Berit Kjos, February 2004
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"Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise linked to Mel Gibson's controversial new movie.... Hundreds of stores across the country will be selling licensed items tied to the movie.... The souvenirs include a book, pins, key chains, coffee mugs and T-shirts....'The response so far has been overwhelming.'" 'Jesus' Nail S
"While newspapers focus on the vivid portrayals of Christ's Crucifixion... and the controversy with Jews... there is a hidden, mystical element, and that's the charisma attached to the stigmatic whose revelations contributed significantly to the film.... The mystic is Anne Catherine Emmerich.... [R]eading her revelations leaves one feeling that he has undergone an 'unusual influence' -- similar to what is now reported with those who see the movie.... It's no surprise that the movie's director, Mel Gibson, is said to carry one of her relics." "Behind film endorsed by both Catholics and Protestants is a stigmatic whose life and revelations continue to amaze" [Gibson pulled the relic out of his pocket and showed it to Diane Sawyer during a televised interview]
"The Passion of the Christ" was released on Ash Wednesday, February 25. It had been endorsed by Christian leaders such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren [see "Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?"] and James Dobson. Could there be any reason for concern?
Andy and I have only seen the short promotional clip of The Passion, not the whole movie. Like many of you, we long for deeper understanding of the suffering that Jesus willingly endured for our sake. If we could be certain that it would draw us closer to our Lord, and help us to better "know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10), we would look forward to opening day with fervent, heartfelt and sober anticipation. More than anything, we want to walk with Him in obedience to whatever He assigns us of pain or pleasure, peace or persecution.
But, at this moment, we are not sure what God wants us to do. We have more questions than answers. And we wonder if the subtle but potentially negative influences might be stronger than the positive ones -- especially in the long run. For additional movie versions of the Biblical account are sure to follow in the wake of Mel Gibson's phenomenal success. We wonder how such visual images -- based on a blend of truth, legend, imagination and artistic license -- will change the church and its understanding of God and His ways.
Yet, since many of you have asked for our views, we want to share what we have been given. We have 7 basic concerns:
1. What does Mel Gibson believe?
2. How might the intense emotional experience of seeing such brutality affect viewers?
3. Will the stirring images speed today's shift from written words to visual images?
4. What's wrong with marketing this message through popular media?
5. Might its Roman Catholic roots distort our view of the gospel facts?
6. How great an evangelistic tool is Mel Gibson's Passion?
7. Bottom line: What does the Bible tell us about man-made images of God?
1. What does Mel Gibson believe?
Near the end of his long article, "The Jesus War: Mel Gibson & "The Passion" (9-15-03), Peter J. Boyer gives us this glimpse into Mel Gibson's faith:
"I told Gibson that I am a Protestant, and asked whether his pre-Vatican II world view disqualified me from eternal salvation.
"He paused. 'There is no salvation for those outside the Church,' he said. 'I believe it.' He explained, 'Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.”
Apparently Mel Gibson's beliefs have changed since that interview last September. During his more recent televised appearance on ABC(February 16), Diane Sawyer raised a question about a scene in the movie. In the Biblical account, Simon of Cyrene, is recruited to carry the cross for Jesus. (Mark 15:21) But in movie, Simon "interlocks arms with the bloody Jesus as they struggle to take the cross." Why?
"It's his brother," explained Mr. Gibson. "It's about another human being. We're all children of God. All of us! It doesn't matter what you are -- whether you've got a bone through your nose or whether you look like a Viking.... or whatever you are. We are all children of God."
That sounds like universalism! Did he really mean that? A little later, Diane Sawyer asked him about his traditional form of Roman Catholicism, which opposed Vatican reforms such as "more inclusion of other faiths." Would Gibson's traditionalist views bar the door to heaven to Jews, Protestants and Muslims?
"That's not the case at all," answered Gibson. "Absolutely not! It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the Kingdom of heaven. It's just easier for -- and I have to say this because it's what I believe...."
"You have a nonstop ticket?"
"Well, yeah, I'm saying it's an easier ride. I have to believe that."
 Emphasis added
"It is crucial to realize that the images and language at the heart of 'The Passion of the Christ' flow directly out of Gibson's personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms -- the 16th century Latin Mass.
"'I don't go to any other services,' the director [Mel Gibson] told the Eternal Word Television Network. 'I go to the old Tridentine Rite. That's the way that I first saw it when I was a kid. So I think that that informs one's understanding of how to transcend language....
"The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the 'sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar -- which is the same thing,' said Gibson.
"This ancient union of symbols and sounds has never lost its hold on him. There is, he stressed, 'a lot of power in these dead languages.' Thus, the seemingly bizarre choice of Latin and Aramaic was actually part of the message. The goal of Gibson's multicultural, multilingual team was to make a statement that transcended any one time, culture and tongue."
To make a lasting impact, that statement would have to stir strong feelings. And through the years, Mel Gibson has proven himself a master at of using violence to evoke intense emotions. "It is very violent," he told Diane Sawyer. "If you don't like it, don't go.... I wanted it to be shocking. I wanted to be extreme... To push the viewer over the edge." Though he claimed that God was behind this project, he emphatically declared, "I'm a proud bugger.... this
2. How might the emotional experience of watching such brutality affect viewers -- especially children and youth already immersed in violent "entertainment"? Could it further desensitize them to intense violence or stir a craving for more?
