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Television and Movies


By David Bernard


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“I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalm 101:3).

Biblical Foundation

In addition to Psalm 101:3, many biblical passages ad-monish us to guard our eyes from beholding evil scenes and our minds from entertaining evil thoughts (Job 31:1; Psalm 19:14; 119:37; Isaiah 33:15-16; Romans 1:32; I Thessalonians 5:22). Philippians 4:8 instructs us to think on things that are true, honest (noble), just (right), pure, lovely, of good report (admirable), virtuous (excellent), and praiseworthy. Evil thoughts defile us (Matthew 15:18-20; Mark 7:21-23). Our thoughts determine in a large measure what we are or will become (Proverbs 23:7). The eye is the primary means by which external information enters the mind, thereby stimulating our thought life. For this reason the eye is the light of the body, and the lust of the eyes is a major source of temptation (Matthew 6:22-23; Luke 11:34; I John 2:16). To a large degree, then, what we allow our eyes to indulge in both shapes and reveals our inner spiritual character.

As both secular and religious evidence, presented in In Search of Holiness, demonstrates, television and movies depict so much evil that watching them violates biblical principles. Violence and illicit sex are two prominent sub-jects they display. In addition, they portray many other evils (usually with no indication that they are in fact evil), such as immodest dress, profanity, smoking, drinking, lying, hatred, assault, cursing, and indecent speech. These are the very things that defile a person (Matthew 15:18-20). In addition, TV programs and movies have little or no redeeming value. They unjustifiably waste the Christian’s valuable time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5).

In addition to these specific teachings, we can also apply the principles of Christian liberty discussed in Chapter 4. When we do, it becomes clear that we should avoid television and movies. (1) They do not glorify God, but glorify evil. (2) They are detrimental physically, mentally, and spiritually. (3) They have tremendous power to gain mastery over us. (4) They become stumbling blocks to others, particularly to our own children.

New evidence of their detrimental effects continues to surface, and other conservative Christians have begun to voice their concern about the evils on the screen. This chapter presents some developments in recent years. The National Coalition on Television Violence advocates a law to require TV networks to broadcast warnings of possible hazards of TV violence. The American Medical Association asserts that TV violence is a hazard to young Americans and to the future of our society. U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has been an outspoken critic of TV violence, as have his predecessors. The National Institute of Mental Health says that TV is a major socializing institution comparable in influence to family, church, and school. The Coalition for Better Television is attacking the widespread immorality on television.

* “Children Spend More Time Before TV Than in Classroom,” UPI, Korea Times, November 12, 1983. Ac-cording to David Pearl, Chief of the Behavioral Sciences Research Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, parents significantly underestimate the time their children spend watching TV and the type of programs they watch. The average American child, age 9-12, spends about 1000 hours per year in the classroom but 1340 hours per year watching TV. By age 18 he will have spent 11,000 hours in the classroom but 22,000 hours in front of the TV.

* Television morality has continued to degenerate rapidly. In the last few year’s Time Magazine has documented the following “firsts” on the screen: the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality, incest, prostitution, and transvestitism, as well as the first television commercial to feature a totally nude woman.

“Taming the TV Habit”

Of great interest is a recent book by Kevin Perrotta, managing editor of Pastoral Renewal, which is a monthly magazine for evangelical ministers.’ The back cover states, “Certainly the continuous display of folly, sex, and violence is deplorable to Christians. And much has been written about the decadence in television’s content. In Taming the TV Habit, Kevin Perrotta looks at another issue as well—television’s dominating role in the home. He points out, `It’s not what you watch, it’s that you watch.’ He argues persuasively that extensive television viewing produces serious, detrimental consequences in the Christian home: it erodes our children’s intellectual and social development, undermines parental authority, and contributes to the fragmentation of family relationships.” Perrotta surveyed many articles and scientific studies, and arrived at the following conclusions:

(1)Television is a thief of time. The average American watches 50,000 to 75,000 hours of TV during his life, which is the equivalent of 5 to 8 years of his life. The TV is on more than 7 hours per day in the average American home.

