Drama – How Far Should We Go?

The theme, as assigned, is intended not only to be eye-catching, but also to give opportunity to consider drama from the point of view of some Reformed principles.  As worded, the theme suggests a presupposed obligation or duty, and so no “Christian liberty,” as there is for example in, “Nutrition: How Far May We Go?”  Christian liberty allows for numerous legitimate possibilities: (1) Forget it!  (2) Sometimes.  (3) Go for it!  Christian liberty does this, too, according to the standard of, and within the bounds of, Christian love—agape love—so that one should go as far as, and no less than as, Christian love dictates.  But, and this must be recognized and tenaciously held, where there are divine commands and /or divine prohibitions, these possibilities do not exist.  For divine commands are not options, but indispensable requirements, “musts;” and neither are divine prohibitions left to whim or choice; they are absolute “must nots.” But then, too, the divine law, consisting of commands and prohibitions, is the law of love and liberty, demanding that we love the Lord our God, and our neighbor as ourselves.  So the “should” part is the “should,” the obligation, of love.

Therefore the Christian may never put it this way: In regard to the Divine Commandment/Divine Prohibition—How Far Should We Go? For there must be exact compliance with God’s commandments, and utter rejection of what He prohibits.

Consider further that “How Far Should We Go” part.  If ever asked, in forgiving an offender, how far should we go? the only answer is, Until seventy times seven.  If asked, in trying the smoking of marijuana, how far should we go? the only answer to that, that we dare entertain is, “into that treacherous area, go not any distance: Say No!  Refuse!”

Still further on How Far Should We Go?—Suppose this is applied to our Reformed (Biblical) principles.  Then it would imply, How far, on and on, into this modern age, should we continue holding this principle that drama is inherently wrong?  Then it would seem, the thinking back of this question is, that we ought to soon get rid of those old principles governing our Reformed stance on drama.  Our reply to this thinking must be, “Be not conformed to this world…”  (Memorize all of Rom. 12:1-2).  Otherwise, though our position is, “We reject ‘common grace’” yet our practice is to idolize it!  Do we in principle and profession detest “common grace,” but in practice cherish it; give it “bed and board”?

Consider other “in regard to” and “how far” possibilities: 1) in regard to “Russian Roulette,” how far should we go?  (a loaded question, really!)  2) in regard to the “slit skirt,” how far should we (young women) go?  (Don’t skirt this question.)  3) in regard to “petting,” how far should we (single young people) go?  (Who says we should go into that?)

Therefore, it is not a question of “should we” where God’s commandments/prohibitions are concerned; it is not even “may we” (have we the right to) in that regard; for it is there all a matter of must/must not.  Suppose the theme were, Drama—Good?  Bad?  or Indifferent?  Then we would have to say, What is commanded is good; what is prohibited is bad, and that nothing, really, is strictly “indifferent.”  There are so called things indifferent, that is, things neither commanded nor prohibited, but left to the options of Christian liberty as guided by love.  Here there must be no interference with individual Christian preferences.  For example, Romans 14:2, “one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs.”  Perhaps the one chooses to live on an island, and eats neither meat nor herbs, but fish, fowl, and fruit.  So—let him!  Another is a strict vegetarian by choice.  We say, Fine! Have a ball!  Either is welcome to his preferences, as long as there is no imposition of his options upon others, and Christian love is not trampled.

Paul says, “All things (not absolutely “all things,” but all things neither commanded nor forbidden, the adiaphora) are lawful for me, but (these) all things are not expedient (not beneficial); (these) all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power (domination) of any.”  Think of those who go to extreme in their enjoyment of nature, as Nimrod (hunting) and Esau (the out-of-doors and hunting).  (Compare I Cor. 6:12 with v. 9, 10, 13).

How does this apply to modern popular drama?  It is certainly not commanded.  Is it an adiaphoron?  Is it as such verboten?  The latter, I think.  Why do I think so?  Because the contents of its productions are forbidden and because drama is not a defensible medium for presenting the truth: “dramatic production is always the lie, the living lie” (TSB, 43, 464).  Therefore, whether the drama of the theatre stage, the movie set, the silver screen, or that run on television, is always lies.  Test this out as follows:  “Try (test) the spirits, whether they are of God.” Doing so, we learn that dramatic productions and producers are not of God, not of the truth, but are the lie.  Five minutes exposure to a TV drama will lash anyone’s conscience with the reality of this.  For producers, performers, and the common commercial movie house audiences are extremely vocal on this point; they make it known in no uncertain terms that they are not of God.  How, then, can we become partakers with that which is not of God and with those who hurl it into our teeth that they are not of God?  Also there are other considerations: consider Tertullian, the stand of the Puritans on drama, the position of The Standard Bearer (see the new TSB Index on drama, movies, theatre, etc.), and the Word of Holy Scripture.

Tertullian (198 A.D., in De Spectaculis, i.e., Of Public Shows) wrote: “The theatre is…the shrine of Venus,” or the Great Whore.  It is “the private council-chamber of immodesty…Harlots…victims of the public lust are brought forward on the stage…They…fan the sparks of carnal lust.”  For Christians to go to the theatre “is to go from the Church of God into the church of the Devil, from the sky to the sty.”  In the theatre, those on stage and those in the audience do “minister (the one) with the tongue, (the other) with the ears, to the Devil against God…”  (The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft by Cheney, David McKay Co., Inc., N.Y., (C) 1929…1966,–Lib. Cat. No. 792:09; Chap. VI, The Theatre in the Church, pp. 134, 135; Chap. XIII, The Puritans and the Chapel of Satan, p. 285ff.)  “The Theatre…the Devil invented…(he) had…given it to the pagans…(who) bequeathed it to the papists, who allowed it in the House of God.”  -Puritan William Crashaw, 1607.

