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     "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads."  -Revelation 7:2-3

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Positive and Negative Use of Theater and Drama - Ryan McCoy

Studies - Theater and Drama

Positive and Negative Use of Theater and Drama
Is the Use of Video and Dramatic Illustrations for Serious Evangelistic Purposes Acceptable for an Adventist Christian?

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    1. God Used “Theater” for Dramatic Effect in Ancient Israel Just Prior to Entrance to Canaan
        1. “The spot chosen was one of the most beautiful in all Palestine, and worthy to be the theater where this grand and impressive scene was to be enacted. The lovely valley, its green fields dotted with olive groves, watered with brooks from living fountains, and gemmed with wild flowers, spread out invitingly between the barren hills. Ebal and Gerizim, upon opposite sides of the valley, nearly approach each other, their lower spurs seeming to form a natural pulpit, every word spoken on one being distinctly audible on the other, while the mountainsides, receding, afford space for a vast assemblage.”  {PP 500.1}
          1. Thought: Dramatic Illustration might be a better description.

       

    2. The Church is the “Theater” of God’s Grace
      1. “Through the ages of moral darkness, through centuries of strife and persecution, the church of Christ has been as a city set on a hill. From age to age, through successive generations, to the present time, the pure doctrines of the Bible have been unfolding within her borders. The church of Christ, enfeebled and defective as she may appear, is the one object on earth on which he bestows in a special sense his love and regard. The church is the theater of his grace, in which he delights to make experiments of mercy on human hearts.”  {RH, December 4, 1900 par. 4}  (OHC 172.2)
      2. “The church of Christ, enfeebled, defective as she may appear, is the one object on earth upon which he bestows, in a special sense, his love and his regard. The church is the theater of His grace, in which He delights in making experiments of mercy on human hearts. The Holy Spirit is his representative, and it works to effect transformations so wonderful that angels look upon them with astonishment and joy. Heaven is full of rejoicing when the members of the human family are seen to be full of compassion for one another, loving one another as Christ has loved them. The church is God's fortress, his city of refuge, which he holds in a revolted world. Any betrayal of her sacred trust is treachery to him who has bought her with the precious blood of his only begotten Son.”  {PH154 18.2} 

 

    1. The World is a “Theater” of God’s Grace
      1. The world is a theater. The actors, the inhabitants of the world, are preparing to act their part inthe last great drama. God is lost sight of. There is no unity of purpose, except as parties of people confederate to gain their ends. God is looking on. His purposes in regard to His rebellious subjects will be fulfilled. The world has not been given into human hands, though God is permitting the elements of confusion and disorder to bear sway for a season.” {CTr 359.2} (Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 27, 28) (ChS 50.1)
      2. “Only by the gift of God's Son could the ransom of the human race be obtained. Without this sacrifice, all that remained for man was death in his sins. But by giving His life for the life of the world, Christ bridged the gulf that sin had made, joining this sin-cursed earth to the universe of heaven as a province. God chose this world to be the theater of His mighty work of grace. While the sentence of condemnation was suspended over it because of the rebellion of its inhabitants, while the clouds of wrath were accumulating because of transgression of God's law, a strange and mysterious voice was heard in heaven: "Lo, I come . . . to do Thy will, O God." "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared me."  {ST, February 22, 1899 par. 4}
      3.  “By giving His life for the life of the world, Christ bridged the gulf that sin had made, joining this sin-cursed earth to the universe of heaven as a province. God chose this world to be the theater of His mighty works of grace. While the sentence of condemnation was suspended over it because of the rebellion of its inhabitants, while the clouds of wrath were accumulating because of the transgression of the law of God, a mysterious voice was heard in heaven, “Lo, I come. . . to do thy will, O God” (Psalm 40:7, 8). Our substitute and surety came from heaven declaring that He had brought with Him the vast and inestimable donation of eternal life. Pardon is offered to all who will return their allegiance to the law of God. But there are those who refuse to accept a “thus saith the Lord.” They will not reverence and respect His law. They make rigorous human enactments in opposition to a “thus saith the Lord,” and by precept and example lead men, women, and children into sin. They exalt human enactments above the divine law. But the condemnation and wrath of God are suspended over the disobedient. The clouds of God’s justice are gathering. The material of destruction has been piled up for ages; and still apostasy, rebellion, and disloyalty against God is continually increasing. The remnant people of God, who keep His commandments, will understand the word spoken by Daniel, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10). {OFC 230.2} (TDG 84.2)

