Friday, February 3, 2017

Unnecessary Silence

I took some brothers in the Lord to see Martin Scorsese’s Silence yesterday. You know you live in the middle of nowhere – or at least close – when you have to drive three hours and cross state lines to see a movie.

Warning: plot details ahead. Don’t read on if you plan on seeing the movie – which I personally wouldn’t recommend unless you’re going to discuss it in the context of the Bible and biblical theology with brothers and sisters in Christ.

MattZoller Seitz wrote: “‘Silence’ is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment...this is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don't like.’ It’s a film that you experience and then live with." This sums up how I felt about it. When I got home and my family asked if I liked the movie, it seemed impossible to answer.

Having discussed it with my brothers in Christ, however, I have a few observations. This post is as much the fruit of their meditation as it is mine.

The Christianity of Silence is Roman Catholicism. There are prayers (and rosary), absolutions and masses ministered by the priests, crosses and crucifixes, infant baptism, and…silence. Waiting for the voice of God to guide through the torment. One crucial thing is missing for the Christianity of Silence, and, I suspect, the Christianity of many living in the world today: the Bible was absent. God’s Word, by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the saints, is not present. It is no wonder God is “silent.” The means by which He speaks to His people is not used.

One of the most powerful parts of the movie for me personally was when Padres Rodrigues and Garupe meet with the underground church in the village of Tomogi. Rodrigues, in a narrative voice-over, compares the gatherings of these believers with those worshiping in the catacombs under the persecution of the Roman Empire. It is night, and the first meeting of the priests with the underground church. The believers offer food to the priests, who ravenously begin devouring it before pausing in embarrassment to realize they had not blessed it before eating. After a hasty prayer, they resume devouring the food. Then they notice that the lay leadership of the church is not eating. When the priests ask why the leaders aren’t eating, the elder Ichizo (who will soon be martyred on a cross in the ocean) responds, “it is you who feed us.” The food these believers – and all believers – desperately need is the Word of God, and Christ has given His Church both elders and gifted lay members who give this most needful food to His people by the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit.[1] The sacramental wafer without the Word rightly preached, taught, and understood, cannot feed the people.

Earlier in the movie, Rodrigues, still in Portugal, meditates on Jesus’ command to Peter as he prepares to journey to Japan. The padre only considers the phrases, “feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” He would have done well to go to the Book to discover what this means.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’
He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’
And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (John 21:15-19, N.K.J.V.).

How did Peter understand Jesus’ command to “feed” His “sheep”?

Believers have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2,3). The food is “the Word of God…the pure milk of the Word.”

The “silence” was unnecessary. “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). The Old Testament testified and revealed through shadows and symbols the Son of God. The New Testament reveals Him fully in His Person, His actions, His words, and the inspired apostolic word concerning Him. The Word is not “silent.” It gives us Jesus, our most needful Food.[2]

The Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible today, especially when believers gather to worship and fellowship through the preaching, reading, and teaching of the Word. It is sad when either 17th century Roman Catholic priests or believers today struggle with the silence of God because they are neglecting His appointed means of speaking and being present with His people.

Apostasy is a major theme of the movie Silence. Believers are tormented physically, emotionally, and psychologically in an effort to get them to apostatize. Rodrigues and Garupe even argue briefly over advising the Japanese believers to apostatize before the Inquisitor. In the end, Rodrigues is denied his own martyrdom and led to apostatize to relieve the torment of Japanese Christians. It is a horrible choice he is given, and a clear picture of the depravity of the fallen human nature.

Apostasy is a reality described in the Bible.[3]

In one sense, it is ubiquitous to this age between the Advents of Christ. In explaining His parable of the sower, Christ says, “the seed is the word of God…the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away [ἀφίστανται] (Luke 8:11,13).

Believers are called to examine themselves to rid themselves of that which may reveal them to be false confessors: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing [ἀποστῆναι] from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14). Notice the remedy is self-examination and the encouragement of other believers.

