Christian Movies - Ministry or Menace? (Part 2)

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After reading part one of this two-part series, and seeing all the good things accomplished by Christian films, one might wonder if anything could or should be wrong with them or if any negative aspects could or should overshadow the positive ones.

It was evident in the “Who’s Who in Religious Films” article that Youth for Christ lauded the Christian film industry as beneficial for missions and evangelistic efforts. However, those familiar with A.W. Tozer know that he was unsympathetic to that viewpoint. Tozer’s seven arguments against Christian films were abridged in Youth for Christ Magazine along with Evon Hedley’s seven arguments in favor of Christian films in an article titled “Christian Movies? The Pro and Con of Religious Films.” The pro arguments of Hedley and con arguments of Tozer in that 1954 article are summarized below.

A church service using a Christian film “is geared to the drawing in of the net for people to seek Christ as Saviour or to offer their lives as missionary volunteers.” Even though the entertainment world shows religious films in the theatre, the best place for them is the church where the service is planned for evangelistic purposes.

(1)

A Christian movie “violates the Scriptural law of hearing” because “God gave to mankind His great redemptive revelation … in words.” Therefore, “the Bible rules out pictures and dramatics as media for bringing faith and life to the human soul.” Vital, spiritual truth is not expressed by a picture, but by spoken or written words.

God has used films to carry on His work and ministry. “Men whose ministry evidently has known the anointing of God have put that ministry into films and spread it across the country.” Films have been “used by the Spirit of God.”

(2)

“The religious movie embodies the mischievous notion that religion is, or can be made, a form of entertainment.” Teaching spiritual truth through entertainment is “futile” and “injurious” for “the reception of genuine spiritual impressions.”

Many souls have been saved through the use of evangelistic films. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reported that “more than 135,000 first-time decisions” were made after showing just one film. “Multiply this by the number of evangelistic films which are being used today and you will see the scope and use of films in evangelism.”

(3)

Acting is “a violation of sincerity.” Pre-tending to pray or worship “before the camera for effect” is “utterly shocking to the reverent heart.” Claiming this is good because “it is done for the glory of God … is a gossamer-thin bit of rationalization which should not fool anyone above the mental age of six.” Acting “is not part of the divine pattern” for “spiritual advance.”

“Gospel films have allowed many preachers of limited training but with contrite heart to present … messages to crowds of people” followed by an invitation to come to Christ. Men “could have a large part in the harvesting of souls through [the] use of such films.”

(4)

“There is no Biblical authority for the gospel movie.” Proponents say “modern times call for modern methods” but there is no Scriptural authority for the religious movie. It “is not the modernization or improvement of any scriptural method. It is play acting–just that, and no more.”

Christian films help evangelism. “Evangelistic films … are helping the cause of evangelism. They are not only being used to save souls in themselves but they obtain for evangelists a larger and better hearing… .”

(5)

God has ordained prayer, song, proclamation of the message through words, and good works “by which truth shall prevail.” The idea of preaching the gospel with movies “is founded on the assumption that the Word of God is not final.”

Christian films help mission work. “No doubt many young people are on the mission field today because of having seen a missionary film.” More than ever before, funds for mission purposes have been raised “as a result of films used by the Church.”

(6)

“The religious movie is out of harmony with the whole spirit of the Scriptures and contrary to the mood of true godliness.” If the movie is needed in addition to preaching “it can only be because God’s appointed method is inadequate and the movie can do something which God’s appointed method cannot do.”

We need to produce more better-quality Christian films that are affordable for churches and small groups. “The entertainment world had a monopoly on the use of entertainment. Now we have gotten the thin edge of the wedge in [and] we need to drive it home.” More money needs to be put into Christian films and we need “humble men to present such films and to draw the net as the film stories come to a close… . using the film harvesting machine to gather in whitened harvests.”

(7)

“The religious movie has a harmful effect upon all associated with it.” The actor is affected negatively. The religious movie “identifies religion with the theatrical world.” These films develop in the minds of the young a “taste for drama” that “will not long remain satisfied” with the religious movie. The next generation will “look on religion as another … form of amusement.” The religious movie either replaces the preacher or becomes the friend of lazy preachers.