 

    1. God Will Use Drama and “Theater” in the final scenes
      1. “… for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”  -1 Corinthians 4:9
      2. “As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. They see just where their feet diverged from the path of purity and holiness, just how far pride and rebellion have carried them in the violation of the law of God. The seductive temptations which they encouraged by indulgence in sin, the blessings perverted, the messengers of God despised, the warnings rejected, the waves of mercy beaten back by the stubborn, unrepentant heart--all appear as if written in letters of fire.”  {GC 666.2}
        “Above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic viewappear the scenes of Adam's temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption. The Saviour's lowly birth; His early life of simplicity and obedience; His baptism in Jordan; the fast and temptation in the wilderness; His public ministry, unfolding to men heaven's most precious blessings; the days crowded with deeds of love and mercy, the nights of prayer and watching in the solitude of the mountains; the plottings of envy, hate, and malice which repaid His benefits; the awful, mysterious agony in Gethsemane beneath the crushing weight of the sins of the whole world; His betrayal into the hands of the murderous mob; the fearful events of that night of horror--the unresisting prisoner, forsaken by His best-loved disciples, rudely hurried through the streets of Jerusalem; the Son of God exultingly displayed before Annas, arraigned in the high priest's palace, in the judgment hall of Pilate, before the cowardly and cruel Herod, mocked, insulted, tortured, and condemned to die--all are vividly portrayed.”  {GC 666.3}
        “And now before the swaying multitude are revealed the final scenes--the patient Sufferer treading the path to Calvary; the Prince of heaven hanging upon the cross; the haughty priests and the jeering rabble deriding His expiring agony; the supernatural darkness; the heaving earth, the rent rocks, the open graves, marking the moment when the world's Redeemer yielded up His life.”  {GC 667.1}
        The awful spectacle appears just as it was. Satan, his angels, and his subjects have no power to turn from the picture of their own work. Each actor recalls the part which he performed. Herod, who slew the innocent children of Bethlehem that he might destroy the King of Israel; the base Herodias, upon whose guilty soul rests the blood of John the Baptist; the weak, timeserving Pilate; the mocking soldiers; the priests and rulers and the maddened throng who cried, "His blood be on us, and on our children!"--all behold the enormity of their guilt. They vainly seek to hide from the divine majesty of His countenance, outshining the glory of the sun, while the redeemed cast their crowns at the Saviour's feet, exclaiming: "He died for me!"  {GC 667.2}  (Note: Even the redeemed are witness to this dramatic illustration or “panoramic view”.)

 

    1. Modes of Recreation and Innocent “Entertainment” can be “Instructive”
      1. The Lord has shown me that Sabbath-keepers as a rule labor too hard, without allowing themselves change or periods of rest. Recreation is needful to those who engage in physical labor, and is still more essential for those whose work is principally mental. It is not essential to our salvation nor for the glory of God to keep the mind laboring constantly and excessively, even upon religious themes. There are amusements, such as card-playing, dancing, theater-going, etc., which we cannot approve, because Heaven condemns them. They open the door to great evils. By their exciting tendency they produce in some minds a passion for gambling and dissipation. All such amusements should be condemned by Christians, and something perfectly harmless should be substituted in their place. There are modes of recreation which are highly beneficial to both mind and body. An enlightened, discriminating mind will find abundant means for entertainment and diversionfrom sources not only innocent, but instructive. Recreation in the open air, and the contemplation of the works of God in nature, will be of the highest benefit.”  {CTBH 108.2} (CH 198.2)