“Satan hath not a more speedy way, and fitter school to…bring men and women into… concupiscence and filthy lusts of wicked whoredom than those places…plays and theatres…People…shame not to say, and affirm openly, that plays are as good as sermons, and they learn much or more at a play, than they do at God’s Word preached…Many can tarry at a vain play two or three hours, when as they will not abide scarce one hour at a sermon…”  At the theatre “You will learn how to be false…how to play the harlot…how to flatter, lie, swear, to allure to whoredom, to murder, how to poison, how to disobey and rebel against” authority, to stir to “lusts…to be idle, to blaspheme, to sing filthy songs of love, to speak filthily, to be proud, to mock, scoff and deride” all good.  – Puritan John Northbrooke, 1577, p. 286.

Phillip Stubbes complained that those of the theatre draw “the people from hearing the Word of God, from godly lectures and sermons…to flock thither, thick, and threefold, when the church of God” is left “bare and empty…They maintain bawdery, foolery, heathen idolatry, whoredom, uncleanness…They devour maidenly virginity and chastity…”  (287-88).

These attacks by the Puritans (1550-1620) brought bitter answers from the theatre in caricatures of Puritans in scores of comedy plays.  Cheney, author of the above work, then wrote, “but now the theatre is definitely down on the side of the anti-Puritans…on the side of the loose-livers.

“In 1632, after seven years’ labor on the work, William Prynne…the very type-figure of Puritan, published Histrio-Mastix, an 1100 page blast against the stage and its immoralities…”

Prynne happened to include a remark that actresses were “notorious whores”—a fact well-known—but at the moment of publication of his treatise, Queen Henrietta Maria was rehearsing for an amateur theatrical performance.  Prynne was stood in the pillory, condemned to life imprisonment, fined, branded with S.L. (seditious libeler) on both cheeks; then his ears were cut off!  (290)

“In our own twentieth century, managers and playwrights, with nothing but money in mind, put on the stage sensational pieces, parading violence, nudity and sexual perversion…” – Cheney, ibid., 291.  “if one reads through some of the more successfully suppressed plays of the time of the Stuarts…one may feel that a great many people were using the stage simply for the exhibition of pornographic situation and filth…” (ibid., 290).  “We have today our exploiting producers who cloak pornography under ‘realism’…We may wonder at the open and apparently officially arranged soliciting by prostitutes…customary in some of the larger theatres of Paris even today…”

“The Puritans closed all theatres in 1642.  Then after the Puritan era there followed the so-called ‘Restoration times.’ (ibid., 292) The audience for which the Restoration comedy was written was the …king’s own circle…of fops, beaux…and the light-thinking and easy-living court ladies, headed by a debauched king (ibid., 300).  So that, if one were to write an essay on the theme, Drama—How Rated?, it would all boil down to one word—condemned!

Why is this so serious?  Because acting is committing double or multiple sins, depending on how many parts one performer plays in a drama.  Sometimes an actor is able to demonstrate his superior acting skill by appearing in any given drama under the guises of two, three, or even four different character parts.  Since acting out sin is sin, the actor not only acts out his own sin, but the sin of as many character parts he plays.  Dramas have always been full of profanity and bad language.  Today the wicked profane use of the word “hell” is nauseatingly prevalent on TV, even on the local, national, and world news, plus the fact that Christ’s name may be taken in vain two or three times in one “show.”  Now add to this the fact that the profanity-ridden movie is shown in local theatres all over town, and so, similarly, in towns all across the country.  Thus cursing, swearing, and blasphemy are multiplied almost astronomically.  Any person in a drama who utters but one word of profanity is not only responsible for that one instance but also for the ever multiplying repetitions of it, including the re-runs soon to be rescheduled, and very likely repeated years later, even after the performer and perpetrator has been long dead.  So it is possible for a sinner to be held responsible for a long line of sins occurring after his death.

The one great Reformed principle which condemns drama is the Reformed doctrine of the antithesis.  Read II Cor. 6:14-18.  Watching a drama, we become so taken up and involved with the intensity of the actions of the performers that we become unequally yoked with those unbelievers.  As we watch their portrayals of adultery, fornication, and robbery, etc., and listen to their profanity, we who profess to be righteous in Christ have fellowship this way with unrighteousness; we who profess to be “sons of the light, sons of the day, not of the night, nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:5) enter into communion with darkness.  What part do we believers have with infidels?  We are the temple of the living God: shall we profane His temple by turning it into a synagogue of Satan?  “God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them.’”  Shall we then take Christ in us (Gal. 2:20), take Him to make Him have concord with Belial?  Our calling is to come out and away from such corrupting, defiling contacts, separate ourselves from them, and “touch not the unclean thing.”  Not to obey these laws of the gospel is to commit what kind of sin?  Covenant-breaking!  Re-read II Cor. 6:14-18.

Can we see how the following texts apply to drama?  (If not, we have lost a good deal of spiritual sensitivity to sin.)  “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13); “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Ex. 23:22); “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:28; Cp. Gen. 39:7);  “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1, NIV); “Through covetousness shall they make merchandise of you…having eyes full of adultery (lit. an adulteress)…that cannot cease from sin” (II Pet. 2:13, 14); “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanities; and quicken me in Thy way” (Ps. 119:37); “neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Mt. 7:18); Rom. 3:19; “Whatsoever things are…pure…think on these things” (Phil. 4:8); “Keep thyself pure” (I Tim. 5:22e).