February 19, 2010

Heterodox Hymnody - Who Crucified Jesus?

I was in a worship service recently (not at the church I serve) when one song that included this line was sung: "You crucified your Son for me."  My initial reaction was, "AHHHHHH!"  My follow-up reaction was, "OH NO!"  My third reaction was to jot it down so that I could remember and comment here on the importance of orthodox theology in our worship music be it traditional or contemporary.  

So, did the Father crucify the Son?  The answer to this question is a resounding "NO!"  The best place to go in the scriptures is Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.  Peter says, "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (23, emphasis added).  A few quick observations are in order.  Peter says plainly to his audience, the men of Jerusalem, that they crucified and killed Jesus.  Their "lawless hands" are the agent in the crucifixion.  They are responsible for his blood.  The crucifixion was an act of lawlessness.  God cannot be the agent of a lawless deed.  The crucifixion was a sin.  God cannot sin.  Yes, the crucifixion happened as part of God's plan for human redemption, but this does not make him the agent in the crucifixion.  The thing to see here is that God can and does use sinful human agency within his providential plan for the salvation of sinful human beings.  To say to the Father, "you crucified your Son for me," is to attribute wickedness to the Holy One, and is abject sin, even if unintentional and the result of muddy thinking.

Now someone might respond that this is a matter of artistic license and the song makes us feel good and its not that big of a deal anyway.  Who died and made me the doctrine police anyway, right?  I wonder, though, how we would respond to a song that included a line that thanked the Father for dying on the cross (the heresy of patripassianism) or one that thanked the Father for changing hats and coming as the Son (the heresy of modalism).  What if a song denied the dual natures of Christ or the divinity of the Holy Spirit or the Incarnation or the Ressurection?  Would we go on singing glibly and enjoying the tune of heterodoxy?  We might, since few present day Christians have much of an education in historic heretical positions. 

If our music is to honor God, then it ought to be doctrinally accurate.  I don't care how hip the tune is.  We have substitued error and treacle for biblical and traditional orthodoxy.  If our music does not reflect the truth of God's person and the holiness of his character, then it is neither true nor beautiful nor worship.  When people leave a worship service, they more commonly leave humming the tune of the music rather than reflecting on the thesis of the sermon.  Our songwriters must think of themselves as theologians of the most practical sort.  They have a great deal of influence in the thinking of the church. 

5 comments:

Andrew said...

Matt, your call to honour God through sound doctrine is, as always, Biblical.

Unfortunately, if we cannot accept false doctrine in our music, your argument suggests we must not accept it in our orthodoxy either. Don't you agree? There are many example of doctrinal liberties espoused as orthodoxy which can be easily shown to be Biblically incorrect. Here is an example (to defend or refute).

Consider the question, who is the Bride of Christ?

In [Isaiah 54:5-6] God's relationship to Israel is as a Husband to a wife. Jesus is also Husband to Israel because the husband is equated to the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel (also making Jesus, God). [Jeremiah 3:20] repeats this same relationship between God and Israel as Husband and wife, saying the wife (Israel) has been unfaithful. God's marriage to Israel as Husband to wife continues in [Ezekiel 16:32][Joel 1:8] and so on. This claim is repeated so many times [Isa 61:10][Jer 2:32][Jer 7:34][Jer 16:9][Eze 16:32] it is hard to miss; harder to deny, even if Israel is adulterous [Eze 16:32] as wife. Yet most preachers, if asked to identify the Bride of Christ, would say “The Church”.

The question seems trivial, but the orthodox answer makes God an adulterer (God forbid); which is as bad as making God a sinner.

For God to be Husband, and the Church to be His Bride rather than Israel, one of two things must happen. Either the OT verses must be ignored, or God must divorce Israel and marry another. Yet anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery according to [Luke 16:18].

If God divorces Israel and marries “The Church” God is as much an adulterer as Israel is [Jeremiah 3:1]. Some might argue that [Jeremiah 3:8](and [Isa 54:6]) makes it clear God did divorce Israel. Even so, that only strengthens the case that God cannot then marry another, divorced or not. A clever person might argue, as Paul does in [Romans 7:2] and [1 Corinthians 7:39], that a wife is bound to her husband only as long as he lives. But if her husband dies (which Jesus did), she is free to marry whom she wishes, since death releases one from the law of marriage.

But here is the irony: If the wife was divorced because of adultery, there is no longer cause for divorce, since once the husband dies the wife is no longer an adulteress once she has been released from the law of marriage by His death! Thus, the death of the Husband is what redeems the wife!

Funnily enough the original OT verses that reference the adulterous bride also reference the new covenant, making it clear that God IS NOT an adulterer since his new covenant bride is actually the same old covenant bride once redeemed (read [Eze 16:32] through to [Eze 16:42-23,60-62]; read [Isa 54:5] through to [Isa 54:7-10]; read [Jer 3:8] through to [Jer 3:11-15, especially Jer 3:15]; read [Jer 16:9] through to [Jer 16:16] etc)

However, if Biblical correctness is not our goal but the preservation of orthodoxy is, we can still ignore all this, and proclaim the Church to be the Bride of Christ.

