Why a Reformed Christian May Not Attend the Movie, The Passion of the Christ, and What He or She Must Witness to Those Who Do
The speech given to the students and faculty of Covenant Christian High School, Grand Rapids, MI the morning of February 25, 2004. The movie opened to the general public that evening.
It was subsequently published in The Standard Bearer.
Galatians 3:1: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
Galatians 3:13: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.
Galatians 6:14: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Today, Hollywood—great enemy of the Christian faith and destroyer of untold number of souls—releases a new movie, The Passion of the Christ. Note the date: February 25.
Because the subject of the movie is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, many Christian leaders, churches, and professing Christians praise the movie, attend the movie, and encourage attendance of the movie. They praise and attend the movie as a religious, spiritual experience.
I warn all of us against attending.
Whoever attends the movie will be sinning. The sin will be grievous sin against our beloved Lord Jesus Christ and His glorious cross. It would not be nearly so wicked to attend a filthy, X-rated movie.
I will prove that attending would be sin. The reasons for not attending will also be the witness you can give to others, why they should not attend.
To attend the movie, The Passion of the Christ, would be to make yourself guilty of the blasphemy of the movie. Blasphemy is contemptuous insult of and bold attack on the holy God and our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, by word and by deed. A sinful, shameful human—a Hollywood actor!—dares to impersonate the sinless, glorious Jesus Christ. A corrupt man plays the "man of sorrows."
Besides, Christ is now risen from the dead and become the spiritual Lord of glory at God's right hand in heaven. It is wicked to try to present Christ "after the flesh," that is, in an earthly form. In II Corinthians 5:16, the Bible says that true Christians do not know, or try to know, Christ "after the flesh."
In addition, although Jesus is a true man, He is also God, and the divine nature of Jesus is never separated from His manhood. Jesus' Godhead was not separated from His manhood even when He was on the cross. Yes, especially on the cross, His Godhead was not separated from His manhood. Only because the one who suffered on the cross was the eternal Son of God did His suffering have the worth and value to redeem you and me from our sins.
A wicked human—a Hollywood actor!—plays God.
The actor, the director, and the movie itself break the first and second commandments of the law. About a man, they say, "This is God." This breaks the first commandment, which forbids having any other god than the triune, one, true, living, invisible God in heaven. About God, they say, "He has the form of the Hollywood actor who plays Him." This breaks the second commandment, which forbids making any representation of God whatever.
Whoever attends the movie approves the blasphemy, pays for the blasphemy, and participates in the blasphemy.
In Ephesians 5:11, the Bible commands us, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." The Passion of the Christ is a blasphemous work of darkness. It produces no fruit for God or for the church. We reprove it.
The movie is blasphemous also because it dares to dramatize and portray the once-for-all suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It dramatizes the awesome crucifixion of Christ. As God's great deed in history, to reveal His grace and justice, to redeem His elect church, and to judge the wicked world (including the abomination that is Hollywood), the cross was perfectly arranged by God in every detail. We have the exact revelation in the Bible. For anyone to try to reenact the cross is to spoil that marvelous deed of God in history. It is something like an ordinary house painter touching up Rembrandt's Night Watch with his paintbrush.
Fact is, the sufferings of Jesus Christ may not, cannot, and must not be repeated. His suffering was unique: the bearing of the wrath of God as the substitute for His church. This suffering cannot be pictured and dramatized.
Also, His sufferings were completed when He died. They may not be repeated. The Bible says, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:28). The movie sacrifices Christ again.
Second, to attend the movie would be disobedience to the will of God that we learn Jesus Christ and His suffering only from the Word of God: the Bible and the sound preaching of the Bible.
The movie is not only, or even mainly, entertainment. It intends to be, and is, religious education and evangelism. It has an educational and evangelistic effect on those who see it. It teaches the people about the "Jesus" they see on the screen. It even converts people to that "Jesus." Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders are urging their followers to see the movie for spiritual benefit.
But the only way God is pleased to give true knowledge of Christ and His cross is by the preaching and reading of His Word. This is the teaching of Galatians 3:1, which I read with you: Christ crucified is "evidentlyset forth" to us in the preaching of the gospel and in the sacraments. Our Reformed confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, instructs us that it is God's will to teach us "not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word" (Q. 96). This will of God, that His people learn the gospel of Christ only by the Word of God, is an important element of the second commandment of the law.
To attend the movie with the purpose of knowing the suffering of Christ, or knowing the suffering of Christ better, would be sin against the second commandment.
The only other motive for attending would be entertainment. Shall we amuse ourselves of a Wednesday evening with the passion of Christ?
Regardless of the intention of one who attends, the movie will educate him religiously. But the education will be false and dangerous.
The movie teaches falsely about Christ and the cross. It is not based on the Bible alone. It is based also on extra-biblical writings, specifically the supposed visions of a Roman Catholic mystic.
The movie teaches falsely also because it gives the impression that the main suffering of Christ was physical—the mockery, the beatings, the scourgings, the torture of the cross.
