Evangelism Roger Oakland and Jim Tetlow
Roger Oakland and Jim Tetlow
On Ash Wednesday 2004, The
Passion of the Christ premiered in North America. Never has a film
on Christ's passion garnered so much attention. In its first two
weeks the movie grossed well over 200 million dollars and is poised to
become the highest grossing R-rated movie in history. Its subsequent
release around the world has the potential to influence multiplied
millions of viewers.
Passion of the Christ was produced and directed by a devout Roman
Catholic - Mel Gibson, Catholics are not alone in the endorsement of
this monumental movie. Perhaps the greatest support for the movie comes
from Evangelical Bible-believing Christians. In an effort to win souls
to Christ, these Christians are sponsoring all types of evangelistic
events that revolve around the movie.
Among Christians, there is great excitement about
the evangelistic potential of this film. Millions of souls, who would
normally never discuss Jesus Christ, are now openly talking about this
movie, and about Jesus - who He was and why He died.
However, as this article will explain, endorsing the movie without explaining the gospel can be dangerous. The first reason is quite clear: The Passion of the Christ, as the name indicates, focuses mainly on the passion (the sufferings) of Christ. The movie does not adequately explain the significance of these events. Many have died for noble causes, but Christ's death is unique. As Christians, we should springboard from discussions surrounding the movie to explain the full meaning and purpose of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
surprisingly, many Catholics are also using the movie as an opportunity
to evangelize. Ascension Press and Catholic Exchange have provided a
Catholic guide and witnessing companion to the film entitled, "A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About 'The Passion of the
and author Matthew Pinto shared with ZENIT news agency how the
will help Catholics and non-Catholics understand the Eucharistic and
Marian significance shown in the movie, know the case for Christ, learn
about the Church Jesus instituted and respond accordingly in their
the interview, ZENIT asked author Matthew Pinto the following question
- Why is a particularly Catholic guidebook important in order to
understand the movie? Pinto replied:
Catholic guide is necessary because the Gospels are completely
Catholic, as is the movie. Even still, many will not see or understand
the more sublime teachings that the director and writers are putting
forth through this epic film.
Matthew Pinto explained that this witnessing tool would provide a
scene-by-scene commentary on the theological and artistic aspects of
the film to help Catholics educate and evangelize non-Catholics.
When asked Does the guide anticipate Protestant skepticism about the
Eucharistic elements? he replied:
simply explain the connection between the sacrifice of Calvary and the
sacrifice of the Mass.
interview finished with this question - What response have you
gotten from [Catholic] parishes and the faithful? Pinto concluded
his interview with these words:
were confident that the response would be strong, but it has been far
stronger than we expected. People love it. Someone proposed to me that
this book is likely the fastest selling book in Catholic history --
with advance sales of nearly 140,000 in two weeks -- thanks to the
power of the Internet and the timeliness of the book in relation to
this major Catholic cultural event.
The Goal and Effect of The Passion of the Christ
have asked the question: was it Mel Gibson's intention for the film
to focus on the Catholic Eucharist and Mary? In an interview given on
EWTN, while explaining the very moving and emotional and
efficacious aspects of the Catholic Latin Mass, Mr. Gibson stated
his goal and intention for making this film:
The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar - which is the same thing.
interview was broadcast around the globe on EWTN - the world's
largest Catholic television broadcasting organization. Of course, all
Catholics are required by Rome to believe that Christ is repeatedly
sacrificed on Catholic altars at every Mass. Might this movie influence
others to embrace this unbiblical belief?
Though the lasting affects of this movie will not
be known for some time, it has already had a profound influence on the
cast and crew. Jim Cavaziel - the actor who played Jesus, explained
how those involved in the film were changed. In the following statement
made by Carl Limbacher taken from an article titled Mel Gibson's
Christ Reveals Crucifixion, written January 25, 2004, we are
told that many in the crew converted to Catholicism:
In his first media interview anywhere
about his starring role in Mel Gibson's much anticipated film The
Passion of the Christ, James Cavaziel - Gibson's Jesus -
detailed on Friday the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting
that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to
Further, Cavaziel stated that the filming of
Christ's story really changed people's lives.
According to the interview, Cavaziel also told Gibson, I think
it's very important that we have Mass every day - at least I need
that to play this guy.
