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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Part 5 of the Menace of the Religious Movie.

The Menace of the Religious Movie Part 5: God has ordained four methods only by which Truth shall prevail--and the religious movie is not one of them.

Without attempting to arrange these methods in order of importance, they are (1) prayer, (2) song, (3) proclamation of the message by means of words, and (4) good works.  These are the four main methods which God has blessed.   All other Biblical methods are sub-divisions of these and stay within the framework.

Notice these in order.  (1) Spirit-burdened prayer.  This has been through the centuries a powerful agent for the spread of saving truth among men.  A praying church carried the message of the cross to the whole known world within two centuries after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.   Read the book of Acts and see what prayer has done and can do when it is made in true faith.

(2)  Spirit-inspired song has been another mighty instrument in the spread of the Word among mankind.  When the church sings in the spirit, she draws men unto Christ.  Where her song has been ecstatic expression of resurrection joy, It has acted wonderfully to prepare hearts for the saving message.  This has no reference to professional religious singers, expensive choirs, nor the popular "gospel" chorus. These for the time we leave out of consideration, but I think no one will deny that the sound of a Christian hymn sung by sincere and humble persons can have a tremendous and permanent effect for good. The Welsh revival is a fair modern example of this.

(To learn more about Biblical worship, please peruse other posts within this blog)

(3)  In the Old Testament, as well as in the New, when God would impart His mind to man He embodied it in a message and sent man out to proclaim it.  It was received by hearing and reading on the part of those to whom it was sent.  We are all familiar with the verse "Speak easy comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her."  John the Baptist was called "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness"  Again we have,  "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, write."   And the apostle John opens his great work called the Revelation by pronouncing a blessing upon him that reads and them that hear and keep the words of the prophecy and the things which are written therein.  The two words proclaim and publish sum up God 's will as it touches His Word.  In the Bible, men for the most part, wrote what had been spoken; in our time men are commissioned to speak what has been written.  In both cases the agent is a word, never a picture, a dance, nor a pageant.

(4)  By His healing deeds our Lord open the way for his saving words.  He went about doing good, and his church is commanded to do the same.  Faber understood this when he wrote,

"And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly deeds in virtuous life."

Church history is replete with instances of missionaries and teachers who prepared the way for their message with deeds of mercy shown to men and women who were at first hostile, but who melted under the warm rays of practical kindnesses shown to them in time of need.  If anyone should object to calling good works a method, I would not argue the point.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are an overflow into everyday life of the reality of what is being proclaimed.

These are God's appointed methods set forth in the Bible and confirmed in centuries of practical application.  The intrusion of other methods is unscriptural, unwarranted and in violation of spiritual laws as old as the world.

The whole preach-the-gospel-with-movies idea Is founded upon the same basic assumption as modernism, namely that the Word of God is not final, and that we of this day have a perfect right to add to it or alter it wherever we think we can improve it.

A brazen example of this attitude came to my attention recently.  Preliminary printed matter has been sent out announcing that a new organization is in process of being formed.  It is to be called "The international Radio and Screen Artist Guild"  And one of its two major objectives is to promote the movie as a medium for the spread of the gospel. It's sponsors, apparently, are not Modernist, but confessed Fundamentalist.  Some of its declared purposes are: "to produce movies  "with or without a Christian slant"; to raise and maintain higher standards in the movie field (this would be done, it says here, by having "much prayer" with leaders of the movie industry); to "challenge people, especially young people, to those fields as they are challenged to go to foreign fields."

This last point should not be allowed to pass without some of us doing a little challenging on our own account.  Does this new organization actually propose in seriousness to add another gift to the rest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in the New Testament?  To the number of the Spirit's gifts, such as pastor, teacher, evangelist, is there now to be added another, the gift of the movie actor?  To the appeal for consecrated Christian young people to serve as missionaries on the foreign field is there to be added an appeal for young people to serve as movie actors?  That is exactly what this new organization does propose in cold type over the signature of its temporary chairman.  Instead of the Holy Spirit saying "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," these people will make use of what they call a "Christian Talent listing", to consist of the names of "Christian" actors who have received the Spirit 's gift to be used in making religious movies.

Thus the order set up in the New Testament is openly violated,  and by professed lovers of the gospel who say unto Jesus, "Lord, Lord,"  but openly set aside his Lordship whenever they desire. No amount of smooth talk can explain away this serious act of insubordination.

Saul lost a kingdom when he "forced" himself and took profane liberties with the priesthood.  Let these movie preachers look to their crown.  They may find themselves on the road to Endor some dark night soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Part 4 The Menace of the Religious movie.

They who present the gospel movie owe it to the public to give Biblical authority for their act: and this they have not done.