(2)Television viewing displaces many more important activities. It is the greatest rearranger of time in the 20th century. It replaces talking, dealing with problems, reading, thinking, praying, and meditating. It detracts significantly from relationships with God, family, church, and neighbors. It becomes an escape from problems such as tension and loneliness, without providing real solutions. It acts like a drug, as Marie Winn described in her book, The Plug-In Drug. Children are especially heavy viewers, and this heavy viewing negatively affects reading skills, intellectual learning, overall scholastic performance, and amount of parental training received. Perrotta concluded, “Our heavy investment in television viewing squanders our time. It is a bad deal. . .We need to bring our use of time into closer alignment with our priorities in life.

(3)Television is an empty experience. It is not truly relaxing, for the best form of relaxation is not inactivity but participation in a contrasting activity. It brings none of the benefits associated with other forms of relaxation, such as physical exercise, reading, or meditation. The constantly changing scenes make it impossible for the viewer to engage his imagination; he is carried along by the pace of the program. Viewers consistently report feeling weak, passive, drowsy, lonely, unconcentrated, and unchallenged, but they continue to watch out of habit long after most of the pleasure has gone. TV viewing creates a passive state, much like daydreaming. The viewer is highly suggestible, but has a greatly lessened ability to process information and deal intelligently with it. (Note: In view of the content of TV programming, this fact shows how damaging TV is spiritually.)

(4)Television is detrimental to thinking. By its very nature, TV emphasizes the superficial, the exciting, the vivid, and the individual personality. It is not conducive to logical thought. It decreases the attention span, greatly increasing the degree of stimulation needed to attract and maintain attention. It appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect. It is a form of passive rather than active learning.

(5)Television has powerful and dangerous access to the mind. Viewers relate to programs as real, many believing that TV characters are living people. TV derives great power from our instinctive feeling that “seeing is believing.” For the first time in history, the vast majority of people give 5 to 8 years of their lives to a small, elite group of programmers. Throughout their lives, they see the world through the eyes of others, giving TV’s view of reality an extraordinary access to their minds. Unquestionably, this will greatly affect both individuals and society as a whole.

(6)Television modifies behavior in negative ways. Commercial TV is not designed primarily for entertainment but for the arousal of desires. TV stimulates aggressive behavior. All researchers, regardless of moral beliefs, agree television is sexually arousing. One recent study found that the ratio of unmarried sexual activity to married sexual activity on prime time was 11 to 1. The soap operas attack the family and present sin as routine behavior. TV cultivates change and offers new role models. It magnifies trends in certain elite groups and transfers this to society as a whole; subgroups tend to lose their distinctive views.

“In many ways television programming works to broaden our thinking, so that we accept viewpoints and behavior which we previously ruled out of bounds. It deadens our reactions to social patterns which we previously found w Tong and reacted against. Television cultivates the response, ‘Well, what I always thought was right turns out Ho’ to be right for everyone, at least today. And what I thought was wrong may actually be right for some people. What I used to find shocking maybe isn’t so bad. I suppose we have to accept it and learn to live with it.’ And finally television disinhibits us from actually doing things we would have restrained ourselves from doing.

(7)The world view presented by television is very dangerous. For example, TV subtlely teaches that sex underlies everything and that new forms of behavior are acceptable. People believe that TV actually portrays what the world is like. In this way it promotes conformity to the “mainstream.” For example, it cultivates youth’s dissatisfaction with their lack of sexual experience by making it appear that everyone else has it.

(8)TV is unchristian. It totally ignores God, concentrating exclusively on the created and not on the Creator. It consistently confuses moral issues, constantly presenting arguments in favor of situation ethics. It presents no concept of sin. “To spend many hours with the television is to fail to love God. . . .We enter a receptive communion with the images and messages of a culture. We begin with relaxing, and end with loving the world. Part of the problem is that we have lost a sense of how vulnerable our minds can be to the influences of the world. Many Christians of the past would undoubtedly be amazed at the unworried way we expose our minds to the television world. The well-known Christian writer Malcolm Muggeridge has severely criticized TV viewing, charging that it constitutes the making and worship of graven images, in violation of the Second Commandment.

