The Evil of Drama
Rev. Richard J. Smit
"Drama is evil." Who would ever dare to say that
today? Who would dare to say that when drama is so widely accepted and
enjoyed by many Christians?
The drama of radio, television, movie, video, and
film is widely welcomed and enjoyed by many Christians who have failed
to examine critically what they are actually doing. Today, we have
become so accustomed to drama that it has become an acceptable part of
our daily life. Many children have grown up with it in the home and
continue entertaining themselves as they have learned. Keeping in step
with those homes, many Christian school boards have integrated drama
into the curriculum as a tool to instruct their elementary and
secondary school students in Bible classes or church history classes,
for example. Many churches promote drama for Sunday school programs,
Christmas programs, or even for "special" services. The result of
having accepted the form of drama is that the people of God have
opened the gates, and allowed this sinful practice of the world to
invade and firmly to occupy their homes.
Against this evil practice, which is well-rooted in
many Christian homes today, the Reformed believer must take up the
sword of the Word of God to examine himself, reform himself, and to
protect himself from the fascinating and riveting allurements of
Make no mistake, the root issue that the believer
faces is not the evil of the sinful content of drama, but the form of
drama itself. In opposition to that evil the believer must look to the
Word of God for direction and protection. By evaluating the form of
drama in the light of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity
the believer discovers that drama is an evil which must be forsaken.
Voices in History Concerning Drama
The early Church did speak out against drama. In
that day, the church fought against the evil of drama in the form of
stage plays. We learn from church historians that the early church not
only condemned drama, but also would not baptize those who would
participate in those stage plays.
Even new converts, who continued watching them for
pleasure despite rebukes, were also excluded from baptism. Those
confessing members who resumed either acting or watching drama were
disciplined and, if necessary, were even excommunicated.
In harmony with that view of drama, the church
father Tertullian also condemned plays. When instructing his
catechumens, he reminded them that plays were inconsistent with the
Christian life of meekness, peace, and purity. He condemned drama as a
means to encourage immorality.
Such condemnation resumed during the Reformation
age. For example, William Farel wrote to John Calvin once expressing
his desire that these men ought never to conform their character to
the sins of others, but conform their own to Christ in every kind of
duty. Farel concluded that acting caused great spiritual harm to one's
own spiritual character. Without a doubt, John Calvin, who despised
worldliness and all worldly amusements, agreed.
In Reformed churches, recent voices have been heard
against drama. One Reformed minister wrote that drama by its very
nature hampers the moulding of one's own spiritual character and the
putting on of the new man of Christ. Dr. Leonard Greenway, a minister
from the Christian Reformed Church in North America, spoke out against
drama: "We believe that God has given every individual his own unique
creatural distinctions in life, and that it is sinful for anyone
habitually to reshape his individuality and to twist his personality
for dramatic purposes. To display anger, sorrow, fear, or elation
under artificial stimulation is a profaning of gifts and powers God
intends shall be used only in sincerity and truth" (Standard
Bearer, Volume 69, September 1, 1993, p. 467).
A Misleading Voice
In 1928, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church
officially decided to warn her congregations against the evil of drama
at theatres. In 1966, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church
encouraged the churches to reject and condemn all drama which promotes
sin and attacks the holy, antithetical life of the Christian. What is
of particular interest in this last synod's decision, is that by
condemning only the evil content of drama, the synod yet set its seal
of approval upon the form of drama. In fact, the synod officially
approved of drama when used by and produced by the regenerated heart
and mind. That official synodical declaration reflects much of the
understanding of many in Reformed churches today. Many regard drama as
a legitimate art when it serves a good purpose and is produced by the
That recent voice has sounded something new and
strange. How does this popular understanding of drama stand in light
of the Scriptures and the Reformed faith?
Some Important Distinctions
Before we move on to discuss drama itself and in
order to aid our evaluation of drama, we must first distinguish drama
from two other things: imagination and imitation.
Imagination is the ability to think of situations
which may not be real. That power can be abused for evil purposes to
fulfil the lusts of the flesh. Such use of the power of imagination is
forbidden by God Who commands us to think only upon holy and just
4:8-9). However, there is a good use of that power of imagination.
One may imagine the consequences of a sin so that he flees from that
sin. One may use imagination to somewhat understand the sufferings of
a friend in order to console that friend. We use imagination when we
read good fiction books or even read Bible history. For example, we
imagine the events of Israel when the nation was wondrously delivered
from Egypt through the dry path in the Red Sea. We imagine some of the
details which Jesus sets forth in His parables. In this instance, the
purpose of this use of imagination is to learn the mysteries of the
Kingdom. However, imagination is not the same as drama.
