Christians Growing Squeamish About Blood?

Are modern Christians squeamish about references to blood in church? Have the days of heartily singing “Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb” passed us by? Are we actively downplaying the role of blood in the Atonement these days?

Such is the argument of Russell Moore in his article Is Your Church Losing Blood? in The Christian Post. Mind you, his evidence is mostly anecdotal, but really it can’t help but be. It’s hard to get hard statistical data on something like this, I suspect.

Still, I find the question fascinating. And I tend to think there’s something to it. I remember the first time I had a pastor friend who mentioned offhand how much he disliked all those “blood hymns” and how he tried to keep his church from singing them. It all made him feel rather queasy. So he just downplayed all the references to blood and tried to avoid it.

And I’ve learned since that he wasn’t alone. There are many others, both lay and clergy, who feel as my friend did. Keep the blood references out of the church.

The intriguing question it raises, especially on this Good Friday, is: Why? Why do so many Christians feel this way?

Is it just that we have more enlightened sensibilities and we’ve evolved past the point of something so bloody and barbaric as a substitutionary atonement? Or is it rather that most of us get queasy over blood in general because of the shift from rural to urban?

After all, when was the last time many of us went into the backyard to kill a chicken for dinner? Many Americans don’t deal with the immediate bloodiness of most of their meals. Aside from a few hunters, we don’t kill and butcher our own meat anymore. So is this perhaps to account for our squeamishness?

Either way, how does this impact the Crucifixion and the way we talk about the Atonement? Can we have a “bloodless” Atonement? The Old Testament was very adamant about the notion that the “life is in the blood.” Is that just an outdated idea from a bygone era? Or is that notion still at the heart of the Cross and the Atonement?

For my part, I tend to side with those who say we can’t bypass the bloodiness of the Cross or of the Atonement. Like it or not, blood sacrifice was at the heart of the Old Testament idea of Atonement. And the Cross of Jesus that we revere on Good Friday was based on that OT concept of blood Atonement. If we are to be faithful to the Bible, there is no getting around the bloodiness of our faith.

So, that leaves one last question, I suppose. If we bypass the bloodiness of our Lord’s death on the Cross, what have we lost as a result? How does that impact our Christian faith? I tend to think it has an adverse effect.

What about you? What do you think? Are you still singing “Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb”? Or do you prefer a more bloodless approach? If so, why?

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One response to “Christians Growing Squeamish About Blood?

  • John Meunier

    Lauren,

    In the recent discussion about the new UM Hymnal on Facebook there was a significant groundswell against “happy-clappy” blood songs.

    When I first started serving a small, rural congregation, I had to adjust to the hymn choices compared to what I had grown accustomed to in liberal, college town congregations.

    But I’ve found quite a depth in some of the songs that get dismissed as ‘blood’ songs. Not all by any means. I find a hymn like “And Can It Be” to be so wonderful that I do not understand why anyone would resist its references to blood.

    To have some sort of blanket prohibition on songs that make reference to blood makes little sense to me. I understand the references to blood create some issues for some people, but those seem more like teaching opportunities than reasons to shy away from the language.

    But, what do I know.

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