[*I requested a friend of mine, Mitchell Killian, to write an article regarding entertainment and the believer… here is the first half. My thanks to Mitchell for taking the time to share his thoughts on this issue. I have found it most helpful.]
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord…” Heb. 12:14
The Call to Holiness
It is clear that God demands holiness from His children. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God commands that we be holy because He is holy (Lev. 11:44-45; I Pet. 1:13-16). This holiness is neither a call to monasticism nor a renouncement of all temporal enjoyments or activities, but it is rather a call to dedicate ourselves wholly to God for His purpose and His activities in the world. The word “holiness” () means consecrated, separate, or marked off. According to Vines, to the Greeks the word indicated something dedicated to the gods. Thus when we are told to be “holy” we are told to be consecrated to God.
Now to be certain, in a theological, yet very real, sense, all Christians have a “positional” holiness that was accomplished by the crosswork of Christ. I Peter 2:9 speaks of the church as a “holy nation and a peculiar people (i.e. a people for His own possession).” Those who are in the kingdom of Christ are no longer in the kingdom of the world and thus are separate from it. However, the evidence of this positional holiness is a practical holiness. The positional holiness does not remain a mere theological concept but bubbles over into the everyday attitudes and actions that we feel and do. In fact, I Peter 1:14-16 expects that this holiness should trickle down into every part of our conduct. Every area of our life is to be dedicated to God. From our church services to our vocation to our entertainment choices, every aspect of our life is to be dedicated to God. This last aspect is the subject of this article. Some may pish posh the thought that one’s Christianity should affect his entertainment choices, but we are expected to practice holiness in all things. Thus we must know how holiness applies to this area of our lives.
The Call to Holiness and Hermeneutics
Few would argue that holiness is a requirement for a Christian, but many have debated through the years what this holiness looks like in practice, especially when it comes to entertainment. Many have indeed ignored this in their choices of entertainment and have severely damaged themselves. Others, however, have established a system of regulations, rules, and standards that bypasses true holiness and replaces it with self-righteousness. Both of these extremes can be seen in the Scriptures. The Corinthian church justified gross sexual immorality, mistreated others in the fellowship, and “enjoyed” contention all in the name of Christian liberty. On the other hand, the Colossian church was being taught by false teachers that the way to holiness was by establishing strict rules of conduct. “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” Both of these approaches to the Christian life were condemned as carnal and fleshly (I Cor. 3:1; Col 2:23) and both lead to unholy lives.
How then are we to know how to live a holy life? We cannot merely seek the center between the above extremes like a bubble on a carpenter’s level. We cannot rely upon how a particular activity makes us feel. We cannot rely on a Christian leader’s fiat. We cannot “err on the side of caution.” The one means by which we can authoritatively judge holiness is by the Word of God. If we do less than what the Scriptures require of us, then we are living in disobedience. If we require more then what the Scriptures demand, then we are adding to God’s Word. Those who are disobedient will label the holy Christian a legalist. Those who are overly restrictive will label the holy Christian a libertine. Yet the one who lovingly and faithfully obeys the admonition of the Scriptures is a student approved unto the Lord.
To the Christian, God has given great and precious promises in His Word by which we may know all things that pertain to life and godliness (II Pet. 1:1-4). Jesus in His prayer to His Father mentioned that His followers would be made holy by the Word of truth (John 17:17). Thus the path to holiness is through hermeneutics; that is, the study of what the Scriptures mean. If we want to be holy people, then we must be Scriptural people. We must speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent. To be more spiritual than the Scriptures is not holiness.
In the second century of the early church, there lived a man named Tertullian. By all accounts, Tertullian was a sincere man who strove against heresy and for the sake of the gospel. Yet he provides for us a fine example of going beyond Scripture in his quest for holiness. In his pamphlet “Spectacles” Tertullian wrote: “The art of wrestling belongs to the Devil’s trade: it was the Devil who first crushed men. The very movements of the wrestler have a snakelike quality: the grip that takes hold of the opponent, the twist that binds him, the sleekness with which he slips away from him.” (Spectacles, ch. 18 http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/LostBooks/tertullian_spectacles.htm) Rather than appeal to the Word of God, he simply tries to condemn the orange while comparing it to the apple because he was not comfortable with the sport. We must be careful that we do not follow his example.
