Some Christians equate holiness with ignorance of what is going on in the world outside of the influence of the church. If they think that a magazine, book, TV show or movie is likely to contain materials which contradict their own beliefs and values, they shun such materials, thinking that in doing so, they are somehow insuring their own moral purity. It is this impulse which explains why so many Christians (particularly conservative Christians such as myself) see censorship as a valid way to enhance respect for Christian moral values.
Unfortunately, the end result of such insular thinking is that the church is incapable of adequately responding, from a Biblical perspective, to societal change. On a more individual level, such thinking leads to the unfortunate perception, among unbelievers, that Christians are ignorant people. This can dilute or negate the moral influence of Christians on unbelievers.
If God is indeed omniscient (meaning that he is fully aware of everything, both good and bad), then how is it that he is not tainted by his exhaustive knowledge of evil? The answer, of course, is that he sees the world through holy eyes. Christian singer Amy Grant acknowledged this when she sang “My Father’s Eyes”, a song in which she prayed that she would see the world as God saw the world. That is the meaning of discernment.
Jesus said that if one’s eye causes offense, it is better to pluck out that eye than for the entire body to burn in Hell. It is interesting to me that he didn’t say that the offense came from unholy things which were perceived, but rather, from the impure eyes with which those things were perceived. In other words, if what you see corrupts your soul, it is because you are not looking through holy eyes.
If necessary, it would indeed be better to pluck your eyes out than to lose your eternal soul. But it is doubtful that Christ, who frequently gave sight to the blind, would wish for more blindness in the world. When seeking to become holy, a better and far less painful solution is to pray that God will grant you his perspective on the world, so that you can see all, and yet remain pure. Then familiarize yourself with the Bible so that you can evaluate everything you see in the light of God’s word.
Certainly, the Bible is correct when it advises Christians to flee from temptation. Part of discernment is knowing one's own personal limitations, and avoiding situations in which one is particularly vulnerable to temptation to sin. (For example, if a Christian is struggling to overcome an addiction to alcohol, it’s a very good idea for that person to stay away from bars and liquor stores!)
However, different Christians are at different stages in their moral development. It is absurd to treat a person who has served the Lord for many decades the same as one would treat a brand new convert to the faith.
Furthermore, different Christians are vulnerable to different temptations. A sin which holds great allure for one Christian may be of little or no interest to another. One Christian may have a problem with lust and sexual sin; another, with pride; another, with the desire to steal other people’s possessions; and yet another, with a love of gossip.
Since some Christians are more mature than others, and since sins which afflict some Christians do not necessarily afflict all other Christians, it does not necessarily follow from the fact that a particular Christian needs to avoid certain situations that all other Christians need to avoid such situations. However, it is certainly every Christian's right and responsibility to urge other Christians to abstain from sin, and to avoid situations in which they are likely to yield to temptation. There is nothing wrong with offering advice which seems to be pertinent to a particular person’s situation, as long as one does so in a spirit of humility, keeping in mind that only God is infallible.
In the short term, running from temptation is sometimes a necessary strategy for new believers. In the long term, however, all Christians should aspire to reach the point where they are so firmly grounded in God's word that no amount of temptation can sway them from their commitment to a lifestyle of obedience to God. The most effective spiritual warriors are those who are making substantial progress in their quest for this ideal. Conversely, it’s hard to defeat an enemy (in this case, the Devil) if you’re afraid to venture into enemy territory. To fear exposure to ideas contrary to one’s own beliefs is not a sign of faith. It is a sign of insecurity and weakness, and it is a poor testimony to unbelievers.
Jesus was heavily criticized for associating with sinners. But he made it clear that his critics had missed the point of holiness. To retreat into an artificially sheltered environment consisting only of like-minded people is not holiness. It is an evasion of one’s responsibilities to a dying world.
Christians are compared, in the Bible, to salt (which preserves) and to light (which reveals). As a preservative, salt does little good in the shaker. It only serves its purpose when you sprinkle it onto meat which needs to be preserved. Likewise, turning on an additional light in a room which is already brightly lit serves little purpose. When light is taken into a dark room, it fulfills its reason for being.
Too many Christians spend their lives as if they are just marking time until they are released from this evil world. But God has a purpose here on earth for each one of us. We have a mission to a world which desperately hungers and thirsts for truth. To disengage from culture is to abdicate our spiritual responsibilities.
Francis Schaeffer, the influential and highly admired Christian writer, made it clear in his books that he had read the works of many of the world’s most influential philosophers, many of whom taught things which were directly opposed to the teachings of Christ. But rather than running in fear whenever he encountered such ideas, Schaeffer read secular philosophy books with the perspective of a fully committed Christian who was grounded in God’s word. As a result, he was able to critique the false ideas of such philosophers from the perspective of a Christian who knew what and who he believed.
Censorship is not the answer to the lies of the world. The answer is to seek, believe and proclaim the truth.