10 Movies That ... Deal With Ir\Reverence - 3th Commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day)
Reformation Rush Hour
So you like movies? Here's a list of 10 movies that deal with preaching, preachers, church, relics, holidays and remembering the Sabbath day. Listen to Pastors Ted Giese and Craig Donofrio talk about their picks on the Reformation Rush Hour program on KFUOam radio. Also these 2 lists of 5 movies are not necessarily always going to be recommendations, generally speaking this is a conversation about movies that delve into the topic of the 3rd Commandment as found in Luther's Small Catechism (and in this case also the Large Catechism). These two lists run the gamut from homicidal preachers to hucksters to the faithful; there's even a movie about the Holy Grail! It's another full hour of two guys talking about and movies and the catechism.
Watch the film trailers and film clips for these 2 lists of 5 movies here and click here to listen to Donofrio and Giese's conversation about these films.
The 3rd Commandment
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Get the app! Get the book!
Giese's List Of 5 Picks
5) A Christmas Story (1983) Rated PG for comic violence, some bullying, and mild language
First up for Giese is A Christmas Story, a movie considered by many to be a modern holiday classic. The movie however really doesn't have much to do with the actual Christmas story and is actually much more secular with a focus on commercialism. A Christmas Story doesn't end with a reading of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14 like you'll find in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), it's primarily all about the various cultural traditions that have sprung up around the Seasons of Advent and Christmas in North America. The film is made up of a string of vignettes with a couple major themes like the central character Ralphie's desire to get a Red Ryder B.B. gun, which everyone - including the department store Santa - warns him of, saying, "You'll shoot your eye out kid!"
Concerning the 3rd Commandment, in the Large Catechism Luther says, "This is the simple meaning of the commandment: people must have holidays," and so must Ralphie and his family, but what should a Christian holiday be like? How would someone keep it holy in a God pleasing way? Is A Christmas Story a good roadmap toward keeping the 3rd Commandment? Luther offers this advice, since, "people must have holidays, therefore such observances should be devoted to hearing God's word so that the special function of this day of rest should be the ministry of the word for the young and the mass of poor people." From the perspective of the 3rd Commandment then while a lot of fun A Christmas Story fails miserably. There's no preaching, no attending Church services and apart from a couple moments when Christian Hymns like Silent Night that pop into the film there is not much that would be seen as being Christian even in the midst of this Christmas Story. By way of comparison, as mentioned before A Charlie Brown Christmas gets it right. Here's a video clip of Linus telling Charlie Brown what the true meaning of Christmas is all about.
4) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Rated PG-13 for action/adventure violence and some sensuality
Giese's number two film is the Steven Spielberg film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The film revolves around Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his father's (Sean Connery) quest for the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper by Jesus and His disciples on the night Jesus was betrayed before His crucifixion. The folk history/pop cultural idea that has grown up around this object is that if you had it and drank from it you'd receive eternal life Ex Opere Operato (automatically - worked by the work). You wouldn't even have to believe in Jesus, you'd just have to drink from it and poof you'd receive eternal life.
Lutherans would disagree with the idea that an object like a cup, no matter how important it might be, can grant eternal life to the individual just by drinking out of it, God is the one who gives the gift. An object is simply not holy like God is. An object can be consecrated for holy use and ought to be respected but that's not the same as being holy in and of itself. The Large Catechism points out that it's really, "God's word [which] is the true "holy thing" above all holy things. Yes, it is the only one we Christians know and have. Though we had the bones of all the Saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would not help us at all. All that stuff is a dead thing that can sanctify no one but God's word is the treasure that sanctifies everything (1 Timothy 4:5). By the word even all the saints themselves were sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11)." It would be a poor choice to put your faith in a cup over Jesus, no matter how cool that cup might be, therefore remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy has nothing to do with relics and everything to do with gladly learning and hearing God's Word in Scripture and in faithful preaching.
Giese mentions that Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) could also easily go in this category too. Donofrio likewise said that 'if we had these things we'd just abuse them,' this is true, in fact Scripture explains that the Jewish people in the end had to have the bronze serpent on the pole crafted by Moses (Numbers 21:4-9) removed and destroyed because the people had begun to worship it. King Hoshea, in the third year of his reign, "broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan)." Again, cool fun movie with lots of great moments but from the perspective of the 3rd Commandment Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade fails in teaching what holiness is actually about.
3) The Night of the Hunter (1955) Rated PG-13 for threatening situations involving children and some terror/violence
In Giese's third pick, the film noir classic The Night of the Hunter, director Charles Laughton provides a suspenseful thriller that looks at a preacher gone bad. Now there is a little ambiguity as to whether Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is a properly ordained preacher or if he's 'self ordained.' Either way, with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles, he's trouble.