We must interpret Scripture before we can apply it
One of the ways by which many Christians unintentionally add to Scripture is by misinterpreting a passage. Many times this is done by “proof texting” or pulling one verse out of the paragraph in which it was written. Rather than processing the flow of thought of the writer and digesting the intended meaning of the whole passage, the reader sees a verse or phrase, grabs it, and begins applying it everywhere his creative mind might take it. However, this is not the proper use of Scripture. As my friend Forrest once told me, “We must interpret Scripture before we can apply it.” Before we can take a verse or passage and start putting it in use, we have to do the work to understand what it meant to the one who wrote it. This one truth will revolutionize the way that a Christian uses the Bible.
As an illustration of this principle and in keeping with the theme of the holy Christian and entertainment, let us evaluate a passage that is often used in arguments regarding movies and television: Psalm 101:3. “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Many will take this verse and use it in their argument against depictions of sinfulness in cinema. They say that if a movie depicts immorality, includes swearing, or portrays violence, then a Christian is sinning by viewing such a movie. Those who willfully see (and by extension, hear) wicked things are sinning against God.
Before we deal with the proper interpretation of this Psalm, we should understand the consequences of such a use of this verse. First of all, we cannot limit the verse to the big three sins of illicit sex, profanity, or violence. If this is the right use of the verse, then we must also include drunkenness and lying as well which means that the beloved Andy Griffith show is unfit to watch as it lampoons drunkenness and excuses lying for the sake of someone’s feelings. But it cannot stop there. We also could not willfully attend work at a secular workplace as profanity and gossip are so prevalent. What about the places of Scripture that depict wickedness such as the story of Judah and Tamar or David and Bathsheba? Should we not set those wicked deeds before our eyes? In fact, Jesus Himself would not stand up to this standard as He willfully spent time with the wicked publicans, prostitutes, and sinners. This interpretation is quite lacking.
Although a full interpretation of this Psalm is beyond the scope of this article, there are a few things that we can understand about it to help us interpret it properly. Notice these statements:
- “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off:” (vs 5)
- “Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land” (v. 6)
- “He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.” (v. 6)
- “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land;” (v. 8 )
If we were to apply verses five and eight the same way some apply verse three, then we would be obligated to kill those who slander their neighbor and those who are wicked in the land. It is dishonest to interpret verse three differently from the other portions of the passage. There is a much better interpretation of the Psalm.
Consider the four clauses above. Notice that David is speaking of one with power. He is speaking of capital punishment in verses five and eight. He is speaking of observing those throughout the land that are faithful in verse six. Again in verse six, he speaks of those who will be his servants. It seems that he is speaking as a government leader, as the king of Israel.
Some may point out the use of “house” in verses two and seven, but this word does not necessarily speak of a home or family. The Hebrew word here has a broad range of meanings from a home to a family to the abode of the dead to a palace. Understanding “house” as “palace” then, the idea here is not that David is setting up the rules of his domestic household but is explaining the inner workings of his administration in the palace. Keil and Delitzsch agree calling this the “prince’s Psalm.” These commentators quote Luther in referring to this as “David’s mirror of a monarch.” They cite this story concerning this Psalm:
Eyring…relates that he sent an unfaithful minister a copy of the 101st Psalm, and that it became a proverb in the country, when an official had done anything wrong: He will certainty soon receive the prince’s Psalm to read.
So what then is the meaning of verse three in context with the other parts of the Psalm? David is saying that he would not allow some wicked or worthless matter or purpose to come before him. For instance, he would never consider a proposal to abuse the poor or commit injustice for he was committed to mercy and judgment (v. 1). “The work of them that turns aside” speaks of those who would attempt to derail him from his purpose.
What then is the application of this passage? This is an admonition to government officials to do good, love mercy, and maintain justice. This is a powerful use for this passage. By twisting the words from their context, we lose the real purpose of the Psalm. How many of us have heard it referred to in a message on Christian living, but we have never heard it preached as a charge to government leaders? Many other passages have seen the same abuse. Let us be zealous to understand the Scriptures for what they mean rather than what we want them to say!