The Passion of the Christ
By Mike Gendron
Many questions are being asked about Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. Is it biblically accurate? How much Roman Catholic theology is embedded in the film? What gospel, if any, does it communicate? Does it bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ?
The good news is this controversial movie has the world talking about Jesus! This is an invitation for every born again Christian to boldly and clearly communicate the Gospel of grace. Many who have seen the film now desire to know more about the person and work of Jesus Christ. There are some key questions that are not answered in the movie that must be answered with the truth of Scripture. Why did Jesus have to die? What did His death and resurrection accomplish? Is the Roman Catholic theology depicted in the movie a valid expression of Christianity?
Mel Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic who produced and directed The Passion of the Christ, proudly declared: "It reflects my beliefs." His film is consistent with Roman Catholic teaching in that it is not based on Scripture alone. It also incorporates visions, traditions, apparitions and experiences that often conflict with the word of God. Gibson's inspiration for the film came from a book written by a Roman Catholic nun and mystic, St. Anne Catherine Emmerich. Her faulty visions on the suffering of Christ include many details that do not appear in Scripture. In one example she wrote that Christ "quivered and writhed like a poor worm." Her visions prompted Gibson to say, "She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of." (The New Yorker, 9/15/03)
Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the film, is also a staunch Roman Catholic. He prays the rosary daily and carries relics of several saints. Caviezel said his goal for the movie is to "bring mankind back together." Gibson's stated goal is "to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar -- which is the same thing." It is no wonder that Gibson has Jesus saying: "It is accomplished" rather than "It is finished." Roman Catholics are taught that Jesus did not finish the work of redemption. Consequently, Jesus must be offered daily in the Eucharist as a sacrificial victim to make satisfaction for sin. Catholics must participate in the perpetual crucifixion of Christ in the Mass to be cleansed from sin. During the filming, Gibson and Caviezel both attended Mass every morning because "we had to be squeaky clean just working on this." Caviezel said: "I think it's very important that we have mass every day; I need that to play this guy."
When Jim Caviezel had an audience with Pope John Paul II, he thanked him for his witness which has profoundly inspired his own life. "John Paul II is a very special man for a very special world. He is the Pope of Fatima," Caviezel said in reference to the so-called third secret of the Virgin confided to the three little Portuguese shepherds. John Paul II gave Caviezel a rosary. Caviezel said of the film's director: "Mel Gibson is very, very Catholic, very Roman Catholic." Caviezel added. "When you see Mel Gibson's film, it is very Catholic, very universal. It is a great way to introduce people to what it means to be Catholic: It is universal, for all peoples, for all times." In acting the part, Caviezel said to himself: "I don't want people to see me; I just want them to see Jesus." To come to this experience, Caviezel added, "I began with the rosary, the rosary led me to confession, confession led me to the Mass, every day, and always when I have the Eucharist in my body, I feel more like being in Christ" (Zenit.org, 3/16/04).
The structure and framework for the movie was based on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a popular Roman Catholic ritual that is performed to gain plenary indulgences. Catholics gain these indulgences for the purpose of remitting temporal punishment for their sins in purgatory. Neither the doctrines of indulgences and purgatory, nor six of the 14 Stations of the Cross are found in the Bible. An event that is found in Scripture and essential to the Gospel, but almost an oversight in the film, is the glorious resurrection of Christ. In the two-hour movie, the most important event in human history is given less than a minute. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, His suffering and death would have been for naught. There would be no victory over sin, death and Satan and we would all remain dead in our sins.
Gibson, who relied heavily on Roman Catholic scholars for his theological input, has indicated he does not know the biblical Gospel. He said, "To atone for the sins of everybody, [Christ] could have done it by pricking His finger and shedding His blood. He didn't choose to do that. He went all the way." When asked by Diane Sawyer does your "traditionalist view bar the door to heaven for Jews, Protestants, Muslims?" Gibson said, "That is not the case at all, absolutely not. It is possible for people who are not even Christians to get into the kingdom of heaven. It's just easier and I have to say this because that's what I believe." These statements propagate a false gospel to the world and make Christ's life, death and resurrection meaningless! The Apostle Paul said if there is any other way to heaven, then Christ died in vain (Gal. 2:21).
The movie's use of extra-biblical material and persuasive Roman Catholic theology, along with the over emphasis on Christ's physical suffering and the role of Mary, has prompted many to convert to Catholicism. Mary's role as Mother of the Catholic Church, Mediatrix and co-Redemptrix is highlighted in several scenes. The apostles call her Mother throughout the film. Peter is seen falling at her feet to ask for her pardon after he denied Jesus three times. In the end Mary is seen at the foot of the cross, stained with Christ's blood, desiring to die with Him. Tragically, the movie fails to answer the most important question: "Why did Jesus have to die?" Sinners are not saved by knowing HOW Jesus suffered and died, but by believing WHY He died.
A question that demands an answer is this: "Why are evangelicals promoting a movie produced by a man who has been deceived by Roman Catholicism and is now deceiving others?" Gibson delivers a lethal message that blurs the lines separating the truth of Christianity with the errors of a sacramental gospel. Evangelicals promoting a Roman Catholic film would be equivalent to Paul endorsing a message proclaimed by the Judaizers (Gal. 1:6-9). Can a bad tree produce good fruit? (Mat. 7:18). What fellowship has light with darkness or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Cor. 6:14-15).
Those who know the truth must strive to establish it in whatever circle of influence the Lord provides. This however is an unpopular position because of the onslaught of people who cannot handle the truth. Too often people would rather embrace the opinions of highly visible evangelicals than search the Scriptures to determine what is true. We must rely on the Bible as the source of truth and reject anything that compromises or distorts the Gospel. We must proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ secures salvation for all who believe! We must share this good news because the movie fails to do so.