Peace to you.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Here are two points in response:

1. The language of marriage in the scriptures with regard to God and his people is metaphor. It is intended to paint a picture of the deep and covenantal relationship that God has with his people. So, I wouldn't want to press various uses of the language to hard. The OT language indicates the deep commitment of God to Isreal. Though it may not use the language precisely (and I would not expect as much), the NT does liken the relationship between Christ and his church to that of a husband and bride. As indicated above, given the metaphorical nature of the language, I wouldn't want to press it too hard.

2. I don't see a problem with using the language of husband/bride for both Israel and the Church. My view of the Israel/Church relationship is that Israel (or the covenant people of God) is defined Christocentrically and that, the Christ having come, the nations have been incorporated into the people of God. I see continuity between Isreal and the Church, though this is getting quite off the topic of the original post.

Grace and peace,
Matt

Andrew said...

1. It was surprising you rejected the argument as a false analogy, given the Bible's frequent use of the metaphor. The language of marriage in the scriptures between God/Elect and husband/wife is metaphorical. Being a metaphor doesn't make the argument false if the representation is true, as Jesus' parables show.

As a favour could you answer a question, in the Biblical marriage metaphor between God/Elect and a husband/wife, which is the signifier and which is the signified? Do you think customary human marriage between husband/wife is a token of God's love for his elect; or is God's love for his elect a token of a man's love for his wife? (Which do you take as objective?). How is Paul using the metaphor in [Romans 7:2] and [1 Corinthians 7:39]?

2. No doubt, your views on “ekklēsia” and Israel would make for an excellent post, and an even more excellent discussion, but as you point out, that is not the topic of this post; perhaps some other time.

As for going off topic, please forgive. Your post resounded with a clear call to be biblical in musical doctrine. Music is part of the worship experience. By extension, your argument holds for all parts of the worship experience. It seemed worthwhile to test your suggestion against other aspects of worship and orthodoxy seemed so unassailable it made for a good litmus test.

Peace.

Matt O'Reilly said...

I see marriage between a man and woman as signifying the reality of God's covenantal commitment to his people (the thing signified). I base this on Jesus' statements that, at the resurrection, there will be no marriage. Clearly the sign will be discarded while the thing signified continues, which is God's covenantal relationship to his people.

I still see the marriage language that describes God's relationship to his people is metaphorical language that points to the deeper reality of his commitment to his people comprised of Israel plus incorporated nations all identified by faith in Christ as a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. The scriptures draw on the language of marriage to get at the deeper idea of God's covanantal relationship to his people.

The language of marriage in Romans 7 is helpful. Paul uses human marriage to signify the relationship of Israel under the law. But it doesn't make sense to say that Isreal is married to the law. What would that even mean in a literal sense? Likewise, marriage points to the covanantal relationship between God and his people.

Andrew said...

You're right! It doesn't make sense to say Israel was married to the Law; but no one said that!

Paul says (in [Romans 7:1]) that he was talking to an audience that knew the Law. He was speaking to Israelites rather than non-Israelites. Paul also knew the Old Testament, as did his audience.

When Paul spoke in [Rom 7:2-3], the husband was understood to be God; the wife, as the nation of Israel. It was also understood that part of the nation of Israel, namely the House of Israel (as opposed to the House of Judah), had been given a bill of divorce because of adultery ([Jeremiah 3:8] also [Isaiah 50:1], much of [Hosea]) The adultery in [Rom 7:3] would have been understood as the sin of idolatry (again [Jeremiah 3:8] also [Eze 16:38],[Eze 23:37],[Jer 13:27] and so on).

You agree, the metaphor is still true at this point; but look what Paul does next. Paul sets up legal conditions whereby Israel is no longer adulterous (under the law), and introduces the death of Jesus (husband).

In [Rom 7:4] when Paul says to his audience, they became dead (thanatoō) to the Law, he is not saying they were married to the Law as you suppose, but that the marriage conditions had been rendered null which made Israel both a bride and therefore also an adulteress. (The Greek word thanatoō means rendered null or liberated from a bond). The marriage no longer existed because the husband (Jesus) had died.

Why would the death of the husband be necessary?

Because the conditions mentioned in [Luke 16:18] held true for God as Israel's husband (and the signifier in the metaphor). This is obvious from the verses [Luke 16:17-18] which set up verse 18. Why establish the integrity of the law or talk about the kingdom of God if one is talking about customary marriage? Simply, it wasn't talking about customary marriage but God's covenantal marriage.

The husband who divorced his adulterous bride, died to make the bride no longer adulterous.

Matt, can you see Paul's argument to Roman Hebrews in [Romans 7:1-6] as fulfillment of God's promise to heal their faithlessness in [Jeremiah 3:20-23]?

Isn't it just amazing how the Bible bears one testimony to the faithfulness of Christ!