While in jail for a traffic violation Powell's cell mate lets it slip in his sleep that he's hid away money from a robbery. While not knowing where it is exactly, only that's it's with the cell mates family, Rev. Powell seeks out the man's family once he's out of jail. Since the cell mate was hung for his crime and the man's widow was available Powell marries her to get himself near the money. The woman and her two children find themselves in danger at the hands of the greedy homicidal preacher. Like Luther in the Large Catechism says even if preachers and church workers look pious on the outside doing all the right things like attending church daily, "singing and ringing bells," they will be trouble if they "do not preach or use God's word to teach and live the contrary to it." In this video clip Rev. Powell preaches about love and hate all the while trying to ingratiate himself for the purpose of theft. In The Night of the Hunter Laughton and Mitchum provide a chilling portrait of a preacher living contrary to God's Word.
2) Shenandoah (1965) Rated PG
Giese's fourth pick is the Jimmy Stewart film Shenandoah set during the civil war era. Stewart plays Charlie Anderson a Virginia widower and famer who is working hard at raising six sons and a daughter. He has a rather hostile relationship to God and while he knows he should pray for what he receives in his daily bread Anderson does so with considerable resentment as can be seen in this video clip from the movie. By the end of the film however Anderson has had a change of heart and while attending a Church service with family he gladly sings "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow." The film is not sappy and sentimental but rather deeply profound and respectful of the Christian faith. It's surprisingly honest and refreshing, a good example in film of someone who struggles with the 3rd Commandment showing the real challenges associated with following the Commandment amidst the challenges of life.
1) Luther (2003) Rated PG-13 for disturbing images of violence
Fifth for Giese is the most recent movie about the reformer Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, Luther staring Joseph Fiennes is included in this list because it provides a really excellent movie sermon. Most movie sermons are awful, this one is short and sweet and to the point. Apart from the fact that you'd never have seen Luther walking around while he was preaching (He would have been in the pulpit) this is a great movie sermon. It also drives at the point of the 3rd Commandment. In the Large Catechism Luther writes that "whenever God's word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all." Like Saint Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." If you're going to gladly hear and learn God's Word what better place to be than with your brothers and sisters in Christ at church listening to a fine sermon like this one.
Donofrio's List Of 5 Picks
5) The Blues Brothers (1980) Rated R for language
First up for Donofrio's is John Landis' film The Blues Brothers staring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Jake and Elwood Blues. The Brothers are on a mission from God to raise enough money to help save the Roman Catholic Boarding School they grew up in. They need to raise $5000 to pay back property taxes and with Jake just out of prison he and Elwood decide to get the band back together to raise the money. For lovers of the blues and soul music this is a fun movie with a pile of musical cameos, everyone from Aretha Franklin to Ray Charles to James Brown show up in the movie. In their eleven day odyssey to raise the money they have interactions with Roman Catholic Nuns and Pentecostal preachers and even end up in a road house singing the theme song to TV show Raw Hide and the Tammy Wynette song "Stand By Your Man."
Of the film Donofrio says, "I don't know if it's to the glory of God but it's a lot of fun and a lot of mayhem." As their efforts to save the Boarding School from foreclosure get further and further out of control the brothers both end up in prison ... but they keep on singing. One positive thing is that the film even while poking some light fun at the stereotypical authoritarian Nun rapping fingers with a ruler overall has a rather positive view of Church and God. The characters are earnest in their desire to help others by raising money for the school even if they are misguided in their methods of accomplishing their goal. In an odd way Jake and Elwood Blues are very genuine in their musical vocation, such as it is, wanting to use it for God and neighbour. For fun here's that scene of them singing in the road house.
4) Pale Rider (1986) Rated 14A (Canada) Rated R (MPAA)
Second up for Donofrio is Pale Rider the Clint Eastwood movie. The movie is a Western about a traveling preacher and gunslinger who arrives in a small California gold mining camp which is being harassed by a local land owner who wants to steal their claim. Eastwood as the Preacher rides into town on his pale horse and death follows with him. The Preacher of Pale Rider is the sort of guy who finds calamity everywhere he goes and seems to live by the philosophy that sometimes the shepherd needs to protect the sheep by fighting off the wolves.
Perhaps the Preacher in Pale Rider could be better thought of, Biblically speaking, by comparing him to one of the Judges of the book of Judges or to someone like King David who also had the vocation of the sword. Most pastors won't have the vocation of the sword as a rival vocational calling. Saint Paul does, in fact point out to the Pastor Timothy that a pastor, "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." While the Preacher in Pale Rider has virtuous goals his method's leave Giese to wonder what the voters meetings at his church would be like, Donofrio thinks they would be "extra civil."
3) Leap of Faith (1992) Rated PG-13 for some language
Donofrio's number three film is Leap of Faith in which Steve Martin plays the traveling faith healer Jonas Nightingale. The viewer of the film is quickly taken behind the scenes to see all the tricks of the "trade" involved in a traveling tent revival style faith healer racket. As in The Night of the Hunter Jonas Nightingale is not what he appears to be. Although he isn't a murder Jonas is a huckster, a fraud and a womanizer. While the movie has moments of pure grace and Gospel it often jumps the rails painting a picture of a bad preacher who lives contrary to what Scripture teaches.
Donofrio points out that fraudulent preachers in the priesthood/pastorate has been a problem in the church since the beginning of days. with this in mind it's good to remember that deadbeat priests and preachers aren't just in the movies for an example of bad priests in the Bible check out Eli's sons in 1 Samuel 2:12-17, "Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest's servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt." These guys were selfishly using the Old Testament sacrificial system as their own personal BBQ like a phoney faith healer uses the promise of God's healing to line his own pockets with money. A notorious real life "faith healer" is Benny Hinn, for fun someone added Star Wars special effects and music to his Charismatic/Dramatic faith healing, here's the video.
2) The Apostles (1997) Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and a related scene of violence
Fourth up for Donofrio is The Apostles in which Robert Duvall, the films writer and director, plays Pentecostal pastor Eulis "Sonny" Dewey, a.k.a. The Apostle E.F. In this deeply conflicted film Sonny, after beating the lover of his wife (Farrah Fawcett) with a baseball bat rendering him in a coma and skipping town, anoints himself "The Apostle E. F." after he rebaptizes himself. On the run, Sonny leaves Texas and ends up in the bayous of Louisiana where he starts a new church. In a lot of ways he's a good pastor and cares about his community, that said while he is very passionate about his work he's also theologically unstable and misguided. Donofrio points out that the character of Sonny "is very sincere but he's just sincerely nutty." Like Jonas Nightingale in Leap of Faith Sonny is a fraud but his fraud is based in his evading justice for a violent act not in trying to steal people's money by taking advantage of their faith. Duvall puts in an Oscar nominated performance in this film which highlights, in a dramatic way, that pastors are sinners too and need God's word and forgiveness like everyone else. The whole film revolves around Church and preaching.
Donofrio points out that the film does brush up against the truth of the power of baptism, that in it our sins are forgiven and we do receive a new identity in Christ as a Child of God, however in Sonny's self-"rebaptism" (which is not a generally recognized Christian practice and certainly not a Christian practice recognized by Lutherans), Sonny takes advantage of this Christian teaching of baptismal regeneration and presupposes that this act validates his going on the lam. In this way The Apostles is an example of the 3rd Commandment not being followed, over all the movie is a mixed bag because there are also moments where the 3rd Commandment is followed and moments where it is not.
1) Unbroken (2014) Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Donofrio's number five is the story of Olympian Louis Zamperini who spends a good deal of WWII in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Donofrio picked Unbroken because while lost at sea after being shot down by enemy fire Zamperini prays to God, saying, "If you get me out of this I will dedicate my life to You." Later in his life Zamperini looks back on this prayer and trust that God answered it; answered it when he was rescued at sea by the enemy Japanese; answered it by sustaining him through his time in the prisoner of war camp. The movie details Zamperini's dramatic and long journey home. The book which deals also with his life after returning home from the prisoner of war camp goes into more detail concerning the answering of this prayer in Zamperini's life. This is one of Donofrio's favourite books.
An additional spot where the 3rd Commandment comes to bear on the film is found in a good scene near the beginning of the film where Zamperini is taken to church by his family and a rather good movie sermon is being given. Over all this is a movie in which a man is rescued from destruction and while church life doesn't play as big a part as it does in some of the other films in these lists Zamperini prayer is one that is valid, respectful, and holy. Because the prayer is answered by God it leads Zamperini to be a man who loves God's Word and the preaching of it, a man who in the end would hold God's Word as sacred and gladly hear and learn it the rest of his day.
For current movie reviews of films in the theatre right now by Pastor Ted Giese check out IssuesEtc.org, Where Christianity Meets Culture IssuesEtc!
 Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord: Large Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2006, pg 506.
 Ibid, pg 507.
 2 Kings 18:4
 Concordia: Large Catechism, pg 507.
 Ibid, pg 507.
 Romans 10:17
 Revelation 6:8
 1 Timothy 3:2-3