Christians Watching Movies

Have you ever had that moment when you are walking out of the movie theatre having just watched one of the funniest movies you’ve ever seen, and all the friends with whom you watched it are quoting the best lines, and you are all laughing and having a blast – but in a small, stinging moment of conviction, a terrible thought crosses your mind:  I shouldn’t have watched that.

Me too.  I feel you.  I smell what you’re stepping in.

What was your response to that twinge of guilt?  If you are like me (especially the high school version of me) you probably shrugged off that guilty conscience and moved on with your life, which included more trips to the Cineplex to see movies your conscience told you not to see.

Let me be clear: this is not innocent behavior.

In the Bible, the conscience is no small thing.  In Romans 2, the Apostle Paul affirms that every person is born with a conscience.  It is an inherent “moral compass”, which gives to its carrier the ability, in some measure, to distinguish good from evil.  Rejecting your conscience is a dangerous path to walk.

With regard to movies the question, then, is should Christians see films because films are not bad in and of themselves?  Or should Christians abstain from films because most of them promote sin?  The answer is yes.  It simply depends on your conscience.

Killing Living Things

When the Apostle Paul came to the city of Corinth, he preached the gospel and established a church.  This was truly a miraculous event because Corinth was a cesspool of pagan idolatry.  Sometime later, he received word that Christians in Corinth were experiencing confusion over the issue of food sacrificed to idols.

Here was the problem:  At pagan temples animals were sacrificed to the gods.  In many cases, only a portion of the animal was “destroyed” during the ritual and often the rest of the body was sold in the marketplace or used in temple banquets.  A Corinthian buying food in the marketplace could easily take home meat that had been used in pagan worship.  To the average Corinthian, this was a non-issue.  But for a recently converted Christian Corinthian, the idea of eating that meat could conjure up all kinds of memories from their life before knowing Jesus.

Think of it this way: perhaps you know a former alcoholic who heard the gospel and was saved.  Not only were they saved objectively from God’s wrath, they were saved subjectively from alcoholism.  Now, let’s say this recently converted former alcoholic is at the grocery store and passes the liquor aisle.  Is it permissible for him to buy and consume alcohol?  That’s an imperfect analogy, but still something of a similar dilemma the Christians in Corinth were facing.

First, let’s do what Paul does.  Paul isolates the object of the problem – meat sacrificed to idols.  He says there is nothing wrong with the act of eating this meat, and his reasoning is that the so-called gods to which the meat was sacrificed are not gods at all.  If a Christian is worried about some kind of supernatural transfer of power from the idol to the meat, he need not be concerned any longer.  “…there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Cor. 8:6).

And yet, there is some level of knowledge that a Christian can possess that does not penetrate the heart.  It is possible, according to Paul’s reasoning, for a former idol worshiper to know that Jesus is the one true God and yet still have reservations about eating the sacrificed food simply because of its association with the pagan lifestyle.  If that is the case, that worshiper should stay away from the meat.  Why?  Because his conscience confirms it is sin.

So for that former alcoholic: if he has any inkling that his purchasing of alcohol could possibly lead to sin, then purchasing the alcohol is a sin.  He shouldn’t do it.

What happens to the former pagan idolater who does eat the meat and the alcoholic who does buy the alcohol?  Each one, in his own way, pricks his conscience.  And not realizing his conscience is like a living thing, he continues to prick it.  Easier and easier it becomes until he no longer feels even a twinge of pain.  He has desensitized himself.  He’s killed his conscience.

Friends, that’s what happens when we sacrifice innocent behavior in the name of entertainment.  We slowly kill our consciences (some more quickly than others).

Numbness ≠ Freedom

Two Christians walk into a movie theatre to see an R-rated action film.  The MPAA rating says, “Rated R for violence and language”.  Both walk out thoroughly entertained.  It’s possible they saw the exact same movie under the exact same circumstances – and yet one of them sinned.

There are Christians that can watch movies that many of us would deem unwatchable, and they can do it without sinning.  Is it because they’ve “seen enough so it doesn’t affect” them anymore?  No, it’s because they know in their hearts there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, and they are in love with him to the extent that they can freely enjoy a movie.  A movie, like the meat sacrificed to idols, is morally neutral.  It neither brings a person closer to or further from God (1 Cor. 8:8).  If a Christian’s conscience allows it, then it is indeed permissible.

Desensitization is a different matter.  There are Christians (probably more in this category) who do not feel all that bad about the content they take in at the movies.  This isn’t freedom in Christ; it is numbness to sin, and it will lead to a killing of your conscience.

Two Christians walk into a movie theatre.  Which one sinned?  The one who saw it out of numbness to his sin.  If this is you, you’re called to repent.  Acknowledge that your numbness is not freedom and resolve to listen to the gasping voice of your conscience.

Christ-Exalting Conscience

Feeling guilty yet?  Unfortunately that guilt won’t keep you in tune with your conscience forever.  Might I suggest that, in this comparatively trivial issue of “what movies should I see?”, you fix your eyes on the One who was obedient unto death for you.  If you’re weak in your conscience, remember Christ became weak for you.  When you find yourself more captivated by a vision of the cross and resurrection than by a 90-minute action flick, it suddenly won’t be so difficult to hear and obey your conscience.  In doing so you will fall more deeply in love with Jesus and, consequently, your freedom will increase.

*****

This post also appears on the blog for the Crossroads University Ministry at The Moody Church and can be viewed here.

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About Collin Damon Welch
Collin worked in the film/TV industry for a while. Now he's pursuing ministry. He and his incomparably beautiful wife Nicole live in Chicago.

One Response to Christians Watching Movies

  1. Pingback: Christian Watching Movies with Other Christians « collin damon welch | dead alive

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