(9)In the future, television will have an even greater impact upon our society, due to such technological advances as video cassettes and cable television. In particular, there will be an increase in pornography. Already, between 25% and 50% of all video cassettes sold are X-rated.

(10)It is very difficult to make positive use of TV or to control its influence in our lives. Here are five reasons why: TV is fascinating, it is easier to watch TV than to do anything else, TV tends to produce a passive mentality, we overestimate our ability to overcome TV’s evil influence, and the possibility of countering TV’s influence by family discussion is very limited.

Perrotta suggested the following cure: repent, ask God’s help to overcome, and associate with supportive Christians. He cited with approval some who have limited TV watching to one hour per day or two to three hours per week, but stated that some should stop totally. “To give it up completely is preferable to spending large amounts of time—almost against one’s will—stupefied before the screen. Better to be thought odd by one’s friends than to have one’s life at the mercy of an electronic master.

“Book Burning”

Cal Thomas, journalist and vice-president of Moral Majority, Inc., has written Book Burning, which discusses the ways in which our society censors Christian values. One chapter deals with television and contains the following significant observations.

*Fewer than 200 producers in Hollywood and New York decide what the entire United States will watch on network television. Hollywood writer and newspaper columnist Ben Stein described this entertainment elite as egotistical, materialistic, and sexually promiscuous.

*As Stein further noted, most of this elite see religion as innocuous, irrelevant, or bizarre. When clergymen appear on the screen they are pictured as irrelevant, impotent, or fanatical. No character is motivated by religious feelings to do an important act.

*As reported in a 1981 TV Guide series entitled “The Gay Lobby in Hollywood,” network executives have been sending scripts dealing with homosexuality to homosexual representatives for review. These people practically had veto power over a script if it did not depict homosexuality in a favorable light. A person can only imagine what would happen if conservative Christians tried to exert such influence!

*”Prime-time television is a contest to see which net-work can cram in the most sex and violence in thirty-minute segments. . .It is rare to find on TV any view of the traditional family (in the twentieth century), any hint of goodness or ‘right’ values, much less any non-profane allusion to God.”

*One journalism school study found that an average of two fornications per hour occur on daytime soap operas.

*At least 29 people shot themselves trying to imitate a Russian roulette scene in a movie called The Deer Hunter, after they saw it on TV.

*”Television is a passive medium; once on, it is hard to shut off. Many people may personally object to the message of some shows, but leave them on because they are too tired to do anything else, or because they find them titillating.”

*Thomas concluded that Christians could stop watching TV altogether, but he preferred to work towards changing its content.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to persuade the world to clean up TV enough so that it would be wholesome to watch. At any rate, if we are waiting for TV to convert to Christianity, our only practical present alternative is to stop watching it altogether.


In 1938, independent fundamentalist John R. Rice wrote a booklet entitled What is Wrong with the Movies? This was based on his sermon, “The Sins of the Movies?’ In the introduction to the 19th edition, he stated that he had personally investigated the movies all over again to see if his original opposition to them was still valid. He concluded that “the very best of the movies are still bad, that the weight of their influence is constantly immoral and unchristian, and that Christians ought to leave them absolutely alone.”

Rice objected to these evils associated with the movies: the immoral lifestyles of the stars (who become role models and heroes in our society), tobacco, gambling, sex, crime, and impure love themes. He noted that producers make movies for greed and notoriety, having no feeling of responsibility to society and morality. Rice said that movies teach and encourage crime, endorse sin, teach and incite lust, break down virtue, and contribute to delinquency.

In response to objections, he pointed out: (1) A few movies are not bad, such as some for children, but if we take children to them we will break down their resistance to attending bad movies. (2) Not all moviegoers fall into the evils that movies promote, but so many viewers are influenced to do evil that we should all avoid movies. (3) It would be good if we could totally reform movies, but we will never be able to do so.

