Preaching Articles

American Christianity is far less bloody than it used to be.

Songs like “Power in the Blood” or “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” or “Are You Washed in the Blood?” are still sung in some places, but fewer and fewer, and there aren’t many newer songs or praise choruses so focused on blood. The Cross, yes; redemption, yes; but blood, rarely. We’re eager to speak of life but hesitant to speak of blood.

And this is not only a Protestant phenomenon. Roman Catholics—centered as they are on the Eucharist—often seem to go out of their way to speak of the “real presence” of Jesus in the elements, without going so far as to mention that this presence is believed to be that of his body and blood, as well as soul and divinity. Even Catholic communion hymns, I’m told, prefer terms like “the Cup” to “the Blood.”

The eclipse of blood in American Christianity has quite a bit to do, I suspect, with American prosperity.

The “blood medleys” once so popular in evangelical hymnals, evoke something of the blue-collar, socially marginalized origins of conservative American Protestantism. To sing “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” often seems too much of a reminder to upwardly mobile suburban professionals that their religion has “redneck” roots. (A Catholic writer suggests that this is also true of the reaction to traditional Catholic piety in the suburban churches filled with the successful descendants of immigrants.)

At the same time, these churches want to relate the gospel to a non-Christian culture. Often, we do so by being as antiseptic as possible: with gleaming restrooms and shiny foyers, with churches designed to look like malls, complete with information booths and coffee kiosks. We assume that making Christianity clean and bright will remove the sting of offense from the gospel.

More “sophisticated” churches avoid the subject of blood, although less sophisticated ones retain enough of the old ways to talk about blood but also to trivialize it. T-shirts ape beer commercials (“This Blood’s for You”) or the tattoo culture (“My Life Was Saved by Body Piercing”).

Some of this is the result of the lingering sting of liberal Christian hostility toward a “slaughterhouse religion.” Some of it is the result of an age that fears blood, but doesn’t know why. Some of it is the result of our ignorance, as we think that “blood” is just another metaphor, one we can easily replace.

And yet, bloodless Christianity leaves a void. Could it be that the lack of emphasis on blood in evangelical Protestant churches at least partially explains why Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals who otherwise would have little to do with Roman Catholic imagery found themselves openly weeping in movie theaters as they viewed The Passion of the Christ? Did they need to remember that “with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5)?

Our embarrassment over the bloodiness of Christianity often results in blood atonement being presented in our catechism and discipleship of believers in an attenuated, abstract sort of way. Less and less often do ordinary believers hum to themselves songs about the blood of Jesus. Less and less often do small children memorize Scripture passages about the blood of Christ.

We assume that we first convince unbelievers to follow Jesus—and then we explicate the meaning of his blood, when we think they’re ready for this specialized theological knowledge. But how do we address consciences indicted by the ancient Accuser of Eden—some of them tortured by the knowledge that they have shed innocent blood themselves—without pointing them to the only means of conquering him, “the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:10–11)?

We assume that we teach young Christians how to live, to abstain from sexual immorality and greed and pugilism, before we move to something as seemingly arcane as blood sacrifice. And yet, Scripture assumes that personal morality is built on the knowledge that we were bought “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).

We assume that we build “community” in our churches before we address something as raw and potentially alienating as the shedding of blood. And yet, the community we share—bearing with all of one another’s faults and transcending our petty ethnic and cultural prejudices—comes only through the recognition that we share a common condemnation as sinners, but, as we will still confess to our Christ in the heavenly places, “you were slain, and with your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Shared life is based on shared blood.

Even the vampires in our popular fiction know that. That’s what makes our bloodless Christianity all the more ironic. We believe we’re more in tune with unbelievers around us, but they’re talking constantly about blood, from pharmaceutical advertisements to horror films, from vampire romance novels to AIDS and DNA testing.

The nineteenth- and twentieth-century revivalist tradition gave the Church a valued psalter of “blood medleys.” Some of them could be done better musically and lyrically, and some even theologically. But let us never be embarrassed by our emphasis—in song, in public prayer, in evangelism, in discipleship and in preaching—on the blood of Jesus.

There is power—wonder-working power—in the blood. Our culture already sees that. They’re simply looking in the wrong veins.

Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location. Moore is the author of several books, including "The Kingdom of Christ," "Adopted for Life," and 'Tempted and Tried."

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Harold Andrew

commented on Jun 29, 2013

Right on, the past is GONE but research tells us so are the Christians from church, school, politics, business, and it appears from ministry in too many cases. The prevailing factor seems to be gathering dollars instead of emphasis on reaching out to others. With recent supreme court decisions, as a country - which is us,, stopped walking from God and started RUNNING FROM GOD. Prayer for church and focus on influencing society instead of us mimicing society. This is a great opportunity for a biblical revolution. We must never forget, many are not covered with His blood and will go to hell. whoops I used blood and hell.

Paul Zeron

commented on Jun 29, 2013

All I can say is amen.

Jonathan Hughes

commented on Jun 29, 2013

Devils with a Transylvania assent are obsessed with blood, blood, BLOOD! War spills it. The devil collects as many people as he can in army bases having them think that is strenth. The devils loves that. The devil also says through people there is this and that in the blood too. All of that is to give you fear. Instead of fearing all go to to find a UCS only in your area or go to upper cervical health centers to rfind an upper cervical specific only DC chiropractor. All ages not no matter how good you think you feel.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 29, 2013

We still sing the hymns that proclaim the blood! It is ONLY by the shed blood of Jesus that our sins are washed away. Hebrews 10:29: "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" Hebrew 9:12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." Keep preaching and proclaiming the blood!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 29, 2013

@ Jonathan Hughes, Really? If you are going to try to promote your "health center" at least write something intelligible!

Violet Arzadon

commented on Jun 30, 2013

Being a christian means you are bought with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, the apostle Paul said we are "adopted" to Christ. That is because he is a Jew and we are the gentiles and being an apostle to the gentiles we are adopted to christianity, But we are really Blood Children of Christ. His real Blood Children. God Bless!

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