Friday, 24 January 2014

Well's Cathedral, blasphemy, heresy, and Canon Law

A few days ago I discovered this article from Christian Concern:

It raises awareness of the fact that the Chapter of Well's Cathedral have decided to allow, as part of the Bath 2014 Film Festival, a showing of Martin Scorsese's 1988 film "The Last Temptation of Christ" - a film which when released led to protests, legal battles, and even a theatre being burnt down by an indignant crowd of fundamentalist Christians!    

But why has this film been denounced as 'blasphemous' 'heretical' 'dangerous' and 'subversive'?  What, if anything, is wrong with showing such a film in a Cathedral?   The answer has to be simply everything.

Blasphemous and Heretical? Really?

Firstly, let us look at the accusations that the film is blasphemous and heretical.  

At the start of the film there is a message from Martin Scorsese, a man who describes himself as a 'lapsed Catholic' but whose 4 divorces would at the least put a question mark over his commitment to being anything vaguely Catholic, let alone a Biblical Christian.  In this message he states that what follows is not based on the Christian Gospels but on the book of the same name by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis.  It is worth pointing out that the book is based on Nikos' readings of the Gospel's yet falls short of claiming to be history.  Nowhere does this film claim, as Dan Brown did his Da Vinci Code, to be fact. Yet the overlap of themes between the two - Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene, not dying on the cross etc. - leads to the film being even more misunderstood today.  Those who read and lapped up the fiction and historical errors of the Da Vinci Code as based on 'fact' are likely to transfer this position to the Last Temptation - or at least see in it some form of vindication.  I was at 6th form college when the Da Vinci Code was released and it amazed me how many people, my age and older, simply read the story as largely factual in regards to its claims about Jesus and Christian history.

The biggest issue in the movie is that it portrays Jesus as a sinner.  In one scene Jesus claims that He will pay for His sins by dying.  In another He asks Mary Magdalene to forgive Him because he has done "too many bad things."  Whilst at the monastery He even lists His sins.  He also picks up two stones to represent His own sins in the film's adaptation of the stoning of the adulterous woman (John 8.1-11).  

"The biggest issue in the movie is that it portrays Jesus as a sinner."

Furthermore, we actually see Jesus sinning during the most offensive scene of the movie.  In this scene Jesus is seen consummating His marriage with Mary Magdalene.  It takes place during what is often called the 'dream sequence' or 'vision sequence' - the vivid temptation Jesus on the cross lives out where He, instead of dying as our propitiation, leaves the Cross and lives a 'normal life.'  To most Christians viewing images of our Lord and Saviour, the very Pure Lamb of God having sex is beyond the pale, but in the context of the movie it actually makes Jesus a sinner.  How?  It all comes down to what Jesus reveals in His Sermon on the Mount.   Matthew 5.27-29  reads:

“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."

This passage shows just how totally depraved we are compared to God's perfect standard of holiness.  To picture and imagine in one's mind having sex with a person who is not actually your wife (even if you are imagining they are!) is adultery, is sin, and is a serious breach of God's Holy standard. The penalty for this crime is death and damnation in hell, it is worth remembering the reality of this - as Pastor Mark Driscoll would say "Hell is hot, forever is a long time."  (Praise the Lord that if we truly repent and whole heartedly believe the Gospel we will be saved from this most just sentence!)

In this dream sequence Jesus commits adultery, He commits sin.  This is a cataclysmic problem for all of humanity.  Scripture reveals to us that the only reason we can be saved is because Jesus did not commit sin.  Jesus had to be sinless to be the acceptable sacrifice.   Scripture repeatable affirms these truths:

"Who among you can convict me of sin?" John 8.46a (hint: they couldn't)

"You know that He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him."  1 John 3.5

"For you know that you were redeemed from your empty ways of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish"  1 Peter 1.18-19

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin."  Hebrews 4.15

The doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ is enshrined in the 39 Articles of the Church of England - the churches official doctrine (see canon A5)

"Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh and in his spirit.  He became the lamb without spot who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him..."  
- Article 15

The Bible teaches than when we put our faith in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour, He takes all of our sin, shame, filth, and darkness onto Himself and gives to us His perfect record, His dazzling white robe of Righteous, and a relationship with the Father only such sinlessness can bring.   This is seen in 2 Corinthians 5.21

"He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

If Jesus sinned, He could not give us these things as He didn't have them.  As Article 11 states:

"We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith."

To say or show that Jesus was a sinner is blasphemy and heresy.  It is contrary to Scripture and the Historical Formularies of the Church of England.

"In this dream sequence Jesus 

commits adultery, He commits sin. 

 This is a cataclysmic problem for all

 of humanity."

The film also contains many other issues, included but not limited to the concept that Jesus could stop being the Son of God as if this were a position or role and not an integral part of His eternal being, Paul being portrayed as the person who 'invented' Christianity, and the innumerable simple historical errors! 

All of this places the film most certainly in the 'heresy' and 'blasphemy' category.  Whether portraying such things was Scorsese's intention is irrelevant.  

The film defended?

Many people try to defend the film claiming that it portrays the very real humanity of Christ and helps us relate to Him as Brother and not just Lord.  It is also argued that the temptation scene is merely showing what can be gleaned from Hebrews 4.15 and the passages describing His temptations in the desert.  Jesus was tempted, of that there can be no doubt. 

It is a good claim, it seems a strong defence, but does this excuse the film or does it just skirt the issue entirely leaving the charge of Heresy still valid? 

"Jesus was tempted, of that there 

can be no doubt."

Firstly, as already pointed out, the film doesn't only show temptation but actual sin. 

