One of those pastoral quandaries is how to respond to forms of entertainment. The lines are clearly blurred as to what is considered wholesome and harmful. Often the casual Christian can be overheard talking about the merit of a particular movie in Christian fellowship. It is an understatement to say people crave entertainment and it is quite plain that people patronize Blockbuster over their local libraries. Movies are an immensely popular form of entertainment yet one that has seriously deleterious effects on the Christian.
Though a hearty argument could be offered to forbear of television and movies altogether, possibly a topic for a future post, an argument against viewing R-rated movies is readily apparent from Scripture. R-rated movies each have particular thematic elements that would characterize them as R; nudity, violence, language, sexual themes, disturbing and horrific images, and drug usage. However, many Christians see no reason to avoid them altogether.
I often hear of Christians viewing movies with these elements with no prick of conscience at all whatsoever. Though there are good R-rated movies out there, most Christians, if not all, would see that a Christian who watches any R-rated movie would interpret it as blanket acceptance of all R-rated movies. This principle works out really well with teenagers and I have experienced this first-hand.
I decided to refrain from R-rated movies after agonizing through Saving Private Ryan. As family night entertainment, Ryan is a casualty, but as a mortality feature underscoring the graphic brutality of armed combat, the movie is brilliant. However, consider a few of the film's non-violent specifics. There is gross foul language, coarse exchanges about promiscuous sexual encounters, and as far as respecting faith and God, Ryan offers very little hope. Though I have heard the argument and redress is offered below, the second World War indeed may have been realistically portrayed in Ryan, it is still rated R. The decision to refrain from R-rated movies became a matter of personal conviction and one that I believe is biblically founded.
I had seen no R-rated movies in the length of time between Ryan and The Passion, making the mistake of seeing it. Though I will refrain from commenting on Mel Gibson's epic attempt at attaining grace, when the teenagers in the church I serve caught wind that I had seen it, they were appalled! It was rated R and they could not see beyond that. Many then quickly equivocated and drew the conclusion that since it was acceptable for the pastor to watch an R-rated movie, notwithstanding the fact that it was a movie about the passion of the Savior, it was also acceptable for them to watch an R-rated movie. Not long after that, one asked me if I had ever seen a particular horror movie. Needless to say, the foundation I had erected for opposing R-rated movies crumbled in just over two hours of viewing pleasure.
So Paul's words fell hard upon me: "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:10)?" Against better judgment, I rationalized that since it was a movie about Christ, regardless of the rating, I should see it. I also needed to see it simply because my church folk will see it and I need to be able to speak coherently about it. My rationalizations did not stand up to divine scrutiny and it caused others to stumble. I ate the idol's food and emboldened others.
Obviously then, viewing R-rated movies cannot fall under the auspices of Christian liberty, that as long as I do not harm anyone else then my actions have no (real) consequences. But isn't what I do in the privacy of my own home my own business? But are not all our actions seen by an omnipresent God? To whom then must we give account?
Moreover, viewing R-rated movies is a clear failure to abstain from evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 calls on every believer to "abstain from every form of evil." Romans 12:9 tells the world-weary Christian to "Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." Philippians 4:8 calls on the faithful to meditate on these: whatever things are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, anything virtuous and praiseworthy. God calls each one of us to abstain from those things which would cause us to sin or lead us and others into an unhealthy relationship with the world.
In addition, the viewing of R-rated movies breaks the law of love, outlined beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not rejoice in iniquity (verse six); it does not participate in the sins of others by giving approval to them. Approval is given to the filmmakers of Hollywood by watching their sordid diddies, not to mention paying to watch them. Does this smack of John Tetzel selling indulgences?
Elementary health texts opine that you are what you eat. Computer programmers still abide by the now ancient adage, garbage in, garbage out. Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23). Why then would you feed the beast within?
And a closing word to those who preach and teach the Word of God: be careful of the illustrations you use to amplify your preaching. Preachers can make the congregations they serve stumble into sin when using illustrations from popular but R-rated movies. Do not think that you must be so contemporary that you cannot connect with your congregation unless you use popular media to keep them engaged. Illustrative material can be found in a plethora of other places without resorting to food offered to idols.
This is a painstakingly brief post, but from the heart of one who desires himself, his family, and the congregation God has given him so richly to serve, "to be presented perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:29).