Teaching in Early Church History

Since television and movies are 20th century inventions, we do not find information on them in ancient church history. However, it is very enlightening to see that ancient Christians avoided the Roman Theater for much the same reasons that we refuse to watch TV and movies. Prior to the time of Constantine, Christians were forbidden to “attend the theatre where the performances were lewd and the faith might be ridiculed. “Leading Christians unhesitatingly condemned the theatre” because of the lewdness and hypocrisy associated with it.

Tatian in his Address to the Greeks described the actor as “giving himself excessive airs of daintiness and in dulging in all sorts of effeminacy…an epitome of superstition, a vituperator of heroic deed, an actor of murders, a chronicler of adultery, a storehouse of madness…and yet such a man is praised by all. But I have rejected all his falsehoods, his impiety, his practices… .But you are led captive by such men. . .They utter ribaldry in affected tones, and go through indecent movements; your daughters and your sons behold them giving lessons in adultery on the stage.

Theophilus warned against attending dramas, “lest our eyes and ears be defiled, participating in the utterances there sung.

Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortation to the Heathen taught some relevant principles when he described the evil paintings and statues of his society: “You are not ashamed in the eyes of all to look at representations of all forms of licentiousness which are portrayed in public places…Your ears are debauched, your eyes commit fornication, your looks commit adultery.  In The Instructor, written to new converts, he warned: “From shameful things addressed to the ears, and words and sights, we must entirely abstain. Let. . .plays that are full of scurrility and of abundant gossip, be forbidden. For what base action is it that is not exhibited in the theaters’? And what shameless saying is it that is not brought for-ward by the buffoons?

Tertullian opposed the theater in his treatise The Shows: “Are we not. . .enjoined to put away from us all in-modesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theatre, which is immodesty’s own peculiar abode, where nothing is in repute but what elsewhere is disreputable. . .If we ought to abominate all that is immodest, on what ground is it right to hear what we must not speak? Why, in the same way, is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? How is it that the things which defile a man in going out of his mouth, are not regarded as doing so when they go in at his eyes and ears—when eyes and ears are the immediate attendants on the spirit—and that can never be pure whose servants-in-waiting are impure? If tragedies and comedies are the bloody and wanton, the impious and licentious inventors of crimes and lusts, it is not good even that there should be any calling to remembrance the atrocious or the vile. What you reject in deed, you are not to bid welcome in word.” In this treatise, Tertullian related the actual case of a Christian woman who visited the theater and became possessed by an unclean spirit. At the time when the spirit was rebuked and cast out, the spirit reportedly said, “I did it most righteously, for I found her in my domain.”

Cyprian condemned the crimes, adultery, incest, effeminacy, and homosexuality portrayed by plays and pantomimes. He observed: “Adultery is learnt while it is seen; and while the mischief having public authority panders to vices, the matron, who perchance had gone to the spectacle a modest woman, returns from it immodest. . . .[An effeminate actor] is looked upon—oh shame! and looked upon with pleasure.” Cyprian taught that an actor who converted to Christianity could not continue to act or to teach acting.”

A treatise attributed to Cyprian contains the following teaching. “What has Scripture interdicted? Certainly it has forbidden gazing upon what it forbids to be done. . . .He is shameless who in the church exorcises demons while he praises their delights in public shows. 1 am ashamed to tell what things are said; I am even ashamed to denounce the things that are done—the tricks of arguments, the cheatings of adulterers, the immodesties of women, the scurrile jokes, the sordid parasites, even the toga’d fathers of families themselves, sometimes stupid, sometimes obscene, but in all cases dull, in all cases immodest. . . .Even if they were not criminal, they are characterized by a worthlessness which is extreme, and which is little suited to believers. . . .Such things as these should be avoided by faithful Christians, as I have frequently said already; spectacles so vain, so mischievous, so sacrilegious, from which both our eyes and our ears should be guarded. We quickly get accustomed to what we hear and what we see.

