This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What is the moral harm or danger of attending movies in film theaters? What about other forms of secular entertainment such as television, theatrical plays, videos, reading materials, etc.? Are there cautions to be taken when seemingly neutral forms of entertainment become an increasingly large part of one’s life?
In the Assemblies of God there is a wide diversity of belief and practice in entertainment choices. Much of this diversity can be attributed to age-level differences as younger age groups desire to be accepted by peers and join with those peers in common entertainment experiences. The parental and older age groups have experienced similar feelings and have come to realize the dangers of indiscriminate participation in the culture of today’s society, or "the world" as they view it. They seek to preserve youth from an erosion or loss of spiritual relationship with God. The following treatment of the various entertainment media first gives the biblical basis for common concerns, and then, in keeping with the biblical conclusions summarizes traditional and current attitudes toward specific media. As commitment to the Lord matures, it seems evident that concern deepens about the impact of current entertainment forms on spiritual vitality.
General Biblical Principles. What forms and types of entertainment are appropriate for Christians desiring to follow biblical principles? To answer this question, we must begin with the meaning of a command found in both the Old and New Testaments, "Be holy, because God is holy" (Lev. 11:44,45; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15,16). Holiness means "spiritually pure" and "set apart for divine purposes." Only God is sinless, but when we seek to know Him and allow Him to work in our lives, He grants us His holiness. We cannot be holy in our own strength and effort, but we can be declared holy if we seek to please Him in every aspect of His instruction in righteousness and let His Holy Spirit help us abstain from those things that are not pleasing to God.
God calls Christians to live lives separated from sin (Rom. 6:12-19; 1 Thess. 4:3,4). Consequently, when choosing appropriate forms of secular entertainment, we must conclude that all positive portrayals of sinful activities condemned by Scripture are contrary to holy standards. This includes adultery, sexual activity before marriage, glorifying homosexuality, and anything that stirs wrongful desires. However, it is in the portrayal of activities which are neither condemned nor approved by the Bible that Christians need special wisdom and guidance. Even here, however, Scripture has instructive guidelines and principles.
The apostle Paul taught that there are issues of conduct that are morally neutral and become sin to the individual only when one violates his/her conscience toward God, or causes a brother to do so (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1-13; Romans 14). While the Christian may sometimes have personal freedom in such cases, his liberty is to be tempered and limited by love for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Tempering our Christian liberty is often necessary to maintain a strong testimony so others don’t fall in their walk with God (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:13).
Another aspect of sanctification or holiness is separation. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words for "holy" and "holiness" carry the basic idea of separation from that which defiles or is unclean. We are admonished by Scripture to remember that as a group and as individuals we are the body of Christ and the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:15). Our entertainment activities must not impair our ability to serve and worship God as His living temples (1 Peter 2:4,5).
This principle of separation and holiness is captured in Article IX, Section 6 of the Bylaws of the Assemblies of God. "In its teaching regarding worldliness, the Scripture warns against participation in activity which defiles the body, or corrupts the mind and spirit; the inordinate love of or preoccupation with pleasures, position, or possessions, which lead to their misuse; manifestation of extreme behavior, unbecoming speech, or inappropriate appearance; and any fascination or association which lessens one’s affection for spiritual things (Luke 21:34,35; Rom. 8:5-8, 12:1,2; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 2:8-10, 4:12; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; Titus 2:12)."
A final principle separates those who just want to get by with the least possible effort from those who want to please their Lord and fully experience His presence and power in their lives. Some entertainment is definitely wrong and participation would constitute sin. But there are contemporary forms of entertainment that never existed in Bible days and would therefore not be recorded for our guidance today. This principle might be labeled lawful but not expedient. The apostle Paul underscored this principle twice in his first letter to the Corinthians. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Cor. 6:12). Paul was talking about meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but the principle applies to all activities, including entertainment. A little later in his letter he says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10:23).
Some entertainment can become an addiction. Any form of entertainment in which one participates in excess robs the Christian of valuable time with God. Instead of being built up in Christ, one is often neutralized or dulled spiritually simply by over-indulgence. As Christians we should beware of being brought under the power of anything other than God. Our desire should be to please God with our whole being—our mind, soul, and heart (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). In light of this truth there are times we as believers must ask ourselves, "Does this entertainment edify or build me up in my relationship with God?" or "Can I spiritually afford the temporary distraction the particular entertainment will bring to my life?" Christians should remember that not every entertainment that might be morally permissible is spiritually profitable.
There is a place for wholesome entertainment. Young children who have not yet reached the age of making their own moral choices should enjoy "fun times" with the family. Times of laughing and playing together will contribute much to family solidarity in the difficult teen years. The entertainment need not always be didactic, though learning can come from wholesome entertainment experiences. Some entertainment is neutral, dwelling neither on the portrayal of evil or that of a church service atmosphere. Parents can wisely choose such neutral forms of entertainment for the entire family to enjoy together. The choices will vary with the ages of the children and should be things they can share excitedly with friends. Such experiences will be remembered years later when the children are taunted by peers who say Christians can’t have any fun. But the caution to avoid anything that portrays sinful behavior in a positive light should be heeded.