The Mary Connection
In an article written by Catherine L. Keefe called Journey of an Actor's Soul, Jim Caviezel shared how Mary prepared him to play this momentous role. Keefe, writing about Caviezel's spiritual journey stated:
[Jim's] faith has grown in fits and starts. Some of his spiritual awakenings revolve around the Blessed Mother, the Rosary, and Medjugorje, Bosnia, where many believe the Virgin Mary has been appearing since 1981. He visited the site in November 2000. 
The article explained what took place when Jim Caviezel prayed with Ivan Dragicevic, a visionary from Medjugorje who travels the world speaking about his encounters with Mary. At first Caviezel was doubtful about Ivan and his visions. However his prayer with Dragicevic changed the actor's mind. Quoting from the article:
I said to Ivan, Hey, I'm here, is she in this room? Dragicevic assured him that Mary was there, so Caviezel prayed, saying, I don't know if I can believe you're here, but if you are, go ahead and microwave me. Go ahead and do whatever you have to do to my soul. He felt a sudden, encompassing peace. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life, he says. 
Caviezel wears a gold medal of Our Lady of Medjugorje on a gold chain around his neck, one of three medals. He also has a cross-shaped scapular that declares: I am a Catholic, please call a priest. The third depicts Pope John Paul II. One more statement from the actor who plays the role of Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's The Passion fo the Christ gives more insight into what Caviezel believes:
Caviezel grows animated as he explains how Mary brings him closer to her Son Jesus, whose presence in the Eucharist is so meaningful to him. The Eucharist, he explains, inspires him to turn away from sin. That, in turn, makes his prayer life more sincere. 
Finally, in another interview recorded by the official Medjugorje website, Mr. Caviezel reiterates how Mary at Medjugorje prepared him to play the role of Jesus -
The catharsis for me to play this role was through Medjugorje, through Gospa. In preparation, I used all that Medjugorje taught me. Mel Gibson and I were going every day for Mass together. Some days I couldn't go for Mass, but I was receiving the Eucharist. 
Cavaziel also has explained the role he believes the apparition of Mary played in bringing the film to life:
This film is something I believe was made by Mary for her Son. Because it was made by her, it will be attacked by the enemy.
By searching the Scriptures, we know that the
Mary of the apparitions is of demonic origin, and that the
Eucharistic Jesus is a false christ. As Bible-believing Christians we
must use every opportunity to explain who Jesus is and clarify the
gospel of grace to those who are confused.
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.
Passion, we see much of Jesus's agony through Mary's eyes. The
strong spiritual link between Jesus and Mary is prominent throughout
the movie. Her participation, her co-redemptrix work, is also
suggested in the film. Yet, many Christians do not recognize the
Gibson says, The way the film
displays [Mary] has been kind of an eye opener for evangelicals who
don't understand the reality of a mother and a son.
Of course Mary did suffer during her Son's
However, the biblical narrative does not focus on Mary. The focus of
the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - is the Father's great
love for mankind. The eternal God and Creator demonstrated His great
love for the world by sending His only begotten Son to die for our
sins. While Jesus does call on the Father several times in the movie,
Mary is given a much more prominent role than the Bible gives her.
Where did Mel receive his inspiration to include these unbiblical
Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Mr. Gibson has publicly stated that his film is
based, in part, on visions and messages received by a 19th
century Catholic mystic. The revelations and visions of Sister Anne
Catherine Emmerich are contained in the book entitled - The
Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The book states, she
was accustomed to have divine knowledge imparted to her in visions of
all kinds, and was often favored by visits from the Mother of God and
Queen of Heaven.
Passion recounts with incredible precision the horrendous
sufferings undergone by our Savior in His superhumanly heroic act of
Redemption. Also illuminating is its description of Mary's
participation in the sufferings of her Son, so that this book gives the
reader a poignant understanding of why Our Lady is often called our
Co-Redemptrix and Queen of Martyrs.
The Dedication page reads: To the Immaculate
Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Help of Christians, and Refuge of the
The Blessed Virgin was ever united to
her Divine Son by interior spiritual communications; she was,
therefore, fully aware of all that happened to him - she suffered
with him, and joined in his continual prayer for his murderers. 
There are many other unbiblical inclusions in the
film that come straight from this book. For example, in the movie,
after Peter denies Jesus, he falls at Mary's feet and says,
Mother, I have denied Him. (This episode is from page 174 of the
book). The unbiblical character Veronica who wipes Jesus's bloody face
is taken straight from the book as well (pages 258-259). The manner
that Mary receives and cradles Jesus (Pieta style) is also directly
from this book (page 316).
