By David K. Bernard
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (I John 2:15).
“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3).
There is nothing wrong with pleasure in itself. God desires for us to enjoy life, and He is not displeased with an activity simply because it brings physical, mental, and emotional pleasure. After all, He designed our capacity for pleasure, and He Himself takes pleasure in His creation. Christ came that we might have abundant life, in the present and throughout eternity (John 10:10).
The Bible stands firmly, however, against pleasures and amusements associated with worldly lusts and attitudes. According to Christ’s parable of the sower, many who initially accept the Word eventually have their spiritual life choked out by thorns, which are the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). The Bible warns against all forms of worldliness (Romans 12:2; James 4:4; I John 2:15-16). Moses chose not to “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” but rather to identify with the people of God and to inherit eternal riches (Hebrews 11:24-26). Paul remarked that before our conversion we were foolish, disobedient, and deceived, serving worldly lusts and pleasures (Titus 3:3). He compared the Christian life to that of a disciplined soldier who refuses to become involved in civilian (worldly) affairs. “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life” (II Timothy 2:3-4). From these passages, it is evident that some pleasures are not conducive to Christian living and can in fact be sinful.
As Titus 3:3 suggests, any amusement that would become our master or that would interfere with our relationship to God is wrong. In general, we must not submit our minds or bodies to anything that will be addictive or will bring us under its power (Romans 6:16; I Corinthians 6:12). All too often the spirit of pleasure so captivates people that they neglect their relationship with God, prayer, church attendance, Bible reading, witnessing, and working for God. We must never let enticing pleasures distort our spiritual priorities or rob us of all our available time. We must always place God first in our lives, followed by family and church. We should redeem the time—make the most of every opportunity—because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5).
Paul warned that in the last days men would be “lovers of their own selves” and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:2, 4). In Noah’s day, people were so busy eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage that they were oblivious to the message of judgment, and the same is true prior to the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:37-39). At some point, even participation in permissible activities becomes excessive and displeasing to God.
For convenience of analysis, we will discuss worldliness in three categories. First, some things should be avoided because of their worldly appearance or association. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22). There may be nothing inherently wrong with a certain activity, but because of its worldly appearance, connotation, or impression it should be avoided. The world says, “I will do what I want regardless of what anyone else thinks.” Even Christians are prone to think, “As long as I know I am not sinning I do not care what anyone else thinks?’ However, we must not only be right but also appear right in the sight of everyone. “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17, NIV). “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (II Corinthians 8:21, NIV). We are stewards of our fellow Christian and our fellow man; it is important that we do nothing to offend them needlessly or to cause them to stumble (See Chapter 4.)
Second, some things are detrimental to Christian living because an excessively worldly atmosphere or environment surrounds them, even though the activities themselves are acceptable. A basic principle of Christian liberty is to avoid activities that become detrimental or get the mastery over us, even if they are morally neutral in themselves (I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23). Harmless activities become harmful when conducted in an openly sinful atmosphere. The biblical injunctions to avoid worldliness certainly direct us not to congregate habitually in such an environment. Perhaps Psalm 1:1 has a literal application here: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” (See Psalm 26:4-5.)
A worldly atmosphere might include things such as gambling, cursing, smoking, drinking, extreme rivalry, violence, gossip, immodest dress, “petting or necking,” lewd language, lewd activities, and immoral music. Of course, the Christian will face these things to some degree simply by living in this world. It is impossible to avoid all worldly influences. At some point, however, a place becomes so saturated with some or all of these evils that the only Christian response is to avoid it totally. In making this decision, the Christian must evaluate specific activities in light of the particular local situation.
Inherently Worldly Amusements
Finally, certain activities are excessively worldly in themselves, and must always be shunned. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). For example, among other things, we must shun revellings (or rioting) and banquetings (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21; I Peter 4:3). The NKJV calls them revelries and drinking parties, while the NIV calls them orgies and carousing. In many cases, even though there may be no explicit scriptural prohibition against an activity as we know it, an application of scriptural principles shows it to be inimical to Christian values.
The proper role of the church is not merely to forbid leisure activities indiscriminately, but to establish wholesome alternatives compatible with Christianity. We are not bound by externally imposed regulations, but we choose to exercise our Christian liberty to enjoy activities edifying to the whole man rather than those detrimental to the spiritual man. We believe in enjoying Christianity and enjoying life—and we do! We starve the lusts and desires of the sinful nature, but we are able to enjoy life as a whole person. The man bound by sin does things that his inner, moral self hates (Romans 7:15), but with God’s Spirit in control, we can do everything we want to do and lead happy, fulfilled, successful lives.