Jody Dean, a CBS News anchor, shared his "Perspective on 'The Passion of the Christ' in an article posted at Religion Today:
"This is not a movie that anyone will 'like'.... It certainly doesn't 'entertain'. There isn't even the sense that one has just watched a movie. What it is… an experience -- on a level of primary emotion that is scarcely comprehensible. Every shred of human preconception or predisposition is utterly stripped away.... Quite honestly, I wanted to vomit. It hits that hard.
"The film grabs you in the first five seconds, and never lets go. The brutality, humiliation, and gore are almost inconceivable - and still probably does not go far enough. The scourging alone seems to never end, and you cringe at the sound and splatter of every blow - no matter how steely your nerves. Even those who have known combat or prison will have trouble, no matter their experience....
"What you've heard about how audiences have reacted is true. There was no sound after the film's conclusion. No noise at all. No one got up. No one moved. The only sound one could hear was sobbing....
"I imagine Satan never quit tempting Christ, but this film captures beyond words the most opportune time. At every step of the way, Satan is there at Jesus' side - imploring Him to quit, reasoning with Him to give up, and seducing Him to surrender." Emphasis added
Is that true? Or could the intense battle in Gethsemane -- where Jesus prayed, "not My will, but Yours, be done” -- have been the last "opportune" time for Satan? Some think so, but we don't really know. Do we want Mel Gibson to make up our minds for us?
"The film grabs you," said Jody Dean. Of course! That's part of the persuasive power of a well-made film. It fills our minds and imagination with images that often impact and impress us far more than facts and truth. Educational change agents know that well. That's why they use shocking stories to evoke the strong emotions needed to implant new values and worldviews into the minds of our children. Whether imagined or real, events and stories that stir strong emotions build persuasive mental models.
When people are caught up in the emotional plot of The Passion, all the extra-biblical additions -- including each step along the Catholic "Stations of the Cross" -- become as real to the viewer's virtual experience as the factual (but less dramatic) framework from the four gospels. Consider an example from the article, "Witness to the Passion,"(in Outreach Magazine) by Lindy Warren. She writes,
"The ominous figure taunting Christ in the garden of Gethsemane shows up throughout the movie, personifying Satan and portraying the spiritual battle being waged, culminating in Christ’s last hours. Poignant flashback scenes from Christ’s life illustrate the dichotomy of compassion and brutality, as well as Mary’s love and anguish for her son.
"The film is 'substantially accurate,' says Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary...." Emphasis added
Some would disagree. Unlike our pragmatic and relative human standards, God's unchanging Word can't be bent or expanded to fit our "needs" or wants. Jesus said, "till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18) The Levitical laws were fulfilled when He died on the cross, but His moral law -- including the Ten Commandments -- still stand. So do all His other unchanging guidelines -- all given us in love that we might walk in His ways, according to His truth, and delight in His presence forever.
I appreciate the following statement by our friend, Kurt Fiech:
"After reading this, ask yourself the following question: Is this how God really wants us to evangelize the 'unsaved' TODAY....by overwhelming their SENSES in an EXPERIENTIAL display of realistic torture and sadism that would sear their minds and others who sees this? Experientialism trumping the preaching of the Word?"
3. Will the stirring images speed today's shift from written words to visual images? Might its dramatic scenes partly replace the Word as the foundation for faith and "spiritual feelings?" That happened back in medieval times, when man-made icons and three dimensional visual images replaced God's actual Word as the daily and weekly inspiration for faith. In his article, "Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of Christ," Pastor Andrew J. Webb describes the danger:
 Emphasis added
"We need to remember that the last time dramatic presentations replaced preaching as the main vehicle by which the truth of the Bible was communicated was during the medieval times when the church refused to allow the translation of the Bible into common languages and when in place of the preaching and teaching of God's word, the common people were given visual presentations such as Passion Plays, statues, relics, and icons.
"These things were designed, like most visual imagery, to play upon the emotions and stimulate a response; but the ability to evoke an emotional response via imagery or drama is not the same as successfully transmitting the Gospel."
In recent times, the entertainment media have been leading this cultural shift from written facts to visual images -- and from history to storytelling. Pictures and plausible suggestions that stir the imagination and evoke strong feelings are fast distorting both truth and facts. In other words, the foundations for learning and for understanding reality (our worldview) has shifted from absolute truth to changeable impressions and peer consensus -- and the stronger the emotional stimuli (shock value), the weaker our rational resistance to change. God's Word "tells us to test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."(1 Thessalonians 5:21-22) But when dramatic scenes capture our heart and emotions, our mind tends to flow with the story and silence contrary thoughts.
When behavioral "scientists" half a century ago linked their research on emotional manipulation to group dialogue (the consensus process), they sowed the seeds for today's postmodern mindset. Today, our youth think "dialectically." Many are perfectly comfortable blending their flexible understanding of the Bible with the world's contrary values. Since they have learned to flow with the emotional thrills that permeate our culture, they are susceptible to all kinds of subtle deviations as well as to overt heresies. But they are not alone.
Education, business and church leaders have all embraced this change. Today's "change leaders" know that it's far easier to manipulate a hedonistic nation by enticing images than by persuasive words. And the pictures we collectively enjoy help establish the collective values needed for the global changes ahead. Synthesizing (blending) all kinds of images and suggestions -- including Wordless pictures of "Jesus" fleshing out the details not written in the gospels -- will surely speed this paradigm shift in the church. [See The Power of Suggestion and Movie Magic and Unconscious Learning]
4. What's wrong with marketing the message through popular media? Mel Gibson knows how to promote his product. Like Disney's toy franchise, this talented promoter has linked his spiritual message to all kinds of physical products. "Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise," writes William Neuman in an article titled "Jesus' Nail Sale." Pewter pendants shaped like nails "all but flew out of the Christian Publications Bookstore." Other "souvenirs include a book, pins, key chains, coffee mugs and T-shirts."
