The line, “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” is now frequently viewed as another artifact of Adventism’s embarrassingly legalistic past. A rhetorical question I’ve heard used as a counter-argument to this statement is “Does that mean that if I watch a movie on TV, the angels will leave my house?” Here are some statements from Messages to Young People regarding the theaters of the day:
Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school for morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality. Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life, than theatrical amusements.
The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement.
The true Christian will not desire to enter any place of amusement or engage in any diversion upon which he cannot ask the blessing of God. He will not be found at the theater, the billiard hall, or the bowling saloon. He will not unite with the gay waltzers, or indulge in any other bewitching pleasure that will banish Christ from the mind.
To those who plead for these diversions, we answer, We cannot indulge in them in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The blessing of God would not be invoked upon the hour spent at the theater or in the dance. No Christian would wish to meet death in such a place. No one would wish to be found there when Christ shall come (398).
In response to the first statement, I’ve heard many Adventists repeat the mantra that “theaters are different today.” While this statement is obviously true on some levels (moving pictures and surround sound are new additions to the theater environment), look again at Ellen White’s description of the problem: “Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals.” This description of theatrical entertainment is still dead-on. Even when it appears that a movie portrays the triumph of good, what is really being portrayed is exactly the opposite. (See The message from Hollywood.)
If we accept Ellen White’s first statement, then the second one follows. Why would we desire entertainment that serves to strengthen our vicious habits and sinful propensities?
In light of these statements from Ellen White, is the saying “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” outdated or too harsh?
It has become clear to me over the years from personal experience and from observing others that God often protects his wayward children. However, the temptations of Christ teach us that to trust in God’s protection while acting outside of His will is presumption. When Satan tempted Christ to jump from the temple, and quoted Psalm 91, saying “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone,” Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” If we intentionally place ourselves on Satan’s territory, we cannot claim God’s promises of protection.
If we bring the insidious influence of the television into our homes, we should expect it to drive out the influence of the Holy Spirit and the holy angels. If we wish to remain in the shadow of the Almighty, on the other hand, we should do all in our power to become more receptive to the Holy Spirit, and make our homes places where the Holy Spirit is free to work.