Imitation is the other activity familiar to us. It
involves copying the habits or actions of another. This activity must
be carefully guarded against evil abuse. For example, a child's
imitation under the power of a sinful nature results in that child
walking in the sins of his parents or a famous sports figure. Even
imitation of the actions of another can often be done maliciously and
with the intent to humiliate.
In contrast to the evil abuse of imitation, there
is the proper spiritual imitation. In
Ephesians 5:1 we read that we are commanded unto a life of proper,
spiritual imitation. We are called to be "followers of God", or,
literally, "imitators of God." That does not mean we are called to
take on the Persons of God as drama would require, but we, as God's
children, are called to live out of that image of God given to us in
Christ through His regenerating Spirit Just as we see a son imitate
and then actually follow in the occupation of his father, so the child
of God must imitate His heavenly Father, and grow up in the life of
righteousness, holiness, and truth. Therefore, we conclude that
imitation must be distinguished from drama.
A Description of Drama
What then is drama? Drama is commonly defined as
that activity of taking upon oneself the nature and person of another.
We see that drama goes far beyond imagination and imitation. Drama is
the activity of attempting to become another person. The
actor seeks to become the subject of another man's actions, and he
even attempts to acquire the traits and personality of that other
person. That is drama. That activity is more accurately stated by the
word impersonation. That is the better word because "impersonation"
actually gets at the essence of drama: to take on another person than
Three Kinds of Impersonation
Three are three kinds of impersonation which are
common today. First, three is the outright "evil drama." Its content
is totally immoral and godless over against the righteousness and
holiness of God. The sole purpose of "evil drama" is to promote
unprecedented godlessness even greater than that of Sodom and
Secondly, there is today a kind of drama popularly
regarded by many Christians as "good drama." The content of this drama
is not overtly ungodly, but for entertainment portrays the lives of
outwardly moral people. Instead of reading a novel, many turn on the
television set and watch some "good drama." Into this category would
be listed such drama as "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Sound
of Music." One also finds in this category the drama which portrays
important historical individuals or historical events.
Finally, there is "religious drama." This is the
kind of drama which dramatizes the lives of the reformers, or even the
lives of individuals who are recorded in Scripture. Today, it is
common to find drama on television, video, and radio containing the
impersonation of the lives of Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul,
Martin Luther, or even the birth of Jesus, although some plays have
sought a semblance of decency by omitting the manger scene.
One Basic Form
Whatever the content may be, it is indisputably
true that the basic form is still the same. In each case, a man or
woman impersonates another individual, whether fiction or real. An
actor seeks to become that other person. Even worldly actors openly
attest to this definition in their newspaper or magazine interviews.
They say that to be the best impersonator (actor) one must seek to
become that other person. Only that kind of commitment and zeal to
impersonate as closely as possible can produce a true to life
portrayal. Thus, in order to properly impersonate Martin Luther, Noah,
Judas Iscariot, or Jesus Himself, one must seek to become those
Many today in the name of religion and of the
edification of God's saints foolishly attempt to become the subject of
the actions of Christ, other biblical characters, saints, or the
fictitious people of their imaginations. Just as guilty are the
willing watchers and listeners of the evil of drama.
Evaluating Drama in the Light of Scripture
That brings to the mind and heart of the believer a
host of questions. May one claim innocence for the sin and sinful
nature of the individual he impersonates? Is God well-pleased with His
people who either participate in or approvingly watch impersonations?
May one act out the holy activity of prayer? Is the form of drama
approved by the ninth commandment which forbids hypocrisy and lying?
Is the form of drama in harmony with the doctrines of the Reformed
The answers to these questions have consequences
for us. If the answers to these questions were "Yes," then we may
continue watching all forms of good and religious drama on television,
on videos, on the stage, and in school or Sunday school programs. If
the answer were yes, then those who have a play about Christ's birth
ought to include the manger scene without shame.
However, if the answer to these questions is "No,"
then we must examine ourselves, repent, and amend our ways and our
doings concerning the evil practice and doctrine of drama.
What is the answer of Scripture?
The answer of Scripture is "No."
God is not well-pleased with impersonation because
it is hypocrisy and lying. Impersonation requires that a man not be
true to what God has made him, but to set aside his person and
identity and become someone else. Understand, that the actor is not
only taking upon himself the person of another, but also necessarily
the sinful nature of that other individual To do that is to indulge in
the life of the lie and evil.