Secondly, it can be questioned if Jesus being tempted in this way at the portrayed time happened - we know He wrestled with His destiny so violently in the Garden of Gethsemane that He became so stressed that He sweated blood.  But it was in the Garden that He finally said "Your will be done."  On the cross He was lucid, He asked God to forgive the people their sin, He forgave the thief, cared for His mother, and quoted a Psalm that tells us that He was abandoned, due to the sin He took on, by the Father - yet quoting this Psalm is important as everyone there would have known that it continues to glorify and praise God for delivering Him! 

Thirdly, we often equate temptation only with lustful and base things.  But temptation is much wider than this, it includes the temptation to take your power and gifts and use them for evil - much as He was tempted to do in the desert.  It is also worth noting that the temptation portrayed in the film is a giving in to the temptation to think of such things - ask any mature Christian who is living victoriously and they will tell you that when temptation begins to stir, before you allow yourself to even begin to follow its thoughts and whispers, you can dismiss it through prayer.  Was Christ ever tempted to think lustful thoughts or imagine sinful things? I would say yes - but He never allowed it to even get so far as His imagination. 

The temptation portrayed in the film is an unbiblical temptation that contradicts the very pure word of God.  

So why is the film being shown?

"Not hiding from controversy 


 mean openly screening blasphemy

 on our home turf"

In the prepared response given when one (quite rightly) writes to the Dean of Well's Cathedral the Very Revd John Clarke (see the Christian Concern article linked above for details on how - I would also advise you to write to the Archbishops) he gives the justification for showing this blasphemy in the Cathedral:

" Much has changed in public perceptions of faith over the last 25 years. In this more sceptical age the church should not hide from controversy and part of the task of the cathedral is to promote an intelligent faith that is capable of attracting men and women to follow in the way of Jesus in the twenty first century.
With this in mind we are organising a discussion before the screening which will look at the theology behind the book and film and which will also consider what is not said by the film. On the evening, in my welcome and introduction, I will also suggest that the film offers, inevitably, a partial view of who Jesus was. It is not designed to be a biography. My hope therefore is that an audience who do not normally think about Jesus will spend time thinking about his significance for us today.
Equally, on the day after the screening I will be giving a talk on ‘Jesus’ as part of a series in the cathedral called ‘What can we believe today?’. This will provide another chance to invite people to deepen their questioning about faith, both for those who wish to think about faith and theology afresh, and for those who are in the process of exploring their approach to God."

What are we to make of this?  A few thoughts:

-      "Not hiding from controversy" doesn't mean openly screening blasphemy on our home turf

-      What is "intelligent" about a faith that contradicts its foundations in Scripture?

-      Is screening heresy really, ever,  an effective way to "attract men and women to follow in the way of Jesus."  How is this really any different from having a public or dramatised reading from the Qu'ran about Isa (the false Jesus in that book) as a way to attract people to the real Christ?

-      Will many people even turn up to the discussion, and even if they do, given the above, is it still a useful way to evangelise?

-      What is "not said" by the film is not really the problem - the problem is what "is said" by the film!

-      "Suggesting that the film offers, inevitably, a partial view of who Jesus was."  To me this sounds like wet liberalism and compromising the essentials of the faith - the Last Temptation does not offer a 'partial view of who Jesus was' it offers lies, heresy, and blasphemy in the place of God's divinely revealed truth.  A minister should not "suggest" it is partial he should boldy denounce it as simply wrong.

-      Are many really going to go to the following evening session? And even if they do, is the very pure, uncompromising, exclusive doctrine of Scripture going to be put forward here?  Given all of the above I have my concerns it won't be (to put it mildly).

"The Last temptation does not offer

 a 'partial view of who Jesus was' it 

offers lies, heresy, and blasphemy

 in the place of God's divinely 

revealed truth."

Is the showing legal?

I hope that from the above you can see clearly that the film is heresy and blasphemy, full of lies and half-truths (more like quarter-truths - if I am generous).  I also hope you can see the issues with the Cathedral's position and their clear compromise with modern liberalism.  The question is, are the Cathedral clergy allowed to show the film?  There are two things to consider - their oaths of ordination and Canon Law.

During their ordinations to the priesthood the clergy of the Cathedral were asked this clear and simple question by the bishop:

"Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both publick and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?"

The clergy answered "I will, the Lord being my helper."
How is publicly screening blasphemy and heresy banishing and driving away all erroneous and strange doctrine?  How does showing material that blatantly contradicts Gods word possibly fulfil this oath?  Were one to hold a Bible Study within the church, which was attended by the faithful, and in it read some of the works of the heretics like Pelagius or Arius - with the sole and only intention being to strongly denounce and refute it - this could be understood.  To use church property simply to publicly screen such dangerous heresy with little to no knowledge of if any will respond to attempts to refute it, cannot be seen as sensible.  Showing this film in such a way to the public is a clear breach of the ordination oath.

More importantly, and less personally, there is Canon F 16.1 of the Church of England.  This reads as follows:

"When any church or chapel is to be used for a play, concert, or exhibition of films or pictures, the minister shall take care that the words, music, images, and pictures are such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people."
(It is ridiculous to claim that this canon would not apply to Cathedrals, Minsters, Abbey's etc. - they are all "Houses of God.")

Let me put this bluntly:

-      the blasphemy and heresies of The Last Temptation with its scenes of Jesus Christ having sex do not "befit the House of God" in any way or measure.

-      The film is in direct and clear opposition to "sound doctrine" as understood by the Church of England, namely the clear teaching of Scripture and the Historic Formularies.

-      The heresies of this film can in no way be understood to truly "edify" the people.

The screening of this blatantly blasphemous and heretical offensive film in Wells Cathedral is clearly illegal under Canon Law and should probably be seen as a breach of the ordination oaths of the clergy of that place who assented to it being shown.

 "How is publicly screening 

blasphemy and heresy 'banishing 

and driving away all erroneous and 

strange doctrine?'"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts