Why I Have Not Seen the Movie, The Passion of the Christ
by Rick Shrader
We all must pause to express our conscience on controversial matters sooner or later even though we would rather talk only of “the common faith” and leave the “contending” to the expert apologists. C.S. Lewis said, “The greatest cause of verbicide is the fact that most people are obviously far more anxious to express their approval and disapproval of things than to describe them” (Studies in Words, p. 7). I have chosen not to see the movie for a number of reasons with which one may agree or disagree. While I have no desire to make personal attacks, I do desire to speak my own conscience on this very current matter. Now that some time is going by, there is a growing collection of sincere objections to the film. I offer my own to this list.
1. My life-long boycott of the theater. It may seem like begging the question to place this reason first but I don’t think so. I have preached to my church and lived before my family that I believe it is far better for our children/people never to have sat in a theater with their father/pastor than to have done so. Knowing what has happened to Hollywood in the last forty years, I can’t help but believe the next forty will totally paganize our kids. My children/people will never recollect me sitting with them there. To break that commitment now, even for this reason, is more conscience than I care to violate. I see this as being “blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed” (Titus 1:7). I think that keeping this principle will reap far greater benefits in the long run.
2. My love, familiarity and blessing in reading the four gospels. It has been an amazing thing to watch the reaction of our generation to a movie, a reaction that has never taken place from reading the inspired Word of God. It never occurred to me to see any of the Jesus movies. But I do read one of the gospels through thoughtfully every month and have done so for years. The added reality for me is in the theology of the atonement, not languishing in unnecessary detail that the Holy Spirit chose not to include. Even the rest of the New Testament always emphasizes the reason and scope of Christ’s death, not the added details that humans may have wanted. Peter is typical when he writes, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:22-24).
3. The justification of Roman Catholicism by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Although many feel their use of the movie does not justify Catholicism, I believe it does to the Catholics and allows their view of the blood of the sacrament to be affirmed. Are we not bidding them “God speed” as they return to their Church altar? In the third volume of The Fundamentals, written in 1917 and edited by R.A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon, T.W. Medhurst from Glasgow, Scotland began his article this way, “I am aware that, if I undertake to prove that Romanism is not Christianity, I must expect to be called ‘bigoted, harsh, uncharitable.’ Nevertheless I am not daunted; for I believe that on a right understanding of this subject depends the salvation of millions” (“Is Romanism Christianity?”, vol. 3, p. 288). I think we will find it harder than ever to win our Catholic friends and neighbors to Christ once we have given credence to their version of the sufferings of Christ. What is poetic license to us is church dogma to them. The obvious exaltation of the Roman Eucharistic Mystery by Anne Catherine Emmerich in her book, as well as by Gibson and his cast during filming, is something with which I cannot have fellowship. For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Cor 6:14-15).
4. My opposition to ecumenicalism. One may conclude that we were wrong to criticize ecumenical evangelism over the last fifty years, but it is hard not to see this as the same thing. Maybe some can avoid this, but it seems this has been difficult even in the pre-viewing process as well as in the use of the film. In ecumenical evangelism the lowest common denominator of doctrine is sought so that groups differing on major doctrines may come together for the purpose of evangelism. This means that you have to acquiesce to doctrine you believe is wrong and which you teach against for what all have agreed is the greater good. But fundamentalists have objected to this as pragmatic, the end justifying the means, and compromise of doctrinal truth. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thes 3:14-15). Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Rom 16:17). It is always tempting to use the means that seem (to us) to get the job of evangelism done quicker. But is it a lack of trust or compassion to stay within the bounds of Scriptural commands and trust that God knows best? Ask Abraham in Hagar’s bedroom, or Moses striking the rock, or Uzzah holding the ark, about things which seem to work as opposed to what God has specifically said.
5. My view of Revelation 17 and 18. Though it is becoming increasingly unpopular today to identify the Harlot in these chapters as the Roman Church, it has been a common belief of good Bible expositors. It is the blood of the apostles as well as the prophets (Rev 18:20) that God will avenge on her. It is Mystery Babylon, the imitation of Babel that John sees. H.A. Ironside wrote, “In other words all sects will be swallowed up in the one distinctively Babylonish system that has ever maintained the cult of the mother and the child. . . . Rome alone answers to the description given” (Revelation, 297). In like manner, John Walvoord wrote of this harlot, “It is a sad commentary on contemporary Christendom that it shows an overwhelming desire to return to Rome in spite of Rome’s evident apostasy from true biblical Christianity. In fact, modern liberalism has far outdone Rome in its departure from the theology of the early church, thus has little to lose by a return to Romanism. Apostasy, which is seen in its latent form today, will flower in its ultimate form in this future superchurch which will apparently engulf all Christendom in the period after the rapture of the church” (Revelation, 248). I understand that not every Bible expositor takes this view. But if this old and common view is correct, and if today’s generation happens to be the generation of the anti-Christ, then we will have done what John started to do and was corrected, I wondered with great admiration. And the angel said unto me, wherefore didst thou marvel?. . . . Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues, for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities (Rev 17:6-7; 18:4-5).
Again, I know that disagreement over this issue causes irritation to many. As I have written, “the tyranny of the tolerant” most often closes the door on objections. But I believe that as time goes on and the emotion of the moment wanes, many such objections will begin to be weighed and considered valid. God grant us all biblical wisdom.