Christian movies are still being produced today. Rather than using full-length movies, some churches today use short video clips during a service or interspersed throughout a message. Are Christian movies or film clips in churches, schools, or theaters today a ministry or a menace?

Brenda T Bio


Brenda Thomas received her BS from Faith Baptist Bible College (Ankeny, Iowa), MA from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary and MA from California State University Dominguez Hills. She lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two children and is a member of a Baptist church there.

dmicah's picture
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Since 6/15/09 18:29:47
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not black and white

Did Jesus heal with word or touch? Were all of Jesus's followers fellow travelers, or did some follow at a distance? Were Jesus's parables clear or confusing?

In other words, how can this, or any cultural/technological tool/technique/practice, be filtered into one of two storage bins? 

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Different categories
  • Jesus' acts of healing
  • Jesus' followers
  • Jesus' parables

Not the same thing as

  • A cultural practice

The idea that no cultural practice be simply wrong is one few are willing to consistently uphold. Consider, for example, the "cultural practice" of foot binding.

Tozer has a few strong points. But some problems as well. I have to think Augustine, to name one, would have agreed with Tozer. His strongest points are those involving the use of film in worship. But he seems to not make a distinction between that use of film and other uses. And the difference is pretty important.

You could insert "flannel graph" in place of "religious movie" or "gospel movie" etc. in many of his statements and they would still be true.

Here, it's supposed to be self-evident I guess that play acting is evil?

It “is not the modernization or improvement of any scriptural method. It is play acting–just that, and no more.”

In #5 you have the argument that we must use words. But film usually does use words. They are simply uttered by multiple individuals rather than one... and in assumed character roles.

Still, where we have Scripture prescribing what we ought to use in worship, Tozer is right that there cannot possibly be anything "better."

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Since 6/3/09 08:58:02
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Opinion

Everyone's entitled to his opinion, but that's all this is.  This is really sophistry on Tozer's part.

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 Pharisee 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 to 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 as 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 our 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 to 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 the end is everything, and sanctifies 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 actor's 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.

A bit much, no?

 

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Since 6/2/09 17:38:16
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I wonder how Tozer would have

I wonder how Tozer would have felt about church Christmas programs in which the kids dress up like Mary, Joseph,angels and the shepherds and then act out the Christmas story.

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Since 6/3/09 08:58:02
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Kevin Miller wrote:

Kevin Miller wrote:

I wonder how Tozer would have felt about church Christmas programs in which the kids dress up like Mary, Joseph,angels and the shepherds and then act out the Christmas story.

I think he would find it "utterly shocking to the reverent heart."  Cowboys and Indians would be training in deceit, too, I suppose. Mommy: "Johnny, take off that hat. you are NOT a cowboy. You have betrayed your own soul!"  

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Since 3/7/11 11:58:55
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Perhaps Tozer would say the

Perhaps Tozer would say the same thing he wrote in "The Menace of the Religious Movie"

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 thou make them after their pattern, which was shown thee in the mount." God, not Moses, was the architect. To decide the plan was the prerogative of the Deity. No one dare alter it so much as a hairbreadth.

The New Testament Church also is built after a pattern. Not the doctrines only but the methods are divinely given. The doctrines are expressly stated in 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 and the remote. The immediate touches the individual and those close to him; the remote extends into the future to unknown times, 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 have 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 divinely-planned structure that the apostles, were they to return to earth today, would scarcely recognize the misshapen thing which has resulted. . . .

We of the evangelical faith are in the 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 soon we shall most surely die by the same means.

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So is it fair to say that

So is it fair to say that Tozer is not just against Christian movies, but he is against any method that is not specifically listed in Scripture as something the church should be doing? For example, the Bible says we should sing, but it doesn't say anything about using musical instruments in church. Honestly, music in the church has sometimes become more of a focus than the actual preaching time, but do we need to go back to just the pattern for music that is spelled out in the New Testament? After all, not much about music is spelled out.

