by Rev. Dale Kuiper
In preparing this speech, at the request of the Evangelism Societies of the First and Southeast Churches, I thought it would be helpful to check out in a concordance the words usually associated with our subject of entertainment. What do the Scriptures say? What is the scriptural emphasis? I believe this is the proper and safe way to proceed. And I want to share my findings with you at the outset.
The word entertainment is not found in the Bible at all. Once we read "entertain," in the sense of hospitality, but never the word entertainment. The word fun is never used in the Bible. The word games is never to be found. The word play is used a number of times: playing on musical instruments, playing the harlot, Israel sitting down to eat and drink and rising up to play (a reference to their naked dancing and worse), the boys and girls of Israel playing in the streets of Jerusalem after the return from captivity. The words vacation, retirement, and sports are not found in God's Word.
We may notice that there are words often used in the Bible that are practically the antonyms of the words we have just mentioned. We are admonished to work with our hands: "six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work." We have been placed on this earth to work! The words sober, sobriety, and being sober minded are often to be found. Watch and be sober. Let us who are of the day be sober. Officebearers are to be vigilant and sober. Aged men and young women are called to be sober. The words mourning, weeping, and tears are often used. Yes, Scripture also speaks of rejoicing. The child of God is to rejoice always. We are to rejoice in the Lord!
And finally I thought it would be profitable to check out the words glorying and boasting. When we get into the area of games and organized sports, boasting, bragging, and glorying are very much at point. Well, God tells us to glory in nothing, save the cross of Jesus Christ. God tells us that the wise man is not to glory in his wisdom neither the mighty man in his might, nor the rich man in his riches, "but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me" (Jer. 9:24). He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. The Lord does not take delight in the legs of a man, in physical strength and skills. But the Lord delights in lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness. All other glory is vainglory.
Now, what does all this mean? What conclusions can we draw from the fact that such words as sports, vacations, playing, and retirement are not found in the Bible? It would be wrong, of course, to conclude that this means we may not be involved in such things at all. You could just as well say, Because the Bible does not mention pizza, we may not eat pizza. But this brief word study sends us in the right direction. It gives us the proper emphasis. And it shows us that the Christian life must always be a life of balance and moderation. We recognize that many things have changed since biblical days; in fact, life has greatly changed in the last one hundred years. Our society has gone from a rural, agricultural economy to a suburban, industrial one. The result of these many changes is that we have more disposable income (income that is not necessary for the basic needs of life) and more discretionary time (time not spent on the job but used in other ways). But we must also recognize that some things have not, and must not, change since biblical days. There are truths and principles that must still guide us in these last days.
Does Entertainment Have a Place?
Is there a place for entertainment in the Reformed Christian's life? If not, why not? If so, what is that place, and how large is that place?
We believe that there is a legitimate place for entertainment in the life of the child of God. The Christian may relax, go on a vacation from time to time, have some fun, and enjoy the good gifts that God has bestowed upon him and his family. Paul writes to Timothy, "Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (I Tim. 4:4, 5). That passage is important for the understanding of our subject, for it warns against legalism and a too strict view of the Christian life, and it tells us that we can use all things that God has made, keeping two things in mind: first, the Word of God instructs us how to use God's creatures and gifts, and secondly, by prayer in respect to this use, His gifts are sanctified unto us. Then we use this world, and not abuse it.
Another passage that comes to mind in respect to our use of God's gifts is I Corinthians 10:31: "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." This means, of course, that entertainment is not an end in itself. Entertainment may not be divorced from our calling as Christians to serve and glorify God at all times. Entertainment may not, and cannot, stand on its own feet as something good in itself. It is only a means, a means to a higher end and purpose. Recreation and exercise as a means unto better health? Fine. Vacations and sports as a means of relaxation in order to serve God the better? Fine. But as soon as entertainment goes beyond that, as soon as it becomes an end in itself, as soon as our sports and our hobbies consume us, then we abuse God's good gifts and our lives are not lives of balance and moderation but rather of excess and imbalance.
