Although there are many global issues I could write about that are very prevalent in the world today like ISIS being terrible or dudes not wanting to be dudes anymore. I’ll instead talk about an issue that may seem minor, but can result in cataclysmic effects on the church. The issue I want to talk about is legalism. Yep, that one thing we all do that hurts all of us and is really dumb. 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 this letter written by John Givez to Christian Hip Hop (read here: http://www.rapzilla.com/rz/news/38-backstage/11361-john-givez-pens-open-letter-to-christian-hip-hop) and a conversation I had with my friend who I will refer to as M because that’s the name of 007’s boss who also happens to be Ralph Fiennes who is a beautiful man. 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 who wears polos, khakis, sandals, and only listens to Hillsong. You know, the typical generalization and stereotype of every Christian ever that is utterly untrue. Take me for instance, the guy that looks like the 99 cent version of Leonardo Dicaprio and wears basketball shorts with t-shirts everyday that evoke the thought processes of an 8 year old boy-child.
Yet as Christians, we project these misconceptions of what a Christian should look, talk, act, or even for the really legalistic people, smell like which is most likely a burnt incense type of aroma. I don’t know, but there is some lonely person out there that has specific regulations as to how a Christian should smell. Anyways, the legalizers and their squad 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 pulled a Martin Luther and wrote a letter to answer his skeptics. Then after reading the letter, I talked to my friend M 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, while I watch movies with foul language. Right? Let me explain my position on secular movies vs. secular music in a little more depth.
Now I am a film fanatic and I am actually pursuing a career in film while I attend college, 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 showed the main protagonist against unstoppable odds, fighting with everything they’ve got because they were the last resort in the conflict of each movie, respectively. I also grew up watching other adventure films with similar story beats where the hero or heroine has to fight unstoppable odds in order to save those who need saving. Movies such as Star Wars, The Dark Knight, and Raiders of the Lost Ark being notable examples that have had a huge influence on my life.
When it comes to music, I am a lot more cautious and skeptical to what I listen too. In fact, I could count how many secular songs I have on my iPOD off the top of my head. On my iPOD, I have a total of 911 songs and only 42 of those songs are secular. So after doing some math, only 4.6% of all the music on my iPOD is secular, yet 93.4% of my music is Christian. 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, but when it comes to my movie collection it is exclusively secular?” Why is that?
I really have been thinking about this lately because there is a difference between legalism among believers and sin. Is what you are partaking in simply a different taste for something or deadly to your spiritual state? Like I know for me personally that I honestly hate nearly every Christian movie that I have seen because they usually are terribly made B-movies, but that is just personal preference. 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. It would make sense since I think that there are a lot of current artists and bands that truly reflect Jesus like Lecrae, Skillet, and TobyMac, but still make quality music.
Going back to legalism though, when does someone go too far in what they partake in like movies or music when in fact it is sin they are partaking in and not just another case of legalism? 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 because if you feel convicted, then that is probably the Holy Spirit cautioning you that what you are doing is dangerous to your spiritual state. I know for me personally that 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 for me, reading reviews from Common Sense Media which 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 which means there is a lot of violence throughout the movie on their website. You can read more of that here: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/. 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 aregoing 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 to each other, so for them violent movies were sinful because it brought forth sin.
Paul the Apostle wrote about this issue in Romans Chapter 14 using an analogy about food and I’ll just end with this chapter keeping in mind that despite how I may think about this topic, God’s Word is ultimately the determining factor as to how to approach this controversial subject. So in other words, I could continue to discuss and try providing answers, but really I cannot truly say why I have certain standards for these two different medias. I will need to investigate and understand what pulls me away from God and draw borders accordingly on my own. That’s something that I would urge everyone reading this to do is to establish boundaries that you are comfortable staying in while at the same time not tampering your spiritual state. One way you could go about this is by studying Romans 14 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. Jesus bless and Godspeed!
Romans 14 (NASB): “(1) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. (2) One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. (3) The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (4) Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (5) One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (6) He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (7) For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; (8) for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (9) For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (10) But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. (11) For it is written,“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” (12) So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. (13) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. (14) I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (15) For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. (16) Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; (17) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (18) For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. (19) So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (20) Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. (21) It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. (22) The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”