 

    1. Distinct Contrast Between Christian Recreation and Worldly Drama and Amusement
        1. Christian Recreation
          1. Chap. 46 - Christian Recreation
            “While we are seeking to refresh our spirits and invigorate our bodies we are required of God to use all our powers at all times to the best purpose. We can, and should, conduct our recreations in such a manner that we shall be better fitted for the more successful discharge of the duties devolving upon us, and our influence will be more beneficial upon those with whom we associate. We can return from such occasions to our homes improved in mind and refreshed in body, and prepared to engage in the work anew with better hope and better courage.”  {CT 336.1}
            “We are of that class who believe that it is our privilege every day of our lives to glorify God upon the earth; that we are not to live in this world merely for our own amusement, merely to please ourselves. We are here to benefit humanity and to be a blessing to society; and if we let our minds run in that low channel that many who are seeking only vanity and folly permit their minds to run in, how can we be a benefit to our race and generation? how can we be a blessing to society around us? We cannot innocently indulge in any amusement which will unfit us for the more faithful discharge of ordinary duties.”  {CT 336.2}
        2. A Marked Contrast Will Exist Between Christian Recreation and World Gatherings for Pleasure and Amusement
          1. Between the associations of the followers of Christ for Christian recreation, and worldly gatherings for pleasure and amusement, will exist a marked contrast. Instead of prayer and the mentioning of Christ and sacred things, will be heard from the lips of worldlings the silly laugh and the trifling conversation. The idea is to have a general high time. Their amusements commence in folly and end in vanity. Our gatherings should be so conducted, and we should so conduct ourselves, that when we return to our homes we can have a conscience void of offense toward God and man; a consciousness that we have not wounded or injured in any manner those with whom we have been associated, or had an injurious influence over them.”  {CT 336.3}
        3. Satan Desires to Fill the Mind with a Desire for World Amusement
          1. “The natural mind leans toward pleasure and self-gratification. It is Satan's policy to manufacture an abundance of this. He seeks to fill the minds of men with a desire for worldly amusement, that they may have no time to ask themselves the question, How is it with my soul? The love of pleasure is infectious. Given up to this, the mind hurries from one point to another, ever seeking for some amusement. Obedience to the law of God counteracts this inclination and builds barriers against ungodliness.” -{CT 337.1}
        4. Safe Amusements Do Exist
          1. “Young men should remember that they are accountable for all the privileges they have enjoyed, for the improvement of their time, and for the right use of their abilities. They may inquire, Shall we have no amusement or recreation? Shall we work, work, work, without variation?”  {CT 337.2}
          2. Any amusement in which you can engage asking the blessing of God upon it in faith will not be dangerous. But any amusement which disqualifies you for secret prayer, for devotion at the altar of prayer, or for taking part in the prayer meeting, is not safe, but dangerous.”  {CT 337.3}
        5. Effects of Reading and Seeing Things That Suggest Impure Thoughts
          1. Avoid reading and seeing things which will suggest impure thoughts. Cultivate the moral and intellectual powers. Let not these noble powers become enfeebled and perverted by much reading of even storybooks. I know of strong minds that have been unbalanced and partially benumbed, or paralyzed, by intemperance in reading.”  --2T 410 (1870).  {2MCP 591.5}
        6. Contrast of Negative and Positive Drama and Safe Amusement Use
          1. “I thirst not for the applause of the idle and pleasure-loving multitudes that seek the unnatural excitement of the drama. … The only safe amusements are such as will not banish serious and religious thoughts; the only safe places of resort are those to which we can take Jesus with us.”  {RH, November 6, 1883 par. 3, 4}

       

