- “It changed my perception of what it meant to follow Christ.”
- “…[it] is so wonderfully biblically congruent, I would encourage folks to not stumble over parts [that are disagreeable]…”
- “[it] showed the depth of Christ’s love.”
Wow. That must have been a powerful sermon for these pastors to respond so strongly! These are the responses that we should have more of when faithful preaching occurs! But there was no preaching there. These are the responses by respected pastors, such as Chuck Smith, Jr. of California, after they reviewed the Passion.
I am sure some of you saw that coming. But is it not true what this article has been arguing for: the dangers of images readily supplanting the Word. In light of the centrality of the Word as found in the Bible consider these alarming quotes:
- “This film is equal to ‘a lifetime of sermons’” (Billy Graham, People, March 8, 2004).
- “The best outreach opportunity in 2000 years” (People).
- “In the church we’ve tried for a long time with words to bring into consciousness the reality of what Jesus went through. We have waxed eloquent in our sermons, but this film brings that reality to us in one sitting.” (Chuck Smith, Jr., “Pastor’s Panel”, www.worshipleader.com).
Yes, I am picking on this film. Why not? If the Reformed faith is to be relevant in today’s society, it needs to interact with fellow Christians and to address modern trends. Again, movies and television shows are not inherently evil as a medium of communication, but they can become sinful through wrong means and goals. Just as we avoid certain movies because of their excessive themes (nudity, language, etc.), so, too, movies that violate the second commandment should be avoided. This can be very controversial, but rather than rehash what was written earlier, hopefully, these quotes from Christianity Today, which recommends the movie even after admitting its clear and pronounced Roman Catholic motif, will be eye-opening:
- He [Gibson] also recounted a series of divine coincidences that led him to read the works of Anne Catherin Emmerich, a late-18th…Westphalian nun who had visions of the events of the Passion. Many of the details needed to fill out the Gospel accounts he drew from her book, Dolorous Passion of Our Lord…
- One reason for Gibson's personal sense of salvation is the way this project rescued him from himself…
- These [medieval] practices [projecting oneself into the event] became the foundation for such widely practiced traditions as meditating on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries when saying the Rosary. The structure of Gibson's film conforms exactly to the list of the Five Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, the Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. And it reveals the way that this film is for Gibson a kind of prayer…
- In the foreword to The Passion, he [Gibson] writes that the film "is not meant as a historical documentary. … I think of it as contemplative in the sense that one is compelled to remember … in a spiritual way, which cannot be articulated, only experienced."
- [Gibson]"I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has—hands down—responded to this film more than any other Christian group." [What makes it so amazing, he says, is that] "the film is so Marian."
Gibson considers himself an old-fashioned pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. Gibson calls Mary "a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix [meaning she contributed to redemption through her suffering]." Thus, the movie has more about Mary than the Bible, as shown in an article by Romanus Cessario, a Dominican who teaches at St. John's Seminary:
We see Mary's maternal mediation enacted on film. Gibson portrays Mary placing "herself between her Son and mankind [remember the times that Mary looks directly at us!] in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings [remember Peter at her feet]. She puts herself 'in the middle,' that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother." The words are from Pope John Paul II. Mel Gibson captures what the Pope writes in "Mother of the Redeemer" in a way that alone merits the film the title "Catholic."
If we recognize that the Passion is related to the Church, then we also recognize that it is related to the reality of the Eucharistic conversion. There is a sense in which the whole film is about the Eucharist. The Bread of Life. (Bracketed comments also by Cessario; www.catholic.org, “Mel Gibson and Thomas Aquinas: How the Passion Works”)
The Roman Catholic has always depended heavily on images; some of the older living generation can still remember the mass being delivered in Latin! In contrast, the Protestant Church has traditionally relied upon Christ and His Word as the source of spiritual vitality in the Church and in the family. When many Evangelical leaders laud this film to the detriment of the preached Word, we can see clearly the sad state of the Protestant Church. There is no passion for the Word.
What It All Means
Coming full-circle, we as Reformed believers in the twenty-first century need to embrace Christ through the Word. The Second Commandment forbids images of the Godhead and man-made worship; it also demands a proper integration of the Word into our lives. The modern pressures upon the Churches and families are immense: all the books and conferences try to evangelize others and grow spiritually through every means—save one. We need to believe God when He says that preachers are a gift from Christ (Eph. 4:8-12). We need to believe God that His Word is sufficient for our spiritual growth. We need to consume the Bible through reading, listening and memorizing. These truths should not only be taught to our children but also enacted in our lives such that they see the Word impacting our living, reading and watching—our very lifestyle. This does not mean that the TV should be thrown out (or it might for some of us), but it does mean we should seriously pray and consider its impact on our family.
Emphasis on reading and writing, listening and learning through words and especially the Word of God will help guard our eye-gates and strengthen our resolve. For it is by faith in Christ by His Word that we have life (Jn. 6:63).
“For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24). Amen.