"The Passion of Christ"
Mel Gibson's Vivid Deception
by Richard Bennett and J. Virgil Dunbar
We live at a critical time in the history of the church. Never in long ages has idolatry been such a threat to the church. We call this movie a blasphemy against Christ. Is this accurate? The dictionary defines blasphemy, not only as profane or contemptuous speech, but "any remark or action held to be irreverent or disrespectful". In this article we will present the reasons why such a movie is disrespectful to Christ, a deception and a blasphemy against God. (We are not for a moment saying that Mel Gibson and his supporters intended it to be a blasphemy; we deem that they are sincerely in grievous error)
As you read this article, please also note how the awful, heart-rending crucifixion scenes advertised for the movie, actually move people away from the true saving meaning of the crucifixion of Christ. His endurance of the savage beatings may indeed be the worldís greatest model of endurance and forgiveness, but that is not the Biblical message. The Scriptures proclaim that that Christ Jesusí endurance of Godís wrath against sin is the key element in the Gospel. It was His taking upon Himself Godís wrath for our sins that provides atonement for us who believe that we are saved only by His sacrifice.
What is perhaps the deadliest influence of the movie is its subliminal denial of the Deity of Christ. Those who made the movie can insist that this man on the screen images Christ. Promoters of the movie may claim that the movie proclaims the Deity of Christ. But the movie makes us call Jim Caviezel "Christ". This is idolatry. The identification of movie star with Christ is seen even in news stories, such as calling the nails used in the film "nails used to hang Jesus on the cross".* And such a movie seduces us to talking about the sufferings inflicted on Jim Caviezel, as if they really were inflicted on Christ.
As you read this article, you will also become more aware that this movie will, on a subliminal level, prepare many people to think of Mary as the one who offered Christís sacrifice. In the Scriptures it is profoundly the will and purpose of God the Father that is portrayed.
May God have mercy on the professing church and cause His people to turn from idols to the revelation of Christ in the Bible.
May you respond in prayer and in the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit through His written Word. We also request that forward the article to others, and if possible, you post it on your Webpage.
In the Lordís graciousness and love,
Richard Bennett and Virgil Dunbar
* "Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise linked to Mel Gibsonís controversial new movie, ĎThe Passion of the Christ.í"
2/21/04 -There seldom has been a movie that has created such favorable publicity and anticipation in the Evangelical community. A tidal wave of excitement is sweeping the church and the movie world. On the Catholic Ash Wednesday the film will appear in theaters across America. Evangelical churches are buying huge blocks of tickets, reserving theaters. An endless list of endorsements from church leaders publicly promoting the film is paraded. Names like Billy Graham, Jack Graham (President of the Southern Baptist Convention), Rick Warren, Jack Hayford, names of Catholic leaders, and an endless list of celebrities are presented to the public as endorsing the film. It is being promoted as one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities in history, a concept dear to the heart of every Evangelical. Even the secular media, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, the Internet, feed the frenzy. There is a fawning adulation of the film. The Evangelical churchís acceptance of Gibsonís movie gives shocking ó maybe apocalyptic ó insight into the state of popular Christianity today. Will history reveal this day as the time when Evangelicalism, on a popular level, merged with the Roman Catholic Church?
The Church of Rome has done much to lead modern Evangelicalism into making images of the Lord. Like the Catholics, many Evangelicals today seem not even to be aware that such activity is idolatrous. The Apostle Paul emphasizes the fact that idolatry involves exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image made like corruptible man.1
And as he also stated to the Athenians, "forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, silver, or stone, graven by art or manís device."2
Christ Jesus is a member of that Godhead. He told the religious leaders, "I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins."3 By using the expression "I AM", the Lord identifies Himself as the God revealed in the Old Testament, the "I AM THAT I AM", the self-existing, eternal God who spoke to Moses4 and gave the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. The Second Commandment totally prohibits making material representations of His person.5 In creating images of Christ in books, videotapes, films, stained glass windows and other artistic mediums ó all things of "manís device" ó men have gone beyond Scripture in their attempt to add to the biblical revelation of who Christ is. The Lord God explicitly warned against adding to His written Word6 and He warns just as explicitly against adding visual images of the Godhead.7
Creating a visual representation of the Lord Jesus, by definition, is to portray "another Jesus". The Lord Jesus in His Person, character, and work is divine and perfect. No Savior other than the One proclaimed in Scripture is permissible.8 Those who claim they are only depicting the humanity of Jesus Christ fall into the grievous heresy of Nestorius, as they wrongly attempt to divide the humanity from the deity of Christ, ending up with idols produced by the imaginations of their own hearts.
