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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Menace of the Religious Movie: Introduction

One of the many fruits of the flesh is selfishness, the strong desire to please our own wants with whatever makes us feel good.  This is a struggle for Christians and one reason may be because that selfish want is more pervasive than we might think.  In seeking truth from God's Word, we want to learn more and be drawn closer to God, but almost always only on our terms and with methods that we are comfortable with.  This was also true in the life of A. W. Tozer. (1897-1963)  Apparently, a lot of Christians felt the need to use worldly methods in their search of knowledge about God and other Biblical truths, even back then.  This will be the first of an 8 part series of a booklet by A. W. Tozer on the religious movie, however this is certainly true in regards to any entertainment or addition to the methods of imparting truth.

The Menace of the Religious Movie: Introduction
By A. W. Tozer

When God gave to Moses the blueprint of the Tabernacle, He was careful to include every detail; then, lest Moses should get the notion that he could improve on the original plan, God warned him solemnly, "And look that though make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount."  God, not Moses, was the architect.  To decide the plan was the prerogative of the Diety.  No one dared alter it so much as a hairbreadth.

The new Testament Church also is builded after a pattern.  Not the doctrines only, but the METHODS are divinely given.  The doctrines are expressly stated in only so many words.  Some of the methods followed by the early New Testament Church had been given by direct command; others were used by God's specific approval, having obviously been commanded the apostles by the Spirit.  The point is that when the New Testament canon was closed, the blueprint for the age was complete.  God has added nothing since that time.

From God's revealed plan, we depart at our peril.  Every departure has two consequences,  the immediate ad the remote.  The immediate touches the individual and those close to him, and may expand so far as to influence for evil the whole Church of God on earth.

The temptation to introduce "new" things into the work of God has always been too strong for some people to resist.  The Church has suffered untold injury at the hands of well-intentioned, but misguided persons who felt that they know more about running God's work than Christ and his apostles did.  A solid train of box cars would not suffice to haul away the religious truck which has been brought into the service of the Church with the hope of improving on the original pattern.  These things have been, one and all, positive hindrances to the progress of the Truth, and have so altered the divine planned structure that the apostles, were they to return to earth today, would scarcely recognize the misshapen thing which has resulted.

Our Lord while on earth cleansed the Temple, and periodic cleansings have been necessary in the Church of God throughout the centuries.  Every generation is sure to have its ambitious amateur to come up with some shiny gadget which he proceeds to urge upon the priests before the altar.  That the scriptures do not justify it's existence, does not seem to bother him at all.  It is brought in anyway and presented in the very name of Orthodoxy.  Soon it is identified in the minds of the Christian public with all that is good and holy.  Then, of course, to attack the gadget is to attack the Truth itself.  This is an old familiar technique so often and so long practiced by the devotees of error that I marvel how the children of God can be taken in by it. 

We of the evangelical faith are in a rather awkward position of criticizing Roman Catholicism for its weight of unscriptural impedimenta and at the same time tolerating in our own churches a world of religious fribble as bad as holy water or the elevated host.  Heresy of method may be as deadly as heresy of message.  Old-line Protestantism has long ago been smothered to death by extra-scriptural rubbish.  Unless we of the gospel churches wake up so, we shall most surely die by the same means.

Within the last few years, a new method has been invented for imparting spiritual knowledge; or, to be more accurate,  it is not new at all, but is an adaptation of a gadget of some years standing, one which by its origin and background belongs not to the Church, but to the world.  Some within the fold of the Church have thrown their mantle over it, have "blessed it with a text" and are now trying to show that it is the very gift of God for our day.  But, however, eloquent the sales talk, it is an unauthorized addition nevertheless, and it was never a part of the pattern shown us on the mount.

I refer, of course, to the religious movie.

For the motion picture as such I have no irrational allergy.  It is a mechanical invention merely, and is in its essence amoral; that is, neither good nor bad, but neutral.  With any physical object or creature lacking the power of choice, it could not be otherwise.   Whether such an object is useful or harmful depends altogether upon who uses it and what he uses it for.  No moral quality attaches where there is no free choice.  Sin and righteousness lie in the will.  The motion picture is in the same class as the automobile, the typewriter, or the radio: a powerful instrument for good or evil, depending on how it is applied.

For teaching the facts of physical science, the motion picture has been useful.  The public schools have used it successfully to teach health habits to children.  The army employed it to speed up instruction during the war.  That it has been of real service within its limited field is freely acknowledged here.

Over against this is the fact that the motion picture in evil hands has been a source of moral corruption to millions.  No one who values his reputation as a responsible adult will deny that the sex movie and the crime movie have done untold injury to the lives of countless young people in our generation.  The harm lies not in the instrument itself, but in the evil will of those who use it for their own selfish ends.

I am convinced that the modern motion religious movie is an example of the harmful misuse of a neutral instrument.  There are sound reasons for my belief.  I am prepared to state them.  That I may be as clear as possible,  let me explain what I do and do not mean by the religious movie.  I do not mean the missionary picture nor the travel picture which aims to focus attention upon one or another section of the world's great harvest field.  These do not come under discussion and will be left entirely out of consideration here.

By the religious movie, I mean that type of motion picture which attempts to treat spiritual themes by dramatic representation.  These are (as there advocates dare not deny) frank imitations of the authentic Hollywood variety, but the truth requires me to say that they are infinitely below their models, being mostly awkward, amateurish and, from an artistic standpoint, hopelessly and piteously bad. 

These pictures are produced by acting a religious story before the camera.  Take for example the famous and beautiful story of the Prodigal Son.  This would be made into a movie by treating the narrative as a scenario.  Stage scenery would be set up, actors would take roles of Father, Prodigal Son, Elder, Brother, etc.  There would be plot, sequence and dramatic denouncement as in the ordinary terror film shown at the Bijou movie house on Main Street in any one of a thousand American towns.  The story would be acted out, photographed, run onto reels and shipped around the country to be shown for a fee wherever desired.

The "service" where such a movie would be shown might seem much like any other service till the time for the message from the Word of God.   Then the lights would be put out and the picture turned on.  The "message " would consist of this movie.  What followed the picture would, of course, vary with the circumstances,  but often an invitation song is sung and a tender appeal is made for erring sinners to return to God. 

Now, what is wrong with all this?  Why should any man object to this or go out of his way to oppose it's use in the house of God?  Here is my answer.

...until the next part of the series, we'll begin to find out the answer A. W. Tozer came up with.

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