The places and events that are excessively worldly may vary depending upon time, culture, and locale. We cannot resolve these issues by a universal, legalistic list of do’s and don’ts, but at some point we must judge whether certain activities sponsored by the world are corrupted by the spirit of the world. We must let the Spirit, the Word, conscience, and godly leadership warn us of situations that are incompatible with a separated, holy lifestyle because of their worldliness.
Innocent activities become detrimental when taken to excess. They become wrong for us when we allow them to dominate our thinking and time, taking us totally away from spiritual things. In recent years, video games have shown their potential to become addictive. Some people become so preoccupied with sports and follow sports events so closely that they are caught up in the spirit of them. It is possible to participate so much in any recreational activity—such as hunting, fishing, sports, and hobbies—that there is no time left for God. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things in their proper place.
As a modern example of worldly appearance, we do not use regular playing cards, not because there is anything wrong with the cards themselves but because of their strong association with gambling. As another example, sometimes one office worker will volunteer to buy snacks for everyone. Occasionally, someone will give him money to buy a pack of cigarettes. If a Christian accepts the money and purchases cigarettes, he will give the wrong impression to a casual observer; in this manner he will devalue his witness in the office.
As examples of worldly atmosphere, we have personally avoided certain of the following events and places: musical concerts, office parties, large sports activities organized by the world, fairs, pool halls, bowling alleys, and skating rinks. We have even avoided some eating establishments characterized by extreme worldliness in music, dress, language, clientele, and total atmosphere. This is not to say that, regardless of circumstances, we would always shun the above activities or all places where such activities are conducted. We recognize that these activities can be perfectly wholesome if conducted in the proper atmosphere and place.
As examples of modern amusements inherently worldly under all circumstances, we can cite gambling, modern dancing, listening to hard rock music, attending movies, and participating in the occult.
Chapters 14 and 15 of In Search of Holiness specifically discussed the problems with worldly music, dancing, worldly sports, worldly games, and occult practices.
Christians have historically opposed gambling because it violates many scriptural principles. First, it manifests covetousness or greed. It is motivated by a desire to get something for nothing. Covetousness or greed is a form of idolatry, with materialism as its god (Colossians 3:5). The Christian should not seek or expect something for nothing, but should earn what he gets (if he is capable of working). “If any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (II Thessalonians 3:10-12). (See Ephesians 4:28.)
Gambling violates the principle of love towards others, because the gambler seeks to gain at the expense of others without providing anything in return. Often gambling hurts those who can least afford it. However, Christian love seeks not its own (I Corinthians 13:5). “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (I Corinthians 10:24, NKJV).
Gambling is poor stewardship. God has given us everything we possess; we are only stewards of His wealth (Luke 16:10-12; I Peter 4:10). He will require an accounting from us for how we use what He has entrusted to our care. Gambling takes these resources and puts them at an unnecessary, artificial risk for the sake of momentary pleasure. Furthermore, in organized gambling the odds are always against the individual gambler, making it that much worse of an investment.
Gambling causes many other violations of scriptural principles, such as falling under the control of an addictive drive (Romans 6:16; I Corinthians 6:12), failure to pay debts (Romans 13:8), and failure to provide adequately for one’s household (I Timothy 5:8). Furthermore, gambling is inevitably associated with cheating, violence, and organized crime. It is evil by association if nothing else.
For these reasons, we personally avoid all forms of gambling, including betting, lotteries, and raffles.
In 1952, The Methodist Church passed this resolution concerning gambling: “Gambling is a menace to business integrity; it breeds crime and is destructive of the interests of good government. . . .We strongly urge all of our churches to abstain from the use of raffles, lotteries, and other forms of games of chance in the raising of money for the purposes of the church.”‘ We concur. If a church wishes to raise money, let it ask for gifts or let it organize fundraisers to sell goods and services. We should not appeal to greed in order to raise money for God. We should not use a form of gambling, thereby lending legitimacy to an evil practice.
Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine, recently editorialized against gambling as a means of government fundraising. It stated, “The fundamental Christian objection to gambling is that it represents a denial of the God of providence. It replaces him with the universe of pure chance and a dependence on blind luck. Of course, Christians have to take risks. Every businessman does this daily as a necessary part of his business. Insurance is a risk, but it is not a gambling because at its basis it is a sharing of burdens. Gambling is an artificially contrived risk, taken for selfish gain at another’s expense, with no constructive product or social good as its goal.”2
Rice’s “Amusements for Christians”
It is instructive to see how fundamentalist John R. Rice discussed modern amusements in a practical way. Below are conclusions found in his 1955 booklet, Amusements for Christians.
- Christians should not dance because dancing arouses lust and passion. This does not apply to noncontact folk dancing or to an individual spontaneous dance for joy as described in the Bible.
- Hollywood movies are wrong because of their content, but there is nothing wrong with the technological device itself.
- Any game regularly used for gambling, such as bridge or regular playing cards, should be avoided because of the appearance of evil and the offense it could cause.
- Sports can be either good or bad, depending upon the atmosphere and type of crowd. Some things that would make a sports event excessively worldly are drinking, foul language, immodest dress, gambling, and unchristian attitudes.
- Secular music can be either wholesome or unwholesome depending upon the content of the -songs.
- Indoor games such as checkers and chess are good.
- This is good if players wear modest dress and if women do not wear slacks or shorts.
- Skating and bowling are good in themselves, but the environment can be detrimental. Here are some problems often associated with skating rinks and bowling alleys: indecent dress, bad language, drinking, “necking;’ and poor reputation in the community.
- Swimming is wholesome, but there should be no mixed swimming because of immodest exposure of the body.
- The modern circus and the opera are usually not objectionable, but Christians should be sensitive to the dictates of conscience.
- Plays and novels must be evaluated individually, depending on their content.
Teaching in Church History
Many today would regard our self-disciplined approach to amusements as too narrow and restrictive. In this regard, it is very instructive to see how Christian groups of ages past handled these and similar amusements.
Early Christians avoided pagan festivals and public amusements because of the pagan beliefs, pagan practices, and immorality associated with them.’ The editors of The Ante-Nicene Fathers remarked, “Let us note that the whole spirit of antiquity is opposed to worldliness. It reflects the precept, ‘Be not conformed to this world, and in nothing more emphatically than in hostility to theatrical amusements.” 4
In particular, Tertullian wrote in The Shows that Christians should not attend the circus, theater, combats, racecourse, or amphitheater (public games).5 These included gladiatorial combats, wild beast combats, chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics. Here are the reasons he gave: these events were filled with idolatry, blasphemy of God’s name, lust of pleasure, rivalry, rage, bitterness, wrath, grief, passionate excitement, passionate desire, betting, cursing, immodest exposure of the body, violence, and bloodshed. He said there could be a lust of pleasure just as there is a lust of money, food, power, or glory. Instead of participating in these worldly pleasures, Tertullian recommended that Christians look forward to the New Jerusalem, where there would be eternal, joyous celebrations worthy of participation.
Clement of Alexandria opposed public spectacles, the racecourse, and the theater.6 He disapproved of these public entertainments because of the confusion, lust, gossip, base actions, riots, and cruelty associated with them.
Hippolytus stated that according to apostolic tradition the following professions were off limits to Christians: actor, pantomimist, charioteer, frequenter of races, gladiator, trainer of gladiators, huntsman (in wild beast shows), anyone else connected with these shows, and official in charge of gladiatorial exhibitions.’
The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles banned these occupations: anyone associated with the theater, charioteer, dueller, racer, player for prizes, Olympic gamester, musician at the games, ticket seller for the theater, and dancingmaster.8
Minucius Felix wrote, “We therefore, who are estimated by our character and our modesty, reasonably abstain from evil pleasures, and from. . pomps and ex-hibitions.”9
Under the heading, “That Worldly Things are Absolutely to be Avoided;’ we find these comments of Corn-modianus: “If certain teachers, while looking for your gifts or fearing your persons, relax individual things to you, not only do I. . .grieve, but I am compelled to speak the truth. Thou art going to vain shows with the crowd of the evil one, where Satan is at work in the circus with din. Thou persuadest thyself that everything that shall please thee is lawful. . . .Dost thou wish to see the former things which thou has renounced? . . .Love not the world, nor its con-tents.”10
Lactantius wrote, “All shows are to be avoided, that we may be able to maintain a tranquil state of mind. We must renounce hurtful pleasures, lest, charmed by pestilential sweetness, we fall into the snares of death.””
Other early Christian writings that oppose the public games include Tatian’s Address to the Greeks (specifically gladiator fights and boxing), On the Public Shows attributed to Cyprian, and the writings of Chrysostom (specifically horse racing).”