"The Family Christian Store in Newark, Del., received a large
shipment of merchandise to sell at a preview screening of the film
on Monday. The response so far has been overwhelming,." said the
Charms and amulets -- believed to transmit hope, healing and all kinds of mystical forces -- have complemented spiritual practices throughout history. They have served as the visual signs and hosts for all kinds of myths and superstition. And they fit right into the postmodern paradigm.
"The visual is back. Big time," writes publisher Chuck Fromm, in his January/February issue of the Worship Leader, a magazine sent to pastors and church leaders across America. The cover features a picture of the suffering Jesus next to the current topic: "The Rise of the Visual." The lead articles asks: "As worship leaders, how should we respond to the burgeoning enthusiasm for visual arts in worship? We may be tempted to jump on the visual bandwagon because it's trendy. But is it right to take this leap?"
They will? How can a movie like "Signs" -- with its occult theme and twisted views of Christianity -- "reveal" truth or "redeem" viewers?[See "Aliens" and "Lord of the Rings: Truth, Myth or 'Discovered Reality"?"]
Professor Johnston tells his readers that people who reject such "God-given resources" as "The Passion" are "arrogant and ignorant." I wonder if a greater sign of ignorance might not be our foolish neglect of God's warnings both in the Old and New Testament.
Throughout the Bible, our Lord emphasizes the written Word rather than man-made images. In the Old Testament, meticulous scribes and leaders were assigned the task of documenting historical facts -- both the good and the bad. With utmost care, they recorded genealogies, eye-witness reports of God work and actions, prophetic warnings and encouraging promises. In New Testament days, those old prophetic writings were repeatedly quoted by Jesus and His disciples to verify their teaching and validate their ministries.
God knew well the power of the imagination to create false mental models in the minds of His people. Maybe that explains why none of Jesus' disciples or friends were led to describe the physical features of their beloved Master. "For we walk by faith, not by sight."(2 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Jesus Himself was introduced by John as the Word -- the living Word of God:
(John 1:1-5, 14)
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Changes to the written Word are forbidden. We can't freely delete or add to any part of the gospel. Please consider these Scriptures prayerfully:
"...even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ."Galatians 1:6-10 Emphasis added
"For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!"2 Corinthians 11:4
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."Deuteronomy 12:32
"If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Revelation 22:18-19
"Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."Proverbs 30:5-6
Yet, Mel Gibson's version of the gospel includes several incidents not mentioned in the Bible. "The film is part gospel story and part myth with a generous amount of Hollywood and violence thrown in," said Eric Shafer, director of communications for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who saw the movie at an invitation-only showing near Chicago. "Much has been added to the gospel story to fill in the gaps."
Tom Carter, President of CAP Ministry at email@example.com, shows some of the details. He wrote the following comments after watching a pre-release private screening of the movie:
"Many clever devices were used to express thoughts and ideas. One was when Christ was on the cross, the camera's field of view of Golgotha with Jesus on the Cross was shrunk, taken up into the clouds then fell back to earth as a raindrop, expressing a tear of God. Another was displayed as Satan and his hold over death and sin was defeated by the death of Jesus. Satan was figuratively dragged down to Hell, crumpled and bankrupt of his due through the sins of mankind.The imagery of this portrayal was inescapable.
"Another clever device was how, when God caused the veil of the temple of Herod to be split in two, top to bottom, that Gibson had the throne split in two as well.... But I'll not argue the details. It was a nice poetic touch, Mel. Besides, who is to say the throne did not rent? A clever fellow indeed, this Mel Gibson. Welcome to the Bride, my brother in Christ.
"Casting a woman as Satan? Though her gender is never obvious in the film, the part was played by the androgynous Rosalinda Celentano.... Her demeanor and countenance combined with the slow motion photography clearly depicted Satanic deviousness and hunger for evil."
"Gibson's film is an intensely Catholic account of the Passion," writes Linda Chavez in her article, "Mel Gibson's Film Inspires Soul-Searching." She continues,
"Indeed most of the scenes depicting Christ's journey along the Via Dolorosa on the way to Golgotha seem inspired by the Catholic devotional ritual the 'Stations of the Cross,' which dates back to the 14th century. A scene in the film depicting Jesus' encounter with Veronica, who wipes his face and is left with Christ's image on her veil, is part of Catholic tradition....
"The only characters who come off as demented sadists are the Roman soldiers who torture Christ after Pilate orders him beaten -- and these truly seem to be possessed of the Devil, who appears as a specter-like character throughout the film."
But the Roman soldiers were just following orders. They bore no grudge against Jesus. He was no threat to them. Why would they show such inhuman cruelty? In contrast, Jesus was a real threat to the lifestyle, prestige and teaching of the Pharisees. That's why most of them despised Him. Yet, that's no reason to call the story of the gospel antisemitic. After all, Jesus and his disciples were all Jews.
The point is, does the movie imprint a true story in our minds and memory, or does it distort the Biblical account under the banner of truth?