The New Testament also uses the term apostasy to describe that falling away that comes at the end of this age.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away [ἀποστασία] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart [ἀποστήσονταί] from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

In Silence, Inoue (the Inquisitor) uses a parable to explain to Rodrigues why Christianity cannot thrive in Japan. A daimyo, he explains, has four concubines whose jealousy and fighting with each other make him miserable. His solution: cast them all out of the house. Inoue explains these four concubines are “Spain, Portugal, Holland, England,” all trying to have their national “Christianity” take root in Japan. Japan, the man, has decided to cast them all out. Rodrigues responds, “our church teaches monogamy. What if Japan were to choose one lawful wife from the four?” Inoue states, “you mean Portugal” (Rodrigues’ country of origin). The padre responds, “I mean the holy church.” Beautiful moment – if only the priest meant not the Roman Catholic Church, but the biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bride, the only one who has the means of saving and healing from out of the nations through the Gospel entrusted to her. Sadly, it seems that Rodrigues himself doesn’t remain faithful to the Bride. Apostasy, ἀποστασία, has a cognate in the N.T. - ἀποστάσιον, a certificate of divorce (Matthew 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

The believers in Silence publicly apostatize under tremendous threat and distress. Sadly, many professing Christians today deny “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) just to remain popular or socially acceptable (politically correct). Many cannot hold to the faith even though they are free from the type of persecution depicted in this movie – the type of persecution experienced by many believers around the world today. For them, the only “gospel” is that God wants His people in this world to be comfortable and happy. The rest of the Gospel message – the hope, glory, and eternal joy on the other side of Jesus’ cross -  is a key point missing from their lives, and the movie Silence.

At one point, after baptizing a Christian couples’ infant, the wife asks, “we now? All with God, in paraiso?” Rodrigues attempts to correct her, “Paradise? Now? No. But God is there now, and forever. He prepares a place for us all. Even now.”

Later, as they are arrested, a Japanese believer whose new name at baptism is Monica (like St. Augustine’s mother) has to remind Rodrigues himself of this. She says, “Padre...our father...Padre Juan...said if we die we will go to paraiso.”

Rodrigues says, “Paradise, yes...”

Monica continues: “Isn’t it good to die? Paraiso is so much better than here. No one hungry,
never sick. No taxes, no hard work.”

The padre, reminded of this truth in his despair, agrees. “Padre Juan was right. There’s no work in paraiso. No taxes, no hunger. Nothing can be stolen from you. And there’s no pain...” He is almost forced into this confession by Monica, but its hope is not seen in the rest of his actions, words, and meditations throughout the movie.

The Scriptures, especially the Word of the New Testament, would have given Rodrigues a firm foundation in this vital theological truth. Believers are called to walk through this world with a hope, assurance, and longing for glory with Christ in heaven.

Suffering is to be expected in this world. It should not be a surprise for believers.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Only those who have starved themselves of this needful biblical meal, be it a 17th century priest or modern Christian engorged on prosperity and positivity preaching, will be shocked and unable to understand when difficulty for the faith comes. It is promised in the N.T., and the strength for it is found there.

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

The great Whore, Babylon the great, “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6), manifests under many masks, from the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the Reformation to Imperial Japan to today’s militant Islam to bestselling false teachers buying "souls of men" (Revelation 18:13) to many others.[4] “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12). The dragon hates the Church and seeks her destruction, one believer at a time, often through his deceitful puppet, Babylon.

How does the Church overcome in the face of such evil? “…they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11). Generation to generation of this Gospel Age, believers have suffered horribly for the faith and endured it by the hope of the promise of glory contained in the Word.[5]

His blood is our assurance now and forever. The Word of the testimony of Jesus Christ is not silent, and cannot be silenced. And this life, including the sometimes long moments of its end, are indescribably small compared to the glory waiting the faithful in eternity (this is Paul’s perspective – Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

And the silence of God? When the Psalmists beg God to speak in His silence (28,30,39,83,109), they themselves are never silent. They pray for God to speak, and then begin to remind their souls of His long ages of good faithfulness to His people in blessing and trial.[6] The Word is the answer to their prayer that God not be silent.

Run to the Word. Read it, pray it, sing it, preach it, teach it, think it, adore it, breathe it. God is not silent nor absent as long as His Word is your life. God is not silent.

[1] “Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it” (Second London Confession, 26.11).
[2] The Bible is “the true center of Christian union,” and “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I).
[3] While the word “apostasy” is not used, the apostle John’s warning describes the state of salvation of these who leave: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:18,19).
[4] Sadly, the tortures Inoue Masashige, the “Inquisitor,” oversaw concerning the Christians (Japanese and Jesuit alike) – drownings, burnings, beheadings – were torments the Roman Catholic Church (and some Protestants) had been inflicting on Protestants in Europe for the previous hundred-plus years.
[5] “…it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased” (Second London Confession, 1.1).
[6] Near the end of the movie, Rodrigues, now living as Okada San’emon, a man with a Japanese name with a Japanese family, hears the voice of Jesus say, “I suffered beside you. I was never silent.” I am reminded of Isaiah 53:7//Acts 8:32,33.

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