Everyone is talking about it lately. Opinions are pretty strong. First, it was this hot, hot, hot book! Now it is this movie, and everyone is up in arms. The commentators I have heard, people not generally identified as particularly religious, have been all upset by the positive presentation of ideas that are contrary to the Christian faith, and which argue against the truth of Christian history. Some of them are objecting to the fact that it is okay to beat up on the Christian faith. If this book were about ideas common in Judaism, or about the foundations of Islam, here would be such an outcry! But it is okay to attack Christians and Christianity. That is one form of religious bigotry applauded in our society.
Well, that point is well taken. In some countries, you can go to jail for suggesting that the Holocaust was not six million Jews. In other places you can start a riot by printing a line-drawing of Mohammed, or be put to death for converting from Islam to another religion - especially Christianity. In modern America, however, you can say anything or do practically anything about Christians, Christ, or the Church, and you might reasonably expect to be applauded, not criticized. It is called "art" to suspend a crucifix in urine. It is called 'scholarship' to make up new ideas, without foundation in fact, for how Jesus did miracles, or what the Bible is really saying, and it is called humor to tell jokes that deal with Jesus as a moron, or as an incompetent bumbler, or even as the village idiot. We are supposed to be "mature", patient, and tolerant of the opinions and ideas of others.
So, when Dan Brown assembled his re-working of old anti-Christian fables and the conjectures of unbelievers through the ages, it was nothing new or startling. In a culture which identifies the confident assertion of old-fashioned, orthodox Christian doctrine as arrogance, intolerance, and even "hate-speech", his concoction of fiction and shop-worn attacks on the history of the Christian faith didn't strike me as particularly noteworthy. It is fiction, woven into a story of suspense and mystery with a general flavor or religion thrown in - and a few slanderous attacks on some Christian institutions, generally of the Roman Catholic variety. Nothing unusual for our day, certainly not worth getting in a twist over, or so it seemed to me.
One commentator was amazed that Christians not only sat still for such blasphemy, but that they often intended to go to the movie and be entertained. He might have a point there. We ought not to be entertained by the ridicule of our faith and the presentation of the denial of the validity of the Gospel. But then, how are we supposed to tell when it is appropriate to take note of such things? Christians are rarely depicted honestly in movies or on TV. They are generally portrayed as buffoons or narrow-minded, hypocritical, and secretly quite twisted and evil when they are identifiable as characters in our entertainments. Our culture says that we must respect the Wiccans in our media. TV shows respect to the traditional religions of the "Native Americans". Anything Jewish is, as a matter of course, sacrosanct - what with many in show business being Jewish themselves. But Christians? There hasn't been a respectable portrayal of a real Christian in decades. "Seventh Heaven" appeared to portray a minister and his family, except he never talked about Christ, forgiveness, salvation, or the joy and comfort of the faith. They were not Christian, not even close, and hardly a heartwarming portrayal of faith.
The Church is no different in this regard. The people honored as "scholars" and listened to as leaders in the faith are usually from one of two groups - those that despise propositional truth (sound doctrine) and open unbelievers. The leading lights in scholarship are those that present the most carefully constructed reasons for abandoning the Christian faith. Modern Biblical Scholarship is almost consistently unbelieving. It offers an explanation of how Scriptures came to be without divine intervention or inspiration. Church Historians try to explain how the Christian Church grew to be so large and influential as a result of cultural pressures and historic political movements - no divine working allowed. Simple faith, belief in inspiration, and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for the comfort of sinners is certain to be viewed as un-intelligent, anti-intellectual, and will result in the marginalizing of the would-be scholar foolish enough to do so.
The other group often thought of as "leaders" in the Church are those preachers with the giant television audiences, who tell us that what you feel and what you do is far more important than what you believe. These are the ones I described as despising the truth. They each believe something (or at least, it seems that they must), but what they believe isn't important. It is the feeling of being a Christian. It is the experience of faith - or of worship that counts. A warm sense of 'brotherly unity' is the focus of their preaching, not the clear teachings of Scripture. Preachers of the Law whip their people into a fury of what they must do, or what they can do, to make themselves worthy of the blessings of God - without ever confronting the Biblical witness that God is not aiming at making us make ourselves holy. Pentecostal preachers whip their people into a frenzy over how they should feel - how they should experience God and holiness, and, many times, how they can wrestle blessings from God or manipulate Him into doing their bidding by following ten easy rules, or six simple steps. They never seem to recognize how incongruous it is to suggest that we can bend the Almighty to our will, or that He is even interested in us having our fleeting moments of self-absorbed pleasure.
The thundering preachers of the Law and the now-weeping, now passionately preaching Pentecostal "ministers" who use their people for income and TV ratings but do not teach them, nor lead them into the sweet comforts of the Gospel do more damage to the Church and injury to the Christian faith than Dan Brown's carefully-crafted fantasy about how the heretics and the unbelievers had it right all along.