As you ponder that question, consider the wise words of a nineteenth century missions leader, Rev. E. K. Alden:
toward error, although he is continuously advocating the truth.... Indeed, there are times when the exclusive advocacy of certain important truths has the effect of error."
"One of the religious perils of the hour is the failure of many good men to discern the peril. There is sometimes a drift toward error which is ... so steady and strong that the trend of a man's influence is
5. Might traditional Roman Catholic myths distort our view of the gospel facts?
The Passion is "replete with Catholic touches, like the Stations of the Cross and the centrality of Mary," declares a Catholic website in its article "Protestants see the 'Passion of Christ' film as a great evangelistic tool."
Mel Gibson's sources of inspiration for The Passion include the visions of the 18th century mystic, Anna Katharina Emmerich. Author Michael Brown gives us some glimpses of her life. They remind me of the enticing visions described in Embraced by the Light, the bestseller by Betty Eadie, who blended her Mormon faith with her Native American spiritual heritage. Like Anne Emmerich and several Native American "medicine" men, Betty Eadie's visions began early in life. (For more details see Deliver us from Evil) Ponder these excerpts:
"Anne Catherine Emmerich was born on the feast of the Virgin's own nativity: September 8, 1774.... Her visions began early in life.... She claimed to see her guardian angel on a nearly constant basis.... Jesus Himself conducted her through many visions....
"She never entered the church without her angel-guardian who taught her by his own example the homage due to the Eucharistic God.'
"We could slough this all off -- attribute it to a meandering mind of an overly zealous nun -- if it wasn't... for the prominence of those who endorsed her. The Bishop of Limbourg approved of her work. So did canons and abbots. Famous Catholics of the day like Abbot Dom Gueranger and the Very Reverend F. Windischmann of Munich spoke about Emmerich in the highest terms....
"The stigmata itself was incredible.... The wounds, up to half an inch in size, were in her hands, feet, side, and head.... Said one physician, '...The wounds speak for themselves, at least to a man of science. To ascribe them to natural causes such as imagination, induction, analogy, or similar causes, is simply impossible.' That physician was a Protestant -- just as we now see many Protestants backing the Gibson film." Emphasis added
You met Peter Boyer earlier. In his article (which, I should warn you, contains a quote with an obscene word), he wrote,
"As it happened, Emmerich had special meaning to Gibson as well.... Eventually, she began to experience ecstasies and develop stigmata. Her experiences attracted... the attention of the poet Clemens Brentano, one of the founders of the German Romantic movement.
"Brentano made his way to Emmerich... who told him that she had been awaiting 'his arrival. He wrote down her visions, including detailed narratives from Christ's Passion, and published them after her death, in 1824, in a book called 'The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.'...
"When Gibson returned to his faith, he acquired, from a nunnery that had closed down, a library of hundreds of books, many of them quite old. He says that when he was researching 'The Passion' one evening he reached up for a book, and Brentano's volume tumbled out of the shelf into his hands. He sat down to read it, and was flabbergasted by the vivid imagery of Emmerich's visions.
“'Amazing images,' he said. 'She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of.' The one image that is most noticeable in 'The Passion' is a scene after Jesus' scourging, when a grief-stricken Mary gets down on her knees to mop up his blood." Emphasis added
Keep in mind,mystical signs, visions and events are not unique to those who claim to follow our God. "Catholics are not the only mystics," wrote Mary Ann Collins, a former Catholic nun, in her article, Catholic Mystics." "There are also Hindu mystics, Buddhist mystics, and Muslim mystics. Therefore, mystical experiences do not necessarily indicate that a person has encountered the God of the Bible. They do not even indicate that a person is a Christian. Thomas Merton was an influential monk. He taught that every form of mystical experience is valid, no matter what its source. He praised Hinduism and Buddhism. Merton wanted to see the religions of the world become united." So does Satan, the mastermind behind all the world's spiritual counterfeits.
6. How great an evangelistic tool is Mel Gibson's Passion? This may be the most important question of all. Does The Passion really communicate the gospel to a postmodern, biblically illiterate population? Many churches are counting on it to do just that. And the people they target -- many of whom are driven by a steady diet of MTV and gratuitous violence -- may be more emotionally prepared for the intense violence than many Christians, especially children. But will they hear the gospel?
"You cannot watch this film without being affected," writes Tim Timmons in his article "The movie is great, but not the gospel." "In my opinion, it is, indeed, a great movie! But to say or promote it as the greatest evangelistic tool—the greatest gospel message—in the last century or in the last 2000 years is a bit strong and very misleading." He goes on to say,
”When you’re excited about something, there is always a tendency to oversell.... The Christian church seems to be lovers of the latest and greatest methodologies—especially when it comes to evangelism. Revival meetings and evangelistic crusades, books and booklets, radio and TV shows or an evangelistic system of training all promise to be easy, sure-fire methods of evangelism that will reach your neighbor. Now we have a movie!
"The New Testament doesn’t include any of these methods as the divine or most effective ways of reaching your neighbor. To overemphasize a method is to short-circuit what is really required for effectively introducing your neighbor to Jesus."
"Only 4 ways attract people to Jesus," he tells us:
LIFESTYLE—"Matthew 5…Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER—John 13 & 17…If you love one another, then they will know that you are my disciples…that you might be perfected in unity, so that the world will know that Jesus was sent by God.
BLESS WHEN INSULTED—I Peter 3…Bless those who insult you…then they will ask you for the reason for the hope that is in you.
