Our Children and Entertainment - Rev. G. Ph. van Popta
Taken from the Clarion (1994) Vol.43, No 4,
Children love to play with toys. They love to play games. To be a child is to play. What is acceptable for our children? Which games, what sort of play, which kinds of entertainment and leisure activity are good for children of Christian families? Most parents struggle with these questions.
There are so many different toys and games available. A stroll through Toys 'R'Us will make that clear. If your children watch television, they know all about the newest toys and games. And they want them.
Then there is the whole question about television. Should we allow televisions into our homes? If we decide to allow them in, how much may the children watch? What may they watch? The television leads to countless arguments between parents and children. Anyone who parks the television out beside the trash is not doing a foolish thing.
We have computers in our homes. How much time should the children spend behind the computer playing various games? Which games are okay and which are not? Are there any helpful criteria that can aid us in making a judgement?
What about community sports? Do we want to get our children involved with community baseball and soccer, etc., knowing that it may cause some problems with undesirable friendships. There will be pressure to play on Sunday - ". . Just the tournament games, mind you." Do the advantages of getting the children involved in community sports outweigh the disadvantages?
These are difficult questions for parents. We struggle with them. It is not all cut and dried.
2. Biblical data
The Bible does not give explicit nor detailed commands regarding what kind of entertainment is acceptable and what is not; however, as we will see later, it does give a standard for making decisions.
The Bible does speak a few times about children playing. Zech. 8:5 tells of a time when boys and girls will be playing in the streets. The prophet is proclaiming a time of peace and restoration after the exile. The Lord will return to Jerusalem. Old men and women will be sitting in the streets, relaxing and enjoying a time of leisure, and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing.
That old people will be able to relax and that girls and boys will be able to play is a sign of God's favour upon Jerusalem. This shows that there is something good about girls and boys playing and having fun.
There is no reference in the Old Testament to toys for children; however, archaeologists digging in various places in Palestine have found many whistles, rattles, balls, marbles, dolls and carved animals. They have found toys similar to those our children play with. Today the toys are just a little more sophisticated. Archaeologists have also discovered reliefs of boys playing tug of war and of girls dancing and playing games.
In the New Testament we find an indirect reference to the games children played in the streets and market place. In Matt.11 :16, 17 the Lord Jesus referred to the children of His day playing games of make believe and let's pretend. Just as children today often copy their parents as they play their games, so they did in the days of the Lord Jesus. In this text the children are playing first wedding and then funeral.
The Biblical data gives no explicit commands regarding games and play. Zech. 8:5 shows that the LORD God understands that children like to play - indeed, there is something good about it. It is a sign of peace with God (cf. Is. 11 :8). The way the Lord Jesus spoke about children playing shows that it is a normal, natural thing for children to do.
Should we bemoan that the Bible does not give explicit commandments about which games are acceptable for children? No, we should not. We must realize that the Bible is not an automatic answer dispenser. We cannot push a button and expect a couple of texts to pop out which will easily and quickly answer all of our questions; and yet, the Bible is always a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. With the Bible in hand we can discover a certain line, formulate conclusions, and make decisions (J. Douma, Christian Morals and Ethics, Premier: 1983, p. 33).
I submit for your consideration the following thoughts on the identity of our children and the rule of Phil. 4:8.
a. identity of our children
Who are our children? Understanding who and what our children are will help us to make decisions in concrete instances regarding certain forms of entertainment, toys and games. The following is not exhaustive.
i. Our children are sinners.
By nature, they are children of wrath. They are born with sinful natures. We may not underestimate the urge, the impulse of their sinful natures. We should not be surprised if they show a natural desire for that which is base, which is sinful, against the will of God. Because of original sin and our total depravity, children will be attracted to forms of entertainment which are not wholesome, upbuilding, or pleasing to God.
ii. Our children are God's children.
Children of the people of God belong, first of all, to God. Ezek. 16:20,21 shows this in a striking way. In this text the LORD God chastises Israel for having sacrificed their sons and daughters to the fire of heathen gods. In v. 20 God called the children "your sons and daughters." In v. 21 God called them "my children."
Our sons and daughters are God's children. If we deliver up our sons and daughters to the gods of our age, God will not be pleased.
iii. Our children are baptized children.
As we confess in QA 74 of the catechism, the children belong to God's covenant and congregation. They have the promises of salvation and regeneration; therefore, they must be baptized. By baptism, they are grafted into the church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. God has His covenant with believers and their children. God works in the lines of families. As we learn from Acts 16, Eph. 5,6, and Col. 3, Christ redeems families.
That our children belong to the community of the redeemed should make a difference in what they do for entertainment. It's got to relate. There has got to be a consistency. That our children are baptized and thus set apart by God and for God means they must live as distinct children. We must guide them in this.
Think of the questions to which you said "I do" at the baptismal font.
i.v. Our children are holy.
I Cor. 7:14 says that the child of a believer is holy. We repeat this in the Canons of Dort. I,17 where we confess " ... that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents."
We must maintain this, antithetical holiness in our families vis-à-vis the world in the matter of games and entertainment.
v. Our children are prophets, priests and kings.
We must each them to confess the name of Christ, to present themselves as living sacrifices to God, and to fight the battle royal against sin. They have an honourable status. Their lives, including what they do for entertainment, must reflect that. We, as parents, have the duty to guide and instruct them. We must teach them how to be good and faithful prophets, priests and kings.
vi. Our children are images of Christ.
