Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Biblical Rationale for Avoiding R-Rated Movies

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).

Sincerely,
Tony

12 comments:

Les Puryear said...

Tony,

Thanks for this post. All of us need to be reminded about this issue. I read a sermon where a pastor used illustrations from "The Sopranos" TV series on HBO. By using the illustration, he was encouraging his people to watch the show.

The passage you referenced in 1 Cor. 8:9-13 is also the reason that I don't drink alcohol, smoke, or play the lottery. While I may be able to handle all of these things without sin, a weaker brother or sister in the faith may not be able to handle these things. I do not want my example to make my brother stumble.

Rich blessings to you and yours,

Les

Tony said...

Les,

It's good to see you. I have heard numerous preachers and teachers use illustrations from R-rated movies and after the class or worship service, the talk is always about the movie that was referenced and the focus was not on the lesson or the message. How subtly and easily we give our nods of approval to worldly influence.

About the passage from 1 Cor., I agree. However, I am not that strong! I know that partaking of such things would lead me into further sin. I have to be ever-vigilant about my sinful tendencies and am thankful for some accountable brothers!

And BTW, I am new to blogdom and am very thankful for Crucifed with Christ. Your blog was one of the first I came across and I did find you from perusing other Baptist blogs. What attracted me to CwC was your candorous yet loving spirit commenting on other blogs. I know that your heart is genuine, being quick to accept fault and ready to repent when necessary; you are very different from some of our Baptist bloggin' brethren. You have edified me and encouraged me in my walk with Jesus and helped me as a pastor, in only the short time I have known you. And I was immensely blessed by the "delight" post...even though I did not comment. Sorry! ;-) Gotta go, got a screamin' baby in my lap!

Blessings right backatcha,

Tony

Skybalon said...

Hello Tony-

You present an interesting perspective. The thematic elements you describe- "nudity, violence, [foul] language, sexual themes, disturbing and horrific images, and drug usage" are all in the Bible.

How do you view the parts of the Bible that would easily be rated "R" if they were subject to the folks at the MPAA? What is their place

-s

Tony said...

Skybalon,

There are very graphic scenes in the Bible, but these graphic images, the same elements used by the MPAA to determine what a film should be rated, are never glorified in any sense of the word in the Bible. They are never portrayed as normative behavior. They are always portrayed in a negative light.

For instance, the classic example is David's adultery with Bathsheba (1 Samuel 11-12). This is certainly an rated R scene and in our family devotions I skip this passage until my children can discern the differences. David's and Bathsheba's adulterous relationship is not glorified by the MPAA's standard. It is presented by God in His Word as an egregious sin and certainly not one to be repeated because of the terribly negative outcome of that relationship. Yet Hollywood touts this kind of behavior as normal and acceptable.

So, my point is that R-rated movies really have no place in the Christian's entertainment repertoire because it glorifies sin, leading into further temptation for the believer.

A short answer to a big question! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'll be by to visit yours in the near future.

Blessings,
Tony

Anonymous said...

So then, presumably, if a film did not glorify this sinful content, it would be acceptable?

Tony said...

Anonymous,

By whose standard are you measuring acceptability? your own? Or God's?

Anonymous said...

Acceptable within the bounds of Christian liberty.

Anonymous said...

The mere act of watching someone sinning on screen is not inherently wrong, there is no evil in simply watching. Even with Philippians 4:8, and the example of David and Bathsheba, don't you meditate on the adultery (not the act itself) at some point? It seems to me that what would be immoral is to glorify the sin itself, regardless of a film's standpoint on it.

Tony said...

Anonymous,

You miss the entire point of the post. If you want to indulge in R-rated movies then that is fine. If it causes you no concern to fill your mind and subsequently your heart with an appetite for those things that do not please God, then that is your business.

The mere act of watching someone sinning on screen is not inherently wrong, there is no evil in simply watching. I am not quite sure what you mean here. This can be interpreted many different ways and I am prone to give the benefit of the doubt and will do so here.

If a movie were to be made of David's and Bathsheba's adulterous relationship, I think you would have to "meditate" on the act itself. I would be curious to know why you chose the word "meditate" as opposed to something less forceful; just simply "think about."

But still, your rationalizations seem to be self-serving. Many use Christian liberty in the name of indulging self and sin.

Anonymous said...

The heart is a liar and a deceiver anyway, but back on topic.

So then you would not see a film, based purely on the fact that it contains things not pleasing to God, regardless of the film's stance on it?

Also, the reason I used "meditate" was that it was the verb you used in reference to Philippians 4:8

Done for the night, got to get some sleep. I may be back tomorrow.

Tony said...

The heart is also the wellspring of life. Your point is?

So then you would not see a film, based purely on the fact that it contains things not pleasing to God, regardless of the film's stance on it? Again, multiple interpretations. The pornography industry seems to think that what they produce is perfectly fine.

So it goes with the horror movie producers and the teen sex-romp films. If that is your perspective, then my answer to your utterly ambiguous question is no.

Honestly, anonymous, I don't think we are getting anywhere.

Tony said...

Anonymous,

The use of meditate in the context in which you use it is inappropriate, particularly as Paul uses it in Philippians 4:8. It calls for dwelling upon, fixing your mind upon, or deep reflection, purely contrary to how the Christian should regard sin.

The implication and immediate application is that a Christian should avoid sin, not even give it a backward glance.

That is my puzzlement with your using that term in regards to a sinful act.