PERSONAL TESTIMONY—Romans 10…How shall they hear without someone to proclaim the message—someone who speaks his testimony."
The last point reminds us that unbelievers cannot be "born again" unless they actually read or hear the gospel. Since they will not hear it in Mel Gibson's movie, multitudes will walk away with their own unbiblical interpretation. The variations of those interpretations will be as diverse as the people who see the movie. Most will adapt it to fit their own worldview -- their mental model or filter for what is acceptable or not. In our postmodern tolerant and pluralistic culture, they are likely to be inclusive in their embrace of the crucifixion. Unless God Himself touches their heart and causes them to seek Him outside their own comfort zone, they will either be blind to any true meaning -- or they will believe like Mel Gibson that,
(from the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, February 16 and 17, 2004)
"We're all children of God. All of us! It doesn't matter what you are -- whether you've got a bone through your nose or whether you look like a Viking.... or whatever you are. We are all children of God.... It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the Kingdom of heaven."
The truth is, we can neither know nor follow God -- nor understand His Word or the hope of eternal life -- unless we hear, believe and respond to the saving words of the gospel made alive by God's Spirit. As God tells us,
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'
"But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
7.Bottom line: What does the Bible tell us about our man-made images of God?
Consider Deuteronomy 4:15-16. It warns us that, since we have not personally seen God, we ought not make or recreate His likeness. Does this warning apply to the incarnate Christ who came to earth as both Man and God? I am not sure. But any man-made image of God could be misleading, since it plants an untrue picture of God in our minds and imagination. The New as well as the Old Testament warns us that man's sincere attempts to recreate images of God are likely to clash with His will:
Acts 17:29 Emphasis added
“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising."
No human imitation can match God's own descriptions in Isaiah 53 or in Revelation 1:13-15. While movies didn't exist back when the first books of the Bible were written, God's message through Moses was clear: The people must not make "carved images" (the only three-dimensional figures at the time) of God nor of the false gods of their pagan neighbors. The fact that Hollywood can now create far more realistic three-dimensional likenesses makes today's moving images all the more persuasive, memorable and deceptive.
The following verses suggest that God does not want our help, ingenuity or "creativity" in making a more visible image of Himself:
“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure...."
God's Word doesn't give us these warnings in order to deprive us of visual gratification. After all, He filled His creation with glorious flowers, magnificent multicolored birds, vibrant, luminous fish and countless other delights to our eyes. But, like the forbidden fruit in the garden (often assumed to be an apple because artists painted their own interpretations of Genesis 3), one kind of image would be out of bounds: any image that depicted God Himself or any of the world's false gods.
Instead of man-made images, God will "show his face" through the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Far more glorious than any piece of art are God's own spiritual revelations to our hearts. May we, like the shepherd-king David, set the eyes of our hearts on the only God who can make His grace and gospel real to us through His wonderful Word and Spirit.
"I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope." Psalm 16:7-9
When we, too, "set the Lord" before us through His Word and by His Spirit, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...."(2 Cor. 3:18)
We want to thank three special friends, Barbara Wilhelm, Kurt Fiech and James Bell, who have sent us many links to informative and factual articles that prompted us to post this page. The first two links below are especially helpful. We suggest you read the entire articles, not just our excerpts.
"Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of Christ" by Pastor Andrew J. Webb
"[S]hould Evangelicals be supporting The Passion of Christ and
endorsing its use as an Evangelism tool? Is this really the best
evangelization opportunity we've had since the actual death of
"1) Its Origins: Even though Evangelicals are promoting The Passion of Christ, it is not an Evangelical movie. As Mel Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic put it so well; 'It reflects my beliefs.' The Passion of Christ is a Roman Catholic movie, made by a Roman Catholic director, with Roman Catholic theological advisers....
"Caviezel [played Jesus] recalled telling Gibson, 'I think it's very important that we have mass every day - at least I need that to play this guy.'"
"2) Its Script: The script for The Passion of Christ contains much extrabiblical material, and is based in part on a mystical Roman Catholic devotional work by an 18th century German Nun (Sister Anne Emmerich) entitled The Dolorous Passion of Christ. Gibson stated on EWTN that reading Emmerich's book was his primary inspiration for making the movie. By introducing extra-biblical elements, not only does The Passion of Christ change some of the theological emphases of the Biblical account of Christ's crucifixion, but it will also create a false impression amongst the very 'seekers' that Evangelicals are trying to reach, that things were said and done at the crucifixion that did not actually happen.
"For Evangelicals, who
would feel very uncomfortable with a version of the Bible that
put words into the mouth of Christ that He never spoke, to
endorse a movie that does the very same thing seems hopelessly
inconsistent. Protestants traditionally rejected the Apocrypha
precisely because these books were fabricated and contained
inauthentic material, despite the fact that these books might
have been useful for evangelism. For modern evangelicals to
embrace a vehicle that is inauthentic in order to achieve
evangelistic ends indicates a serious decline in faithfulness.
"The script for The Passion of Christ was translated into Aramaic and Latin by Father William Fulco, an old friend of Mel Gibson's. This was not done for reasons of making it more authentic. The language decisions in The Passion of Christ were made for theological reasons: 'It is crucial to realize that the images and language at the heart of 'The Passion of the Christ' flow directly out of Gibson's personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms - the 16th-century Latin Mass. ...
"'The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the 'sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar - which is the same thing,' said Gibson. This ancient union of symbols and sounds has never lost its hold on him. There is, he stressed, 'a lot of power in these dead languages.'...
