Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, as a justification for certain types of behavior. While Scripture is the universal guide to all that is holy, it is sometimes set in a cultural context that was hardly holy. (Have you noticed that people are more prone to identify with David's adultery than with Joseph's victory over the temptation?)

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.

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 culture and subculture. It was a surprise to me 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 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."

To see such a person leaves no doubt as to who they are. 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 being part of the group.

This phenomenon leads me to conclude that it is not strange that God would expect those who are born again to be noticeably different from those who aren't. This would not necessarily be just in issues of faith and morals, but their lifestyle itself would set them apart. For those whom God would sanctify (make holy), He must first separate.

Returning to the example of the Sikh--a Sikh is recognizable because of his differentness. It is not unreasonable, then, that a Christian should be recognizable for the same reason. Let us cast this illustration in a negative light. Supposing 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 (1 Thesselonians 5:22). It is surprising that a Christian would want to adopt the values and lifestyles being initiated and promoted by those who make no pretension of faith in Christ and are, in fact, at war with the commandments of Jesus.

In the Old Testament God called out a people who were to be the ones to prepare the world for the first coming of the Messiah. The doctrine of the Messiah was a message, not just for the Jews, but for the whole world. As apples once off the tree must be moved to a container, so God had to, as it were, establish a container for His Word, and that container would be the nation of Israel. In the same way in these latter days He graciously established a people who were to be the carriers of a message that is to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord, and that 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, a corruption of the people to whom the last warning message has been entrusted represents a threat to the integrity of the message itself.

It is no wonder then that, as confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy is continually eroded, the message that will prepare a holy people to meet a Holy God without seeing death 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 to the world.

The illustration of a surgeon may also be compared with the priesthood in the Old Testament. A level of purity was required of them that exceeded the worshipers as a whole, just as the surgeon, because of his special mission, must be without contamination to an extent that is not required of the people in the waiting room. There is a principle that we become like those we habitually admire. This is enunciated in the text that says “by beholding we are become changed.” Though there are surely habits and lifestyles that may of themselves not be a moral issue, the point is that, in seeking to follow the customs of the rich and famous, a Christian will slowly and perhaps imperceptibly be changed to reflect the values and ideologies of those who are not, in fact, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

This article, with the exception of the mention of the impact of television, has not been a long list of do’s and don'ts. We may have made a mistake in the past by living from an "approved list." Given the fast pace of the 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. Knowing this, whether we live in one culture or another, whether we be of one generation or another, in all we do, whatever we eat or drink, we will, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, do all to the glory of our Holy God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

On contemplating the matter of Christian entertainment, which is a part of the Christian lifestyle, it will be considered only a matter of personal opinion, local culture, or a generational issue unless it is agreed 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 for separateness’ sake is necessary to protect the identity of those who are called to bear God's special message for this hour (Revelation 14). During the Gulf War the uniform a soldier wore was not a moral issue; rather it was a life and death matter, because it indicated which side he was on. Therefore, a Christian will avoid anything that would cause anyone to confuse their identity, because to do so puts at risk the message that is meant to prepare a living generation to meet a Holy God.