All the emphasis in our society is on having a good time. Everyone has to have fun in some way every day. Forgotten is the truth that God has put man on earth to work. Man works as little as possible in order that he may play. He does not play a little, the better to work. Life is viewed as a playground, rather than a workplace or a battlefield. And this holds true today, not only for little children, but for the adults as well. This situation is one of the signs that Jesus' second coming is almost here. Paul writes in II Timothy 3, the opening verses, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." And then he describes the world of unbelief: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters," and so on. And, "They shall be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." The Christian is a lover of God! The unbeliever is a hater of God and a lover of pleasure! And as that love of pleasure develops into pleasure-madness all around us, that constitutes a peril for the church. These are perilous times for you and for me, and for our children. We stand in the midst of peril!
Our society, wealthy beyond compare, with free time almost beyond belief, is thoroughly hedonistic. A lover of pleasure is a hedonist. Hedonism is the moral philosophy that pleasure and happiness are the chief goal of human life. That is the religion according to which most people live today. The rightness or wrongness of some activity is determined by whether it results in pleasure or in pain. If you get pleasure from something, do it; it's a good thing. If it causes you pain or discomfort, avoid it like the plague; it's bad or evil. Do you see the peril of being surrounded by people of that philosophy and outlook? Of living in the midst of such a perverse generation? I will leave it to you to discover how much of that thinking you have adopted, and to what extent that thinking controls you in your world and life view.
What are the dangers for us and our children? There are five areas of great concern. The matter of movies and television springs immediately to mind. That movie attendance and television viewing are out of bounds for the Christian, are incompatible with the godly walk of those who are called to be saints, is clear beyond any dispute. Is it not true that movies and television exalt that which is base and depraved, and debase that which is exalted and good? Is it not true that watching the entertainment of the world, its sexual presentations, its violence and bloodshed, its blasphemies against the holy God, makes a person guilty of the sin described in Romans 1:32, "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them"? Psalm 101, which I encourage you to read right now, is a psalm of David, the man after God's own heart. He says, "I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me." And a little later in the psalm, "I will not know a wicked person." Although he may be tempted, were he alive today, David would not attend the movies nor watch television!
Secondly, we mention the sports craze, not only the March Madness of basketball tournaments, but the year-round sports activities of the world, the proliferation of professional sports teams. I am afraid that sports have a strangle-grip on many of us. I read in the Grand Rapids Press a few weeks ago a quote from a baseball fan: "Opening day is a holy day for us who worship in baseball parks." Now we may shake our heads at the audacity of such a statement, but that is literally true for millions of people. Their churches, well attended on the Sabbath, are the stadiums, arenas, and ball parks of the land. Their gods are the ball players. And their offerings to these gods enable the players to have salaries of millions of dollars a year. Life without sports would be inconceivable to them. Life simply would not be worthwhile if they could not fanatically attach themselves to some team, and cheer their hearts out for their idols. Does it make sense that the Christian put his dollars in the pockets of these godless athletes? Does it please God that the Christian yell himself hoarse at a home run, a touchdown, or a three-pointer? Does it belong to the Christian witness that he blend his voice with the voices of ten thousand unbelievers, in the praise of man, man's abilities, man at his very worst?
Professional sports, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, MLB, or any other letters you care to mention, all professional sports, are under the curse of God. And 99%, if not 100%, of these athletes are under the curse of God as well. It is sad, then, that our children like to line up to shake hands with these so-called stars and get their autographs. It is sad, then, when our children know the names and statistics of these profane people better than the books of the Bible, and the names of the prophets, the kings, and the apostles. Can we say it with David, "I will not know a wicked person; him that hath an high look and a proud heart, I will not suffer"?
Thirdly, the music that is being produced and distributed by the most vile creatures on God's earth belongs to the perils that surround us, and constitute a peril for our young people especially. The night before this lecture was given, a rock group gave a "concert" in a downtown arena. It was reported the next day that, after ripping pages from the Bible and stomping upon them on the floor, these so-called musicians sang songs which encouraged young people to use dope, engage in promiscuous sex, and even to kill their parents or anyone they felt like killing. And today learned men and women discuss the question whether the entertainment industry in the United States has anything to do with violence in public schools! Parents, do you know what your children are listening to? Children, do you think you can listen to these perversions of God's good gift of music, and not be influenced?
