Tuesday, March 9, 2004

A friend’s response to my question…

The following is a response to my question about seeing "The Passion of the Christ". It comes from a friend and elder with whom I agree on this issue. I offer it up here because it deserves its own post rather than being buried as a comment lower down.

Oh My Friend....

[Editor's Note: Good-natured bantering edited for time...]

BUT SINCE YOU ASKED... Here is my 2.5 cents...

To my knowledge I do NOT take exception to anything in the Westminster Standards saving perhaps a difference on the "practical" application of the Sabbath.

I am in 100% agreement with both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms on and relating to the 2nd Commandment. Having said that, I also saw "TPOTC" and will certainly "buy" it also on DVD when it comes out... I LOVED the movie!


I have the utmost respect for my brethren who disagree with me on the interpretation of Exodus 20 and in particular with Q's 108 and 109 of the LC but this is MY POST... so please hear me out.


Let's Start with Exodus 20:4

"You shall not make for yourself a graven image, any likeness of anything that is heaven above, or that is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I the Lord your God am a jealous God..."

The primary intent in this commandment was to prohibit Israel from making (the Heb word for "graven is literally to "carve" as in wood or "hammer" as in metal) any object for worship. This was the common practice of all false religion of the day, and in fact we see God pointing out the application of Exd 20:4 just a few chapters later. Exd 32:7 - God says to Moses -

"They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I have commanded them. They have "made" themselves a molded calf and have "worshipped" it and sacrificed to it."

The significant thing here is the Lord is commentating on Exd 20:4. He gives us the perfect illustration of what is forbidden in the 2nd commandment. There are 2 parts to it 1 is the "making" or forming of the image for the purpose of worship and the 2nd part is the actual "worshipping" of it.

The exact Hebrew words are used in Exd 20:4 and Exd 32:7 for "making" in both verses and the "bow" in 20:4 is the same Hebrew word as "worship" in 32:7. What could be any more helpful than the Lord commenting on his own commandment?

EXAMINATION OF Q's 108 & 109

Now back to our Fathers comments on this question in the 108th and 109th questions of the Larger Catechism... THEY GET IT RIGHT!!! Lets look at it...

Q. 108 deals with what we should do the positive side of the commandment, and Q 109 deals with what we should not do or the "negative" side of the commandment. In both cases the framers of the document hit the intent straight on... Correct and False "WORSHIP"

Q 108: What are the duties required in the 2nd Commandment?
Ans: The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word...

Then in keeping consistent they list in Q 109 the warnings of and examples of false "worship"

Q109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
Ans: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself...

[This is the forming of the RPW or Regulative Principal for the Worship of God both and primarily public but private worship as well. We are to (positively) worship God as prescribed in His word and we are to (negatively) not worship any other way than that he tells us in his word to... ]

Now in context... let's see the examples the framers of the standards give us for how not to "worship" God. Dealing with the subject at hand

Q109 Ans: (continued)
... tolerating a false religion; the 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 of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it;...

According to the Larger Catechism we can not "worship" God by making any representation of God either a physical idol or an idol in our mind of any creature whatsoever. (that is the first part of the commandment the "making of the idol") and worshiping the idol, or the true God with it. (the second part of the commandment)

The key again is just like God's comment on Exd 20:4 in Exd 32:7... Do not make the image / idol for the purpose of worship and do not worship it!


The argument is that if one sees a likeness of Jesus Christ in a movie, painting, or other work of art it is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. The case is usually complicated by tangential arguments like no picture or image of Christ can be correct so it must be blasphemy or other tidbits like that... but that is skirting the issue. The question is very simple... does a "representation" of any kind of Jesus Christ automatically violate the 2nd commandment or in our case the Larger Catechism.

I say a resounding NO!

Is the direct use of and purpose for the likeness either public or private worship? No.

Is the image actually being worshipped? No

To believe otherwise is a "wooden" at best and "legalistic" at worst interpretation of both the commandment and the WCF


All of the fuss made about "TPOTC" is that we that see the movie may be sinning by seeing an image of Christ because it is forbidden by the second commandment... my question is this... Why the fuss about Christ? Why not make an issue of showing the cross itself, or Peter, John or Mary? Even worse what about showing the sky or the lightning, Pilate, Herod or even the dirt of the streets of Jerusalem?

Look at Exodus 20:4 again....

"You shall not make for yourself a graven image, any likeness of anything that is heaven above, or that is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I the Lord your God am a jealous God..."

Look at the commandment again... it (woodenly) says that we can NOT make a LIKENESS of ANYTHING that is 1. In heaven above, 2. On the earth, or 3. In the waters below the earth. That's what it says... That would include not only an artists rendering of Jesus in his workshop in Nazareth, but a picture of my Dad in his. This would prohibit making any "images" of anything in heaven (lightning bolts, a bald eagle, or the pearly gates) or on the earth (a penguin, the gates of Jerusalem, or the blue prints of CPC) or anything in the waters below the earth (the fiery bottomless pit, the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean or Nemo and his Dad in their sea anemone home).

Of course the truth is any of the above if made for the purpose of worship, and any actual worshipping of them would be a sin and a violation of the 2nd Commandment...



I admit I love Mel Gibson's Movies.... Almost all of them! Starting with Mad Max, through the Lethal Weapon series, to Braveheart, and beyond... I admit I like Mel Gibson movies. But I don't like Mel's theology... Mel is a radical Roman Catholic and has literally his own Parrish with his own priest and many other religious oddities...

I knew this going into the movie. So I was particularly looking for signs of Mel's Catholicism. I saw a few and noticed several things that were extra Biblical and Mel's interpretation of things... I expected it. What I didn't expect was how many things I think he got right. The point is that's OK... IT'S A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE! That's the point... It is not a church service, worship event, catechism class, or officers training session. IT IS A MOVIE..... I can't stress that enough.

And as a movie ... I loved it. Just like I loved Braveheart.

It was bloody and showed (I think) a realistic picture of the brutality of Roman crucifixion. What I loved the most was the FICTIONAL (don't miss that" FICTIONAL accounts of Jesus and his interactions with Mom. Whether they actually happened or not is not the point the point is that as a human son he loved his Mother and Father just like we do only without sin, and I really enjoyed thinking about that.

I also really enjoyed seeing the cinematography and depiction of old Jerusalem and for pure movie making just loved it as art.... I highly recommend it on many levels.


Finally, I really took this whole thing seriously. There were many people that I truly respect on both sides of the issue. I truly wanted to be "convinced in my own mind" about the issue. I started this investigation months ago before the film was even reviewed privately. Since that time I have read many reviews and read and listened to many sermons on both sides of the debate. However, it was quite by accident that I found what I believe to be the definitive review of the film and theological treatise on the issue.

I was given a book to read by Stephen Dechert at church called "The Lords Service". It is a defense of Reformed Liturgical Worship that simply put is the greatest thing I have read in 10 years. It is clear concise and convicting. It is written by a PCA pastor in St. Louis named Jeffrey Meyers. Jeffrey is pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church. As I perused the church website I stumbled upon Jeffrey's BLOG. It was there that I accidentally found Jeffrey's review of "TPOTC". It is the only review of the movie that I agree with 100%.... It said all of the things I was thinking and many I wished I would have. Jeffrey (like me) once held the NO PICTURES of Christ position. However Jeffrey changed his position and wrote a book defending it. It is called Vere Homo: The Case For Pictures of Jesus. It is available in PDF form. This is must reading for anyone pondering this issue.

Thanks Rollin....

By the way great BLOG!!!!!!!!!!