The Church, as long as she is following her Lord, goes along in Bible ways and can give a scriptural reasoning for her conduct.  Her members meet at stated times to pray together: this has Biblical authority back a it. They gather to hear the word of God expounded: this goes back in almost unbroken continuity to Moses. They sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: so they are commanded by the apostle.  They visit the sick and relieve the sufferings of the poor: for this they have both precept and example in holy writ.  They lay up their gifts and bring them at stated times to the church or chapel to be used in the Lords work: this also follows the scriptural pattern.  They teach and train and instruct; they appoint teachers and pastors and missionaries and send them out to do the work for which the spirit has gifted them: all this has plain scriptural authority behind it.  They baptize and break bread and witness to the lost; they cling together through thick and thin; they bear each other's burdens and share each other's sorrows; this is as it should be, and for all this there is full authority.

Now, for the religious movie where is the authority?  For such a serious departure from the ancient pattern, where is the authority? For introducing into the church the pagan art of acting, where is the authority? Let, the movie advocates quote just one verse, from any book of the Bible, in any translation, to justify its use. (...of the religious movie) This they cannot do.  The best they can do is to appeal to the world's psychology or repeat brightly that "modern times call for modern methods"  But the Scriptures-- quote from them one verse to authorize movie acting as an instrument of the Holy Ghost.  This they cannot do.

Every sincere Christian must find scriptural authority for the religious movie or reject it, and every producer of such movies, If he would square himself before the faces of honest and reverent men, must either show scriptural credentials or go out of business.

But, says someone, there is nothing  unscriptural about the religious movie; It is merely a new medium for the utterance of the old message, as printing is a newer and better method of writing, and the radio an amplification of familiar human speech.

To this I reply: the movie is not the modernization or improvement of any scriptural method; rather it is a medium in itself wholly foreign to the Bible and altogether unauthorized therein.  It is play-acting--just that and nothing more.  It is the introduction into the work of God of that which is not neutral, but entirely bad. The printing press is neutral; so is the radio; so is the camera.  They may be used for good or bad purposes at the will of the user.  But play acting is bad in its essence In that it involves the simulation of emotions not actually felt.  It embodies a gross moral contradiction in that it calls a lie to the service of truth.

Arguments for the religious movie are sometimes clever and always shallow, but there is never any real attempt to cite scriptural authority.  Anything that can be said for the movie, can be said also for the aesthetic dancing, which is a highly touted medium for teaching religious truth by appeal to the eye.  Its advocates grow eloquent in its praise--but where is it indicated in the blueprint?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Part 3 The religious movie is a menace to true religion because it embodies acting, a violation of sincerity.

Without doubt the most precious thing any man possesses is his individual being; that by which he is himself and not someone else; that which cannot be finally voided by the man himself nor shared with another.  Each one of us, however our place in the social scheme, is unique in creation.  Each is a new whole man possessing his own separate "I-ness" being.  It is this quality of uniqueness which permits a man to enjoy every reward of virtue and makes him responsible for every sin.  It is his selfness, which will persist forever, and which distinguishes him from every creature which has been or ever will be created.

Because man is such a being as this, all moral teachers, and especially Christ and His apostles, make sincerity to be basic in the good life.  The word, as the New Testament uses it, refers to the practice of holding fine pottery up to the sun to test it for purity.  In the white light of the sun all foreign substances were instantly exposed.  So the test of sincerity is basic in human character.  The sincere man is one in whom is found nothing foreign; he is all of one piece: he has preserved his individuality unviolated.

Sincerity for each man means staying in character with himself.   Christ's controversy with the Pharisees centered around their incurable habit of moral play acting.  The Pharisees constantly pretended to be what he was not.  He attempted to vacate his own "I-ness" and appear in that of another and better man.  He assumed a false character and played it for effect.  Christ said he was a hypocrite.

It is more than an etymological accident that the word "hypocrite" comes from the stage.  It means actor.  With that instinct for fitness which usually marks word origins, it has been used signify one who has violated his sincerity and is playing a false part.  An actor is one who assumes a character other than his own and plays it for effect.  The more fully he can become possessed by another personality the better he is an actor.

Bacon has said something to the effect that there are some professions of such nature that the more skillfully a man can work at them the worse man he is.  That perfectly describes the profession of acting.  Stepping out of your own character for any reason is always dangerous, and may be fatal to the soul.  However innocent his  intentions, a man who assumes a false character has betrayed his own soul and has deeply injured something sacred within him.

No one who has been in the presence of the Most Holy One, who has felt how high is the solemn privilege of bearing His image, will ever again consent to play a part or trifle with that most sacred thing, his own deep sincere heart.  He will thereafter be constrained to be no one but himself,  to preserve reverently the sincerity of his own soul.

In order to produce a religious movie someone must, for the time, disguise his individuality and simulate that of another.  His actions must be judged fraudulent,  and those who watch them with approval share in the fraud.  To pretend to pray, to simulate godly sorrow, to play at worship before the camera for effect--how utterly shocking to the reverent heart!  How can Christians who approve this gross pretense ever understand the value of sincerity as taught by our Lord?  What will be the end of a generation of Christians fed on such a diet of deception disguised as the faith of our fathers?

The plea that all this must be good because it is done for the glory of God is a gossamer-thin bit of rationalizing which should not fool anyone above the mental age of six.  Such an argument parallels the evil rule of expediency which holds that the end is everything,  and sanctified the means, however evil, if only the end be commendable.   The wise student of history will recognize this immoral doctrine.  The Spirit-led Church will have no part of it. 