"The script of The Passion of Christ was specifically intended to link the crucifixion of Christ with what Roman Catholics believe is the re-sacrificing of Christ that occurs in the mass." Emphasis added
"3) Its Theology: The fact that Evangelicals have uncritically endorsed it speaks volumes about how far the Evangelical Protestant understanding of Christ's death and the related subject of Justification have slipped since the Reformation. In Roman Catholic theology the intense physical suffering of Christ's Crucifixion is the focus along with the emphasis on physical sacrifice....
"The theology of the bible
however points out to us that the grand importance of Christ's
crucifixion lay not in His physical suffering, but in His once
for all propitiation of God's wrath (1 John 4:10). Lest we
forget, the greatest torment that Christ experienced on the
cross was not caused by the nails driven into His flesh, but in
His being made 'sin for us' and vicariously suffering the
righteous punishment of the Father in our place. Even the worst
physical torments inflicted by the Sanhedrin and the Romans upon
Jesus were nothing by comparison to the anguish of having the
sins of all the elect imputed to Him and making full
satisfaction for them. Satisfying the justice of the Romans on a
cross was comparatively easy, thousands of condemned men and
women including Spartacus and several of the Apostles did that,
but only Christ could satisfy the justice of God.
"Also central to the Christian Gospel, but missing from The Passion of Christ, is the concept of Christ's active obedience. Christ not only died for the sins of His sheep on the cross but He established their righteousness through His perfect obedience to God's Law....
"...use of extra-biblical material, emphasis on physical suffering, exaggeration of the role of Mary, and explicitly Roman Catholic theology should not surprise us, however, as these are all hallmarks of the primary inspiration for this movie: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
"4) Its Medium: Many Evangelical Pastors are hailing movies like
The Passion of Christ as part of a new and better way of
spreading the Gospel:
"...'Churches used to communicate by having a little lecture time on Sunday morning. People don't interact that way anymore. Here's a chance for us to use a modern-day technique to communicate the truth of the Bible," the Rev. Engel said."12
"It is indeed true that we live in a highly visual and increasingly anti-literate society that places a premium on sound bites and easily assimilated visual imagery, but does this mean that we should abandon preaching in favor of using movies or dramatic presentations? ...
"The means that God has
ordained for the transmission of the Gospel, was neither drama,
imagery, nor even "lectures" - it is preaching. Preaching involves
the communication of the Gospel in a way that patiently convinces,
rebukes, exhorts, and teaches (2 Timothy 4:2-4). The bible teaches
us the awesome importance of preaching and why it cannot be replaced
by another medium....
"God does not command us to produce dramatic presentations of Gospel themes, He commands us to preach. Though this option was freely available to the Apostles as they brought the Gospel to cities with amphitheaters and a long tradition of using the dramatic arts to convey religious and moral themes to the populace they did not do so. The wisdom of the Apostolic methodology has been borne out by the fact that it was when the Gospel was being transmitted primarily by plays and symbolism that true Christianity began to sink under the weight of superstition. We are in danger of returning to precisely that state of affairs by reviving the teaching methodology of the medieval church. Even though it was produced in the 21st century, The Passion of Christ is identical in all critical aspects to the Passion Plays of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages."
"5) Its Main Character: Billy Graham in his endorsement of The Passion of Christ said, 'Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind.' This is unfortunately part of the problem with all visual representations of Jesus. Although we may intend for them only to have a role in teaching, they inevitably become part of our worship and adoration. As a result of seeing this film James Caviezel, the "Jesus" of The Passion of Christ, will become the figure countless thousands if not millions of people think of when they worship Jesus Christ. To do this is to fall into the trap of changing "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man" (Romans 1:23) and to violate the Second Commandment.
"The Second reason why all visual representations of Jesus are lies is that they can never hope to represent the glory of Christ in His true nature.... While this may not appear to be a problem to us, the separation of Christ's manhood from His deity is actually a grave heresy called Nestorianism. ...
"For the first four centuries of its existence the church did not use pictures of Jesus as an aid to evangelism. This was despite the fact that they were bringing the gospel to highly visual cultures that had always used imagery to convey religious ideas. The initial movements towards making pictures of Christ were initially strongly opposed, and the practice was formally condemned by the church as late as 753 AD. Unfortunately, once they had taken hold of the public imagination, the practice of making visible representations of Christ proved difficult if not impossible to eradicate and gradually, pictures and dramatic representations of Jesus became quite commonplace in the church. At the time of the Reformation, Protestants overwhelmingly rejected the practice of making images of Jesus as a clear violation of the Second Commandment."
You can contact Pastor Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Why I Will Not See 'The Passion of the Christ'" by John LeGare 
"In a New Yorker article entitled "The Jesus War," Gibson disclosed to the interviewer his fondness for an Augustinian nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich, described by a web site dedicated to her as a Mystic, Stigmatist, Prophet and Great Visionary. Her visions were recorded in a book before she died in 1924 called The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Here is the account from the New Yorker piece:
"When Gibson returned to his faith, he acquired, from a nunnery that had closed down a library of hundreds of books... He says that when he was researching 'The Passion' one evening he reached up for a book, and Brentano’s volume tumbled out of the shelf into his hands. He sat down to read it, and was flabbergasted by the vivid imagery of Emmerich’s visions. ‘Amazing images,’ he said ` ‘She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of.’