Hence, we must honestly consider what God says from
His judgment throne. Does God in judgment, acquit a man for acting out
the sin and sinful nature of another man? Will God applaud the
performance of the intimate covenantal activity of prayer? Will God
delight in hypocrisy? Will God command His people for being worthy
Scripture's answer is God's answer: "No!" Here
follow five main reasons.
An Attack on the Sovereignty of God
The form of drama attacks the sovereignty of God.
It attacks the right of God to rule His creation as He pleases. It
attacks the sovereign right of God to require of man obedience to Him.
The sovereign God upholds and governs by His
sovereign Word of power the person and nature of an individual. God
according to His sovereign wisdom determines a man's nature, person,
and circumstances of life. It is God's prerogative and right to do
whatsoever He has pleased with our life. It is also God's right to
require of us to live as those whom He has made us. However, for one
to become the subject of another man's nature and to attempt to bear
the sinful nature of another, is an attempt to oppose God's sovereign
right not to make us that other individual. Therefore, an actor sins
against God's sovereignty in two ways. First, he regards God's
sovereignty as foolish to restrict man from becoming another
individual. Secondly, man in defiance of the truth that God is
sovereign attempts to become another individual anyway.
For the believer, therefore, participation in or
the enjoyment of impersonation is also inexcusable disobedience and
rebellion. The child of God, in whom God establishes that new nature
and the image of Christ, has no right to desire to become someone
else. That is disobedience. It is that because God has created us in
Christ Jesus unto good works. That is God's sovereign right and
eternal good pleasure to do so. Since that is the truth, the believer
then may not deny that truth and impersonate another man's evil works
and sinful nature. That's contrary to the sovereign purpose of our
sanctification which is holiness.
An Attack on the Doctrine of Sin
The form of drama attacks the doctrines of sin and
total depravity. Drama permits a man to play with sin. Subtly, drama
would have us believe that sin is only in the deed. However, sin is
not just sin in the deed, but sin is always in the nature as well.
Quite deceptively drama requires that a man not only commit the sins,
but in essence also become guilty of that man's sin. Thus, it is
impossible for a man to act out the lives of even Noah or David
without becoming guilty of their notable sins.
In light of that, is good to be found in
impersonating the total depravity of another man's nature? Who in
their right mind would want to become the subject of the idolatry,
fornication, theft, murder, blasphemy, or the covetousness of another?
The Word of God says that "they who commit such things shall not
inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians
5:21b) Would you deliberately put yourself under the judgment of
that Word of God?
Nevertheless, some might still say that there is
good in such things. We can learn from the sinful mistakes of others
when graphically and dramatically displayed before us. However, God
will not be mocked by that reasoning. God is righteous to cause us to
reap the bitter fruits of such foolishness. Those who give themselves
over to drama, God will make them reap the bitter fruit of having that
other man's guilt and corruption embedded in their nature also. Even
the world attests to that reality of the just judgment of God against
the sin of drama. Even worldly actors admit their personalities become
irrevocably changed for the worse after impersonating the sinful
natures of others.
Hence, rather than humbly bow before the knowledge
of our total depravity and confess that there is nothing good in man,
the evil of drama in reality promotes wallowing in sin to the supposed
goal of our spiritual good. It promotes that vain goal in those who
perform and in those who watch.
Over against that judgment of drama, the proponents
of drama persist to tell us that there is something worthwhile and
good in the sinful deeds of another man. Good in impersonating the
sinner? Foolishly the church promoting impersonation principally
commits the very same sins. How? The church has in her own wisdom
sought to impersonate God in determining what is good and what is evil
for her life and prosperity. So subtly the devil attacks the church.
Let us beware!
A Multiple Attack on the Doctrine of Grace
The form of drama attacks the doctrine of the
sovereign grace of God. This attack comes against grace on three
fronts. In the first place, it attacks the revelation of God's grace
in Scripture. If drama were good in itself as a form, we have already
seen that then the Scriptures are something which cannot consistently
be left untouched.
However, when a man acts out the good works of a
saint, for example, he pollutes the truth of God's grace set forth in
the Scripture, such as in
Ephesians 2:8-10. There we learn that we are saved by grace alone
through faith which is the gift of God. We learn that by grace we
perform eternally foreordained good works. We understand that this
grace is sovereign, glorious, and wonderful. Now for one to
impersonate a good work is to seek to impersonate God and His grace
which irresistibly fashions and causes us to perform that good work.