The Lord God gave believers a Wordbook, not a picture book. The Gospel is at stake ó for the Scripture states that "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God."9 The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation as it is written, read, preached, and spoken one to another. The power of the Word is that it is Godís revealed propositional truth. Rather than subjective imaginations created by man, "The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."10 It is Godís revealed propositional truth that has the power to change the hearts and minds of those who live in the darkness of their own imaginations, for His light through the Written Word will shine on their evil hearts and the thoughts and deeds that flow from them. It is through this method that they will be convicted of their need for a true Savior and ready for the Gospel of Godís grace alone in which to trust by faith alone. The visual works of a manís devising, for all their emotional power, are too dull a tool to bring to the individual conviction of sin and the explicit Gospel of grace that the Written Word and the truth preached bring.
But this fact notwithstanding, a three-dimensional image of Christ is not only allowed by official Catholic teaching, but it is also to be venerated. The Vatican states, "Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified . . . the veneration of icons ó of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints."11 The temptation to replace the biblical Lord with a visible Christ dominates Catholic nations across of the world. Men calling themselves Christian are now beginning to accept it. A figure one can touch, see, wear on jewelry, and is visible in statues and on a crucifix, is identified as an object through which one can approach God and learn of Him.12 Yet the Scripture clearly states that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."13 The Lord God is approachable only through the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.14 But as the bleeding Savior Gibsonís passion is presented to the world, this fact seems thrown aside. We ask, then, what worse blasphemy could there be than depicting with an image the Lord God who condemns images? Evangelical leaders, by endorsing this Catholic film, further solidify the image of the counterfeit Christ upon the minds of many.
As we have seen, the Catholic Church claims authority to make images of the Lord. Since the Bible absolutely forbids this practice, where shall Evangelicals find authority for using such images? Under what handier shelter can they hide than the umbrella of the Catholic Church? Cut adrift from biblical authority, Evangelicals seem to be drifting more and more under the Catholic system of authority. Once they have, in practice, surrendered biblical authority and accepted the papal system of authority regarding the use of images of the Lord, where will Evangelicals draw the line on papal authority? This is only one of the unforeseen consequences that started when Evangelicals accepted forbidden pictures to represent the Lord and entered into dialogue with the Catholic Church.
True meaning of the Cross as revealed in Godís Written Word
Scripture makes clear that the meaning of Christís crucifixion lay not in His physical suffering, but in His propitiation of the wrath of God.15 Godís wrath was utterly placed on Christ Jesus, who suffered the full extent of its unabated curse for the sins for His people. The fullness of divine wrath that Christ suffered was like that fire from heaven, recorded in the Old Testament, which consumed the sacrifices. The wrath that should have fallen upon the sinner, had God not been appeased, fell upon Him. He uttered the loud cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"16 The representative relationship of Christ to His people is a real and necessary one. The All Holy God deemed it just to punish Christ for the sins of His people, and to credit them with His righteousness, and thus completely satisfy all the demands of His law upon them. Why was Christís perfect life followed by the most terrible punishment? Strict substitution demanded it so that real imputation of His righteousness to His own people could follow. Rather than the physical torture He suffered, the absolute horror that Christ endured was separation from His Father. In His Spirit, He felt the full wrath of God. The Apostle Paul explained it precisely, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."17Christ Jesus was "made sin" for His people. The wrath of Godís holiness flamed against Him. He was the sin offering, the sacrifice for sin. "It pleased the Lord to bruise him; He hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."18 He was personally All Holy; yet as the substitute for His own, He rendered Himself legally responsible before the judgment of God. The consequence of Christís faithfulness in all that He did culminated in His death on the cross and in His resurrection that followed. His righteousness is credited to the believer, "even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe."19 It was God who legally constituted Christ to be "sin for us." He was "made sin" because the sins of His people were transferred to Him, and in like manner, the believer is made "the righteousness of God in Him" by Godís reckoning to the believer Christís faithfulness to the precepts of the law. Quite clearly therefore, justification, the Gospel message, is the gracious act of God whereby a believing sinner has forgiveness of sin and legal right standing in Christ. As Christ, who knew no sin of His own, was made sin for believers, so they, who have no righteousness of their own, are made the righteousness of God in Him. It is of extreme importance that this entire biblical Gospel message is missing from the movie, and that in its place is given the traditional Catholic faith of Mel Gibson, and Jim Caviezel, who stars as Christ.
A Catholic Film with a Catholic Message
Mel Gibson is a traditionalist Catholic. He has produced this film with an image of "Christ" that is based on the apparitions of the Catholic mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich, who claimed to have seen visions of the passion, death and resurrection of "Christ" which were recorded in her book, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.20 She narrated in incredible detail her understanding of the horrendous sufferings undergone in His heroic act of Redemption.
It is crucial to realize that the images and language at the heart of ĎThe Passion of the Christí flow directly out of Gibsonís personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms ó the 16th-century Latin Mass. ĎI donít go to any other services,í the director told the Eternal Word Television Network. ĎI go to the old Tridentine Rite. Thatís the way that I first saw it when I was a kid. So I think that that informs oneís understanding of how to transcend language. Now, initially, I didnít understand the Latin . . . .But I understood the meaning and the message and what they were doing. I understood it very fully, and it was very moving and emotional and efficacious, if I may say so.í The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the Ďsacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar ó which is the same thing,í said Gibson. This ancient union of symbols and sounds has never lost its hold on him. There is, he stressed, Ďa lot of power in these dead languages.í21
The Church of Rome likewise juxtaposes the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the Mass, to which Mel Gibson has given clear testimony. She teaches that the Mass and Christís sacrifice are "one single sacrifice". Thus she declares, "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ĎThe victim is one and the same . . . íThis divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner."22Blending images together with the sacrifice of the Cross and with the sacrifice of the Mass is extremely dangerous to the state of oneís soul. Divine perfection is seen in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christís sacrifice on the cross was one sacrifice, once offered. To put forward a reenactment of the one offering, once offered, is to replace the truth with a falsehood implying that Christís sacrifice was not sufficient and therefore imperfect. This is an utter blasphemy against the All Holy God. In Catholicism and in the Passion movie, willfully putting together the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the Mass produces a dramatic and a theatrical lie that serves only to deceive the very ones it is purportedly meant to help.
Concerning the film, Gibson has declared, "It reflects my beliefs."23 He also has stated, "There is no salvation for those outside the [Catholic] Church . . . I believe it."24 Clearly, before the public eye, here is a Catholic movie, made by a Catholic director, with Catholic theological advisers and a Catholic message. According to a Catholic website, Catholic Passion Outreach, "The Passion of The Christ offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to spread, strengthen, and share the Catholic faith with your family and friends."25 It is obvious from this and other Catholic sources that Catholics see this film as an excellent way to convey the Catholic Christ.
Relationship of Christ to the Father: replaced with "Mary" offering her Son
Christís willing sacrifice of Himself on the cross and His subsequent resurrection is the greatest event in history, the culminating achievement of God. The sacrifice as given in Scripture shows forth the unique and distinctive relationship of Christ to the Father. Christís readiness to fulfill His Fatherís will is seen in His words, "lo, I come to do thy will, O God."26 The Fatherís will focused in Christís sacrifice to satisfy His divine justice through the atonement of Christ, which was the propitiation of His just wrath. It was an act of His will, and most profitable for His people. The priceless double empowerment of Christís perfect sacrifice is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, "by the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."27 Christís sacrifice originated in will of God the Father. It was essential that the Father should be willing to call His Son to this work, for He was the Person unto whom the satisfaction was to be made. The sacrifice was the Fatherís plan and purpose. "Him [Christ Jesus] being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God."28 "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God. For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified."29 The one offering of Christ, willed by the Father, was offered. In view of this perfect sacrifice, to dare to propose a relationship of Christ to Mary is to denigrate the very will and purpose of the Father. This profane sacrilege is just what is portrayed in the Catholic movie. Andrew J. Webb notes,
ĎThe Passion of Christí leaves us with a vision of the sacrifice of Christ that is only dolorous (Dolorous: Full of grief; sad; sorrowful; doleful; dismal) and which puts into sharp relief the Roman Catholic notion not only of the importance of Christís agony, but that of Mary in Ďoffering her Soní. In an interview with Zenit, the Roman Catholic News Service, Father Thomas Rosica, the priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002 and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto, illustrated how ĎThe Passion of Christí, in keeping with Roman Catholic theology, uses extra-biblical content to massively exaggerate the role of Mary: ĎOne scene, in particular, was very moving. As Jesus falls on the Way of the Cross, there is a flashback to his falling on a Jerusalem street as a child, and his mother running out of the house to pick him up. The interplay of Mary and Jesus in this film is moving, and reaches its apex in the scene of the Pietŗ. The Mother of the Lord is inviting each of us to share her grief and behold her Son.í30 This 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: [Anne Catherine Emmerichís] The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.31
Fruitfulness of interaction between the Father and the Son
Christ Jesus has triumphed in His sacrifice, and He will perfectly give to all those that come to Him freedom from the guilt of, the power of, and the punishment of sin. He will put them into the sure possession of perfect holiness and joy of fellowship with Himself and the Father. "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."32 The true believerís sins and iniquities the Father will remember no more! This shows the riches of Divine grace, and the sufficiency of Christís relationship with His Father in the satisfaction of the cross, "where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."33 Nothing can ever separate the perfection of the accord between the Father and the Son.
One cannot question Gibsonís sincerity. Yet the utterly evil deceit of his purpose ó to portray his classic Catholic understanding of the crucifixion of Christ ó coupled with a very effective medium of communication, reaches new heights in promoting blasphemy and contempt for Holy God and His Word! This is undoubtedly the exact opposite of what Gibson had hoped to achieve. Clearly then, Gibson himself and Jim Caviezel, who plays the role of Christ in the film, are two of those most deceived by the Catholic message. On the authority of Scripture alone, may the all Holy God in His mercy pour forth mercy on these poor men to the saving of their souls through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone and to God alone be the glory!
Influence of the apparitions of "Mary" in Medjugorje on the film
The apparitions of "Mary" in Medjugorje in Bosnia, Herzegovina, have had a huge impact on this film. The Catholic Church rationalizes acceptance of other sources of extra-Biblical revelation by stating that the ordinary faithful Catholics welcome whatever the "magisterium" (teaching power of the Roman Church) guides them into accepting.34 She consolidates her power over the rank and file Catholics by denying in practice that revelation is complete and definitive. "The last century-and-a-half has seen numerous accounts of appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus, Himself, is said to speak to a few of the seers. Some of the apparitions have received official approval by the Roman Catholic Church."35 ". . . Our Lady continues to give messages to six young people from the village of Medjugorje: Ivan, Jakov, Marija, Mirjana, Vicka, and Ivanka. These six young people (referred to as "visionaries") have had apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary since June 24, 1981 . . ."36 The influence of "Mary" of Medjugorje has been documented in the case of Jim Caviezel, who stars as Christ in the movie. In an interview with Fr. Mario Knezovic in Medjugorje on December 6th, 2003 Caviezel said,
I was in seventh grade and our priest showed us a film of the children during an apparition. We were told that it was true. We were from a mixed catholic community ó mostly Croatians and Italians. My grandmother is a 100% Croatian. It didnít seem hard to believe. I took me 15 years to come. When I came, I knew immediately ó from what I was feeling in my heart ó that it was real. I havenít seen signs or anything, but ó 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.37
Fr. Mario Knezovic said to him,
ĎThe Passion of the Christí movie, in which you are playing Jesus Christ, is almost finished. What was it like to play Jesus? How did you adjust your body and your soul to the body and the soul of Jesus? How was it to be Jesus? Jim Caviezel [replied]: 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 couldnít go for Mass, but I was receiving the Eucharist. Somewhere along the line, I heard that the Pope was going for confession every day, so I thought that I should go for confession as often as possible . . . So, the confession was the preparation for the Eucharist. Ivan Dragicevic and his wife Lorraine gave me a piece of the true cross. I kept this on me all the time. They made a special pocket in my clothes for it. I also had relics of Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padoua, Ste Maria Goretti, and saint Denisius, the Patron saint of Actors. Another thing was fasting. I read many of the messages continuously. Every day everyone could see me with the rosary in my hands.38
The fact that the message of "Mary" in Medjugorje so deeply influenced Jim Caviezel shows his point of view, and that of the movie in which he has the main role. Medjugorje teaches that the sufferings of Christ are the offense, or the great sin against God, "Make reparation for the wound inflicted on the Heart of My Son."39 The truth is that the wounds inflicted on Christ are the reason we do not need to make reparations, but solely to believe the Gospel. The message of Medjugorje shows contempt for the sanctity and purpose of the Cross of Christ. The blasphemy of Medjugorje has had its influence on the film. The authority of Scripture weighs in on the matter, "and no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."40 Such things as pieces of bones carried around as relics in a pocket of Jim Caviezelís clothes may seem like occult practices, but for a Catholic it is official teaching.41 Papal Rome also encourages people to contact the dead.42
A defining moment of the present time
As visual images form the foundation for learning in modern world, so images, movies, and videos of Christ have been accepted in Evangelical circles. This idolatry has reached new heights in the highly Catholic portrayal of the sufferings of Christ in the Passion movie. The Christ portrayed, however, is not the Christ of the Bible. The sufferings are not those of the One who was "made sin" because the sins of His people. It does depict horrendous sufferings, however, undergone in a heroic manner, and these are juxtaposed with the Catholic sacrifice of the Mass. This heavy manipulation of peopleís emotions is promoted through enticing images and strange sounding words in Aramaic, the sum of which is to establish collectively both a blasphemy against God and a deceit against man. This high point of idolatry is evidence of a real turning point in our day. It is very much like the idolatry of Jeroboam, who sinned himself, and who made Israel to sin.43 Families and kingdoms were ruined by Jeroboamís idolatry. Once influential men do wickedly, they involve many others both in their guilt and in their snare. Multitudes follow their pernicious ways. The Lord God gave Israel up to their wickedness because of the sin of Jeroboam.
In all seriousness it appears that in our own day, the Lord God could hand over the Evangelical world to the deceit into which they are running with open arms. They may very well go to hell with a long procession following them, and their condemnation will be intolerable. They will have to answer, not only for their own sins, but for the sins which others have been drawn into by their influence. In the Old Testament, judgment came upon the people of Israel for conforming to the idolatry of Jeroboam. In our own day, both blind leaders and their blind followers look ready to fall into the ditch. "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."44 It is the duty of churches, pastors, elders, and Evangelical leaders who have sinned in this tidal wave of idolatry in the use of images, videos, and movies of Christ to repent publicly. It is the duty of Christian people themselves to repent of these sins, in so far as they have been accessory to them by involvement. When God comes to punish the corrupt members of His people, His rebuke will be most sore. No sword cuts so deeply, nor causes so grievous pain, as the sword of Christ Jesusí mouth. We truly pray that the truth of the Word of God touch the conscience of those who have sinned, are sinning and leading others into sin. If the Lordís threats are executed, sinners will be utterly cut off. We truly pray that the Word of God will take hold of sinners, including ourselves, so that we all "hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised."45 "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."46
Permission is given by the authors to copy this article if it is done in its entirety without any changes.
Permission is given also to publish this article in its entirety on the Internet
Richard Bennettís WebPage is:www.bereanbeacon.org
Virgil Dunbar can be contacted by email at:VDunbar@aol.com Virgil Dunbar has written a book on this topic, Christ Canít Be PicturedóGod is not like Art. The book is available from Richard Bennett. $7.00 includes postage. P. O. Box 192 Del Valle, TX 79617
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