It is not uncommon to find around the theater human flotsam and jetsam washed up by the years, men and women who have played false parts so long that the power to be sincere has forever gone from them.  They are doomed to everlasting duplicity.  Every act of their lives is faked.  Every smile is false.  Every tone of their voice artificial.  The curse does not come causeless.  It is not by chance that the actors profession has been notoriously dissolute. Hollywood and Broadway are two sources of corruption which may yet turn America into a Sodom and lay her glory in the dust.
The profession of acting did not originate with the Hebrews. It is not a part of the Divine pattern.  The Bible mentions it, but never approves it. Drama, as it has come down to us, had its rise in Greece. It was originally a part of the worship of the god Dionysus and was carried on with drunken revelry.

The Miracle Plays of medieval times have been brought forward to justify the modern religious movie. That is an unfortunate weapon to choose for the defense of the movie, for it will surely harm the man who uses it more than any argument I could think of just offhand.

The Miracle Plays had their big run in the Middle Ages . They were dramatic performances with religious themes staged for the entertainment of the populace. At their best they were misguided efforts to teach spiritual truths by dramatic representation;  at their worst they were shockingly irreverent and thoroughly reprehensible.  In some of them the Eternal God was portrayed as an old man dressed in white with a gilt wig! To furnish a low comedy, the devil himself was introduced on the stage and allowed to cavort for the amusement of the spectators. Bible themes were used, as in the modern movie, but this did not save the whole thing from becoming so corrupt that the Roman church had finally to prohibit its priests from having any further part in it.

Those who would appeal for precedent to the Miracle Plays have certainly overlooked some important facts . For instance , The vogue of the Miracle Plays coincided exactly with the most dismally corrupt period the church has ever known.  When the church emerged at last from its long moral night, these plays lost popularity and finally passed away. And be it remembered, the instrument God used to bring the church out of the darkness was not drama; It was the Biblical one of Spirit-baptized preaching. Serious minded men thundered the truth and the people turned to God.

Indeed, history will show that no spiritual advance, no revival, no upsurge of spiritual life has ever been associated with acting in any form . The Holy Spirit never honors pretense.

Can it be that the historic pattern is being repeated? That the appearance of the religious movie is symptomatic of the low state of spiritual health we are in today?  I fear so.  Only the absence of the Holy Spirit from the pulpit and lack of true discernment on the part of professing Christians can account for the spread of religious drama among so-called Evangelical churches. A Spirit filled church could not tolerate it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Menace of the Religious Movie Part 2: The religious movies embodies the mischievous notion that religion is, or can be made, a form of entertainment.

This notion has come upon us lately like a tidal wave and is either openly taught or tacitly assumed by increasing numbers of people.  Since it is inextricably bound up with the subject under discussion, I had better say more about it.
The idea that religion should be entertaining has made some radical changes in the evangelical picture within this generation.  It has given is not only the "gospel: movie but a new type of religious journalism as well.  It has created a new kind of magazine for church people,  which can be read from cover to cover without effort, without thought -- and without profit.  It has also brought a veritable flood of religious fiction with plastic heroines and bloodless heroes like no one who has ever lived upon this well known terrestrial ball.

That religion and amusement are forever opposed to each other by their very essential nature's is apparently not known to this new school of religious entertainers.  Their effort to slip up on the reader and administer a quick shot of saving truth while his mind is on something else is not only futile, but it is, in fact, not too far short of being plain dishonest.  The hope that they can convert a man while he is occupied with the doings of some imaginary hero reminds one of the story of Catholic missionary who used to sneak up on sick people and children and splash little holy water on them to guarantee their passage to the city of gold.

I believe that most responsible religious teachers will agree that any effort to teach spiritual truth through entertainment IA at best futile and at worst positively injurious to the soul.  But entertainment pays off. And the economic consideration is always a powerful one in deciding what shall not be offered to the public -- even in the churches.

Deep spiritual experiences come only from much study, earnest prayer and long meditation.  It is true that men by thinking cannot find God; it is also true that men cannot know God very well without a lot of reverent thinking.  Religious movies, by appealing directly to the shallowest stratum of our minds, cannot but create bad mental habits which unfit the soul for the reception of genuine spiritual impressions. 

Religious movies are mistakenly thought by some people to be blessed of the Lord because many come away from them with moist eyes.  If this is a proof of God's blessing, then we might as well go the whole way and assert that every show that brings tears is of God.  Those who attend the theater know how often the audiences are moved to tears by the joys and sorrows of the highly paid entertainers who kiss and emote and murder and die for the purpose of exciting the spectators to a high pitch of emotional excitement.  Men and women who are dedicated to sin and appointed to death may nevertheless weep in sympathy for the painted actors and be not one bit the better for it.  The emotions have had a beautiful time, but the will is left untouched.  The religious movie is sure to draw together a goodly number of persons who cannot distinguish the twinges of various sympathy from the true operations of the Holy Ghost.