“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV)
Interpreting Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10 used to be difficult for me. My Christian world was black and white. If something was bad for me, then it was bad for everyone. If something was good for me, then it was good for everyone. I didn’t understand strong and weak consciences and didn’t know what to do with grey areas like culture. I didn’t always censor what I watched, read, and listened to either because I didn’t believe in “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” I thought, God sees it all. Why can’t I? He doesn’t censor secular culture. Why should I?
However, my thought process was flawed. God is holy and perfect. He cannot be corrupted or tempted by sin. I can. So I must censor what my eyes and ears take in and submit my cultural choices to God. Every person and cultural product that I encounter can draw me to Christ or away from him. I must judge my cultural choices in light of this truth.
I don’t believe secular music, books, or films have a place in the church. People can do what they want at home and in the car. But the local church is a place where they should hear the Word of God sung, testified, prayed, and preached. Secular culture won’t tell them about Jesus Christ. So we shouldn’t bring this culture – this Christ-hating, sin-loving world – into the house of God. We should not love anything this world offers because Satan is its prince (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 1 John 2:15-17). His goal is to keep people from repenting of sin, believing in Christ, conforming to his Word and will, and entering heaven for eternity. Satan doesn’t want people to think about eternity at all. If they do, he wants them to think heaven is dull and hell is fun. Should an ungodly culture infused by Satan have any place in the church? No.
However, I still watch secular films, read secular books, and listen to secular music. Films are the new literature and history. I prefer documentaries and dramas, both literary and historical. I don’t like vulgarity, language, nudity, or violence. Still, regardless of rating, I will not apologize for enjoying films like Gods and Generals (2003), The King’s Speech (2010), Les Miserables (2012), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Life is Beautiful (1997), Lincoln (2012), Philomena (2013), The Pianist (2002), Pride and Prejudice (1995), and Wyatt Earp (1994). Unlike the masses who watch Harry Potter and Twilight, I’m learning something.
The Christian film industry today is like MGM’s golden era. It wants to entertain people without the moral filth in many secular films today but also give a Christian message. Yet the industry doesn’t educate audiences. Films like Amazing Grace (2007), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), The King James Bible (2011), and The Nativity Story (2006) are rare. Today’s Christian films aren’t as well made as secular ones either, so I rarely go to the Christian film industry for good acting, cinematography, and scripts. The unbelieving world – Hollywood – still does it better, even with Christian material.
During MGM’s golden era, producers used censorship to give audiences clean entertainment. Some secular television programs even sang Christian songs and shared Bible verses. But were they Christian? No. External conformity isn’t internal transformation. This censorship whitewashed a culture unaware of its need for Jesus Christ. Yet today the Christian film industry wants to return to these “golden days” without giving audiences solid Christianity – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and testimonies of conversion. Cleanness without Jesus is another gospel. It denies the converting power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24).
Still, I don’t want my cultural liberty in Christ to be another’s stumbling block or downfall (Romans 14:3). I don’t live or die to myself (14:7). This life is not about me, so I should seek others’ well-being (1 Corinthians 10:24). Some Christians are sensitive and I must respect that. So I will be more careful about my cultural recommendations.