God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.—Psalm 82.1.

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Theatrical Entertainment

Outlawed:

Ordinances of the English Parliament

To Suppress the Vanity of Stage-Plays

And Reform the Roguish Lives of Actors,

During the Second Reformation.

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TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

What is the proper place of the Television and Movie Theater in the life of a Christian?  Is there a good time for such entertainment?  Is there a good kind of performance that serves for edification and the glory of God?  Probably you have thought about these questions before.  After all, it has long been the complaint of Christians that Television is getting so very bad compared to what it used to be — even the honest complaint of Christians who choose to watch Television, and be discipled by the masters of the stage.

This is one of those spheres of activity where, for some reason, professing Christians, and even some of the best, are resolved to learn for themselves the painful and wounding lessons which former generations already learned.  It wouldn’t matter which former generations we looked back to — the Church Fathers, the Reformers and Puritans, or the Testimony-Bearing Witnesses in subsequent ages of general defection — they would all tell us that Theatrical Entertainment should have no place in the life of a Christian.  But we are set on trying out “the right way” of exercising “Christian Liberty” with a confidence that it can be done now, though the reality is that society has fallen to a depth of depravity which makes it much less possible for the world to produce what will be harmless; and the Church has fallen to a depth of conditioned insensibleness and moral confusion that makes her unable to tell when her Savior is being dishonored, or when her soul is being polluted.

Covenanters especially have a reason to stand in opposition to such entertainment.  It is part of their Testimony against worldliness and immorality, and regarded essential to the life they desire to bring to the world as the pattern of Christian conduct.  In 1805 they expressed their outlook on the stage in a public Testimony, and in 1837 they included it with promiscuous dancing among a list of practical evils they regarded as incompatible with the purity of the Gospel and the holiness and circumspection of the Christian character.  The latter statement was adopted as part of the Testimony of the entire Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and then later in Ireland too.

This was no novelty of a schismatic party looking for something to argue against or condemn in their neighbours or in more popular churches.  Neither was it a rarity of puritan piety drawn from a few favorite authors of the 17th century.  As may be seen below, this is the natural outworking of the Covenanted Reformation that all Presbyterians look back to as formative in the organizing of their Church and expressing of the teachings of Bible religion.  Or rather, it was the piety which served as a context to give the Bible its due and serious consideration, and allow the Scriptures to teach us what we should believe, and how we should live.

The civil ordinances below demonstrate a quick progression.  Society was corrupted, and it was time for Reformation.  Cleaning up had already begun in the house of God, and it was fitting that the outer-courts of Christian society in the nation should be taken into consideration.  Perhaps not all could agree at first about what was called for as a requirement to be imposed upon the nation: whether a conviction about the essential badness of the stage should be turned into law.  But they could all agree that the judgments of God were calling the nation to put away the seeking of its own pleasures, and to humble themselves before the Lord.  So they began there, and when they had once given up the use of these sinful distractions and admiration of these idols, they soon found their consciences more able to judge and see the path of duty before them.  The reader is encouraged to read the whole progress, and then to ask himself, Why would we want to reverse this direction?

2019.09.06::JTKer.

An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons concerning Stage-plays.

WHereas the distressed Estate of Ireland, steeped in her own Blood, and the distracted Estate of England, threatened with a Cloud of Blood, by a Civil War, call for all possible means to appease and avert the Wrath of God appearing in these Judgments; amongst which, Fasting and Prayer having been often tried to be very effectual, have been lately, and are still enjoined; and whereas publick Sports do not well agree with publick Calamities; nor publick Stage-plays with the Seasons of Humiliation, this being an Exercise of sad and {594} pious solemnity, and the other being Spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious Mirth and Levity: It is therefore thought fit, and ordained by the Lords and Commons in this Parliament assembled, That while these sad Causes, and set times of Humiliation do continue, publick Stageplays shall cease, and be forborne.  Instead of which, are recommended to the people of this Land, the profitable and seasonable Considerations of Repentance, Reconciliation, and peace with God, which probably may produce outward peace and prosperity, and bring again Times of Joy and Gladness to these Nations.

Die Veneris, 2 Septemb. 1642.

Ordered by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, That this Order be forthwith Printed and published.

John Brown, Cler. Parl.


CAP. 97.

For suppressing Stage-Plays and Interludes.

FOr the better suppression of Stage-Plays, Interludes, and common Players; It is this day Ordered by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the Lord Major, Justices of the Peace, and Sheriffs of the City of London and Westminster; the Counties of Middlesex and Surrey, or any two or more of them, shall and may, and are hereby authorized and required to enter into all houses, and other places within the City of London, and Liberties thereof, and other places within their respective Jurisdictions, where Stage-Plays, Interludes, or other common Plays are, or shall be acted or played, and all such common Players or Actors, as they upon view of them, or any one of them, or upon Oaths by two credible witnesses (which they are hereby authorized to minister) shall be proved before them, or any two of them, to have acted or played in such Play-houses or places abovesaid; and all person and persons so offending, to commit to any common Gaol or Prison, there to remain until the next general Sessions of the Peace, holden within the said City of London, or Liberties thereof, and places aforesaid, or sufficient security entered for his or their appearance at the said Sessions there to be punished as Rogues, according to Law.

22 Octob. 1647.


CAP. 106.

For suppression of all Stage-Plays and Interludes.

WHereas the Acts of Stage-Plays, Interludes, and common Plays, condemned by ancient Heathens, and much less to be tolerated amongst Professors of the Christian Religion, is the occasion of many and sundry great vices and disorders, tending to the high provocation of God’s wrath and displeasure, which lies heavy upon this Kingdom, and to the disturbance of the peace thereof; in regard whereof the same hath been prohibited by Ordinance of this present Parliament, and yet is presumed to be practiced by divers in contempt thereof.  Therefore for the better suppression of the said Stage-plays, Interludes, and common Players, It is ordered and ordained by the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament Assembled, and by Authority of the same, That all Stage-players, and Players of Interludes and common Plays, are hereby declared to be, and are, and shall be taken to be Rogues, and punishable, within the Statutes of the thirty-ninth year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and the seventh year of the Reign of King James, and liable unto the pains and penalties therein contained, and proceeded against according to the said Statutes, whether they be wanderers or no, and notwithstanding any License whatsoever from the King or any person or persons to that purpose.

And it is further ordered and ordained by the Authority aforesaid, That the Lord Major, Justices of the Peace, and Sheriffs of the City of London and Westminster, and of the Countries of Middlesex and Surrey, or any two, or more of them, shall, and may, and are hereby authorized and required, to pull down and demolish, or cause or procure to be pulled down and demolished all Stage-Galleries, Seats, and Boxes, erected or used, or which shall be erected and used for the acting, or playing, or seeing acted or played, such Stage-Plays, Interludes, and Plays aforesaid, within the said City of London and Liberties thereof, and other places within their respective jurisdictions; and all such common Players, and Actors of such Plays and Interludes, as upon view of them or any one of them, or by Oath of two Witnesses (which they are hereby authorized to administer) shall be proved before them, or any two of them to have Acted, or played such Plays and Interludes as aforesaid at any time hereafter, or within the space of two Months before the time of the said Conviction, by their Warrant or Warrants under their hands and seals, to cause to be apprehended, and openly and publicly whipt in some Market Town within their several Jurisdictions during the time of the said Market, and also to cause such Offender and Offenders to enter into Recognizance or Recognizances, with two sufficient Sureties never to Act or play any Plays or Interludes any more, and shall return in the said Recognizance, or Recognizances into the Sizes or Sessions to be then next holden for the said Counties and Cities respectively; and to commit to the common Gaol any such person and persons as aforesaid, as shall refuse to be bound, and find such Sureties as aforesaid, until he or they shall so become bound.  And in case any such person or persons so Convicted of the said offence, shall after again offend in the same kind, that then the said person or persons so offending, shall be, and is hereby Declared to be, and to be taken as an incorrigible Rogue, and shall be punisht and dealt with as an incorrigible Rogue ought to be by the said Statutes.

And it is hereby further ordered and ordained, That all and every sum and sums of Money gathered, Collected, and taken by any person or persons, of such persons as shall come to see, and be Spectators of the said Stage-Plays, and Interludes, shall be forfeited and paid unto the Church-wardens of the Church or Parish where the said sums shall be so Collected and taken, to be disposed of to the use of the poor of the said Parish, and shall from time to time be levied by the said Church-wardens, and Constables of the said Parish, by Warrant under the hands and seals of any two of the Justices of the Peace of the County, City, or Town Corporate where the said sums are so taken and Collected, upon complaint thereof to them made, on the Goods and Chattels of the person or persons collecting the same, or of the person and persons to whom the same shall be paid by them that Collect the same, by Distress, and sale of their Goods and Chattels, rendring to them the overplus, upon examination of the said persons, or proof made upon Oath before the said Justices of the sum or sums so Collected and received, which the said Justices are hereby authorized to take and examine.

And it is hereby further ordered and ordained, That every person or persons which shall be present and a Spectator at any such Stage-play, or Interlude, hereby prohibited, shall for every time he shall be so present, forfeit and pay the same of five shillings to the use of the poor of the Parish, where the said person or persons shall at that time dwell or sojourn, being convicted thereof by his own confession, or proof of any one Witness upon Oath, before any one Justice of Peace of the County, City, or Town Corporate where the said offence is committed (who is hereby authorized to take the same Oath) to be levied by the Church-wardens or Constables of the said Parish, by warrant of the said Justice of Peace, by distress and sale of the Goods of the said person offending, rendring to him the overplus.

And it is hereby further ordered and ordained, That all Majors, Bayliffs, Constables, and other Officers, Soldiers, and other persons being thereunto required, shall be from time to time, and all times hereafter, aiding and assisting unto the said Lord Major, Justices of the Peace, and Sheriffs, in the due execution of this Ordinance, upon pain to be fined for their contempt in their neglect or refusal thereof.

11 Febr. 1647.