The DaVinci Code is all about this mystery - supposed mystery - about how Jesus didn't actually die on the cross. The idea is that He lived through it (like this idea hasn't been beat to death in books attacking our faith over the last forty years!), and sneaked away and married Mary Magdalene. It was supposed to be women who ran the church, according to Dan Brown, and Jesus fathered a child and is blood-line is alive to this day. The Roman Church, of course, has hidden the truth so they could prey on the gullibility of people and make lost of money and exercise enormous power in the world. The book is a compilation of attacks against the church by unbelievers through the ages - and a good bit of fiction in developing the clues to this supposed "code" hidden in the works of DaVinci and others.
It doesn't even acknowledge the obvious questions that it raises, much less answer them. Why, in the face of the knowledge of the "facts" did the disciples risk their lives - and eventually die - proclaiming a lie in the face of great public opposition and without any real hope of riches, power, or even influence? It makes the Apostles appear more than slightly insane. And what accounts for the rapid spread of a faith founded on fables that obviously would also have lacked the miraculous signs with which the Apostles supposedly accompanied their preaching? If the resurrection was a patch-work of fables, so then is the Ascension a fiction, and Pentecost never happened. How did the Apostles get away with not just preaching it, but writing about all of it in the presence of so many witnesses to their lies - and get them to collude in maintaining the fable? So far, the DaVinci Code requires more sheer credulity to swallow than the Christian faith - because it requires people who knew it was all a lie to swear to it and gladly go to martyrs' deaths singing Psalms they knew to be false as they died hideous and painful deaths - all to support the appearance of truth in a religion they knew to be a lie.
The second major question the book and the movie fail to answer is this: If Jesus was just another guy, why does anyone care that He had children, and that there is a family blood-line still going today? What Jesus taught was already available in the Scriptures of His day. Jewish scholars are fond of proving that Jesus did not teach anything new - something Jesus also was fond of saying. It wasn't what He taught that was new - it was who He was, and what He did. Just another bright rabbi is hardly cause for creating such a stir that the world is completely changed.
I guess I am glad that something awakened the critics of The DaVinci Code to the monstrous inequity of our society that protects every minority group, except this one religion, and welcomes mockery and blasphemy about it. Sadly, their attention will fade away almost as suddenly as it arose. One day it will be like everyone will slap their foreheads and say, "Oh yeah! It's okay to persecute Christians. They deserve it for believing in Jesus!" No one will actually say that, but it will feel like they did, and mockery and blasphemy will return to the public square for the Christian faith, without hardly a note of concern. This is, after all, the cross appointed to the Church.
What should happen, though, is we who believe ought to take note. We should stop being patient, "mature", and "understanding" when some clown stands up and attacks our faith. We should be careful to complain loudly when Newsweek or Time tries to teach us what the "real substance" of the Christain faith is - as they do every year at Christmas and Easter because it boosts their sales. Don't rush out and don't buy it just because the cover says "The REAL Christmas facts", or because they have printed some beautiful old painting of the crucifixion on the cover page. We should remember that they are just using our story to manipulate us and get our money.
We might want to stop 'feeling' about every TV preacher and start examining the things they say in the light of Scriptures. It would be appropriate if we made "church" about Word and Sacrament, and our religion about loving one another in word and deed, and not about denominational structures and church politics. It would be helpful if we focused on who Jesus is and what He has done, rather than every social issue and cause and felt-need of the society around us. The church is not about homosexuality. It's purpose is not building homes for the disadvantaged. Our mission is not social or economic justice. We don't stand for America, or any particular political party.
The Church is about the Son of God, who took on human flesh and blood and human nature, and was born in the particular person of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth, also known as the Christ. He was and is true God and true man. He did what no man or woman has been able to do - or really wanted to do - He kept the entire will of God without sin. Having done this, He earned eternal life. He rightly would never have died - but He chose to die on the cross, taking our place and dying the death you and I deserve for our sins, under the justice of God. He bore the wrath of God for us. Scripture says, "He became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
His death is only half of the story. He also rose from the grave on Easter morning - the Sunday following His death. His resurrection demonstrated that His life in exchange for ours was accepted by God and was sufficient and more to pay the price of our sins. That He rose from the grave means that our sins have been forgiven. That is 'have been' not 'can be'. He has sent His preachers, beginning with the Apostles, out into the world to proclaim this good news, and promises that "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." We proclaim, "For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not on account of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not on the basis on works, so that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance, that we should walk in them."
The Gospel is pure gift. It brings to us forgiveness of sins, life even beyond the grave, and salvation. Worship services are those times and places where God comes to us through His Word and the Holy Sacraments to forgive us, and bless us, and equip us for life in Him and in His good order and plan while we are in this world. Worship is accomplished by the living of our lives in this world as His people, fully aware of the Gospel and of His love and good will toward us. We worship by living as though every bit of it is true, and we trust God. This Gospel is what we are about, as Church. And we ought not let the excitement of the world, or its dismay over this or that, cause us to forget it. DaVinci's Code will pass - but the Word of the Lord abides forever!
Yours in the Lord,
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