What’s wrong with going to the theater?
Basically, I see the issue as two-pronged. First, the general character of the material presented there, and second, the influence we will exert on others if we go there.
Regarding the first issue, a couple of references come to mind: Philippians 4:8 and Psalm 101:3. How can Christians get their entertainment from watching portrayals of the sins that took Jesus to the cross?
Regarding the second issue, people sometimes say, “I only choose the good movies.” Even if that is so, will their example encourage someone else who may not have the discrimination that they do to go to the theater? Will someone else justify going to anything shown because Brother A goes to the thea-ter?
In addition, we must consider the likelihood that the “careful” theatergoers’ standards will change by beholding. Will they soon come to think as acceptable a movie that would have shocked them earlier? See Isaiah 5:20. A famous piece of verse by Alexander Pope tells the story:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
Finally, the admission that the “careful” theatergoer pays today to see the “good” movie helps to keep the movie house open next week when a bad movie will be featured.
If by “modern theater” you meant stage plays, I think the criteria still apply. More than a hundred years ago, Mrs. White wrote,
Satan is using every means to make crime and debasing vice popular. We cannot walk the streets of our cities without encountering flaring notices of crime presented in some novel, or to be acted at some theater. The mind is educated to familiarity with sin. . . .
Many of the amusements popular in the world today, even with those who claim to be Christians, tend to the same end as did those of the heathen. There are indeed few among them that Satan does not turn to account in destroying souls. Through the drama he has worked for ages to excite passion and glorify vice. The opera, with its fascinating display and bewildering music, the masquerade, the dance, the card table, Satan employs to break down the barriers of principle and open the door to sensual indulgence (Patriarchs and Prophets, 459, 460).
Many place themselves on the enchanted ground by frequenting scenes of amusement where fallen spirits congregate. Professing Christian, when you resort to the theater, remember that Satan is there, conducting the play as the master-actor. He is there to excite passion and glorify vice. The very atmosphere is permeated with licentiousness (Signs of the Times, May 18, 1882).
Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school of 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 the tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life than theatrical amusements. The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drinks strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement (Testimonies for the Church, 4:652, 653).
Has the theater improved in moral quality since Mrs. White’s day? Probably no fair assessment of it would say so. If anything, today’s theater (whether movie or stage) presents vices more degrading, and more graphically, than the theater in Mrs. White’s day ever did.
See also the following question and answer and question 89: Do our angels leave us at the theater door?