Holy Week is here, and I’ve been thinking about stuff- mostly about how thankful I should be for the reality that this week re-presents, the family that raised me with an identity that is rooted in the events of this week, and how ungrateful the actual living of my life shows me to be.
Anyway, those two things- Holy Week and the fundamentalist Baptist tradition that formed me (though always through the wiser, more balanced and protective filter of my parents)- are swirling together in my mind, lately.
With Maundy Thursday only a day away, I’ve remembered an old controversy- one I’ve not thought about since… the 80’s. The assertion was that John MacArthur denied ‘The Blood’ of Jesus. Of course that would be a bad thing to deny, and people got all bent out of shape.
The disagreement went like this:
According to biblical ‘grammar’ blood is special because ‘the life is in the blood.’ MacArthur understood scripture’s ‘blood’ to be a reference to the life that Christ voluntarily sacrificed for us. The focus was on his death on the cross. The fundamentalist understood ‘blood’ to be a reference to blood, which they believed was necessarily and literally collected and applied to a heavenly altar. It wasn’t enough that the sacrifice was slain; the blood had to be applied.
I’m no MacArthur fan, but I have little doubt that he is right. Although I truly appreciate the commitment to scripture that motivated the controversy, it also reminds me that… well, that’s not what I wanted to comment on.
The argument always struck me as bizarre, but with tomorrow’s celebration of the institution of the Eucharist, the memory made me sad, too. Sad because Christ’s blood is denied in proclamation and practice, by those who are truly zealous to defend it.
The form of the argument that deals with Old Testament sacrifices got my attention:
The Fundamentalist reasoned that the animal was slain, and the blood had to be applied. By implication… you can see the flow of thought.
The church has reasoned that the passover lamb had to be slain, but then eaten, too. By explicit teaching ‘Unless you eat my flesh…; this is body; this is my blood; Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.
Questions of Christology and ‘reading well’ aside: the fundamentalist’s conflict involved affirmations about Christ’s Blood, which require certainty regarding things that we’ve never seen and know little about and a conclusion that makes no difference in how we live before God. It does this while ignoring the once universal teaching about Christ’s Blood that is the very heart (and source) of the church’s practice.
The Fundamentalist insists on incorruptible, ‘divine’ and unseen blood in heaven, but denies that blood is received at our altars each Lord’s Day. Hmmmm.