We had an interesting movie discussion on The Apostle last Sunday our during Christian Ed hour (technically 45 minutes-if you’re scoring at home). If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. The plot goes a little something like this: Robert Duvall, a pentecostal preacher/evangelist loses his wife (she divorces him) and church (she convenes a secret meeting), commits a heinous crime, flees to some small town in Louisiana, and plants a church.
There are numerous dynamics which provide great fodder for discussion. Questions arise such as, “Could God use a fleeing, unrepentant felon to plant a church?” I mean he did use Luther who was a raving anti-semite, was physically violent to those underneath him, and is himself one of the reasons why Lutherans don’t look all that much like Luther. I could use other examples, but am fully aware that people could also say, “Well, he used Geoff, and he had anger issues, and he did this or that…….!” So I’ll stop there. There is ‘beef’ on everyone if you look closely enough. There really is. Even on you.
One of the questions we did discuss was, “Is this an accurate/fair/positive portrayal of the church?” Rare do we see such positive depictions of the church from Hollywood, but we agreed this was one. The church was genuine, grew in numbers, had squabbles but sought reconciliation, showed mercy to the poor (by ringing the door bell, dropping off food, and running), had great fellowship, and even stood in the way of a bulldozer trying to destroy the church.
Finally, we did discuss some of the preacher’s strengths. He was genuinely interested in getting the gospel to dying folks (sometimes literally/sometimes spiritually). The movie begins with him pulling over on the side of the road, circumventing the accident scene, and witnessing to the dying couple before he gets run off and ridiculed by a cop. In another scene, he is trying to witness to a guy walking in a bar and almost misses his bus!
In addition His discipleship relationship with a previous church member was a life-on-life relationship that profoundly effected the spiritually younger man. The man was so influenced by Duvall that he regularly visited his mother in the hospital. How many of us can say we have discipleship relationships like that? He did the same with another young mechanic until he eventually prayed with him to receive Christ.
Sometimes movies can really challenge us. Either they can point us toward Christ and His work and Church by way of good example. Other times they can point more clearly to our need for Christ by way of repentance.
Duval was quoted as saying, “This is my church! No one is going to take MY church away from me!” And so he beat a dude up! I see my own sin in this misplaced zealous thinking. Whatever church I’m at is Jesus’ church. So I can relax that He’ll build HIS church, and I’ll be along for the ride. It will not depend upon me.
So this movie actually moved me to repent. Movies, as can all of life, can be quite devotional. It just takes some critical thinking, a framework in which to view them, and sometimes a healthy discussion.