    2. Frequenters of the Theater Compared to Other Similar Problems
      1. “In His talk with the Samaritan woman, instead of disparaging Jacob's well, Christ presented something better. "If thou knewest the gift of God," He said, "and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." He turned the conversation to the treasure He had to bestow, offering the woman something better than she possessed, even living water, the joy and hope of the Gospel. This is an illustration of the way in which we are to work. It is of little use for us to go to pleasure-lovers, theater-goers, drunkards, and gamblers, and scathingly rebuke them for their sins. This will do no good. We must offer them something better than that which they possess, even the peace of Christ, which passeth all understanding. We must tell them of God's holy law, the transcript of His character, and an expression of that which He wishes them to become.”  {ST, March 23, 1904 par. 3}
      2. “There are thousands upon thousands, millions upon millions, who are now making their decision for eternal life or eternal death. The man who is wholly absorbed in his counting room, the man who finds pleasure at the gaming table, the man who loves to indulge perverted appetite, the amusement lover, the frequenters of the theater and the ballroom, put eternity out of their reckoning. The whole burden of their life is: What shall we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed? They are not in the procession that is moving heavenward. They are led by the great apostate, and with him will be destroyed.” -  {6T 406.7}

 

    1. Problems with Type of Theater EGW Mentioned
      1. Hotbed of Immorality, Vicious Habits, Sinful Propensities, Low Songs, Lewd Gestures, Expressions and Attitudes, Poisons the Imagination, Destroy Religious Impressions, Increases the Desire for Intoxicating Drink, Fever of Unrest and Excitement
        1. “Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school of morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality. Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for the tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life, than theatrical amusements. The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every otherquestionable place of amusement.”  {CH 198.1}
        2. “Those who bear the responsibility at the sanitarium should be exceedingly guarded that the amusements shall not be of a character to lower the standard of Christianity, bringing this institution down upon a level with others and weakening the power of true godliness in the minds of those who are connected with it. Worldly or theatrical entertainments are not essential for the prosperity of the sanitarium or for the health of the patients. The more they have of this kind of amusements, the less will they be pleased unless something of the kind shall be continually carried on. The mind is in a fever of unrest for something new and exciting, the very thing it ought not to have. And if these amusements are once allowed, they are expected again, and the patients lose their relish for any simple arrangement to occupy the time. But repose, rather than excitement, is what many of the patients need.”  {CH 240.1}
        3. As soon as these {worldly or theatricalCH240.1} entertainments are introduced, the objections to theatergoing are removed from many minds, and the plea that moral and high-toned scenes are to be acted at the theater breaks down the last barrier. Those who would permit this class of amusements at the sanitarium would better be seeking wisdom from God to lead these poor, hungry, thirsting souls to the Fountain of joy and peace and happiness.”  {CH 240.2}
      2. “Strange Performances, Strange Deportment, Oddities in Bodily Exercise, Theatrical Gestures”
        1. Refrain From All Theatrical Display.--  “I have a message for those in charge of our work. Do not encourage the men who are to engage in this work to think that they must proclaim the solemn, sacred message in a theatrical style. Not one jot or tittle of anything theatrical is to be brought into our work. God's cause is to have a sacred, heavenly mold. Let everything connected with the giving of the message for this time bear the divine impress. Let nothing of a theatrical nature be permitted, for this would spoil the sacredness of the work.”  {Ev 137.2}
          “I am instructed that we shall meet with all kinds of experiences and that men will try to bring strange performances into the work of God. We have met such things in many places. In my very first labors the message was given that all theatrical performances in connection with the preaching of present truth were to be discouraged and forbidden. Men who thought they had a wonderful work to do sought to adopt astrange deportment and manifested oddities in bodily exercise. The light given me was, "Give this no sanction." These performances, which savored of the theatrical, were to have no place in the proclamation of the solemn messages entrusted to us.”  {Ev 137.3}
          “The enemy will watch closely and will take every advantage of circumstances to degrade the truth by the introduction of undignified demonstrations. None of these demonstrations are to be encouraged. The precious truths given us are to be spoken in all solemnity and with sacred awe.”  --Manuscript 19, 1910.  {Ev 138.1}
        2. “All the sang-froid, which is so common, the theatrical gestures, all lightness and trifling, all jesting and joking, must be seen by the one who wears Christ's yoke to be "not convenient" --an offense to God and a denial of Christ. It unfits the mind for solid thought and solid labor. It makes men inefficient, superficial, and spiritually diseased. . . .”  {Ev 644.2} 
      3. “Mix the Comical with the Religious”
        1. “What is the object of the ministry? Is it to mix the comical with the religious? The theater is the place for such exhibitions. If Christ is formed within, if the truth with its sanctifying power is brought into the inner sanctuary of the soul, you will not have jolly men, neither will you have sour, cross, crabbed men to teach the precious lessons of Christ to perishing souls.” --Letter 15, 1890.  {Ev 644.1}
      4. Thought:  The “theater” EGW mentioned was quite different than a deeply religious school or church play/reenactment/evangelistic video about the life of Christ, a Bible story, or serious dramatization of final events. 

