1. Introduction and Definition
2. Biblical Principals
a. A Bad Form of Entertainment
b. A Good Form of Entertainment
3. Types of Entertainment
a. Films and Plays
b. The Internet
c. The Church
1. Introduction and Definition
The subject of 'Entertainment' is one that is often ignored in 'christian circles'.
Leadership often shies away from bringing messages that deal Scripturally with the present day concept of the term and for good reason - you'll never find the word throughout the entire Bible (except, in the RSV, in Acts 28:7 and Heb 13:2 - but in each of those places, the content of the word is about hospitality) and reference to events that could be described as being 'entertaining' to the masses or that act as 'entertainment' are difficult to come by even though, from NT history, we know of the spectator sports of Greek and Roman culture.
For example, we may think of David playing his musical instrument as being a simple matter of the wasting away of spare time in a manner that he took great pleasure in (I Sam 18:10) but that he's also referred to as the 'sweet psalmist of Israel' (II Sam 23:1) and that his name sits at the head of numerous psalms in the Book of the same name, makes us think, perhaps, that his singing and playing were directed at YHWH rather than simply singing the 'new ballad' that was passing round the city.
The former, therefore, would be seen to be more a religious duty (for want of a better term) while the latter to be something superfluous and trivial.
And, because of that, trying to find events that can only be illustrations of whiling away the time because there was too much of it available (when people were getting bored with doing nothing) is difficult.
Besides, in ancient times, survival was a key for both individuals and societies and, unless you were a king or prince living off the taxes of the populace, you didn't have too much time to fritter away.
Only in today's society when spare time has become relatively excessive in the West has there been a need to fill it with hobbies and pastimes that stop us from becoming morose and, perhaps, even a little suicidal (although some people don't need the excuse).
Depending on your particular denomination, you may already have been given specific 'Thou Shalt Nots' about all manner of entertainments that your leader or organisation deem inappropriate for the believer to participate in.
For example, many devout believers refuse to accept that anything good can come from the Film Industry while others renounce all rock music as being 'of the devil'. In the early years of the Internet, believers shunned the immorality and licentiousness of the web sites that were springing up all over the world (actually, they're still springing up all over the place at an even greater rate today and probably always will do) but, today, they're more likely to surf the web with certain adult filters in place to protect themselves and their children from impurity (some would still regard it as akin to wearing a condom when committing adultery - but that's another matter entirely that I shan't go into).
Some believers saw the Internet as a great tool to proclaim the Gospel while for others it was an all conquering vice pervading civilisation that they needed to be protected from - sometimes at one and the same time. But, whether we like it or not, it has become a source of entertainment to fill up the empty hours of our lives - we can watch films, film reviews, check what's happening in Cuba or watch a real time video of the weather in England (and some people who live in England watch the video, too, when it would be easier to look out the window) all from the comfort of our own computer chair.
Never before has there been so much to fill up the emptiness that we created for ourselves when we dealt with the food issues in the West and freed up survival time with the need to be entertained.
If there wasn't so much spare time, there wouldn't be a need for so much entertainment.
In this specific discussion of the term, I shall use Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary of the verb and noun to define the concept. To entertain, then, is defined as
'...to hold the attention or thoughts of: to hold the attention of pleasurably: to amuse...'
while entertainment is
'...amusement: a performance or show intended to give pleasure...'
In this case, we have to discount work from the content of entertainment (even though some people find pleasure in their work - and, indeed, it isn't a sin to do so although thinking about work morning, noon and night is more to be pitied than envied).
Also discounted must be the survival side of our own existence - the cooking, feeding, washing, sleeping and so on - that keep the body healthy and ticking over as it should. Going to the doctor for a check up can hardly be assessed as a form of entertainment (even though some hypochondriacs may disagree with me on this point).
Even spiritual matters should be excluded from our concept if we accept that, just as food equips the body to function properly, so living in union with YHWH equips the soul to function both morally and righteously in the world as He intends it to.
Entertainment, then, for the sake of our discussion, is something that captures the thought and life of an individual for a certain amount of time, when the cares of the world are forgotten or subjugated before something that is infinitely more enjoyable and interesting.
In this sense, entertainment becomes some form of escape from reality, from the necessities of life that demand large amounts of our time and which have to be done.
Entertainment is optional, always - or else it would no longer be entertainment.
Man cannot live without food and drink but he can exist without any form of entertainment (although, in my opinion, it can enrich his life if the right sort of entertainment is enjoyed).
So, if you rise at the crack of dawn and travel two hours to your place of work, endure a twelve hour shift to earn a resource that you use up to buy the food you eat after your two hour return from your workplace, only to then go back to bed for eight hours sleep before getting up once more to repeat the cycle, you will live (so long as you have one day off in seven to rest), but to neglect provision for the sake of throwing oneself into various forms of entertainment will bring disaster upon you - because the enjoyment of entertainment brings a diversion to reality but not a provision for continued well being.
