Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019
Although there are many global issues I could write about that are very prevalent in the world today, today I would like to talk about an issue that may seem minor, but can result in cataclysmic effects in Christianity. The issue I want to talk about is legalism. Since legalism is too large of a topic on its own, I am going to narrow down my discussion to two things: movies and music.
This post was inspired by a couple things and experiences from the past. Namely an open letter written by John Givez to Christian Hip Hop that was posted by Rapzilla (2) and a conversation I had with my good friend Jeremiah. In John Givez’ open letter to CHH, he touches on the stigma that is attached to him because everyone considers him to be so edgy that he has lost his spiritual edge, so to speak. That the way he operates and lives his life is not like the typical white, suburban, Evangelical-Christian. You know, that typical generalization and stereotype of every Christian in America. Take me for instance: the guy that looks like the 99 cent version of Leonardo Dicaprio, but who also always looks like he either just got back from the gym or is about to go to one.
Yet as Christians, we project these misconceptions of what a Christian should look, talk, and act like. These legalistic type and their keyboard warriors decided to call out John Givez for the way he lives his life and the way he goes about impacting the culture. So John Givez wrote a response letter to answer his skeptics. Then after reading the letter, I talked to my friend Jeremiah about legalism which led to a discussion on movies and music.
We talked about how we feel convicted by certain things that the other is not convicted to such an extreme degree. For instance, my friend is not comfortable watching an R-rated movie usually, but I on the other hand don’t mind depending on why it is rated R. Then when it comes to music we are again at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the positions are reversed. I cannot listen to music with foul language, but my friend is a lot more open to it then I am which is fine. I mean, I have no place to call out my friend for listening to music with foul language, if I watch movies with foul language. Right?
Now I am a film fanatic and I actually went to film school, so I am biased towards watching films over listening to music. I grew up watching war movies with my Dad and brothers late at night all throughout my childhood. War movies like Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, Gladiator, and so on that were very R-rated. When it comes to music on the other hand, I am a lot more cautious and skeptical to what I listen too.
In fact, I could count how many secular artists that I listen too off the top of my head on a regular basis. So now I ask myself, “Why is it that I am so restrictive towards music when it comes to whether or not it is Christian creators, but when it comes to my movie collection it is exclusively secular?” Why is that? Why do hold to this double-standard like a lot of other Christians?
I know for me personally that I honestly hate nearly every movie made by Christians because they are usually garbage, with the one exception being The Case For Christ movie which was actually pretty good. That may play a part in why I have more secular movies in my possession than secular music because there is a smaller supply of quality, Christian-oriented films that are also good. When comparing how many Christians are in the movie industry versus the music industry, it is pretty evident where the quality is best. In general, Christians in the movie industry are a joke compared to the Grammy-winning Christians in the movie industry.
Going back to legalism, when does someone go too far in what content they consume like movies or music? When is it okay for a fellow believer to correct another believer in love on what they are participating in? The best answer I can come to is that someone who has gone too far in whatever they are doing, is someone who is a) not glorifying God and b) is not reflecting Christ. If you can listen to secular music or watch secular movies, and not be hindered spiritually then go for it. If not, then you might want to reconsider what you are interested in as far as movies and music go.
For me, I have set up certain boundaries to ensure that I do not stumble into sin by going too far when it comes to these two mediums of art. This includes reading reviews from Common Sense Media (3), which is a website that tells you the content of most media and to what degree of content. For instance, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol has a 4 out of 5 stars for violence on Common Sense Media‘s review of the film, which means there is a lot of violence throughout the movie.
It could also be how you started your relationship with Jesus and became a Christian that influences what your specific borders for certain non-essential beliefs are going to be in your life. For example, I have these old family friends whose sons had such violent tendencies that just watching violent films would influence them to act extremely violently towards each other. So for that family, violent movies were not allowed because it tempted the two brothers into sinning towards each other.
Paul the Apostle wrote about legalism in two different places: Colossians 2:16-23 and Romans chapter 14. In the end, I could continue to discuss and try providing answers, but really I cannot truly say why I have certain standards for these two different mediums of entertainment. I will need to investigate and understand what pulls me away from God and draw borders accordingly on my own. One way you could go about finding safe boundaries for yourself is by studying these two passages in the Bible and understanding what hinders you or what doesn’t hinder you as a Christian. Like always, I hope this helps you if this is something that you struggle with in your life. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!