"The one image that is most noticeable in 'The Passion' is a scene after Jesus’ scourging, when a grief-stricken Mary gets down on her knees to mop up his blood.'...
"I don’t know if that scene or others of Emmerich’s ‘amazing images’ have made the final cut but it is not true that the Bible was Gibson’s sole source. The book can be found online at www.emmerich1.com. I did not read the entire book but here are two quotes...:
"Her angel-guardian used to appear to her as a child; and when she was taking care of sheep in the fields, the Good Shepherd himself, under the form of a young shepherd, would frequently come to her assistance. From childhood she was accustomed to have divine knowledge imparted to her in visions of all kinds, and was often favored by visits from the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, who, under the form of a sweet lovely, and majestic lady, would bring the Divine Child to be, as it were, her companion, and would assure her that she loved and would ever protect her."
"Whoever compares the following meditations with the short history of the Last Supper given in the Gospel will discover some slight differences between them. An explanation should be given of this, although it can never be sufficiently impressed upon the reader that these writing have no pretensions whatever to add an iota to Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the [Roman Catholic] Church."
Gibson depended on another person and book in the making of his soon to be released movie. That is, Mary of Agreda’s The Mystical City of God. You can read about her atwww.passion-movie.gnfi.org/html/mary_of_agreda.html. (Note: This is the correct address; however, you may have to Google ‘Mary of Agreda’ for a good link.) You, the discerning Christian, can reach you own conclusions as to what this all may mean.
Jim Caviezel: "I first heard about Medjugorje in 5th - 6th grade. They said that it was like the apparitions of [Mary at] Fatima, Guadeloupe, Lourdes, and they quickly said that the bishop said that it was false... Many years later, I met my wife, we got married, and after a few years she went to Medjugorje. While she was there, I was filming "The Count of Monte Cristo" in Ireland. She called me in Ireland, I felt that there was a change in her voice, but I wrote it off very quickly, thinking: "That’s good for you, dear, who am I to take away from you spiritual experience?" She said that Ivan Dragicevic was coming to Ireland...I met with him a couple of times, and during an apparition, I felt a physical presence." Emphasis added
Kerri Caviezel: "It took me 15 years to come [to Medjugorje]. When I came, I knew immediately - from what I was feeling in my heart - that it was real. I haven’t seen signs or anything, but - I have been a Catholic for my whole life and I had never felt in confession as I felt when I was here. It was a tremendous healing."
Jim Caviezel: "The catharsis for me to play this role was through Medjugorje, through Gospa. In preparation, I used all that Medjugorje taught me. Mel Gibson and I were going every day for Mass together. Some days I couldn’t go for Mass, but I was receiving the Eucharist."
Kerri Caviezel: "I pray that we are open to where ever Mary is leading us and that in all the places where we go and to the people that we meet around the world, we may bring these messages."
Jim Caviezel: "This film is something that I believe was made by Mary for her Son."
The complete interview can be found here: http://www.medjugorje.hr/int%20Caviezel%20ENG.htm
"There is much in the way of a Biblical response to this, so be a good Berean. I’ll just suggest 2Corinthians 11:14: 'And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light' and recommend a book called Messages From Heaven, an excellent Biblical response to the apparitions of Mary phenomenon.
"There are two principle reasons why I will not see Mr. Gibson’s movie and I direct this opinion to person’s that have "obtained like precious faith" (2Peter 1:1); those who have repented of their sin, believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, placed their faith in Him alone and His substitutionary sacrifice for the salvation of their soul and have been born again by the Holy Spirit into the family of God.
"I’m not going to tell any member of Christ’s body to not see the film but my open question to believers is 'Why would you want to?' The great euphoria among Christians in regard to the release of this movie seems more related to the anticipation of seeing the film rather than excitement about the golden opportunity this movie presents for reaching the lost with the Gospel....
"The movie itself will not save a single soul! It is
the gospel that '...that is the power of God unto salvation to
everyone that believeth' (Romans 1:16). God has chosen to use the
Gospel message as the instrument of salvation because it proclaims
the Name that has the power to save. That message is not spread by
bloody images on a movie screen. Therefore, I would encourage
Christians to make plans and be ready to give the full Gospel
message to those who have seen the movie instead of making plans to
see it. ...
"So, here are the two primary reasons I will not see The Passion of Christ. The first is the idolatrous nature of the film. The second encompasses a number of related issues and is based on the professed and well-known testimony of Mel Gibson being 'a devout Roman Catholic.' Roman Catholicism and, in particular, the Roman Catholic Mass misrepresent and deny the completed sacrifice of Christ on the cross by claiming that the sacrifice of Jesus is continued in the Mass....
"Gibson refers to himself as a 'traditionalist Roman Catholic.' Without going into much detail, traditionalists reject the ecumenical outreach of the Roman Catholic Church that was declared at Vatican II. They hold to the rites that were codified at the Council of Trent in the 16th century that still hold today. Be advised Christian, the Council of Trent, the solidification of Roman Catholic theology, produced over 100 anathemas or curses against us 'heretics' outside of the Roman Catholic Church who refuse to submit to Papal authority and Roman Catholic teaching. Contrary to popular opinion, these curses have never been retracted...."
"...The possible application of 2Corinthians 11:3-4 may make some sense as I continue to lay out what I’m trying to say. Please keep this in mind:
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him."...
"In regard to the charge that The Passion of Christ is cinematic
idolatry, I’ll rely heavily on the thoughts of J. I. Packer from
Chapter Four of his book Knowing God.