May we make the grace of God in sanctification a plaything?
Further, to act out the wonder of grace in the
Incarnation or the crucifixion is highly blasphemous of that
unspeakable and matchless wonder. The wonder of grace did not come by
the will nor work of man. That wonder was absolutely impossible for
man to perform. Why then does the church today persist to re-enact
such things as the wonder of grace in the incarnation or crucifixion?
Why does the church seek to re-enact the wonder of sanctification in a
saint's life? Negatively, such is impossible to do. Positively, let
the church merely witness to and testify by speech the wonderful works
of our God. Then let the church pray in thanksgiving!
Thus, we condemn all impersonation of Christ
including His suffering and death. Can a mere man take upon Himself
the Person of the Son of God? It is the height of man's pride to think
that he can impersonate God Himself in our flesh. In fact, that this
what the antichrist will do. When he is revealed, he is the
Impersonator of Christ and God (II
Thessalonians 2:4). The church may never tolerate such blasphemy
of the wonder of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the second place, drama today also attacks the
means of grace. Because of its entertaining lure and power to seize
and hold the attention of the watchers, drama is serious threat to
replacing the God-ordained chief means of grace: the preaching of the
Word. Scripture also has something to say about this threat to the
I Corinthians 2:1-2 the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that
he did not preach the Word to them in the wisdom of men. That means
that the apostle did not bring the philosophy of the Greeks to the
saints, nor did he use the popular methods of transmitting knowledge:
oratory and drama. He did not impersonate, but he spoke in plain and
unadorned speech. As the apostle, so the church and her people must
not impersonate, but with all boldness and plainness speak the Word of
God. The church must chase actors and plays off the pulpit by the keys
of the Kingdom, and must maintain at front and centre the preaching of
the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
Finally, we must consider that the evil of drama
attacks the grace of God in another way. Earlier we wrote of an
official synodical declaration which approved of the form of drama.
That justification of impersonation as a legitimate art and activity
for the Christian was based upon the theory of common grace as taught
by Dutch preacher and later Dutch Prime Minister, Dr. Abraham Kuyper.
According to his theory, God preserves society by His common grace
("gemeene gratie") so that there are things in the world which are in
themselves good things. One of those things is the form of drama. On
this supposed doctrinal basis, drama is judged as a legitimate
activity of the Christian. On this doctrinal basis, drama is viewed as
a product of God's common grace. God has preserved through the ages by
His common grace, the form of drama for the church's use today. This
view basically makes God ethically and morally responsible for the
form of drama.
However, that justification of the form of drama is
a denial of the grace of God. God's grace is not responsible for the
evil of impersonation because you will never find God's grace among
the unregenerate. Why not? The authoritative voice of God's Word tells
us that His electing grace is found only in Christ Jesus and is
sovereignly given only to those who are in Christ Jesus (II
Timothy 1:9-10). Therefore, these not chosen in and not united
into Christ by sovereign grace have no grace. Because there is no
grace in the wicked, unregenerate world, God can never be ethically
and morally responsible for drama. It is the rotten fruit of man's
This conclusion implies that the theory of common
grace justifies the evil of impersonation of fictitious or real people
as good, justifies the sacrilege of impersonating biblical saints and
Christ Himself as profitable, and at bottom makes God and His holy
grace the author of the evil of impersonation. The heresy of common
grace justifies an evil practice which is antithetical to the Reformed
faith and practice. Common grace is anti-Reformed.
An Attack on the Antithesis
The form of drama is a tool of the devil to attack
subtly the antithesis. Although drama is regarded as good by many, in
reality it draws the church over the line of separation between the
church and the world. The only fruit that the church reaps from this
is her own ruin. Rather than learning to live godly, the church learns
to love the world, the things that are in the world, and the
lie. The little children learn to play with sin before the cartoon and
the cartoon movie. The teenager learns from the screen to play with
sin or learns to laugh at the lives of the saints. The church learns
to forsake the regulative principle of worship, learns to call good
what God condemns as evil, and learns to love what is of and in the
world. Hence, drama is a spiritual poison designed to smother and kill
the holy, covenant life of God's people.
A Violation of the Ninth Commandment
God demands of us obedience to all that He has said
in His Word which includes obedience to the ninth commandment.