I admit that there are many bleed overs from essential work to superfluous pastimes - and if the art critic enjoys watching the films he gets paid to comment on, is that work or entertainment? - but, by and large, for the purpose of this discussion, entertainment is the non-essential but enjoyable pastime that occupies a person's time that he has nothing else to do with.
There are all manner of subjects that we could list here - but we won't.
But the Entertainment Industry has grown so large in the West that one person's entertainment is another man or woman's work at which he receives provision to live. If all forms of entertainment were banned over night, millions would face hunger and death because they are the workers that make a person's entertainment possible.
Indeed, entertainment is so much an integral part of Western Society that the believer must learn how to deal with it appropriately rather than to campaign for its abolition.
In conclusion, for the purposes of this discussion, 'Entertainment' will be defined as the pastime that takes place outside of the necessity of survival and the pursuit of God.
2. Biblical Principals
Having stated above that it's only in today's Western Culture that the time available for entertainment has become relatively excessive, we shouldn't think that we're asserting that there was an infinitely small amount of time available to the ancient person that they had to devote to 'non-essential' items.
If a man was a farmer, there would be no point sitting around watching and urging the plants in the field to grow ('Cummon, you radish, grow! Grow!'). There would have been a need to weed fields to give the crop less competition and a greater yield, to prune fruit plants to maximise the harvest and to build or plant, perhaps, protective walls to break any winds that were expected to sweep across the field that brought destruction and which stunted growth. But that wouldn't have taken up sixteen hours in a man's day, six days a week..
It's not a surprise, therefore, that, when the first 'occupations' or 'crafts' are mentioned (apart from Abel being a keeper of sheep and Cain being a tiller of the ground in Gen 4:2) that the potential for entertainment comes straight to the fore.
In Gen 4:20-22 (my italics), we read that
'Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle. His brotherís name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubalcain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron...'
Although Jabal becomes the 'father' of tent dwellers and raiser of cattle (in the sense that he became the first of mankind to do so rather than the direct genealogical ancestor of everyone who did as he did) which directs us specifically to survival, and Tubalcain becomes the 'father' of all blacksmiths which directs us to the production of instruments that could be used in the production of food for survival (of course, the text doesn't specifically say so - man is so resourceful that the first blacksmith may have invented a blade before going out and killing someone with it!), it's Jubal who seems to invent something that is totally superfluous to survival - the musical instrument.
After all, you can't plough a field with a harp or cook a chicken with a lyre (although some people have, no doubt, tried down through the ages) - rather, you use them to 'make music' and, therefore, one has to imagine that it became an integral part of mankind's culture from an extremely early date (see also my notes on 'Secular Music'), something that didn't directly cause them to - or indirectly help them to - survive.
We would probably not be going too far to imagine that, after doing what one could in tending the flocks and herds or after weeding and pruning the crop, a man sat down, picked up his Yamaha twelve string with Shadow pick up and wah-wah pedal (or ancient equivalent) and produced a sound that he enjoyed.
Even during the evening, when a wife cooked a meat dinner or prepared a vegetarian meal, we might think of someone picking up an instrument and plucking or strumming away to the howls of wild dogs (as happens even today).
It is unlikely that musical instruments could have been used in the direct or indirect production of items needed for survival. Instead, entertainment seems about the best explanation for their invention (or, perhaps better, they were invented as an entertainment when mankind had time on his hands that he couldn't fill) and any thought we may accept that the early men and women had 'no time' to do anything but survive must be discounted.
They had time - or else they couldn't have invented both necessary and superfluous items for their lives, the former to help them survive and the latter to enhance its quality.
That songs weren't the main production from these early instruments seems intended to be drawn from Gen 11:1 where, speaking of a time after Gen 4:20-22, we read that
'...the whole earth had one language and few words'
They may have wailed a bit (and so become the fathers of modern pop music) but, essentially, music was lyricless. However, this verse is possibly more rightly understood to be teaching us that the earth had the single language but few dialects. That is, they had a fully developed language but they could all understand one another because local inflections were rare.
Because it's not directly spoken about by YHWH in the Bible, we can't go on to assert that such an invention was 'Divine' but, as I stated in my previously cited web page by comparing all three of the inventions of the men on Gen 4:20-22,
'Jubal, the father of all those who play musical instruments...was...involved in a pastime that was inherently neutral'
The source of this type of entertainment was neither for nor against God and, therefore, it's what we make of the invention that determines whether it's use can be considered to be either righteous or sinful. And, further, that men and women had time on their hands that they needed to fill must also cause us to think that it's not the availability of free time that's inherently sinful but the way we choose to fill it up that determines whether the 'entertainment' is either acceptable to or will be condemned by YHWH.
a. A Bad Form of Entertainment
II Sam 11:1-12:25
As previously noted, passages about entertainment are difficult to come by in the Bible - not that there wasn't such a thing but because the Scriptures are concerned to deal with other matters. However, an example of a bad use of one's spare time and, therefore, of a bad form of entertainment, can be found in the story of David and Bathsheba.
Perhaps the most dreadful of all the verses in this passage is II Sam 11:1 where we read
'In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel...'
because it removes David from an occupation that had become part of his very being - to go out against the enemies of Israel and to subdue them. Instead of encamping with the armies of Israel against Rabbah of the Ammonites and plotting the city's overthrow (II Sam 11:1), he finds himself sitting at home in Jerusalem, trying to find something to do with his spare time.
Truly, leaders don't need too much time on their hands - the same as all men and women. There is a need for rest and relaxation, to have the opportunity for recreation and the enjoyment of pastimes that can't be taken up while at work - but men and women were made to do and, when there becomes a void that's too long for the need for rest, boredom sets in and a need arises to have the spare time occupied with something that captures the imagination and senses.
Although the proverb
'The devil finds work for idle hands'
is only sometimes true (because men and women all need time in which to be idle and rest), it's certainly applicable in the present situation. With another stroke of inevitability, the writer (II Sam 11:2) tells us the consequences of David's action when
'...late one afternoon...David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the kingís house [when] he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful'
David needed something to do and, while walking on the rooftop of the palace, perhaps naturally, he found his mind drifting onto that little raver who was washing herself in the next apartment (to put it in more present day phraseology) after her menstrual cycle had just been completed (for a detailed exposition of this incident, see my notes here).
He may have seen her before once or twice - perhaps more often - but it seems never to have crossed his mind that she had a beauty that he found desirable (or else he would, surely, have asked the question of II Sam 11:3 before this moment and known who she was). The fact that now he had time on his hands was the contributing factor in the act that he was about to commit, that would destroy the kingdom in his possession and bring untold hardship and pain to his life (II Samuel 12:10 fulfilled in II Sam 13:28-29 and I Kings 1:5 - II Samuel 12:11 fulfilled in II Samuel 16:22).
Instead of remaining bored - or of trying to find something that occupied his time in a more productive or, at least, less unrighteous way - he took Bathsheba and entertained himself with her (to put it in this article's language).
Actually, it's not too bad an example of what happens in the present day in non-christian society (and, to our shame, what happens in the Church, too) - we have, generally, too much time on our hands (there are people who have no time at all because of the pressure of work and the items that need to be done when they return home each evening but a great many people who complain about not having time are ones who actually have a great amount of spare time but have managed to fill it up with all manner of 'non-survival' pastimes that we have lumped together here under the banner 'entertainment').
Although there was an explosion of sexual practice in the sixties when contraceptives became widely available, that there was also ample spare time to pursue the experience contributed to sex becoming one of the most common forms of entertainment.
Instead of men and women settling down into a family unit and using sex as a means towards an end (of raising children or of renewing the union of husband and wife), it became a recreational entertainment and the resulting consequence of children were a curse more than a blessing (even among those who have fallen pregnant and given birth to children, the attitude of the parent towards the child is very often detachment, where the child is expected to grow up themselves and to stop imposing needs upon the parent who's looking after it).
And sex is a huge industry, an entertainment that millions of people find employment in (back in the mid or late eighties, I heard the Managing Director of one of the big National concerns that promoted sex say that in the coming years sex would be one the biggest growth areas in entertainment. It's a shame I didn't write down the quote so I could relate it word for word, but his pronouncement has certainly come true).
One has only to consider the amount of sex that appears in films (another form of entertainment that will be dealt with below), the rise of semi-pornographic men's and women's magazines in recent years (my eyes seem to be bombarded with the magazine 'Nutz' wherever I go - on billboards, adverts on telly. Either it's one last attempt to get a readership before they go bust or there are large numbers of men out there that they know they'll reach and make money out of), the national chains of sex shops that have outlets in High Streets (and in special house parties - not secretive meetings attended by people ashamed of their 'habit' but usually women who are all too excited about the evening's get together that they like to tell everyone in the Office where they work), the increase of articles in 'normal' magazines of sex-related issues (from what I remember of the Women's magazines my mother used to buy when I was young, it was all about 'How to please your man'. Now the articles predominate on 'How to please your man in bed'. As if no one cares if you're a good cook so long as you're a good lay - personally speaking, a good British roast is more desirable but, there again, perhaps I'm weird), email spam (I get so many spams that are directly or indirectly related to sex - Viagra is one such drug that they announce to me as being able to 'keep me going all night' when Syrup of Figs has the same effect and it's cheaper. And, if I'd taken up all the offers of penis enlargements I'd ever received, I'm sure that it would have been able to go round the globe at least twice by now) and, more especially, how men and women appear pre-occupied with sex talk even in normal conversation - all things considered, it's not hard to see that sex has moved into the realm of the master rather than that of the servant.
And a very bad master it makes, too.
But it's just an entertainment - as much as watching sport or gardening. The problem is that it's not a righteous pastime - neither a morally neutral one - but one that is a direct affront to YHWH. As such, the believer should shun this sort of filling of their time. As Paul wrote in I Thess 4:3-6
'For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you'
and that, as a preventative measure of using sex as an entertainment (I Cor 7:2), or, as Paul puts it,
'...because of the temptation to immorality...'
'...each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband'
As a slight aside, we should note that the world has also replaced the word 'sex' with the more self-justifying word 'love' so that one and the same concept are involved in the 'newspeak'. When believers speak to the world about 'love', no wonder the world becomes a little confused or bewildered - even worse, when the Church adopts the world's concept of the word and begins to live it out.
Unfortunately, the Church hasn't yet come to terms with this changed meaning and has yet to adequately express the Gospel in language that is unambiguous and plain. If we'd say 'Consider how much God is devoted to you and your welfare that He took your deserved punishment for everything you've done wrong' it may have more of an impact than saying 'God loves you and died for you' which can become trite and meaningless.
Little more needs to be said on the matter except to reiterate from the story of David and Bathsheba that spare time can be filled with a form of entertainment that is clearly opposed to God, that is clearly spoken against within Scripture.
b. A Good Form of Entertainment
It seems to me that there are good forms of entertainment that aren't directly associated with the pursuit of God. Perhaps it would be better to have entitled this section 'Morally Neutral Forms of Entertainment' but, as it seems to me that man was expected to have 'spare time' from the outset, it also seems logical to accept that there were pastimes that were neither commanded nor forbidden that could be safely taken up to broaden a man's experience and to make his life more enjoyable (like Stamp Collecting or Train Spotting - although some people regard these as part of the Fall and not within God's original intention for mankind).
However, trying to find a good Biblical example is difficult. We never, for instance, read of the population of a small village somewhere in Israel talking amongst themselves and saying things like
'Are you coming down to the village square tonight? Saul and his acrobatic donkeys are in town - I hear they're really good'
'The polka band from Hebron are coming next Tuesday. Have you got tickets?'
Although we established in the first section that, in Gen 4:20-22 there is a clear indication that music became a part of mankind's everyday life at a very early stage, finding other examples of pastimes that aren't condemned isn't easy.
Music, however, does seem to be one of those occupations or pastimes that became an integral part of everyday life - something that was used in secular applications. When the victorious Israelite armies returned from battle (I Sam 18:6-7), we read that
'...the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with timbrels, with songs of joy and with instruments of music. And the women sang to one another as they made merry "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands"'
Although this isn't what we would even loosely describe as being 'entertainment' (but it doesn't appear to have been an uncommon practice - Ex 15:20-21, Judges 11:34), later in I Sam 29:5, the commanders of the Philistines ask the rhetorical question
'Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances "Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands"?'
Notice, then, that the existence of song, music and dance in Israel is evidence of 'spare time' (see also Lam 5:14-15, Ps 137:2-4 where 'ordinary', unreligious music seems to be implied). They weren't singing to one another about YHWH but about the ordinary events of their fellow Israelites who had gone out to battle and returned victorious.
The occasions for such use of music may have been, for example, when, gathered round an evening family meal, they recounted their heritage and the history of their nation in song and dance - the reader is probably able to imagine various other times at which song and dance would have been appropriate and it's not hard to accept that music flooded the highways and byways of the nation.
But, at the very least, it shows us that there was time available in which men and women took part in an 'ordinary' pastime and in which they were able to practice as they learnt their skill in playing.
Gen 26:8 is also an interesting, if somewhat peculiar, verse. Isaac had come to live in Gerar and, like his father Abraham, feared in case he declared Rebekah to be his wife (Gen 26:6-7). Therefore, he told everyone that she was his sister and life went on.
However, after a long time
'...Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out of a window and saw Isaac fondling Rebekah his wife'
The word translated by the RSV as 'fondling' here is one that would more rightly be used to speak of laughter - the AV uses the phrase 'sporting with' and leaves the rest to the reader's imagination. It would have been better if the phrase 'playing with' had been used as this seems to convey the joviality of the underlying Hebrew.
What is certain, though, is that they weren't sitting down at a board and playing a game of chess - Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebekah engaging in an action that could only be imagined to take place between a husband and wife (Gen 26:9) - some sort of intimacy must be read into the passage that stops short of 'sex' which, it has to be believed, would have been clearly stated had it been taking place.
All that can be said is that time was clearly available in which Isaac and Rebekah could choose to be entertained by the other in a way that was only right and proper between married couples.
The only fitting backdrop to the story of Jonathan's sounding out of his father, Saul, is that it was a common practice for men who were regulars in the army to practice their skills (I Sam 20:18-23, 35-42) - in this case archery.
In Saul's day, there appears not to have been a group of men specifically set aside for the defence of the nation and the assault on those that lay close by. But, rather, as and when they were needed, the trumpet of war was sounded throughout the land or messengers sent with the declaration and men gathered with their weapons to march against their enemy (Judges 6:34-35, I Sam 17:1-2 - notice I Sam 17:13 where it says that David's brothers had followed Saul to the battle as if there was a choice).
But it would have been unlikely that such a people had had no practice - while it may be reasoned that skilled archers were common because of the nature of hunting, it couldn't be said that a swordsman would find the same expertise in providing for himself.
What Jonathan's practicing shows is that it's not unlikely that time was made throughout all the settlements of Israel for the men to learn the ways of war so that, when they were called together to fight, they had at least some skill.
This is not, I agree, a direct example of 'entertainment' but it does lend a hand when we read II Sam 2:12-15 - a difficult passage about which to be certain of a correct interpretation.
The opposing forces of Ishbosheth and David met by the pool of Gibeon, one on each side of the water. Abner, the commander of Saul's army and the one who had rescued Ishbosheth from certain death and caused him to be king (II Sam 2:8-9), spoke to Joab, commander of David's forces (II Sam 2:14), and said
'Let the young men arise and play before us'
(where the Hebrew word translated 'young men' may, in fact, denote seasoned warriors because of the context in which it's used. However, like much of this passage, it's difficult to be certain).
Commentators are in disagreement as to the exact nature of the meaning probably because of the way in which the matter ended (II Sam 12:16-17), but the original intention seems to have been that some form of tough - but not fatal - gladiatorial contest was in mind but that it soon degraded into a fight that spilled over into a full scale battle.
The passage is too difficult to interpret to be sure that some form of 'sport' was in mind but the ambiguity makes it a possibility.
I mention the person of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-39 (esp v.36,39) only briefly as it needs little comment. It's plain that her deeds of good works and giving alms was tied up in finding time to make coats and garments for the less well off.
Although this would be considered an act of faith or religious commitment, it demonstrates to us that time was available to people in the NT to do as they pleased - that Dorcas devoted her time to the support of the poor transformed her time from being simply one of 'neutral' entertainment to one that had a clear purpose and benefit for others less fortunate than herself.
Also mentioned only briefly is Acts 17:21 where Luke tells us that
'...all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new'
Being entertained by 'new teaching' was a part of the lives of the inhabitants of Athens, so much so that one wonders if they had any time to work! It wouldn't be any wonder if they had all listened and turned aside because they seem to have made it their concern to know about matters but not to commit to them - just as there are many people today who like to entertain themselves with the acquisition of knowledge, whether in general matters or in specific subjects that they find a particular interest in.
However, some did follow Paul away and committed themselves to the Gospel (Acts 17:34).
Concluding, the believer is not guilty of desecration or profanity if they use some of their time they have spare from 'living' and 'serving God' to be entertained by a pastime that doesn't deny their relationship with Him.
It's when the experience takes up too much time at the expense of our service of God or when it's an action that is opposed to His clearly revealed will that our need for 'entertainment' must be rechannelled into a specifically neutral pastime.
3. Types of Entertainment
I have included two short discussions on the subjects of 'Films and Plays' and 'The Internet' here to try and develop some further considerations and points that are specific to both media. If we accept that entertainment is inherently neutral, these two areas must be accepted as being equally so - that they rarely ever show that neutrality is another matter entirely but, if they have been taken by the world and satan to further their own aims and desires, it doesn't follow that believers should stay well clear of them and think that they aren't areas of life that can be used to promote or proclaim the Gospel.
For a treatment of the specific forms of entertainment of 'Gambling' and 'Secular Music' see the appropriate web pages linked here.
a. Films and Plays
Many of the principals of this section could equally well be applied to television programs.
Denominational and individual attitudes towards the Film Industry are wide and varied.
At one extreme, there are the 'Thou Shalt Not' brigade who, it seems to me, take the very movie theatre itself as being something akin to a 'house of satan' and the films being his special tool to subjugate the will of men and women to do whatever he chooses them to do. For these people, there's nothing remotely clean about the 'best' celluloid presentation because it's simply the spawn of the enemy (and I dread to think what they make of DVDs).
On the other, there are those believers who see nothing intrinsically wrong with any film whatsoever (the same people who read Stephen King because they enjoy Horror as a genre) and immerse themselves in the media as a pastime or, in some cases, an obsession.
We should remember that the formative years of the Film Industry was a time when moralists opposed the new media and 'believers' (whether they were believers or not is uncertain - they were certainly either church-goers or christianised members of society) were actively encouraged to stay away from participation.
This was a time of great change in American Society in particular and the fashion changes where an ankle might be seen in certain films were often frowned upon as being a sign of decadence and a loosening of morals that were about to consume the nation through God's judgment upon the land.
There's a lot that can be said on both sides of the argument - as there always is - but, looking back on some of the objections to early film makes one laugh. At other times, we can recognise the same types of concerns being raised even today by people who appear to be 'more informed' and 'better balanced', for it's quite true that the portrayal of certain matters on the screen really do provide a stimulus for certain people to go out and do the very same things that they witness.
Although films are intrinsically fantasy - they portray an unreal world to the observer - they're often taken as being true reflections of everyday life and, perhaps worse, lifestyles are changed because the viewer wants to be like the hero they can associate with.
But the real reason why the Film Industry portrays life the way it does is that, in the early years, instead of actively using the media to promote the Gospel, the Church shunned it as being inherently evil. It's no wonder that it turned out the way it has - believers didn't get involved in shaping it so what form was it likely to take?
Therefore, films aren't struggles between portrayals of darkness and light but of choices between darkness and less darkness. Even the most pleasant of films, the happiest of endings to the most desperate of stories, the most perfect kiss that ends the most attractive romance of all time are all fantasy because, in nearly every portrayal of life on the screen, life just doesn't happen like that.
Even those films that are 'based on a true story' are nearly always extrapolated to the most distorted of lies for the sake of selling the product.
The Film Industry portrays a reality that's fake but which we're willing to buy because it helps us to escape our life for a few short hours - it entertains us.
However, that's not to say that such a form of entertainment is useless to the believer - or to God who may speak through a film to both believer and unbeliever alike. Every now and then you get something worthwhile in a film that's worth remembering and applying - the sad fact of the matter being that the majority of cinema-goers care little for meaning and everything for explosions, action, sex and violence.
But, to the believer, although a film may provide a way of escape, a time for them to gasp at the art and ability of the filmmaker, it also can serve them as a way to hear something from God that can be fully received and applied.
However, sometimes, the 'wrapping' it comes in needs to be thrown away - just as children sometimes get so engrossed in playing with the box on their birthday instead of enjoying the present itself!
And, yet, christians can still get involved in the Film Industry if they choose not to lessen their faith in God but to accept only those roles that aren't a denial of their relationship with Jesus - just where the line is drawn that mustn't be crossed is very grey in many areas, it has to be said, but some believers should surely have been a little wiser when it came to appearing in films that most devout believers would never even consider going to watch!
However, because films are made predominantly by unbelievers, it's unlikely that you'll ever get a true believer as a main star - simply because what may prove to be a good career move would probably, at the same time, be a bad relationship move with Jesus.
Even screenplay writers must beware in case they begin to conform their writing to ideas and situations that the world wants to see rather than ones which they need be confronted with. Although a believer may find their work changed without their consent, to actively change what's good for what's profitable is a monster step to take (and a very realistic temptation to give in to).
I have, to date, written four plays - two of which have been put on and one which, although promised for the local stage, I fear may never see the light of day.
In the first, 'Aspects of Murder', performed at the Sheffield Library Theatre on 11 and 12 June 2004, I put together a one-man play for a non-christian friend who'd asked me to consider writing something for him.
Although far from being a totally well-written piece, I was immensely pleased with it - I had been following a national trial's transcript and was amazed to see how illogical and badly conceived arguments were being presented as 'fact'. Even worse, the media circus that was surrounding the entire trial was feeding the population with many misguided statements (and some downright lies, too).
So, I had the idea of following the development of an investigation into the discovery of a dead body through to the examination by the Prosecutor so I could include many of the subjects I had been witnessing in the real trial.
But, this wasn't going to be an attack on the legal system without trying to convey something to the audience about themselves - and this was what I tried to do in the final scene where the Deviant tries to point out that their underlying prejudices are what justifies the way the media deal with offences of this nature.
In other words, although they had been condemning what they'd been seeing for ninety percent of the time, I was trying to wake them up in the last tenth to the fact that such things take place because they consciously approve of them (in a similar manner to the way in which Chaplin's 'Monsieur Verdoux' turns us round from being watchers of the film into the film being our watcher and judge us in the final ten minutes)!
But I had to use the world's language to convey the world's thoughts.
How far any believer thinks they should go is difficult for they must balance the offence that may be caused to believers by the illumination that may come to unbelievers. Unfortunately, some believers have shied away from speaking in the world's language to reach the world even though Paul seemed to find no difficulty at all in doing it (I Cor 9:19-23).
The second play was a straightforward work on Dickens' 'Christmas Carol' to condense it down into another one man play for the same guy.
Although I thought it would be a chore to do, I actually found the subject matter incredibly illuminating (even though Dickens used ghosts to portray meaning and plot!) and even managed to add the message (often axed from present day productions) that Scrooge is already troubled by the evil of his past long before Marley appears to him.
Some may have felt that the use of ghosts and the spirits of departed humans should have been enough to have caused me to leave it well alone - but, because it wasn't a macabre composition, I found it advantageous to make it more like a conversion experience than what it often passes for in the Theatre (a bad man becoming good in some humanistic way - or a bad man becoming good 'like us' which is more deceptive).
The third play was 'Silent' that, as of now, has not been performed (although it's twice been given a date for performance only to be cancelled due to acting commitments and illness).
I had been reading up on the period of the beginning of the Film Industry to about 1930 when Talkies came in, watching the famous films (whenever they were available and cheap!) and trying to think about what challenges they presented to the believers and unbelievers of the day.
Instead of simply leaving the matter to one side after enjoying about six months of reading and study, I decided to attempt to put together something that would record those things I'd seen. The result was the play - but I was also led to turn it into a comment on the way the established, traditional Church responds to new moves of God when they occur, by attempting to control or forbid them.
It was quite an ambitious thing to do but, having let the dust settle, I'm probably happiest with this work of all of them. Again, I chose to use the world's concepts and language to bring across the meaning - although, this time, unless you knew the underlying comment I was intending, you probably wouldn't have noticed it.