 

  1. Truth not to be delivered using “theatrical style” as clearly defined in other contextual, parallel statements above
    1. Success Not Dependent on Outward Display.—  “Some ministers make the mistake of supposing that success depends on drawing a large congregation by outward display, and then delivering the message of truth in a theatrical style. But this is using common fire instead of the sacred fire of God's kindling. The Lord is not glorified by this manner of working. Not by startling notices and expensive display is His work to be carried to completion, but by following Christlike methods. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." It is the naked truth which, like a sharp, two-edged sword, cuts both ways, arousing to spiritual life those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Men will recognize the gospel when it is brought to them in a way that is in harmony with God's purposes.”  --Gospel Workers, p. 383. (1915)  {Ev 136.1}


Conclusion

     After careful study it can be found that both positive and negative use of the words “theater” and “drama” can be found throughout Ellen G. White’s writings.  In addition to this are found terms such as “Christian recreation”, “innocent”, “instructive” and “perfectly harmless” in regard to positive forms of entertainment.
      The decision whether theater or drama is of positive or negative effect seems to hinge more on the subject of the presentation and the methods used.  While there seem to be plenty of Adventists who will lean to both the liberal and fanatical conservative sides on this issue, it seems that there is a clear and safe foundation for serious Adventist video and films that focus the viewer on eternal themes such as final events, heaven, the history of the Great Controversy, and God’s glory and sacrifice.
      It must be remembered that lessons such as the giving of the law audibly from Mount Sinai in Exodus 20, portions of the Sanctuary service, the reading of the blessings and the curses, and the final events mentioned throughout the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy are all filled with dramatic illustrations, “drama”, and yes, even “theater.”
      One must obviously also keep the dangers of worldly theater and drama in mind so as not to mix the profane with the Holy.  EGW clearly stated that the truth should never be delivered in this worldly type of way.
      With all this in mind, we conclude that Adventist films or “documentaries” that are serious in nature, uplift the themes of the Bible and God’s word, avoid the over use of acting so as to create “stars” or “celebrities” appear to be well within the scope of both the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy counsel.  As our society moves more and more into a world of technology and worldly entertainment, we must remember that Jesus reached people where they were, and today’s high tech generation are currently being reached by technology as well as traditional methods.

-Sealing Time Ministries

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PS. Arthur White (Ellen White's great-grandson) shared a similar view and wrote an article (available below) that can be found at the White Estate website.


Other Supporting Materials

Adventist Films and Documentaries About Final Events

  • The Final BattleThe Final Battle - A dramatic partrayal of the final events from Sunday Laws in the United States to the end of sin at the 1,000 years.  Distributed by Review & Herald Publishing
  • Final Events of Bible ProphecyFinal Events of Bible Prophecy – Dramatic portrayal of the final events produced by Amazing Facts.
  • Cosmic ConflictCosmic Conflict - A dramatic series about the theme of the Great Controversy produced by Amazing Facts.

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