Eucharist in the Film and Book
Another major theme of The
Dolorous Passion is its repeated references to the Eucharistic
Jesus. In the book, as in the movie, Jesus refers to the cup as
the chalice both in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the Last
Supper. Catholics will understand this eucharistic reference.
Additionally, the Last Supper reenactment also comes straight from the
Jesus was seated between Peter and John,
the doors were closed, and everything was done in the most mysterious
and imposing manner. When the chalice was taken out of its covering,
Jesus prayed, and spoke to his Apostles with the utmost solemnity. I
saw him giving than an explanation of the Supper, and the entire
ceremony, and I was forcibly reminded of a priest teaching others to
say Mass. 
The book is replete with references to the
Sacrifice of the Mass, the Real Presence, and the
Blessed Eucharist. Not surprising, during the movie, when you see
the bread unwrapped, the camera flashes to a scene of Jesus being
stripped. As Jesus's blood is dripping from the cross, the camera
flashes to a scene where wine is being poured into a chalice during the
It was made known to me (Emmerich) that these [evil manifestations] were all those persons who in divers ways insult and outrage Jesus, really and truly present in the Holy Sacrament. I recognized among them all those who in any way profane the Blessed Eucharist. 
Understandably, many Christians are unaware of the
Catholic references in the movie. The extra-biblical scenes are seen as
simply artistic license or harmless Catholic affinities. However, this
is clearly not the case.
Mel Gibson has stated that the movie reflects my beliefs.
He also has said, "There is no salvation for those outside the
[Catholic] Church, I believe it."
Though Mel has flip-flopped on this since, it is clear that Mel is a
Catholic director with Catholic theological advisors, producing a
Catholic movie, intended to evangelize people into the Catholic Church.
According to the Catholic website, Catholic
Passion of the Christ offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you
to spread, strengthen, and share the Catholic faith with your family
and friends. 
Michael Brown, a Catholic author and provider of
the website Spirit Daily, has
written and reported on The
Passion of the Christ extensively on his website. In his February
28th 2004 article entitled "Passion is seen as a movie
with potential to cause profound and lasting effects," he explains
the role the movie may have in uniting Christians.
Granted, it's only a movie, but it
could help unite Christians. I have never seen a better possibility for
popular ecumenical dialogue. We all have common ground - and though
Gibson is Catholic (a traditionalist at that), his most fervent support
so far has come from Baptists, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals. 
Besides the films
potential for uniting Christians and spurring ecumenical dialogue, Mr.
Brown notes some other potential results of the movie:
Another [effect] involves Mary. This
movie presents the Blessed Mother in a way that reintroduces her to
Protestants. They are able to see her as someone they can relate to.
She is down to earth. They will laugh with her. They will cry with her.
They'll more fully appreciate (as will everyone else) what she went through. Hopefully, they'll grow to love her.
There is no doubt that Mel Gibson is sincere. He
and the multitudes of Catholics who have embraced the Catholic
Mary and the Eucharistic Jesus are earnest in their desire to
lead souls into the Catholic Church. However, though sincere, they are
also deceived. Not all Catholics are aware of Rome's unbiblical
teachings concerning Mary and the Eucharist. Nevertheless, many
have embraced these deceptions. May we, as believers, heed Paul's
final exhortation to Timothy:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and
out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and
teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound
doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching
ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn
their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you
be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an
evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 
As Christians, we must be equipped to present the
truth in love. Often this requires that we expose deception with the
light of God's Word.
 , 2004. Article entitled: A Guide to "The Passion of the Christ" Matthew Pinto on a Resource to Explain the Movie and Its Message. Feb. 23, 2004 ()
 Carl Limbacher, NewsMax.com, http://newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/1/25/145119.shtml
 Catherine L. Keefe
 , 2004. Article also available at www.spiritdaily.com
 March 6, 2004.
 Simeon?s prophecy in Luke 2:35 anticipates this.
 Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, page 3.
 Ibid., back cover.
 Ibid., dedication page.
 , March 12, 2002.
 Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 3, page 172.
 Ibid., pages 224-225.
 Ibid., page 283.
 Ibid., page 294.
 Ibid., page 83.
 Ibid., page 158.
 Ibid., page 114.
 accessed February 17, 2004
 The New Yorker, September 15, 2003
 accessed March 11, 2004
 2 Timothy 4: 2-5
 Ephesians 1:13
 1 John 1: