In Perils of Drama*

Have you ever wondered what is wrong with religious movies, plays, sketches, etc., but could not pinpoint the problem? The problem is drama. Drama is a lie, a pretense, play acting, a show, superficial, theatrics, etc. Drama is a deception. When a person pretends to be someone or something he is not, he is acting out a lie.

The Holy Spirit in no way uses deception in the harvest of souls. He is the Spirit of Truth (1John 2:21b). There will be no drama in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27).

For the same reasons, the religious movie adds to the Word of God. Among other additions and changes, drama is added.

Following are excerpts from an A.W. Tozer article titled "The Menace of the Religious Movie"; Tozer's concerns apply not only to movies, but also to any entertainment medium that incorporates drama:

Surely it requires no genius to see that the Bible rules out pictures and dramatics as media for bringing faith and life to the human soul. The plain fact is that no vital spiritual truth can be expressed by a picture. Actually all any picture can do is to recall to mind some truth already learned though the familiar medium of the spoken or written word. Religious instructions and words are bound together by a living cord and cannot be separated without fatal loss. The Spirit Himself, teaching soundlessly within the heart, makes use of ideas previously received into the mind by means of words.

Modern religious movies are "sound" pictures, making use of the human voice to augment the dramatic action. Just as far as the movie depends upon spoken words, it makes pictures unnecessary; the picture is the very thing that differentiates between the movie and the sermon. The movie addresses its message primarily to the eye, and to the ear only incidentally. Were the message addressed to the ear, as in the Scriptures, the picture would have no meaning and could be omitted without loss to the intended effect. Words can say all that God intends them to say, and this they can do without the aid of pictures.

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach. 

Here, and not somewhere else, is the New Testament pattern, and no human being, no, and no angel from heaven has any right to alter that pattern.

The religious  movie embodies the mischievous notion that religion is, or can be made, a form of entertainment. 

The idea that religion should be entertaining has made some radical changes in the evangelical picture within this generation. It has given us not only the "gospel" movie but a new type of religious journalism as well. It has created a new kind of magazine for church people, which can be read from cover to cover without effort, without thought -- and without profit. It has also brought a veritable flood of religious fiction with plastic heroines and bloodless heroes like no one who has ever lived upon this earth.

That religion and amusement are forever opposed to each other by their very essential natures is apparently not known to this new school of religious entertainers. Their effort to slip up on the reader and administer a quick shot of saving truth while his mind is on something else is not only futile, it is in fact not too far short of being plain dishonest. The hope that they can convert a man while he is occupied with the doings of some imaginary hero reminds one of the story of the Catholic missionary who used to sneak up on sick people and children and splash a little holy water on them to guarantee their passage to the city of gold.

Any effort to teach spiritual truth through entertainment is at best futile and at worst positively injurious to the soul. But entertainment pays off, and the economic consideration is always a powerful one in deciding what shall and what shall not be offered to the public -- even in the churches.

Deep spiritual experiences come only from much study, earnest prayer, and long meditation. It is true that men, by thinking, cannot find God; it is also true that men cannot know God very well without a lot of reverent thinking. Religious movies, by appealing directly to the shallowest stratum of our minds, cannot but create bad mental habits which unfit the soul for the reception of genuine spiritual impressions.

The religious movie is a menace to true religion because it embodies acting, a violation of sincerity.

Without a doubt, the most precious thing any man possesses is his individuated being; that by which he is himself and not someone else; that which cannot be finally voided by the man himself nor shared with another. Each one of us, however humble our place in the social scheme, is unique in creation. Each is a new whole man possessing his own separate "I-ness" which makes him forever something apart, an individual human being. It is this quality of uniqueness which permits a man to enjoy every reward of virtue and makes him responsible for every sin. It is his selfness, which will persist forever, and which has been or ever will be created.

So the test of sincerity is basic in human character. The sincere man is one in whom is found nothing foreign; he is all of one piece; he has preserved his individuality unviolated.

Sincerity for each man means staying in character with himself. Christ's controversy with the Pharisees centered around their incurable habit of moral play acting. The Pharisee constantly pretended to be what he was not. He attempted to vacate his own "I-ness" and appear in that of another and better man. He assumed a false character and played it for effect. Christ said he was a hypocrite.

It is more than an etymological accident that the word "hypocrite" comes from the stage. It means actor. With that instinct for fitness which usually marks word origins, it has been used to signify one who has violated his sincerity and is playing a false part. An actor is one who assumes a character other than his own and plays it for effect. The more fully he can become possessed by another personality the better he is as an actor.

Bacon has said something to the effect that there are some professions of such nature that the more skillfully a man can work at them the worse man he is. That perfectly describes the profession of acting.

In order to produce a religious movie [or play or sketch] someone must, for the time, disguise his individuality and simulate that of another. His actions must be judged fraudulent, and those who watch them with approval share in the fraud. To pretend to pray, to simulate godly sorrow, to play at worship before the camera for effect -- how utterly shocking to the reverent heart! How can Christians who approve this gross pretense ever understand the value of sincerity as taught by our Lord? What will be the end of a generation of Christians fed on such a diet of deception disguised as the faith of our fathers?

The plea that all this must be good because it is done for the glory of God is a gossamer-thin bit of rationalizing which should not fool anyone above the mental age of six. Such an argument parallels the evil rule of expediency which holds that the end is everything, and sanctifies the means, however evil, if only the end be commendable. The wise student of history will recognize this immoral doctrine. the Spirit-led Church will have no part of it.

It is not uncommon to find around the theater human flotsam and jetsam washed up by the years, men and women who have played false parts so long that the power to be sincere has forever gone from them. They are doomed to everlasting duplicity. Every act of their lives is faked, every smile is false, every tone of their voice artificial. The curse does not come causeless. It is not by chance that the actor's profession has been notoriously dissolute. Hollywood and Broadway are two sources of corruption which [have turned] America into a Sodom and lay her glory in the dust.

The profession of acting did not originate with the Hebrews. It is not a part of the divine pattern. The Bible mentions it, but never approves it. Drama, as it has come down to us, had its rise in Greece. It was originally a part of the worship of the god Dionysus and was carried on with drunken revelry.

The Miracle Plays of medieval times have been brought forward to justify the modern religious movie. The Miracle Plays had their big run in the Middle Ages. They were dramatic performances with religious themes staged for the entertainment of the populace. At their best they were misguided efforts to teach spiritual truths by dramatic representation; at their worst they were shockingly irreverent and thoroughly reprehensible. In some of them the Eternal God was portrayed as an old man dressed in white with a gilt wig! To furnish low comedy, the devil himself was introduced on the stage and allowed to cavort for the amusement of the spectators. Bible themes were used, as in the modern movie, but this did not save the whole thing from becoming so corrupt that the Roman Church had finally to prohibit its priests from having any further part in it.

Those who would appeal for precedent to the Miracle Plays have certainly overlooked some important facts. For instance, the vogue of the Miracle Play coincided exactly with the most dismally corrupt period the Church has ever known. When the Church emerged at last from its long moral night, these plays lost popularity and finally passed away. And be it remembered, the instrument God used to bring the Church out of the darkness was not drama; it was the Biblical one of Spirit-baptized preaching. Serious minded men thundered the truth and the people turned to God.

Indeed, history will show that no spiritual advance, no revival, no upsurge of spiritual life has ever been associated with acting in any form. The Holy Spirit never honors pretense.

Is the appearance of the religious movie symptomatic of the low state of spiritual health we are in today? I fear so. Only the absence of the Holy Spirit from the pulpit and lack of true discernment on the part of professing Christians can account for the spread of religious drama among so-called Bible believing churches. A Spirit-filled church could not tolerate it.

They who present the gospel movie owe it to the public to give Biblical authority for their act: and this they have not done.

The Church, as long as she is following her Lord, goes along in the Bible ways and can give a scriptural reason for her conduct. Her members meet at stated times to pray together: this has Biblical authority behind it. They gather to hear the Word of God expounded: this goes back in almost unbroken continuity to Moses. They sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: so they are commanded by the apostle. They visit the sick and relieve the sufferings of the poor: for this they have both precept and example in Holy Writ. They lay up their gifts and bring them at stated times to the church or chapel to be used in the Lord's work: this also follows the scriptural pattern. They teach and train and instruct; they appoint teachers and pastors and missionaries and send them out to do the work for which the Spirit has gifted them: all this has plain scriptural authority behind it. They baptize and break bread and witness to the lost; they cling together through thick and thin; they bear each other's burdens and share each other's sorrows: this is as it should be, and for all this there is full Biblical authority.

Now for the religious movie where is the authority? For such a serious departure from the ancient pattern, where is the authority? For introducing into the Church the pagan art of acting, where is the authority? Let the movie advocates quote just one verse, from any book of the Bible, in any translation, to justify its use. This they cannot do. The best they can do is to appeal to the world's psychology or repeat brightly that "modern times call for modern methods." But the Scriptures? -- quote form them one verse to authorize movie acting as an instrument of the Holy Ghost. This they cannot do.

But, says someone, there is nothing unscriptural about the religious movie; it is merely a new medium for the utterance of the old message, as printing is a newer and better method of writing and the radio an amplification of familiar human speech.

To this I reply: The movie is not the modernization or improvement of any scriptural method; rather it is a medium in itself wholly foreign to the Bible and altogether unauthorized therein. It is play acting -- just that, and nothing more. It is the introduction into the work of God of that which is not neutral, but entirely bad. The printing press is neutral; so is the radio; so is the camera. They may be used for good or bad purposes at the will of the user. But play acting is bad in its essence in that it involves the simulation of emotions not actually felt. It embodies a gross moral contradiction in that it calls a lie to the service of the truth.

God has ordained four methods ONLY by which Truth shall prevail -- and the religious movie is not one of them.

They are (1) prayer, (2) song, (3) proclamation of the message by means of words, and (4) good works. These are the four main methods which God has blessed. All other Biblical methods are subdivisions of these and stay within their framework.

These are God's appointed methods, set forth in the Bible and confirmed in centuries of practical application. The intrusion of other methods is unscriptural, unwarranted, and in violation of spiritual laws as old as the world.

'The whole preach-the-gospel-with-movies idea is founded upon the same basic assumptions as Modernism, namely, that the Word of God is not final, and that we of this day have a perfect right to add to it or alter it wherever we think we can improve it.

But some say, "We do not propose to displace the regular method of preaching the gospel. We only want to supplement it." to this I answer: If the movie is needed to supplement anointed preaching it can only be because God's appointed method is inadequate and the movie can do something which God's appointed method cannot do. What is that thing? We freely grant that the movie can produce effects which preaching cannot produce (and which it should never try to produce), but dare we strive for such effects in the light of God's revealed will and in the face of the judgment and a long eternity.

Some Harmful Effects of Drama

1) First, the evil effect upon the "actors" who play the part of the various characters in the show; this is not the less because it is suspected. Who can, while in a state of fellowship with God, dare to play at being a prophet? Who has the gall to pretend to be an apostle, even in a show? Where is his reverence? Where is his fear? Where is his humility? Any one who can bring himself to act a part for any purpose, must first have grieved the Spirit and silenced His voice within his heart. Then the whole business will appear good to him. "He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside." But he cannot escape the secret working of the ancient laws of the soul. Something high and fine and grand will die within him; and worst of all he will never suspect it. That is the curse that follows self-injury always. The Pharisees were examples of this. They were walking dead men, and they never dreamed how dead they were.

2) Secondly, it identifies religion with the theatrical world. I have seen recently in a Fundamental magazine an advertisement of a religious film which would be altogether at home on the theatrical page on any city newspaper. By such business we are selling out our Christian separation, and nothing but grief can come of it, late or soon.

3) Thirdly, the taste for drama which these pictures develop in the minds of the young will not long remain satisfied with the inferior stuff the religious movie can offer. Our young people will demand the real thing; and what can we reply when they ask why they should not patronize the regular movie house?

4) Fourthly, the rising generation will naturally come to look upon religion as another, and inferior, form of amusement. In fact, the present generation has done this to an alarming extent already, and the gospel movie feeds the notion by fusing religion and fun in the name of orthodoxy. It takes no great insight to see that the religious movie must become increasingly more thrilling as the tastes of the spectators become more and more stimulated.

5) Fifthly, the religious movie is the lazy preacher's friend. If the present vogue continues to spread it will not be long before any man with enough ability to make an audible prayer, and mentality enough to focus a projector, will be able to pass for a prophet of the Most High God. The man of God can play around all week long and come up to Sunday without a care. Everything has been done for him at the studio. He has only to set up the screen and lower the lights, and the rest follows painlessly. Wherever the movie is used, the prophet is displaced by the projector. The least such displaced prophets can do is to admit that they are not sent men, ordained of God for a sacred work. Let them refuse ordination and put away their pretense.

Allowing that there may be some who have been truly called and gifted of God, but who have allowed themselves to be taken in by this new plaything, the danger to such is still great. As long as they can fall back upon the movie, the pressure that makes preachers will be wanting. The habit and rhythm which belongs to great preaching will be missing from their ministry. However great their natural gifts, however real their enduement of power, still they will never rise. They cannot while this broken reed lies close at hand to aid them in the crisis. The movie will doom them to be ordinary.

In Conclusion

One thing may bother some earnest souls: Why so many people approve the religious movie. If it is an evil, why have not these denounced it?

The answer is, lack of spiritual discernment. Many who are turning to the movie are the same who have, by direct teaching or by neglect, discredited the work of the Holy Spirit. They have apologized for the Spirit and so hedged Him in by their unbelief that it has amounted to an out-and-out repudiation. Now we are paying the price of our folly. The light has gone out and men are forced to stumble around m the darkness of the human intellect.

The religious movie is at present undergoing a period of gestation and seems about to swarm up over the churches like a cloud of locusts out of the earth. The figure is accurate; they are coming from below, not from above. The whole modern psychology has been prepared for this invasion of insects. The Fundamentalists have become weary of manna and are longing for red flesh. What they are getting is a sorry substitute for the lusty and uninhibited pleasures of the world.

Let us not for the sake of peace keep still while men without spiritual insight dictate the diet upon which God's children shall feed. I heard the president of a Christian college say some time ago that the Church is suffering from an "epidemic of amateurism." That remark is sadly true, and the religious movie represents amateurism gone wild. Unity among professing Christians is to be desired, but not at the expense of righteousness. It is good to go with the flock, but I for one refuse mutely to follow a misled flock over a precipice.

If God has given wisdom to see the error of religious shows we owe it to the Church to oppose them openly. We dare not take refuge in "guilty silence." Error is not silent; it is highly vocal and amazingly aggressive. We dare not be less so.

Cursed be he that doeth the work of the LORD deceitfully and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood. -- Jeremiah 48:10


* The preceding was excerpted and/or adapted from an article titled "In Perils of Drama," 2/99, The Perilous Times, Raymond Blanton, Editor; and from the original Tozer article: "The Menace of the Religious Movie"


Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 11/00

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