Fourthly, we ought to be aware that the entertainment craze is having its effect in the worship services of many churches. Church members are viewed as consumers, and you have to give the consumer what he wants. What he wants is to be entertained! God must be presented as a consumer-friendly God. Do not talk about His holiness, His wrath, and His justice; talk exclusively of His love. Present God as a nice old man, who is always there to help you and make you happy. Much of today's worship is oriented to the idea of entertainment. The people must have a jolly good time or they will leave the church and go to one which has a better band, a funnier preacher, a bigger stage, and more brilliant lighting effects. Edward Farley, writing in Christianity Today, comments that "Contemporary worship creates a tone that is casual, comfortable, chatty, busy, humorous, pleasant, and at times even cute." He goes on to say that "If the seraphim would adopt this Sunday morning mood, they would be addressing God not as 'holy, holy, holy' but as 'nice, nice, nice.'"
I know this to be true from personal experience. I was sent out to preach to a group that was showing an interest in our churches, and before I went on the pulpit I was told to tell a few jokes, for the people appreciated some humor mixed in with the message. Well, of course, I could only say that if he could show me some jokes in the Bible, I might be able to tell a joke or two. Can you imagine? Can you picture Isaiah telling the people some jokes before he went on to speak of the captivity? Or Jeremiah beginning his message with the words, "We're going to have a good time tonight"? In many circles, a successful, effective worship service is measured by the extent to which the people have been entertained.
The fifth danger that I want to mention is the peril presented to us in regard to breaking the Sabbath Day with our vacation and travel plans. The desire to be entertained, and to be entertained in new and different ways, can easily lead us to break the Sabbath. We have all this surplus money. We have all this free time. Not just two or three weeks off per year to get away from the pressure of the shop or the office, but six, eight, ten weeks of vacation a year. And then there is retirement, and early retirement. What to do? The Fourth Commandment rings down through the corridors of time: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." Commenting on the Fourth Commandment, the prophet Isaiah was inspired to write, "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, and holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thy own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, not speaking thine own words," and then the prophet speaks God's words of blessing upon those who keep the Sabbath holy (Is. 58:13, 14). He speaks of a great contrast between our pleasure and God's pleasure; our ways and God's ways; our words and God's words. All in regard to the day of rest!
It is a fact of travel today that you get the lowest airfares if you are willing to stay somewhere over Saturday night. It is a fact of tourism that most cabins rent from Saturday noon to Saturday noon. It is a fact that most ship cruises operate from Sunday to Sunday. But it is also a fact, it is an everlasting truth, that we are to keep the Sabbath holy, consecrated to the Lord, by ceasing from our ordinary labors and pleasures, and by entering into the rest that our Lord Jesus Christ has gained for us on the cross! As God rested from His work of creation and enjoyed that perfect work on the seventh day, so we are to rest from our earthly labors and enter into the enjoyment of God's perfect work of redemption. Someone will say, But I go to church on my long, far-off vacations. Yes, the world is full of churches. But the world is not full of churches where you can really rest in the Lord by hearing the truth of the gospel.
Recently some of our churches had people missing to the extent of a quarter or a third of their memberships. Do you know what is going to happen? I predict that, in just a generation or two, so many people will be absent from special services, and perhaps even from some Sunday services, that several congregations will come together in one building to have a joint worship service. That has already happened in some denominations. The people simply do not come! Unless this trend is reversed, unless we change our attitudes and practices regarding vacations and entertainment on the Sabbath, the same thing is going to happen to us. Do not forget that old saying, "Where we walk, our children will run." When our children inherit our wealth, and add to that wealth themselves, when our children notice our example and must live in a generation more pleasure-crazed than our own, what do you expect they will do?
Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
* This is the text of a lecture given in First Church, Grand Rapids, MI on April 22, 1999.
Reprint courtesy of The Standard Bearer, http://www.prca.org/standard_bearer/
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