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Since 1/1/13 18:49:52
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It does sound like Tozer

It does sound like Tozer holds to the Regulative Principle of worship.

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Since 3/7/11 11:58:55
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He was against images,

He was against images, pictures, or drama being used in the place of or as a supplement to presenting God's Word, because he did not see any Scriptural authority for their use in any form or context.

Point number 5 might partially address your question about approved methods. Here it is in expanded form:

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 prayer, song,  proclamation of the message by means of words, and good works. These are the four main methods which God has blessed. All other biblical methods are sub-divisions of these and stay within their framework.

I can't speak for Tozer regarding instruments in church and how that might fit into the approved methods he listed. I am unaware if he wrote or preached something about that specifically.

 

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Since 6/3/09 08:58:02
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Brenda T wrote:

Brenda T wrote:

He was against images, pictures, or drama being used in the place of or as a supplement to presenting God's Word, because he did not see any Scriptural authority for their use in any form or context.

Point number 5 might partially address your question about approved methods. Here it is in expanded form:

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 prayer, song,  proclamation of the message by means of words, and good works. These are the four main methods which God has blessed. All other biblical methods are sub-divisions of these and stay within their framework.

I can't speak for Tozer regarding instruments in church and how that might fit into the approved methods he listed. I am unaware if he wrote or preached something about that specifically.

He was against drama period...anywhere.  I think he has an argument based on Scripture about its value in a worship context. He goes way beyond that, of course.  But even in that context, as Aaron originally pointed out, one could make a case that some forms of drama are a sub-division "words."  We don't really know how the Lord's Table was done in New Testament churches, except that it was part of a larger fellowship over a meal. I'm sure it included words, but then they were accompanied by signs.  

Pictures are not forbidden and certainly O.T. worship abounds in visuals (as well as instruments in worship). It cannot, then, be evil. Helpful? That's a matter of opinion. It's a worthwhile question about flannelboards. Are they really harmful in a Sunday School class?  Many good saints seem to have survived their use. I imagine Tozer would have a fit with powerpoint.   Clearly, on occasion, pictures can help understand a text of the Bible.  

Personally, I prefer preaching without visuals (including powerpoint) and generally I don't favor drama in worship settings.  I certainly wouldn't tell anyone else it is inherently corrupt.   Deciding such things for everyone else is the kind of bullying Fundamentalism that isn't very helpful.

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Since 6/15/09 18:29:47
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aaron

Aaron, I think I may not have been clear. When I referenced Jesus's acts, I meant that Jesus didn't do things the same way every time. His healings changed in method, his stories were unique and his parables often confusing. Some of his followers traveled, others kept rooms for him. I was simply saying what the other commenters have noted. Tozer's points appear as gut reactions against technology and a misunderstanding of its implementation into artistic expression. There's no "one" way to get things accomplished in the kingdom. A movie can be a tool.

Having said that...the modern church spends way too much time and money producing slick little videos for advertisement and testimony in an attempt to convince us that discipleship and church life is even more amazing when combined with creative graphics, dramatic music and voice over narration. They also tend to produce poor quality movies with even poorer messages, i.e. Facing the Giants. The church would be better served striving after what it was designed to do and leave movie production to others.

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Thanks, that does help.

Several posts have touched on how Tozer would view various things. It would be interesting to research the particulars. But application of the Regulative Principle involves defining categories and category boundaries. What I mean is, many who hold to RP are OK w/use of a piano in worship even though this instrument is not named in Scripture. The reasoning is that it is just another type in a category that is authorized in Scripture (e.g., the Psalms): musical instruments.

I suppose some would draw a line at electronic instruments... as a new category, though I don't recall seeing that argument.

As for film, the question for those who hold to RP would be whether drama and film are in a different category from things are authorized in Scripture for worship. It's pretty clear to me that though story telling may have some role (so much of Scripture is narrative), drama is at least a diff. category of story telling and one Scripture does not appear to encourage in worship... RP would certainly suggest its unfitness for that purpose.

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