But the real suffering of Christ was not physical. It was Christ's suffering of the wrath and curse of God, which no film can represent or picture. This is the teaching ofGalatians 3:13, which I read with you: God made Christ a curse for us, for the Old Testament Scripture said, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Because the real suffering of Christ was the spiritual agony of hell, the Bible does not emphasize the physical sufferings of Christ, or describe them in gory detail. It mentions them. But it will not allow us to concentrate on them.
Roman Catholic Heresy
Third, one who might attend would expose himself (deliberately, now that I have explained the movie to you) to Roman Catholic teaching about Christ, the cross, and salvation.
The movie is Roman Catholic propaganda. It will be released to the public today, February 25. Why? Because today is Ash Wednesday, a Roman Catholic holy day. The Roman Catholic director, Mr. Gibson, has described the movie as a "Marian film." The film features Mary, the mother of Jesus, as much as it features Jesus. Mary is prominently present at every step of the way to the cross, as at the cross itself. She is present in the movie as co-mediatrix and co-redemptrix with Christ. She is a savior with Jesus. We can only have Jesus as Savior by means of Mary.
Not so subtly, the movie promotes the Roman Catholic perversion of the Lord's Supper, Rome's mass. By the juxtaposition of images, the movie teaches that the wine in the chalice of the mass has become the literal blood that flowed on Calvary. By a scene in which, having kissed the bloody body of Jesus, Mary turns to the camera with blood on her lips, the movie teaches that we can and must drink the literal blood of Jesus with our physical mouths.
The very idea that people can be saved by concentrating on Jesus' physical sufferings and blood, so that they are moved emotionally and thus attracted to Jesus, is a Roman Catholic notion. Where in this emotional attraction to a bloody Jesus is knowledge of the righteousness of God? Where is heart-felt knowledge of sin? Where is repentance? Where is faith?
Roman Catholic teaching about Mary, Jesus, the cross, and salvation is false doctrine. Rome's teaching about Mary is denial of Christ as the only mediator and redeemer. Rome's doctrine of the mass is a denial of the one sacrifice of Christ and an accursed idolatry. This is not my judgment. This is your judgment, as of every other Reformed Christian, for it is the judgment of the mass by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q. 80.
Rome's doctrine of the cross, that is, of the passion of the Christ, is a denial of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. Rome's Christ is never finished suffering. This is evident in one of Rome's favorite images, the crucifix: a cross on which Christ is still hanging. Rome sacrifices Christ anew every time it celebrates the mass. The Roman Catholic director sacrificed Christ afresh for the salvation of sinners in the movie. The message of the movie is that Christ goes on suffering and dying every time the film is shown.
You would not worship at a Roman Catholic mass. You would not take instruction from a Roman Catholic priest. Why would you expose yourself to Roman Catholic heresy in a movie, which is a very effective form of instruction?
Learning the Cross at Church
Young people of the covenant of God, to know Christ and His cross, go to the Bible, and go to church. There—there only—Christ Himself teaches the truth about Himself and His sufferings, and He teaches in such a way that you believe and are saved.
The movie threatens to ruin your right knowledge of Christ and the cross, perhaps as long as you live. This morning, a Protestant leader said, on a national network, "When you see this movie, you will never be able to read the Bible again without the film's images of the actor and of the crucifixion in your mind." The foolish man meant this as a recommendation of the movie. God forbid that you—or I—read the Bible or hear the gospel or come before God in prayer with souls stamped by the vivid images of a movie.
Those who see the movie cry over the sufferings of Christ. With the ticket to this show come tissues.
We must not feel sorry for the suffering Jesus. He told the weeping women not to cry over Him as He was going to the cross: "Weep not for me" (Luke 23:28).
Christ deserved His suffering. He deserved all His suffering. He had it all coming. His suffering was His just punishment at the hands of God for your guilt and mine.
Don't cry over the sufferings of Christ, no, not one tear. Cursed are the damp tissues. Cry over your sins that brought Him to the cross, not over the cross.
The cross of Christ redeemed us. Therefore, as the Bible says in Galatians 6:14 (which I read with you), we glory in the cross of Christ.
The movie is evil. But it is a powerful medium. Satan will use it to hurt you, to corrupt your pure knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Do not risk God's judgment upon those who involve themselves in the sinfulness of the movie.
Stay away! Rip up your ticket, if you already bought one!
Stay away, for your Savior's sake, who loved you and gave Himself for you.
Be separate from the profane world and the foolish churches!
Give a witness. Give a witness by your behavior in not attending The Passion of the Christ. Give a witness by explaining your refusal to attend, when you have the opportunity. Give a witness by inviting people who want to know about Christ and the cross to the gospel in our Reformed churches.
Say something like this: "Do you want to know Christ and His suffering for sin? You can learn Him and His cross in His church, not in a movie theater."
Prof.David J. Engelsma (Wife: Ruth)
Ordained: September 1963
Pastorates: Loveland, CO - 1963; South Holland, IL - 1974; Professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1988; Emeritus - 2008Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof_D._Engelsma
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