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Many Protestants fans of a Roman Catholic play

What were Protestants protesting again?
What were Protestants protesting again?

With Easter approaching, churches will focus upon the death and resurrection of Christ. Some churches will present movies for their parishioners. That includes Denver area churches.

Which movie will they likely show? The smash hit The Passion of the Christ (2004) is probably first on the list. A Broomfield Protestant church is showing this movie Sunday night. And if the Colorado-based Thorn play grows in popularity it will likely be turned into a video.

Although Mel's movie, The Passion, is yesterday's news at the hight of it popularity many Protestants lauded the movie:

  • “This film is equal to ‘a lifetime of sermons’” (Billy Graham,People, March 8, 2004).
  • “The best outreach opportunity in 2000 years” (People, 2004).
  • “In the church we’ve tried for a long time with words to bring into consciousness the reality of what Jesus went through. We have waxed eloquent in our sermons, but this film brings that reality to us in one sitting.” (Chuck Smith, Jr., “Pastor’s Panel”,, 2004).

Besides the obvious denigration of preaching in these quotes, the amazing fact is that these men are excited about a Roman Catholic movie. The amazing part is not that it was made by a Roman Catholic (some can make good movies I'm sure) but that its method and theology was Roman Catholic and not Protestant.

I am not making this up. Consider these quotes from Christianity Today, which recommended the movie even after admitting its clear and pronounced Roman Catholic motif:

  • He [Gibson] also recounted a series of divine coincidences that led him to read the works of Anne Catherin Emmerich, a late-18th…Westphalian nun who had visions of the events of the Passion. Many of the details needed to fill out the Gospel accounts he drew from her book, Dolorous Passion of Our Lord…
  • One reason for Gibson's personal sense of salvation is the way this project rescued him from himself…
  • These [medieval] practices [projecting oneself into the event] became the foundation for such widely practiced traditions as meditating on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries when saying the Rosary. The structure of Gibson's film conforms exactly to the list of the Five Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, the Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. And it reveals the way that this film is for Gibson a kind of prayer…
  • In the foreword to The Passion, he [Gibson] writes that the film "is not meant as a historical documentary. … I think of it as contemplative in the sense that one is compelled to remember … in a spiritual way, which cannot be articulated, only experienced."
  • [Gibson]"I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has—hands down—responded to this film more than any other Christian group." [What makes it so amazing, he says, is that] "the film is so Marian."

At the time, Gibson considered himself an old-fashioned pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. Gibson called Mary "a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix [meaning she contributed to redemption through her suffering]." Thus, the movie has more about Mary than the Bible, as shown in an article by Romanus Cessario, a Dominican who teaches at St. John's Seminary:

We see Mary's maternal mediation enacted on film. Gibson portrays Mary placing "herself between her Son and mankind [remember the times that Mary looks directly at us!] in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings [remember Peter at her feet]. She puts herself 'in the middle,' that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother." The words are from Pope John Paul II. Mel Gibson captures what the Pope writes in "Mother of the Redeemer" in a way that alone merits the film the title "Catholic."

If we recognize that the Passion is related to the Church, then we also recognize that it is related to the reality of the Eucharistic conversion. There is a sense in which the whole film is about the Eucharist. The Bread of Life. (Bracketed comments also by Cessario;, “Mel Gibson and Thomas Aquinas: How the Passion Works”)

The Roman Catholic church has always depended heavily on images; some of the older living generation can still remember the mass being delivered in Latin!

In contrast, the Protestant Church has traditionally relied upon Christ and His Word as the source of spiritual vitality in the Church and in the family. When many Evangelicals and their leaders laud this film to the detriment of the preached Word, we can see clearly the sad state of the Protestant Church.

Instead of having such passion for religious plays why not have passion for the Christ of the Bible as discovered in the Bible? As preached from the pulpits? Maybe then the modern Evangelical church will return to her spiritual roots.

You can subscribe to these articles at the top or bottom of the page. Shawn is the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Denver


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