A Christian Use of Television
Is there such a thing? We sometimes wonder. While few would go to the lengths of the American couple who are reported to have thrown their TV set on to the town dump and then solemnly stoned it as a false god, we might question the value of a system of communication which offers so much that is trivial, grubby and profane. Would we not be better off without it?
As Christians we should be seeking to “have dominion” over this aspect of creation, managing it for the glory of God.
Perhaps. Some people, to whom it has proved a snare, certainly would—and the time may yet come when the medium becomes so degraded as to be unfit for Christian consumption. But that would be a tragedy—for television is part of God’s world. He has made it possible for sound and pictures to travel to the other side of our planet, and man, in the process of subduing the earth, has discovered and is now using, or abusing, this God-implanted structure. Television is, in itself, neither good nor evil, but takes its character from those who work with it. It has enriched many lives and could be a mighty force for good. It is often, at present, a very subtle and attractive instrument of evil. As Christians we should be seeking to “have dominion” over this aspect of creation, managing it for the glory of God.
There is, then, a Christian use of television. But how we can, in fact, use it in a God-honouring way is another question. Three guidelines will be laid down: Caution, Control and Change.
Anything which is powerful and potentially dangerous needs to be handled with great caution. Electricity, for example, is beneficial and familiar, yet only a fool would treat it carelessly. Television is in the same category—devastatingly powerful. It enters our homes when our guard is down and we feel sheltered from the temptations of the world. We do not expect Satanic assaults at our own fireside and are thus unprepared to resist them. It is a medium with a strong impact, appealing to both eyes and ears at once. Those who produce programmes are usually experts in communication, skilled at making the precise impression which they wish their material to have. As we watch, we are to some extent placing ourselves in the hands of very able people.
Nor does their past record inspire much confidence. There is considerable evidence that the violence which mars so many programmes has significantly increased aggressive behaviour in young people. The portrayal of sexual immorality, whether explicitly or by innuendo, and the increasing use of blasphemy have desensitised consciences to the point where most people are quite undisturbed at what would have appalled a previous generation. More subtle damage is caused by the blatant materialism of the advertisers, the mind-numbing shoddiness of soap operas and quiz shows, and—perhaps most dangerous of all—the unspoken humanist conspiracy by which God is not so much denied as quietly ignored.
New technology also increases television’s potential for harm. The video recorder has brought together young children and hard-core pornography. Cable TV will multiply the number of available channels to perhaps 25 and, together with Direct Broadcasting by Satellite, will offer rich opportunities to those aware of the profits to be made in catering for man’s lower impulses.
We shouldn’t be naive. We need to think about television. If it is to be used at all we must do so with prayerful caution, for it is simply too influential to be treated lightly.
Since the Word of God is the perfect and adequate guide for our lives, what biblical principles can we apply to the Christian’s use of television? Seven verses seem particularly relevant:
- I Corinthians 10: 31 – “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. “
It is possible to watch television to the glory of God. The screen can take us to countries in God’s world which we will never visit. We can journey to mountain tops and ocean depths. We can gaze through microscope and telescope at the intricacy and vastness of creation. We may be moved by great drama or educated in history, literature and science. News and current affairs programmes help us take an intelligent and prayerful interest in the world-scene. Comedy and sport provide occasions for family relaxation. Television can prove a great blessing—one which we can use with thankful hearts in God’s presence.
But we need to remember that He is present—the Holy One, who sees and knows us. Can we watch a particular programme without embarrassment in the presence of our Saviour? Can we say honestly that we are seeking to glorify Him in all our viewing? The fact that we can watch TV to the glory of God doesn’t mean that we always do.
- Philippians 4: “Whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . .lovely . . . admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. “
We remember what we see and think about — and are profoundly influenced by it. If our attention is given to what is cheap, false and impure, we are condemning ourselves to life in a mental and moral slum. That should make us careful about what we watch — for we will have to live with it. “As a Christian” writes Frank E. Gaebelein, “I am responsible for the furniture of my mind. “
- Ephesians 5: 15, 16 – “Be very careful, then, how you live— not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. “
Time is one of our most valuable possessions and television can consume huge quantities of it. Is that time always well-spent? What about the inertia which keeps us glued to our armchair watching programmes in which we have no real interest, but which we are too idle or apathetic to turn off? Are there not more enjoyable things we might be doing?
- 1 Corinthians 6: 12 – “Everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything “
Some people have become TV addicts. They have “their” programmes which must on no account be missed. Without a regular “fix” from the box in the corner, they almost develop withdrawal symptoms, and an evening without viewing stretches before them as a terrifying void. The medium has become their master. They need it, are dependent on it, cannot do without it. But a Christian has only one Master and we should not sell our spiritual birthright of freedom for a “mess” (literally! ) of electronic entertainment. If you find yourself upset at missing any particular programme—take care!
- Exodus 20: 8 – “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. “
While there are differences of opinion over how the Lord’s day is to be observed, the pursuit of TV entertainment can hardly be described as keeping the day holy. There may be a place for the broadcasting of church services for the housebound, but what else does the believer need? We would commend heartily the practice of giving the set a day of rest by keeping it unplugged throughout the Sabbath day. We have better things to do.
- Matthew 7: 9, 10 – “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake ? “
Children are vulnerable to the influence of television and concerned parents will be careful to protect them. They should know which programmes they may watch and be trained to turn the set off when these are over. Parents should, whenever possible, view with their children and spend time afterwards talking over what has been seen, helping them to evaluate it critically. Other pursuits and hobbies should be encouraged. To use television as an “electronic babysitter” is to be guilty of neglecting our children and exposing them to harm.
- Romans 14: 4 – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.”
Some Christians would like to be given a rigid list of “dos and don’ts”, valid for every situation, but Scripture does not permit this. While general guidelines may be laid down, as above, there remains a wide area of personal freedom and individual judgement. Believers will come to different decisions about how, when and what they will watch and it is important that these differences be respected. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Much of today’s television falls deplorably short of what it should be—and the situation seems to be deteriorating. But this downward trend is not inevitable. By God’s mercy and with energetic Christian action, television can be changed for the better. It is important that we believe this and do not give way to the hopelessness which would paralyse action and leave the field to Satan. Specifically, there are several ways in which Christians can work for change.
- We should be praying that God will raise up committed Christians to work in television — in technical, creative and performing roles. When such men and women appear, they should be supported and encouraged by the Christian community—not made to feel that they are engaging in “worldly” pursuits. Churches send missionaries to dark corners of the earth, places where they will be exposed to many dangers—and this is regarded as an honourable and worthwhile enterprise. But we have a dark and dangerous mission field in the world of television. Where are those who will venture into it in Christ’s name—and who will support them?
Every Christian should make a practice of writing regularly to the broadcasting authorities — both to commend and to complain. In spite of what we may sometimes think, viewer reaction does matter to the powers-that-be. They will respond to pressure, and various groups are already exploiting this sensitivity to the full. But the pressure must be sustained and widespread if it is to be effective. Letters should be courteous and reasoned, with detailed, specific questions which demand a reply.
How often have you complained about TV programmes? How often have you done something about it? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Television is a mighty power. In general, it repudiates the authority of Christ and stands against His kingdom. But our longing must be that the day may soon come when He may have the pre-eminence in this as “in everything” (Col. 2: 18). Our responsibility is to pray and to work towards that goal.