"Packer points out that if taken alone it would be natural to assume that the Second Commandment refers to the worship of images of false gods as described by Isaiah 44:9-20; 46:6-7 and about which Paul wrote of in Romans 1:23,25. 'But in its context the Second Commandment can hardly be referring to this sort of idolatry, for if it were it would simply be repeating the thought of the First Commandment without adding anything to it' (p.44). Packer quotes Charles Hodge who says 'idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images.' For the Christian, these men understand the Second Commandment to be saying that '...we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the Triune God, or of any Person of the Trinity, for purposes of Christian worship" (p.44).
An obvious objection would be in the form of the Christian saying, 'Well, I’m not going to see the movie as an overt act of worship.' Fair enough, but I believe some (many?) will be drawn into a form of worship that is spiritually unhealthy and related to Packer’s point especially in a film that, by every single account, is extremely and graphically violent. Some sort of sympathetic identification with the person on the screen who we would see as the real Jesus Christ seems to me to be inevitable. "Well, the crucifixion was extremely violent and bloody" you may say. This no doubt is true, but don’t forget about the extra-Biblical sources Gibson has used. The death of Christ was violent and bloody but Gibson’s film is not THE crucifixion. ...
"Packer maintains that the Second Commandment '...rules out the
use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus
Himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are
necessarily made after the 'likeness' of ideal manhood as WE
[emphasis mine] conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which
the Commandment imposes" (p.45). Many have and will disagree with
Packer’s position as it would eliminate the use of images as
evangelistic tools. Nevertheless, Packer maintains it must be a
matter of crucial importance as is evidenced by the 'frightening
sanction' attached to it.
"The Bible shows us that the glory of God and the spiritual well-being of humans are both directly bound up with it' (p.45). The lines of thought in the Second Commandment relate not to the perceived helpfulness of the images but to 'the truth of them.' Packer continues with the following points:
1) Images dishonor God, for they obscure His Glory. He quotes
Calvin: 'A true image of God is not to be found in all the world;
and hence...His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the
lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form.
Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious because by
this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be
other than He is.' This thought can be applied directly to the
depiction of Jesus in The Passion of Christ. Packer points out that
any image of Jesus '...inevitably conceals most, if not all, of the
truth about the personal nature and character of the Divine Being
who they represent' (p.46).
"...the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of His Deity, His victory on the cross, and His present kingdom. It displays His human weakness, but it conceals His divine strength; it depicts the reality of His pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of His joy and His power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display" (p.46).
"...Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God.
very inadequacy with which they represent Him perverts our thoughts
of Him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about His
character and will' (p.46-47). Church, we should get our idea of God
from what He has revealed to us about Himself. This revelation comes
to us through the Bible. Only from the Bible "...may we form a true
notion of God; without it we never can. Thus it appears that the
positive force of the Second Commandment is that it compels us to
take our thoughts of God from His own Holy word, and from no other
source whatsoever" (p.48).
If Packer’s analysis is correct and has application to The Passion of Christ, to see this movie could very well be spiritually damaging to many Christians. I guess you will have to decide that for yourself. As for me and my house, we will remain fixed on the image of the Risen Christ as described by the Apostle John:
"...and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters (Revelation 1:13-15).
‘Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Hebrews 6:6b
[Note: There is much more information in this article. To read all of it, including the references, go to http://www.informedchristians.com/articles/ART-why_i_will_not_see.htm
You can contact John LeGare at email@example.com
1. "Behind film endorsed by both Catholics and Protestants is a stigmatic whose life and revelations continue to amaze" at http://www.spiritdaily.com/emmerichlife.htm
2. Peter J. Boyer, "The Jesus War: Mel Gibson & 'The Passion'," The New Yorker, September 15, 2003. For more information about Catholic mysticism, see Catholic Mystics, meet Mary Ann Collins, and explore her website: www.CatholicConcerns.com
3.Terry Mattingly, "The passion of old words and symbols," January 21, 2004.
4. Jody Dean, "Perspective on 'The Passion of the Christ," Religion Today at http://www.religiontoday.com/faith/1242963.html
5. Lindy Warren, "Witness to the Passion" at http://www.outreachmagazine.com/current_issue/Jan_Feb/passion.html
6. Pastor Andrew J. Webb, "Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of Christ" at http://www.providencepca.com/essays/passion.html
7. William Neuman, "'Jesus' Nail Sale," New York Post, February 19, 2004.
8."Visual Arts in Worship: A Search for Biblical Guidance," Worship Leader Magazine, January/February 2004.
9. Professor Robert K. Johnston, "Engaging Culture: Should the Church use popular culture -- such as movies -- to engage unbelievers in spiritual dialog?" Worship Leader Magazine, January/February 2004; page 34.
10. Martha Sawyer Allen, "Mel Gibson's reel leap of faith," Star Tribune, February 21, 2004.
11.Tom Carden, February 2004. firstname.lastname@example.org
12. Linda Chavez, "Mel Gibson's Film Inspires Soul-Searching
13. From a letter written by the Rev. E. K. Alden, D.D., Home Secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions, Boston, March 21, 1887. http://www.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/dg11.htm
14. Tim Timmons, "The movie is great, but not the gospel," Assist News at http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/s04020060.htm.
15.John LeGare, "Why I Will Not See 'The Passion of the Christ" at http://www.outreachmagazine.com/current_issue/Jan_Feb/passion.html
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