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Volume 7, Issue 3: Magitralis

Just Turn it Off!

Greg Dickison

In these halcyon days of Republicanism, it is tempting to think that, finally, the civil government might be able to deal with smut. Before we succumb to the Republican temptation, however, we need to consider whether this is even a biblical solution.

Remember that the civil government is not the only authority with a divine mandate. Each of God's ordained governmentsthe state, the church, and the familyare given specific duties within well-defined jurisdictional boundaries. While a given problem may fall within the scope of all three governments, the approach each government takes and the responsibility each bears with regard to the problem is distinct.
The civil government wields the sword to execute God's vengeance on the wrongdoer. It punishes criminals. Those wielding the sword are God's ministers, not autonomous agents. They examine the alleged crime and the corresponding punishment in the light of God's Word. They have no more authority to invent crimes based on the latest theories of social justice than the church elders have to invent sins. When a crime is committed, the state has the authority to coerce the condemned criminal to make restitution, pay a fine, submit to corporal punishment, or forfeit his life. The goal is to see that justice is done.
The church holds the power of the keys and watches over the covenant people of God. The elders of the church oversee the ministry of preaching the gospel to the lost, expounding the Word to the saints, and watching over their souls. This includes ministering to the saints as family members and civil servants. When a member of the covenant falls into sin, the church exercises covenant discipline by excommunicating the offender unless he repents. The goal is to build up the body of Christ.
The family bears the power of the rod to drive folly from the hearts of children and train them up in godliness. As the head of the family, the husband serves his wife, his covenantal helpmeet, as a minister of God's Word. Both parents minister to their children, the fruit of their union, by example and precept. When the children act foolishly, the parents apply the rod, tempering it with the effectual love and nurture that only a family can supply. The goal is to raise godly offspring.
Now consider how these principles apply in the arena of entertainment. The first government a child has any contact with is his family, and it is in this context that the principles of righteousness are instilled. The father, by exercising skill in handling the word of righteousness, learns to discern good and evil, and teaches his wife and children to do the same. This means that Dad has standards for what he allows his children to watch, listen to, and read. These standards are based on the same ones which determine what he and his wife watch, listen to, and read, which are in turn based upon his study of the Bible. He loads his family up with the good stuff and avoids the bad. As the children grow in maturity, he teaches them discernment, not simply in entertainment, but in all the things that are the subject of entertainment. If they have seen nothing but quality during their formative years, they will easily recognize trash. If they are trained in godliness, they will hate trash as well.
While it is not the church's job to step in and raise the children, the church aids the family in this task by expounding the Word of God. This means sermons not just on entertainment, but on the worldviews associated with it, the biblical uses of literature and art, the wise use of time, husbandry, parenting, and all the rest of God's counsel that bears on the subject.
The civil government is to be the least involved in setting entertainment standards. In fact, it has nothing to say about entertainment per se at all. There is no biblical civil penalty for looking at something you should not be looking at, even if what you are looking at is sin. The state only gets involved when the sin is also a crime.
Consider the example of pornography. It is very clear that what is depicted is wrong (we will make the safe assumption that the participants are not married, at least to each other). It is also very clear that what is depicted is a crime. What, then, does the magistrate do about pornography? He uses it as Exhibit A in a prosecution for adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, or whatever.
But what about the pornography itself? Believe it or not, the Bible provides no civil penalty for creating or looking at pornography. Does this mean pornography is acceptable? Of course not. It is an unmitigated evil, and that should be made clear in every family and church in the land. But it does mean that pornography is not a problem which the civil government can deal with.
A division-of-labor approach like this rubs our legalistic American fur the wrong way. For every wrong, we think, "there oughtta be a law." But while the jurisdictional model does not have the apparent simplicity of a legislated solution, it does have the advantage of obedience to God's created order. No matter how pressing a problem is, it cannot be solved by usurping ordained authorities and by violating jurisdictional boundaries. Each government has its own area of competence and by design will be incompetent to operate outside that area. Neither the state nor the church will be able to protect people from smut. That must be done in the home if it will be done at all.

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