What can we learn today from our Church History and the Theatre?

When we examined the understanding of the early Christian leaders at the beginning of this article it is clear that they were against theatre. However, it is not that they were against theatre in itself, but they opposed the paganism and debauchery associated with it because the people copied the immorality of the pagan gods to the detriment of Roman society. To them theatre was so shot through with evil that they wanted nothing to do with it and instead spoke out against it. It was Christians that pressed for the abolition of theatre after the collapse of the Roman Empire on these grounds.

As the church spread and became the dominant force in the Middle Ages, church leaders began to see that drama, stripped of its pagan and worldly trappings, could become a powerful vehicle for the Christian faith. Instead of using theatre for bad values it could be used to tell of Christ and cultivate positive moral values for the people to follow, and so help to encourage Christian living in Europe.

In 1931 the BBC was dedicated to God and a text was chosen from the New Testament as a guideline for the principles behind television and any drama shown. The text, in Latin, used to be found above the entrance hall at Broadcasting House in London. The English translation says:

This Temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.

The biblical reference from which this is taken is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

(Philippians 4:8)

The BBC and theatre industry may often be far from those principles today, but God is raising up Christians to be salt and light. Films such as Chariots of Fire about the Olympic sprinter and missionary, Eric Liddell, and Amazing Grace about the Christian politician, William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish slavery, and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, have had a huge impact on many. More recently The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the book by C.S. Lewis, had an impact on many who viewed it. May such films be an inspiration for today’s generation of Christian actors, directors and producers, and may beauty, honesty, purity, uprightness, wisdom and peace be found everywhere in theatre through the influence of Christians.