Lactantius wrote of the “contaminating [and] corrupting influence of the stage. . .For the subject of comedies are the dishonoring of virgins, or the loves of harlots . . .In like manner, the stories of the tragedians place before the eyes the parricides and invests of wicked kings, and represent tragic crimes. And what other effect do the immodest gestures of the players produce, but both teach and excite lusts? …Why should I speak of the actors of mimes, who hold forth instruction in corrupting influences, who teach adulteries while they feign them. What can young men or virgins do, when they see that these things are practiced without shame, and willingly beheld by all? They are plainly admonished of what they can do, and are inflamed with lust, which is especially ex-cited by seeing. And they approve of these things, while they laugh at them, and with vices clinging to them, they return more corrupted to their apartments; and not boys only, who ought not to be inured to vices prematurely, but also old men, whom it does not become at their age to sin.”

The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles admonished Christians to avoid the theater.

John Chrysostom preached against the popular farces and pantomimes even after the Roman Empire became nominally Christian.

Reaching in Later Church History

Early Calvinists prohibited theater attendance. The Puritans in 17th century England shut down the theaters when they came to power, because they regarded them as profane and sensual. They also stated that most actresses were prostitutes. John Philipp Spener, founder of the Pietist movement, warned against the theater.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, thought it a sin to attend the theater. Wesley wrote a letter to the mayor and city of Bristol in an effort to persuade them not to build a theater: “Most of the present stage-entertainments sap the foundation of all religion, as they naturally tend to efface all traces of piety and seriousness out of the minds of men. . .giving a wrong turn to youth especially, gay, trifling, and directly opposite to the spirit of industry and close application to business; and as drinking and debauchery of every kind are constant attendants on these entertainments, with indolence, effeminacy, and idleness.”

In the 19th century, the editors of The Ante-Nicene Fathers repeatedly endorsed the ancient condemnations of the theater. They noted the emphatic “hostility to theatrical amusements, which in our days are re-asserting the deadly influence over Christians which Cyprian and Tertullian and other Fathers so solemnly denounced.”

In the early 20th century, many respected leaders in Christendom opposed movies, including H. A. Ironside, R. A. Torrey, the leaders of Moody Church, and Roman Catholic Archbishop George Mudelein of Chicago. One characteristic of most Holiness denominations was their strong opposition to attending the movies. Early Pentecostals did not attend movies, and Pentecostal denominations such as The Apostolic Faith, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Assemblies of God, and the United Pentecostal Church officially took a stand against the practice. Many conservative Baptist groups have done the same, including the Baptist Bible Fellow-ship, the followers of John R. Rice, and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College. Today, some of these groups have relaxed their stand.

Many religious groups opposed television when it came along, on the ground that it simply brought worldly movies into the home. For example, many Holiness people have rejected the use of television. Some Anabaptist groups, such as the Hutterites, refuse to own TV’s, as do the United Pentecostals, many independent Baptists, and other fundamentalists.

In 1955 (shortly after TV was introduced to society), John R. Rice wrote: “Television could be, if carelessly used, a real menace to the morals and manners of Christian homes.” He called television a “very serious problem.” However, he did not oppose TV ownership because he regarded it as just a radio with sight added to hearing. We reject his conclusion for several reasons. (1) As the Bible, psychological studies and common experience demonstrate, sight has a much more powerful influence upon the mind than hearing alone. (2) TV displays many sins that cannot be portrayed as vividly on radio, such as immodest dress, nudity, smoking, drinking, bloodshed, and. fornication. (3) Most of TV’s programming today is objectionable using the principles Rice himself established in his book against movies.

