A Lesson For The Church From ‘the Passion Of The Christ’

Rarely does a movie appear that totally defies categorization. Rarely do we see a film that leaves the critics completely divided and has people talking about it with such zeal. It’s even more rare when a movie does all of that, despite the fact that it uses obscure languages and centers on a religious theme.

Yet, that’s exactly what has happened with the phenomenal success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. People have flocked to the video stores in search of buying their own copy of the DVD, once again producing different feelings and opinions. Art has always had the ability to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Whatever your view of the movie may be, there are several important lessons we can draw from it as Christians and as Christian leaders.

The first is this: there is a chronic need for the sharing of a Christian worldview in our society.

One of the most common responses to the movie, among secular viewers, is “Why?” It was a question reflected in the cover story of TIME Magazine: “Why did Jesus have to die?” From responses like this, it is clear that people no longer hold to a Judeo-Christian worldview. As Christians, we can no longer assume that people around us understand the groundwork that underlies our faith.

A survey recently undertaken by the Barna Research Group found that only 4 percent of Americans hold to a Christian worldview and let it affect their decisions. It is safe to assume that the figure would be even less in our more overtly secularized society.

You cannot fundamentally change people’s behaviour until they have shifted their worldview, their sense of reality and the framework through which they interpret the world around them. Christianity is much more than a series of proof texts that we repeat like worn out clichés. It offers an entire framework through which we can explain the fundamental questions of the human psyche: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where might I be headed?”

The Bible’s worldview is based on four great themes:

Creation: We were made noble beings, created in the image of God, designed for greatness and goodness.

Fall: Submitting to Satan’s deception, we abused our God given right to choose and gave control of our destiny to Satan. We dishonored God, selling out to selfishness.

Redemption: Instead of abandoning or destroying us, as we deserved, God redeemed us, sending Christ to die for us so that he could buy back for us all the rights we lost in the Garden.

Restoration (End): One day, when the gospel has been proclaimed through the whole earth, Jesus will return in great glory, as judge and rewarder of those who belong to him.

There are four facts about our society that show us just how far the Western culture has moved away from a Christian worldview.

For one thing, we have replaced honorable achievement with celebrity. Today, a celebrity is little more than someone well known for being well known.

In this, we have forgotten the fact of our creation and the reason for it. We were not made to honor ourselves, but to honor God!

We should think about where this culture of celebrity is leading us. Celebrity distorts reality: it makes small things seem big. Hollywood, Calif. is a small place—only about 210,000 people live there—yet it influences attitudes around the world, through the power of celebrity.

Satan has used this ploy to deceive people from the beginning. With Eve, he made the tree seem bigger and God’s command seem smaller. He whispered in her ear, “Has God said … ? Come on, Eve, you don’t think he really means that. I mean, he’s just speaking figuratively, he doesn’t mean you should never eat it, just don’t get greedy, that’s all … ”

Then, says Genesis, Eve “saw the tree that it was good for food.” The tree hadn’t changed at all—it was the same tree she’d seen many times before. It was her image of the tree that had changed and sin began in her imagination. She allowed her perception to be distorted, so that big things became small and trivial things became important.

Satan denigrates things we should elevate and he celebrates things we should eliminate. Deception takes root whenever we lose our sense of proportion.

Another sign of how far we’ve moved from a godly worldview is that we elevate lifestyle over life.

In this, we’ve forgotten the fall—we don’t recognize just how far we’ve fallen and how spiritually dead we really are.

People say, “If I can add a better style of house, car or holiday to my routine, I will have a better life.” So, we have magazines and TV shows that preach the gospel of lifestyles. But Jesus did not say: “I came that you might get a lifestyle.” According to Jesus, if you don’t put your faith in him, you don’t even have LIFE, much less a lifestyle.

Trying to improve your life without Jesus is like a bald man trying to improve his looks by going to a top hairdresser! If you’ve got no hair it’s silly to think a new hairstyle will help you; if you’ve got no life, it’s silly to think a new lifestyle will help you.

We don’t remember John Wesley for the horse he rode around on. We don’t celebrate David Livingstone for the house he lived in, or Martin Luther for the designer clothes he wore, or Catherine Booth for the cut of her hair. These people, and thousands of other faith heroes like them, weren’t ‘t concerned about lifestyle. They were too busy imparting God’s life.

Another reason I can say we’ve moved away from a godly worldview is that money has, for many of us, become Mammon.

In this, we have forgotten where our redemption comes from. We fail to see that our consumerism or consumption cannot save us.

Why did God spend so much time in Old Testament introducing himself by various names? Not only was it to reveal His nature and character, so that we have a basis for faith, but it was also to ensure that, in our minds, He has personality and not just utility. God is not just an Idea to be embraced or discarded whenever it suits us. God is a Person: He has a Name.

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In God’s order, there’s a difference between things created for utility and those created with personality. We shouldn’t confuse the two. We shouldn’t personalize “things” and we shouldn’t utilize (use) “people.”

In Matthew 6:24-25 Jesus talks about “money” as “Mammon.” He gives money a name, with a capital letter. Jesus taught that money could take on a personality in our lives. When we place our faith in money more than God, it takes on a life of its own. When that happens, money does talk; it says things like “I can clothe you; I can feed you; I can give you drink.” It robs us of the opportunity to honor God.

Finally, we know we’ve moved away from a Christian worldview because servanthood has been replaced by self-interest.

We’ve lost sight of the coming restoration; we don’t live as if we’ll one day give an account, and as if there is a reward for those who live for others.

John Stott once wrote that: “Western culture has imbibed more than it knows of the power philosophy of Nietzsche. The world’s model, like Nietzsche’s, is the ‘superman’; the model of Jesus remains the little child.”

Abraham Maslow, the father of the so-called Human Potential Movement, taught that the greatest of all human needs is the need for self-actualization; the need to look within yourself and discover the greatness within. Christianity is based on the opposite proposition: If we look within ourselves, we will find only fallenness and failure.

Abraham looked within himself and saw only an impotent old man. Moses looked within himself and saw only an inadequate stammerer. Jacob saw a mischievous cheat. Gideon saw only a timid coward and Samson saw an undisciplined womanizer. David looked within himself and saw only an adulterous murderer and Peter saw a disloyal traitor.

In each case, God could only use these people when they stopped looking within and, in their own weakness and uncoolness, started looking to Him.

In this godless age, we need to make people aware of the Christian worldview. In a truly secularized society, we must start again with first principles, with a worldview that has Christ at its centre. We must show how everything is somehow connected to the great biblical drama of creation, fall, redemption and restoration.

When we do this, we produce hope. We put “trainer wheels” on the future, giving people the courage to go where they’ve never been before.

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