What if Christians were one?

17 04 2021

There is a saying that fiction has to be believable but real life may not. Hence, I was barely was able to get through watching the movie “What if (2010)” endorsed by Pureflix as good Christian film, because of the myriads of unbelievable elements it contains. The story is about a business man, Ben Walker (Kevin Sorbo) who, at the peak of his career gets whacked by an Angel into a “future” life he would miss if fails to be faithful to God’s call to become a preacher. The problem is that this life, the life of penny pushing pastor of a small town parish is nothing to compare with the power job he presently has but in the end he ditches it for preacher’s life and left me wondering if this isn’t a mockery Christianity.

Are the makers of this movie really saying that you can’t be a successful business man as well as a good Christian? Are the two really incompatible?  If that is so, then no should be surprised when Christianity is scorned in intellectual and artistic circles. But even more seriously, it would negate the very words of Jesus, “Go you therefore and make disciples of all (Mathew 28: 19), which would be impossible if only pastors could be good Christians. How about when Jesus talked about trading with the talents God gave us when he told the story of the man who about to engage in travel called his servants and entrusted them with talents with the expectation that they would trade and make profit (Luke 19:13) It would be impossible if all the talent that needs trading was that of a pastor. Furthermore, it would also negate the life of the early Christians many of whom where business people like Priscilla and Aquila(Acts 18:2-3), or Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43)  and  many high ranking members of the Roman society who later converted to Christianity.  

Consequently, I would argue that the producers of this film misunderstand the basic tenets of biblical Christianity and that their misunderstanding has its roots in the crises of Christian division and disunity that became definitive in the 15th century with the protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther who broke with the Catholic Church (the only church exiting in the world since the time of Apostles) and founded the Lutheran church with separate doctrines and teachings. As a consequence, today, there is probablly perhaps up to 50 thousand different Christian sects all with conflicting interpretation of scriptures a great obstacle to understanding what Christians really believe. And this incoherence introduces a profound dysfunction such that Christians end up producing movies that are contradictory to scriptural teachings.

In the movie, for instance, an angel who happens to be a mechanic and who delights in whacking people over the head to get them do what he wants kidnaps Walker and forces him to become a pastor, with wife and kids he does not want all in the name of a God who is love? How in the world would atheists watching this film ever take God or Christian faith seriously. How I long for Christian films like Hollywood’s greats like the “Ten Commandment (1956)” by Cecil Be De Mills with masterful dialogue and great stories. In contrast, “What if”, though styled like “It’s a wonderful life (1946)”, is simply artistic dwarf.

 As the movie progressed, Walker easily ditches his successful life and accepts his new life as a pastor and his pastor’s wife (Kristy Swanson) all smiles she wakes up to find him reading the bible, a transformed man. The problem is that real life does not work that way, it takes much more than that to get someone to change his life. Usually, such transformation is a slow and painful process. Besides it can be argued that there is really no reason for Walker change. His life as a successful business man was fascinating, even altruistic and progressive, and there was no real mission or great commission he had in abandoning it to become a pastor, and besides according to St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, every noble human work can be a path to holiness

In the final scene, Pastor Walker goes to the hospital to save the soul of a dying man, telling him to repent. Usually this is the ultimate price, or golden globe of spiritual life for every pastor, but the moment was marred when the dying man looks up and seeing a man with a bible and thinking him to be a catholic priest says to him, “I did not ask for priest.” Walker replies “I am not a priest— same league different teams”. Walker meant that as a protestant pastor he was playing the same leagues as a catholic priest but in a different team. Pastor and the priest both profess the same Christianity yet have opposing views, different doctrine and different teachings.

When the dying man, a little embarrassed, says to Walker, “How are we going to do this”: what if I repent, how are you going to forgive me if you are not a priest? Only the Catholic church claims the power to forgive sins in the name of Jesus based on the power that Christ handed down to his apostle in John 20:23, ” Who so ever sins you forgive they are forgiven and who sin you retain they are retained”. The Catholic Church teaches that this power is transferred down through apostolic succession to the Pope and bishops in communion with him and the bishops delegate this power to the priests.

Walker says to him “I believe that God knows your heart and he can forgive you.”  I think this is a pitiful assurance to give to dying man in place of powerful sacrament of reconciliation as instituted by Jesus Christ and contained in the deposit of faith uncontaminated and unchanged for 2000 years in the Catholic church . Christian disunity is the reason that Christian teams are consistently losing out to the worldly teams in the all the game of life, politics, movies, science and arts, as Jesus predicted and leaves one wondering:  What if Christians were one?


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