Jerry Bridges, secretary-treasurer of The Navigators, wrote in 1978: “Too many Christians, instead of resisting, are more and more giving ground to the world’s constant pressure. A few years ago sincere Christians were quite selective about the movies they attended, if they attended them at all. Today the same movies that were avoided are being shown on television in the living rooms of Christians across the nation. A friend of mine told me of a young couple in full-time Christian work who came to him wanting to know if it was wrong to attend X-rated movies!” 26

Many well-known Christian leaders now warn of TV’s evils, including James Dobson (family life specialist) and Donald Wildmon (Methodist minister who founded the National Federation for Decency). Wildmon’s book, The Home Invaders, provides detailed evidence of TV’s anti-Christian, humanistic, sinful programming. Christianity Today discussed TV’s dangers in a major article (October 4, 1985). Leaders who advocate total abstention from TV include Malcolm Muggeridge (media figure turned Christian writer), Bill Gothard (seminar speaker), and David Wilkerson (founder of Teen Challenge). Wilkerson related in The Cross and the Switchblade how God convicted him of wasting time by watching TV instead of praying. In Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth he calls TV an idol, abomination, and accursed thing, giving “thirty-one scriptural reasons why overcoming Christians should remove the idol of television from their homes.”

Entire congregations of Baptists, Nazarenes, charismatics, and other groups have sold or destroyed their TV sets. Recently, two independent Pentecostal congregations sold their televisions after studying In Search of Holiness. As that book documented, even the secular world has become aware of the evils of television. An experienced advertising executive has written a nonreligious book entitled Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, which advocates precisely what its title states.

Home Video

New technological advances such as home movie systems and video cassettes confront us with new situations. Since the owner can program these systems himself, we see the possibility of harmless and even beneficial use. However, whatever is objectionable at the movie theater or on television is certainly objectionable on these systems. Therefore, we must reject the showing of Hollywood movies on home video equipment.

In some cases, families that do not view movies or TV have allowed a worldly spirit to enter their homes through video. This can become a great danger to the church. We should not own video equipment unless we are mature enough to regulate its use in accordance with holiness principles. We should view only those things that are clearly compatible with the Christian lifestyle, such as recordings of family and church activities and videos for teaching and business.


It is difficult to imagine how television, movies, and commercial videos could become much more worldly and ungodly than they already are. They have presented our society with the depths of immorality, displaying in graphic color things shameful even to mention (Ephesians 5:12). They feed ungodliness directly to the mind through the eyes, often in the sanctity of the home.

Those who take biblical admonitions seriously will separate from worldliness, guard their eyes, elevate their thoughts, protect their families, and redeem the time by refusing to watch television programs and movies. In doing so, they will follow the spirit of the Bible as well as that of stalwart champions of morality from early church history to the present.

Additional Findings

*”Why Johnny can’t listen to the sermon,” Ministry, May, 1981. Television is shortening children’s attention span. Commercials teach that all problems can be solved and solved quickly by modern technology. Life on TV is a caricature of real life.

*”Gays to the Fore, Cautiously;’ Time, May 17, 1982. A number of new movies have portrayed homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle and as a legitimate choice.

*”Warning from Washington;’ Time, May 17, 1982. The National Institute of Mental Health issued a report based on a two-year study. It says there is overwhelming evidence that violence on TV causes aggressive behavior in children.

*”What is TV Doing to America?” U.S. News & World Report, August 2, 1982. The average American home watched TV 63/4 hours per day in 1981 compared to 41/2 hours in 1951. The average person watches TV from 23 hours per week (teenagers) to 361/2 hours per week (older women). Anything from partial nudity to simulated intercourse is available on cable TV. Almost 100,000 households have a two-way system in which a computer scans the household every 6 seconds.

*”TV Violence: The Shocking New Evidence;’ Reader’s Digest, January 1983. Studies have shown that TV violence produces lasting and serious harm, violent cartoons are definitely damaging, TV erodes inhibitions, TV causes antisocial behavior, and TV contributes to poor academic performance.

*”As TV Violence Grows, the Campaign Against It Alters Course,” Christianity Today, November 25, 1983.

The above article “Television and Movies” is written by David K. Bernard. This article was excerpted from chapter six in Bernard’s book Practical Holiness A Second Look.

The material is copyrighted and should not be repainted under any other name or author. However, this material may freely be used for personal study or purposes.


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