According to His holiness and righteousness, God requires of us
in the ninth commandment to be truthful. With respect to our person
and natures, we are to be true to what God has made us in Christ
Jesus. However, for the believer to impersonate is a sinful attempt to
be what God has not made him. Thus, drama falls under the condemnation
of the ninth commandment as a form of lying.
May we, for example, act out prayer before our
heavenly Father? May we pray to our Father as someone we are not? Is
God delighted in "fake" prayer for daily bread which we in a play
certainly do not need ourselves or for sustaining grace for a trial in
which as we act we are not? Is God delighted in His children who,
rather than flee to the cross of Christ for refuge from sin and guilt,
willingly engage in the sin of others and expose themselves to the
bondage of the sin and guilt of another? Such is foolishness. Such is
only abominable hypocrisy. Participation actively or passively in
drama is disobedience to the Divine demand of truthfulness and
integrity in our whole life.
The Reward for Drama
The Heavy Wrath of God
In Lord's Day 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism,
all lying is judged on the basis of the Word of God as the
proper works of the devil. He was the liar from the beginning. Since
the form of drama is a type of lying which is condemned by the ninth
commandment, drama is one of the proper works of the devil. Since that
is true, the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that it brings
down upon itself the heavy wrath of God. Make no mistake about what
this creed means: the form of the evil of drama and the unrighteous
impersonators will forever burn in the fire of God's eternal wrath in
hell. Impersonators shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians
Lest we think too highly of ourselves, we must very
carefully understand that this sin is also rooted in our total
depravity by nature. We would be as God knowing good and evil. We in
our sin attempt in principle to become the Sovereign One and determine
what will be good and evil for us. This was the devil's sin from the
beginning. It will be the great sin of the antichrist in the end times
who will attempt to sit as God in the temple of God. Of this sin we
are guilty by nature and stand exposed to the everlasting wrath of
God. Is there any hope?
Our Only Hope
Our only hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ
died on the cross for impersonators. He died on the cross as one
condemned by the religious and political world as THE Impersonator.
Caiaphas condemned Christ for attempting to be the Person of the Son
of God. But, Christ Himself is no impersonator. He is the Truth. Yet,
He was condemned to death by God as one for impersonators; i.e., in
the place of His eternally and particularly chosen people who in their
sin and pride attempt to be as God. In His death, He endured the just
reward of our sin of impersonation. Christ endured the heavy wrath of
God under which we should have perished everlastingly. By His death,
He has atoned for all our sin. On the basis of His shed blood, we are
declared innocent of the sin of impersonation. Having been forgiven,
may we walk in that sin any longer?
We must go and sin no more because we are children
of God to be imitators of Him, our Holy Father. The Spirit of Christ
by sovereign grace works in us as His dear children to walk as
children of the Father in the image of Christ. He works in our hearts
the confession: "I am what I am in Christ by the grace of God!" Since
we are the children of God by grace alone, we learn not to seek to be
another, nor to be entertained by those who sinfully do. Rather, let
us seek to fulfil our proper calling.
The Calling of the Believer
A Two-Fold Calling
First, the believer must repent and flee the sin of
impersonation. He must refuse to participate in drama and refuse to be
entertained thereby. That may mean voluntary dismissal from the Bible
class, the history class, or the chapel exercise in which this drama
is used. Undoubtedly such refusal will result in ridicule.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures demand of us the kind of intolerance for
the sin drama that the early Church also maintained. It demands of the
church and the believer a holy intolerance and hatred for even the
form of drama.
Secondly, the believer finds his positive calling
in the words of
Philippians 4:8-9. Christ calls us to think upon those things
which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Christ
calls us to learn, receive, hear, and do those things. These things
receive the praise and approval of the Holy Scripture and God Himself.
What are those things? Those are the deeds which
flow out of that principle of life in the new man of Christ. We must
put off the old man of sin and his evil deeds. We are called to put on
only that new man of Christ. That is the man of Christ whose deeds are
only holiness, righteousness, and truth. By faith, we must live in
that truthfulness, holiness, and obedience before our God.
Blessedness in Truthfulness
In that way of obedience to God and His Word, there
is great blessedness for the believer. God promises us that we shall
have peace in this way of truthfulness. That peace is the knowledge of
the forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment of covenant life with God by
the grace which has created us in Christ Jesus. That undeserved peace
is also the peace of safety and protection from the evil works of the
devil and the wickedness of the world. That's the peace which faithful
saints and covenant homes enjoy, not in living as children of the
actor, the devil, but only as children of our heavenly Father in
righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit by the grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ.