Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Mel Gibson Film and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Martyn McGeown


The apostle John, at the very end of his first epistle writes, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen" (I John 5:21). With all the hype over the film, "The Passion of The Christ," we need to ask ourselves, Do Irish Presbyterians keep themselves from idols?  

It used to be that Protestant and Reformed churches (the Presbyterian Church in Ireland [PCI] claims to a Reformed church) abhorred visual representations of God. Those days, it seems, have gone. The review of the aforementioned movie in the PCI's Presbyterian Herald (March 2004) states that ''all our clergy'' recommend that people see this film. Deplorable! Whatever happened to the second commandment?

Our Westminster Larger Catechism Answer 109 explains that the second commandment forbids (among other things) ''making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness.'' Thus any attempt to make a picture of Jesus is idolatry. That is what the Catechism teaches.

Deuteronomy 4:15-19 warns us that we are to make ''no likeness'' at all of God. Why then should we support a moving picture of Jesus Christ? Why do we tolerate stained glass windows with Jesus depicted on them in Presbyterian meeting houses? Why do we have Sunday Schools using books containing pictures of Jesus?  Why do we have "Nativity Scenes" with little idols, or even "Nativity Plays" where we encourage our children to use a doll to represent the infant Christ? Why do we use "The Jesus film" to evangelise? Our Presbyterian forefathers would be appalled. 

"The Passion" movie and the supposedly "evangelical" "The Jesus film" are idolatry. The Passion movie is a live-action crucifix. Just as we wouldn't have a dumb crucifix in our homes, so we don't need a movie (a moving and speaking crucifix) to teach us the sufferings of Jesus.

What we need is the preaching of the Gospel—clear expository preaching. We need to be told through preaching that Jesus Christ was made "sin for us who knew no sin" (II Cor. 5:21). We need Him to be "evidently set forth crucified among" us (Gal. 3:1), not by a film but through "the hearing of faith" (Gal. 3:2). We need to know that He made a particular, effectual atonement for all the sins of His elect and them only. We need to have explained to us from the Bible that Jesus is a true and complete Saviour.

We need to cease from "the wisdom of this world" (I Cor. 1:20) and trust in the wisdom of God, for "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching [not plays, or movies] to save them that believe" (I Cor. 1:21). Remember, the apostles were not accompanied by a travelling "Passion Play." They simply preached! Preaching is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16). The church has no need for idolatrous movies!

It grieves me how many church leaders have applauded the movie and failed to warn the sheep. Where has their discernment gone? From first to last, Mel Gibson dares to add to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19), and the evangelical world as a whole applauds him for it. In this movie, the apostles call Mary "Mother," and Peter confesses his sin of denying Christ to Mary. In the film, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43 tells a different story) and many other errors are added. This film may appeal to our emotions (yet see Luke 23:28) but it cannot produce repentance or faith; it cannot justify, sanctify or educate us; and God forbid that we should be entertained by the sufferings of Christ!

It is time that Presbyterians examine themselves and cry out to God, "Lord, have mercy upon me, an idolater!" (cf. Luke 18:13).