They are called to reflect Christ, to be Christ like. We must teach them to have the mind of Christ. The calling to be images of Christ will affect the choices our children make for entertainment.
Remembering who our children are and being aware of their lofty status before God will go a long way in helping us determine which forms of entertainment are appropriate and which are not.
b. The rule of Phil. 4:8
Phil. 4:8 says:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This biblical standard is a very helpful rule for making ethical choices. When considering whether something is acceptable you just have to ask some questions.
Is it true? This is a very general qualification. A mason checks to see if a wall is "true" with a plumb line. The question is whether it can stand out in the open. Is the form of entertainment you are considering something that can stand the test of God's plumb line?
Is it honourable? Is it fitting? Does it fit the occasion and the person? This criterion includes the idea of dignity, propriety. Is what you are considering worthy of respect?
Is it just? Is it righteous and proper? Is it in accord with what God requires?
Is it pure? Is it without blemish, without defect? This is very close to "holy." Is it worthy of reverence?
Is it lovely? Is it raunchy, disgusting, or is it lovely? There is a difference.
Is it gracious? Is it worthy of approval? Can you truly speak well about it? Does it deserve approval? Is it something that should be praised and commended?
Does it have excellence? Does it have outstanding goodness? Is it a cut above?
Is it worthy of praise? Is it something that should make people stop and say: "That is very good?"
The apostle Paul told us to "think about these things." We are to reckon with these things. We are to bring these things into consideration. And not only are we to think about things which are true, pure, honourable, etc. But, as verse 9 says, we are also to do these things.
4. A few specifics
Without wanting to fall into legalism and not intending to give the impression that I have the right or ability to dictate what is good or bad, allow me to get a little specific.
On the negative side, we should steer the children away from all gratuitous violence. For example, we should not allow computer games whose sole purpose is to destroy something or to kill people into our homes. We should have nothing to do with the "shoot 'em up, knock 'em down, smash 'em and kill 'em" type games.
We should be aware that many toys and especially cartoons are teaching the children to think that magic is normal. They are drilling home the message that the supernatural lies in the creature. Creatures become gods. The distinction between Creator and creation is blurred.
There is a lot to talk of "the Force" or some power. Often the toy or the cartoon character will have a shiny jewel on or in its chest which has magical powers. Think of care bears and trolls.
"The Force" was made famous by the movie Star Wars. "May the Force be with you" was pronounced as a benediction. "The Force" is an impersonal, all pervading divine power. George Lucas, the producer, has embraced eastern mysticism and pantheism. Movies such as Star Wars promotes these religious philosophies. It advances the idea that God is all and all is God. Eastern mysticism runs through such movies as Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, ET, Close Encounters, etc.
By letting the children watch these movies and cartoons, and play with toys which have everything to do with magic, the supernatural, the Force, etc., we run the risk of the children getting so used to the ideas of pantheism that they end up susceptible to the New Age philosophies when they are older.
There is another disturbing development in toys. It seems that ugly is becoming beautiful. For example, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live in the sewers. On top of that, they have everything to do with nothing but violence. There are many toys which are just plain ugly - figurines of creatures which are half man and half animal with bulging muscles intended to enable the creature to smash and destroy. Phil. 4:8 would have something to say about this.
We do well to steer the children away from these things - from gratuitous violence, from that which is purposefully ugly, and from a fascination with magic and the supernatural.
On the positive side, we should do things as families. My best childhood memories are not of toys my parents bought me but of times that my family did things together. It's good to have fun together, to play games together. The teenaged children may roll their eyeballs at "doing the family thing," but it's what memories are made of.
Encourage the children to get involved in sports. God created our bodies to move. Our bodies are wonderfully designed for physical activity. Sports is a powerful antidote to boredom. It keeps children and young people out of trouble and often away from drugs and alcohol. Community sports such as soccer and baseball are good as long as we impress upon our children that they are not to seek their friendships in that context. They are to seek their friendships in the church community. We must also make sure that involvement in community sports does not compromise the call to gather with God's church on the lord's day.
Music is often an expensive option, but if the possibility exists, give the children piano lessons or have them play an instrument in the school band. Music is a wonderful way in which a child can praise God. It can also give the child a sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps we should not talk so much about entertainment. Entertainment is largely passive. You entertainment someone. You entertain a visitor. The original meaning of "to entertain" is to receive someone as a guest and provide for him. It has come to mean "amusing someone." The implication is that one person is doing the entertaining and the other is being entertained.
We should encourage the children to be active in their leisure time. Perhaps we should talk more in terms of ,recreation." Our free time, our leisure time does not exist as a goal in itself. Free time is meant to give us new vigour for our work. Leisure time is there to replenish us, to invigorate and refresh us. It is meant to "recreate" us. We should see our fun time as a temporary relief from the work for the work.
We should teach our children, especially, as they grow older, that leisure time should be used first for lively activities. There is a time for the passive but we should emphasize the active. The times when the children just sit back and let someone else do the work should be very few. Children should be active and involved.
The bottom line is that we must teach the children that the all-embracing goal of life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This must also come out in the things we do for entertainment. Whether we eat or drink, work or play, let us do all to the glory of God.
Rev. G. Ph. van Popta