What I am trying to say is that a christian can use the world's need for 'entertainment' to convey Truth - either openly and plainly or in a hidden way that won't 'seriously affect the health of the audience'.
Perhaps we won't ever be the highest paid authors in the world (because we won't compromise), but there's no good reason to have to withdraw oneself from the Entertainment Industry when it gives us an opportunity to say something about the One we serve.
In this case, though, instead of entertainment being an 'innocent pastime' it has become a means towards an end and, instead of simple escapism, it has been armed with a sword.
The fourth and final play (written over three days in June 2013) came about when I was talking to a friend on the phone (the same one who put on 'Aspects Of Murder') and talking about a bereavement that his girlfriend was going through. I said to him 'Always remember that it's harder to deal with the living than the dead' and then said 'Hey! I might just write a play for you with that title!'
I wrote the opening scene the following day - a soloquy exploring some pretty bleak and dark concepts of death (some developed from the Book of Ecclesiastes) - but had no idea where the play was to go. It was while walking a neighbour's dogs that I had an idea for an interesting second scene (which became Scene Three) and, from there, once I realised who it was I wanted to kill off, it was just getting the inspiration and the time to get it written.
This play - 'It's Harder To Deal With The Living' - while opening with a straight christian-themed discourse, went on in to ideas about why people lose the will to live, the scars people carry from wars and society's reaction to the frail and elderly.
Although I was quite pleased with it, I doubt if it will ever be put on - it'd hardly have an audience dancing out of the auditorium when the curtain falls!
b. The Internet
The Internet is a global phenomenon - it shows everything there is to experience in life throughout the world whether bad, good or neutral. No one should wonder at the depth and depravity of the web because no one should be surprised at the same depth and depravity of mankind.
Entertainment is everywhere apparent.
Simply accessing the web shows that you're interested in something, somewhere that it holds - whether videos, films, music files, information about the famous or places and so on. The wealth of stuff 'out there' to while away the time is bottomless.
The only surprising thing that makes me dumbstruck is that believers didn't get involved in it sooner and see it as a tool to actively engage the world with the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like a lot of other inventions, we were
'Slow to embrace it but quick to condemn it'
and, for a great many believers, the electronic community is still a place to be avoided - as if we could also shut ourselves into our houses, roll down the shutters and make the world a better place by pretending it doesn't exist.
Just like the rise of the Film Industry, believers never saw the benefits before it was too late, before the people holding the power were already well entrenched and making their money from its continued existence.
The above is too simplistic a statement, I admit, but to a great extent it is true - and it continues to be true in all those believers' lives who continue to desire to make money in their proclamation of the Gospel rather than to freely proclaim the Truth at their own expense.
I would have thought that the Christian Book Publishing organisations, being convinced that the Gospel is the only message of salvation for the world, would have disbanded themselves long ago and, rather, decided to publish books and pamphlets on line totally free as the initial release with hard copies appearing as a secondary consideration for those who didn't own a computer or who needed a 'book on a shelf' for study or for taking into a place where Internet Connections weren't commonplace.
Surprise, surprise, they kept on publishing books to make a profit and have largely ignored the media that has been raised up to get the Gospel out into the world. It strikes me that, instead of being a vehicle for the Gospel, christian book publishing has become simply another form of entertainment that is out there to make its money and to safeguard its continued existence. As a friend told me in a private email recently
'If the Gospel is free, how come christian books are so expensive?!'
If 'christian' Book Publishers really did believe in the message that's been entrusted to them, they would, no doubt, have lived out Jesus' command in Mtw 10:8 that
'You received without paying, give without pay'
and Paul's observation in II Cor 12:14-15 that
'...children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls...'
Charging and receiving money for ministry is most certainly the trait of a child and not that of an adult responsible enough to provide for those who need the food of the Gospel.
Although the Internet could have been a place that believers embraced to get good material out to other believers worldwide, it still stands as a secondary route because it means self-financing, self-loss and a relinquishing of control over the works of literature that are placed there (whether commentaries, self-help books or novels - or anything).
If that had been Jesus' intention, he would have warned His disciples not to write the Gospels until they had a decent Publishing Contract so they could make the most money they could. But, as it was, He chose a rather radical approach where His followers were to spend and be spent because they had been entrusted with the privilege of carrying God's only solution to the world's problem.
c. The Church
The Church is primarily a place where participation is the essential requirement of the believer. This is by no means an optional extra but a requirement of those with faith who are in a right relationship with God the Father through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, who live in union with Him and who receive directly from His presence to pass on to those around themselves.
While it's quite true that there are times when a believer finds it difficult to receive (circumstances often pay a big factor) and there are times when a wilderness experience turns a giver into a receiver from another (so that no one might be independent of any other), the Church has often degraded into a front-led entertainment centre where people come to receive and enjoy - rather than to receive directly from God and give.
Leadership actively encourages the role of the believer in the giving of their own financial resources because it supports the organisation that promotes the same structures that have often been there. Therefore, when Paul commands the Corinthian believers (I Cor 16:2) that
'...each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper...'
you can be assured that such a command will be reiterated from the pulpit, emphasis placed on the need to 'give' from the abundance of what has been 'received', all the while reference being made to monetary resources as if it's the be-all-and-end-all of the church's need.