The Puritans shut down the theater, horse races, cockfights, wrestling matches, and bear or bull baiting when they came to power in England. We should note that although we share some holiness teachings with the Puritans, we reject two concepts often associated with them. First, we do not consider an amusement to be wrong simply because it is entertaining, pleasurable, or light. Second, we do not seek to legislate holiness or impose our lifestyle upon secular society (except to regulate or ban practices that victimize others).
John Wesley thought fairs were sinful.
Justin Martyr wrote against music that provoked lustful movements.” Clement of Alexandria said, “Let amatory songs be banished far away. . . .For temperate harmonies are to be admitted; but we are to banish as far as possible from our robust mind those liquid harmonies, which, through pernicious arts in the modulations of tones, train to effeminacy and scurrility. . . .Chromatic harmonies are therefore to be abandoned to immodest revels, and to florid and meretricious music.”14 We have also found references to worldly music in the writings of Corn-modianus and in a work attributed to Hippolytus.15
With respect to gambling Clement of Alexandria wrote, “The game of dice is to be prohibited, and the pursuit of gain, especially by dicing, which many keenly follow.”16 In our brief research, we have also found specific teachings against gambling by Tertullian, the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Savonarola, Hussites, Calvin, Puritans, Pietists, Quakers, Methodists, Holiness groups, Baptists, other conservative evangelicals, and Pentecostals.” In the early 20th century gambling was illegal in most states of the U.S.
We have found specific teachings against dancing by Clement of Alexandria, Commodianus, a work attributed to Hippolytus, the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Waldensians, Hussites, Anabaptists, Calvin, Puritans, Wesley and Methodists, Holiness groups, many Baptists, and Pentecostals.’ 8
In sum, many people throughout history who were concerned with holiness of life rejected various forms of worldly amusements, including worldly spectator sports, some other public entertainments, immoral music, gambling, and dancing. This should encourage us today to discriminate carefully between amusements that are wholesome and those that are detrimental to our spiritual lives.
Pulpit Helps (March, 1984, page 1) gave this summarization by an unknown author: “I should refrain from a pastime (1) if it violates another’s conscience, (2) if it does harm to my own well-being, (3) if it has the appearance of evil, (4) if it offends others whose opinions I value, (5) if it leads in the direction of sin, (6) if it reflects unfavorably upon my Christian profession, (7) if it lessens respect for parents, school, or church, (8) if it hazards my health, (9) if it encourages habits which tend to hamper my efficiency.
“I may indulge in a pastime (1) if it invigorates the mind, rests and restores the body, (2) if it gives pleasure and profit and no regret, (3) if it meets the approval of the best people, (4) if it cultivates the better emotions, (5)
if it brings me into pleasant contact with good people, (6) if it stimulates wholesome attitudes, (7) if it tends to make other people happier.”
We can summarize this chapter and indeed this book in one thought: the essence of true holiness is to be Christ-like, to live as He lived and, in any given situation, to act as He would act. In fact, holiness means allowing the Holy Spirit of Christ to live in us and rule our lives.
1 Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church 1952, sec. 2025, p. 642.
2.Kenneth Kantzer, “Gambling: Everyone’s a Loser,” Christianity Today, November 25, 1983, p. 1
- ‘Durant, III, 598; Latourette, I, 81-82, 239, 244-245; Schaff, II, 153-155.
- ANF, V, 595.
- Thrtullian, The Shows, ANF, III, 79-91.
- Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, XI, ANF, 284-290.
- ‘Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition, quoted in Bainton, p. 152.
- Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, 8.4.32, ANF, VII, 495.
- Minucius Felix, The Octavius, 37, ANF, IV, 196.
- Commodianus, The Instructions, 57, ANF, IV, 214.
- Lactantius, The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, 64, ANF, VII, 249.
- See ANF, II, 75 and V, 576.
- “Justin Martyr, The Discourse to the Greeks, 4, ANF, I, 272.
- “Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 2.4, ANF, II, 249.
- See ANF, IV, 215 and V, 254.
- Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.11, ANF, II, 289.
- See ANF, III, 86 and VII, 502.
- See ANF, II, 290; IV, 215; V, 254; VII, 495.
The above article, “Worldly Amusements” was written by David K. Bernard. The article was excerpted from chapter fourteen in Bernard’s book Practical Holiness A Second Look (Vol 4).
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.