Movies and Videos. The producers of story-plot entertainment have accommodated public demand by labeling their products to warn of content and age-level appropriateness. This labeling system is secular, not religious. A production can receive an "R" rating for violence, nudity, sexual content, and offensive language. These would be the very things we would caution all ages to avoid because they are anything but edifying. Then there are ratings like PG 13, TV 14, NC 17, etc. The reasoning of the secular rating system is that some content is not appropriate for lower ages because they may not be able to distinguish the fantasy from reality. But the system also encourages one to think, "I’m beyond that age now, so I can and want to see it." What the secular censors say is permissible, though, is not necessarily what the principles of God’s Word would say. Would not our spiritual vitality be stronger if we did not immerse ourselves in such portrayals that approve of actions and lifestyle that are contrary to God’s Word!
A word of caution should be mentioned on "G" rated films and videos. Though there may be none of the "R" rating content, the system does not rate the philosophical mindset behind the plot. A seemingly harmless story in the hands of an activist writer or producer can plant seeds of doubt about biblical truth and Christian behavior. Parents and all adults must be aware of this possibility for children and for themselves. Christian literary critics should be alert to these deviations from truth and warn fellow believers about them.
It is not necessary to physically view many of the entertainment programs and films to see if they provide acceptable leisure time activity for a Christian. In addition to the rating systems, printed reviews of various entertainment media will warn about unwholesome presentations. It is unfortunate that the rating systems provided to help morally concerned viewers avoid violence and sexual content are also used by others to find it.
The public movie theater in which a film is viewed may present an added factor of concern—the unwholesome behavior of non-Christians watching the film at the same time a Christian, often with family members, is present. In all entertainment forms, the Christian must consider the atmosphere created by other audience members as well as the actual content of the entertainment. In some instances wholesome entertainment can be spoiled by cursing, drunken, violent, and abusive crowds.
Television. Television has impacted society and the lives of Christians more than any other worldly influence. Even the sometimes tawdry presentation of religious programming has affected what believers expect in the local church. The slant that news reporters place on the news they report subtly influences our attitudes toward people and issues. Advertisers influence buying habits and desires for new "toys" to occupy leisure time. It all seems so attractive and innocent that cautious judgment is often not exercised.
The movies and plays that appear on television should have the same scrutiny mentioned above. But the sitcoms, late night programs, and comedy presentations are especially seductive. The things we laugh at seem so harmless. They are just funny, not intended to teach truth. But ever so subtly the humor deadens our sensitivity to things that we know are contrary to biblical truth. Some Christians have decided that the television is so much an enemy of the family that they choose not to have television in their homes. Short of such an extreme measure, television should be carefully monitored and never used as a baby sitter for the children.
Cable television presents an additional challenge to adults, parents and spiritual leaders concerned about the moral fiber of our society. In the privacy of one’s own home all forms of salacious material can be accessed through pay-per-view as well as cable channels promoting non-Christian themes and evil practices. Parents and all adults have a responsibility before God of promoting the good and avoiding the evil. Christians should require their cable company to thoroughly block out all poorly scrambled video and audio signals of cable channels that air objectional programming. Cable companies are required by law to provide total blocking filters free of charge to keep such channels from ever reaching the home.
Reading Material. The public library in some communities has become, under the guise of unlimited access without censorship, a collection containing immoral and even pornographic literature in print and through Internet access. Those who remember the libraries of a few decades ago might be shocked at changes that have taken place. This is not evidence of a less prudish public attitude, but of quiet changes that have transpired while Christians neglected to observe and speak out. At the same time, activist groups with anti-Christian agendas have pressed for the inclusion of literature promoting their causes. Bookstores and magazine sections of retail stores blatantly parade reading material that violates general morality as well as biblical teaching. Christians must be discriminating in what they choose to read.
Internet. This most recent of entertainment media promises to be the battlefield on which the church struggles to preserve the purity of its youth and adults. While morality standards have been loosely set for other media forms (though such standards have greatly eroded in recent years), the Internet so far has been free of any constraints or standards. There are blocking programs that do not allow access to certain sites, but these are voluntary and inadequate for eliminating all objectionable sites. Every Christian who surfs the Internet would do well to have affixed to the computer monitor the pledge one distance education school has recommended for its students: "I pledge before God that I will keep my heart and mind pure by avoiding any contact with pornography or inappropriate relationships, especially via the Internet. I will use my computer resources entirely for the glory of God."
In addressing personal standards of holiness, one always runs the risk of being charged with either legalism or promoting worldliness. Some consider any definition of standards as an encroachment on Christian liberty. Others view the failure to denounce specific instances of worldliness as a compromise of holiness. Christians should keep in mind that the above mention of particular media manifestations only illustrates activities that assault our devotion to Christ by repeatedly exposing us to values, standards, and conduct contrary to truth taught by Christ and His apostles. As such, they are alien to the eternal character of the kingdom of God.
Although there is a place for relaxation, entertainment and wholesome exercising of body and mind, God holds us accountable for our choices in the use of our time. Not only will we give account of every idle word that comes from our lips (Matt. 12:36), but we will give account for our stewardship of time and resources. Some Christians feel such a burden for the Lord’s work that they have minimal time for entertainment and recreation, just enough to maintain strong physical and mental strength. The committed Christian wisely weighs the best use of God’s great gift of time. Believers should pray and seek God as they evaluate and rethink the place of entertainment in their personal lives.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The official position on worldliness is found in the Assemblies of God Bylaws, Article VIII, Section 6, as quoted above.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.