But when Paul's other commands about giving in the same letter are encountered they prove somewhat embarrassing. The same apostle who told the Corinthians to put aside money (for the relief of the poor brethren, please note, and not as a tithe to the local leadership of the church as is usually claimed) also told them (I Cor 14:26) that, when they came together as a Body of Believers
'...each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation...'
Although Paul was concerned that
'...all things be done for edification'
one wonders why, if each person has one of the five quoted above, we rarely ever hear them. And, in like manner (and in the same letter, too), Paul speaks of the moving of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all believers when he observes (I Cor 12:7) that
'To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good'
before going on to list nine specific gifts given to believers, once more noting (I Cor 12:11) that
'All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills'
Notice that the Holy Spirit doesn't
'...apportion to the leadership because this is His will...'
but that He
'...apportions to each one individually...'
The only thing that can be said at this point about leadership who seem to hold the corner on being used by the Holy Spirit is that their congregations obviously can't be saved or else the Holy Spirit would have begun to use them a long time ago. There are other interpretations and explanations, of course, but the reader can watch, observe and then make up his own mind.
In the great majority of churches, however, the use of believers by the Holy Spirit in this manner is not only frowned upon but very often forbidden, with assertions being made against God from the pulpit that these 'miraculous' works died out with the early Church, the inference being that, if anything supernatural does take place, it must have a demonic origin (Mtw 12:24-32).
The function of true leadership ministry (Eph 4:11-13) is not that it should press boldly onward with a congregation following on behind in the role of support (a bit like the Catering Division of the Army who feed the troops who do the battle) but (my italics)
'...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ'
As such, these ministry gifts of men and women are more like the support for the forcefully advancing army rather than the battalion that marches in the vanguard. But, because we 'lead from the front', the mentality has been imposed on fellowships who now think that the professionals should be left to get on with their calling and all we're capable of is to hold their coat when they roll up their sleeves to do the work.
But that was never the way 'church' was meant to be. We were never meant to be spectators and it was certainly never intended that most of our congregations would come to a church meeting simply to be entertained.
Sure, we've spiritualised our meetings so that we can talk about 'coming to receive from God' (actually, a believer should already be receiving from God before they ever set foot in the building and should be ready to give from the wealth they have) and 'coming to meet with God' (did we leave Him in the building the last time the meeting ended? But I thought He was with me always...) but if you listen to men and women after the meeting's ended, they often talk about it having been 'a nice meeting' or ask one another 'That time of praise was lovely, wasn't it?' in the same way as people coming out of a Black Sabbath concert will speak of it having been 'a great concert'.
We have turned our church meetings into another type of entertainment where people come to watch, to observe, to enjoy, to receive - and have forgotten that the Body of Christ isn't meant to be an audience but participating followers of the Living God.
And what a backing we have, nowadays, in the resources available.
Like the new choruses we sing? Well, the new CD is in the shops and a DVD performance is also available - don't they look like they're really enjoying God's presence?.
Is there a successful preacher out there somewhere? Well, don't forget to buy his book and read it for instant spiritual success and insight. The amount of people who clamour for the book will justify its publication, of course, as being 'God's will'.
And don't forget the films about the life of Jesus, either. No matter that they're not exactly true to the Scriptures, we enjoy them because they fit into the framework of entertainment and we accept their teaching readily enough because they excite and stimulate us.
All these things serve as a great distraction to us away from the need to be channels of God's presence. It's all become entertainment, a nice pastime - enjoyable, too.
The strength and effectiveness of the Church is not and never has been in receiving from men into a stagnant lake from which no outlet comes, but in giving after receiving directly from God Himself like springs and rivers of living water (John 7:37-41 - see my notes on the passage here).
While God will speak through men and women to His people is certain, that they're always the same people is somewhat suspect when he uses 'each one individually'.
It never has been and never will be an option to sit in a seat, week in, week out, without the expectancy to give out what has been given to you by God. The self-perpetuating formats we have, however, have surgically disinfected our lives from any thought of participation.
We have seen that, from a very early time, man found time on his hands away from the necessities of life and engaged in morally neutral pastimes that 'filled the gap' but which also became an integral part of the societies that grew up - it's interesting to note that the one clear pastime recorded for us in the Bible is the playing of music, singing and dance, entertainment that still occupies a major part of Western life.
Although entertainment is inherently neutral, it can be against the will of God (David with Bathsheba) or very much in agreement with Him (Dorcas and the garments) although the latter may not be done out of religious duty but from compassion.
It is good for believers to find something to occupy themselves that advances the cause of the Gospel and of Jesus Christ in the earth - but it's no sin if believers decide to devote some of their spare time to pastimes or entertainments that are morally neutral.
Finally, because there are many grey areas in entertainment, the believer must be careful not only to not allow himself to be drawn into temptation but, by the things of which he approves, endeavour not to draw a fellow believer away from their relationship with Christ.