Christian Amusements

Louis Berkhof

I. Should a Christian Attend the Theater?

1. The Exact Meaning of This Question.

The question is not whether performances in which one person impersonates another are lawful or not. These may be perfectly legitimate.

Neither is it whether the persons participating in some such performance have the moral right to don costumes. Even this may be permissible.

It is not even the question whether we cannot conceive in the abstract of theatrical performances that might pass muster. This may be quite possible.

The only question is whether a Christian can with a good conscience visit the theater as we know it, the theater as it is known all over the world.

2. This Question Answered.

First of all a Christian should not visit the theater because:
the plays that are staged there are mostly of such a character that they palliate sin, or even present it as a virtue;
they make what is sacred to the heart of a Christian the object of mockery;
they sing the praises of immorality and incite the baser passions of man.

In general the theater books only such performances as will draw a crowd, so that it is able to maintain itself. And if anyone should venture to say that a Christian can avoid such plays and attend only those that are good and truly elevating, we would urge our second objection to theater-going.

A Christian should desist from attending the theater because of the character and life of the performers. It is a well known fact that the life of the stage is full of temptations and pitfalls, and that the men and women that amuse the public, are generally of a low moral character and are given to immoral practices. He who visits the theater is supporting the actors and actresses in their practices, while he knows that it is to the detriment of their souls. Even if they occasionally perform in classical plays, they must supplement this by appearing in other roles in order to earn a living.

And finally a Christian should not visit the theater because it is decidedly a place of worldly pleasures, where the people of the world go to be amused. The company that one meets there is not the proper company for the people of God. The Bible demands of us that we be separate from the world and have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness.


II. The Craze for Amusement

1. The Proper Place of Amusement in Life.

Amusements are of two kinds, namely, popular and professional, that is, amusements that the people provide for themselves and those which are provided for them by professional players. The first are the more universal and spontaneous and have the greater value.

Amusement or play has a perfectly legitimate place in life. This follows from the very constitution of both animals and men; it is natural for the one as well as for the other to play. Moreover, the Bible speaks of playing once and again without a single note of disapproval; yes, even with approbation.

Amusement serves especially a three-fold purpose:
in the first place it promotes physical health,
in the second place it affords relaxation from the daily routine of life
and in the third place it affords positive pleasure.

It is lawful and useful only in so far as it serves one of these purposes or all of them together. It may never become an end in itself, but should always promote and enrich life in some way.

2. The Present Inordinate Desire for Amusement.

It is an undeniable fact that in our day the condition of things is largely reversed. To a great extent amusement has become an end in itself, and professional amusement assumes a disproportionate place in life. People seek above all to be amused.

The subversive character of present day amusement is perfectly evident from the following facts:

(1) Many people do not seek to promote their health by partaking of the pleasures of life, but rather aim to be amused by others.

(2) An ever increasing number does not seek pleasure in order to enhance its capacity for work, but works primarily for the purpose of obtaining pleasure.

(3) And in numerous instances they indulge in the pleasures of life to such an extent that they become unfit for their daily task.

In view of these things it is high time that we put a check on our amusements. They should be reduced to their proper proportions and should be so chosen or arranged that they may minister to our physical and moral welfare.


III. Our Christian Youth and Amusements

1. Our Youth Entitled to Amusements.

We do not agree with those who would deny our young people all the joys of life. This was characteristic of some, who even went as far as to require that they should wear a characteristic dress and never laugh. They would not permit them to sing hymns and frowned on the organ and still more on the piano and the violin.

Our Christian youth may and must have its amusements.

(1) The Word of God does not condemn, but rather pre-supposses participation in the enjoyments of life. Think of the feasts among Israel, of the word of the wise preacher of Israel (Ecclesiastes 11:9) and of the word of the prophet (Zechariah 8:5).

(2) Moreover, the desire for amusement is inborn in every man, and is particularly strong in young people. This is perfectly natural too in view of the fact that man is destined to rejoice forever.

(3) Our young people need relaxation, for a bow long bent, at last waxes weak. Refuse them all enjoyment, and they will finally turn their backs on Christianity.

2. The Choice of Amusements.

There are certain general principles that should guide our youth in the choice of their amusements. In the first place they should bear in mind that, since they consist of both body and soul, they should seek the necessary relaxation for both body and mind. They may exercise their bodies by running, exercise, playing ball, riding on horseback, etc., and relax their minds by music and song, by reading or by playing checkers and chess.

At the same time they must bear in mind that they are intellectual and moral beings and should therefore choose their amusements intelligently and never allow these to rob them of their liberty. It is incumbent on them to guard against all degrading pleasures, such as those of alcohol, the theater, the dance and all sorts of immorality. Moreover, they ought never to allow any pleasure to dominate or enslave them. There is always a danger of this, even in the most innocent pleasures, such as playing checkers or ball.

And finally our young people must bear in mind that the great purpose of their life is to glorify God. In some way even their pleasures must minister to this great end. These should really afford the necessary relaxation, reinvigorate them, fit them better for life's task and heighten the enjoyment of life.