Many Activities That Were Once Forbidden by the Church Are Now Considered Fine. Are These Changes Biblical?

Many activities that were once forbidden by the church (card playing, dancing, and movie attendance) are now considered fine. But the Bible does not change. Are these changes biblical?

The Bible does not change, but our understanding and application of the Bible’s truths do change, especially when the Bible is not clear on a given issue. Case in point: There are no biblical texts that directly forbid any of the three examples you cited—card playing, dancing, and movie attendance. Because of this, Christians have to rely on their understanding and application of biblical principles to make decisions about these matters.

In 1928 synod, drawing from biblical principles, decided to warn members against engaging in these “worldly amusements.” But Synod 1966, also based on biblical principles, decided that “the difference between believers and unbelievers cannot always be detected in the products of their cultural activities, but it becomes evident in their motivation, direction, and purpose (Rom. 12:1-2).” It concluded that Christians can engage the film arts with discernment and spiritual maturity. Similarly, Synod 1982 conducted a biblical study on dancing, concluding that Christians can redeem our dancing abilities for “God-honoring use.” As for card playing, its association with gambling, and in some cases fortune telling, may be reason to forbid it. But are non-gambling card games sinful?

I think it is best to approach these disputable matters on a case-by-case basis. The rule of thumb is “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Some kinds of dancing, card playing, movies are not God-glorifying, but others might be.

Someone once told me that people are not afraid of change; they are afraid of loss. I can sympathize with that. But Christians can—and should—turn this to our spiritual growth, honestly examining ourselves to see if what we are actually afraid of losing is godly and worth keeping. Discomfort can often be spiritually more beneficial than our comfort zones. It may drive us to rely more humbly on God than on our external circumstances.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

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Comments

Sometimes the question is wrong, and is here.  It is not the case (as the question indicates), that card playing, dancing and movie attendance were "forbidden."  As ths answer correctly states, Synod 1928 warned about those worldly amusements (as well as drinking I believe), and I would suggest the warning was appropriate given the "newness" of those cultural phenomena.

And not much as really changed from 1928 in many ways.  Card playing can result in plenty of bad (illustrated by gambling addiction and its life destruction), as can dancing (some kinds of dancing by non-spouses are pretty racy and should be avoided), as can movie attendance (or, watching the equivalent, porn videos, which are essentially movies, and one of the current top level condemnations by the church today).  So have things really changed all that much?

Sometimes we underestimate the importance of cultural context when evaluating the church's responses to historical times and events.  And when we do, we can exagerate the differences between "the church then" and "the church now."  Things are so different, and we aren't really so much smarter or enlightened now than we were in 1928.  And if we think we are so much more enlightend, well, that might indicate a problem with us now. :-)

Doesn’t this questioner raise a valid concern?  He seems to be suggesting that the church is making compromises with our culture, and in effect, the church is becoming more worldly.  But you, Shiao, seem to be rationalizing, along with our denomination (or churches) to justify and accept the norms of our culture.  The problem facing the church (and our denomination) is that we usually accept such activities rather than reject them.  Dancing, card playing, movie attendance, divorce, women in leadership, Sunday observances.  Instead of standing firm, we find ways to accommodate to our culture.  Maybe our culture is wiser than we have given them credit for.

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