On Choosing a Scripture Passage, "Just," and Blood
Q. Is there biblical support for the extravagant blood image in Andre Crouch's "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power?"
A. I suppose that you are not questioning the "blood theology" of the hymn—that is the biblical teaching that we are saved by the suffering and death of Christ. Our being saved by the blood of Christ is a pervasive scriptural doctrine and is reflected in many hymns.
But I do sympathize with your (implied) criticism of the image of the blood of Christ reaching to the highest mountain and flowing to the lowest valley. Maybe I'm too much of a literalist here, but this has always seemed a bizarre image to me. And I know of no biblical support.
It reminds me of the quip of a Roman Catholic theologian who said that fundamentalists have neutralized the power of the Lord's Supper with their infrequent communion and their ignoring of the text, "This is my body and this is my blood." However, he continued, they must feel guilty about this because fundamentalists have buckets of blood in their hymns.
Q. Our minister has started to read two Bible passages before the sermon. We used to read only one. Why this change?
A. The choice of Scripture passages (and the number) makes for an interesting study. Some preachers choose on the basis of "the Lord has laid it on my heart." Others choose favorite topics and hobbyhorses. (Maybe these two groups of preachers really do the same!) Others choose for more objective reasons. Perhaps the pastoral needs in the congregation will suggest a topic: for example, Scripture's teaching on illness and death if a congregation has been suffering. One venerable Reformed practice is "preaching through a book" (or, if you prefer the Latin: lectio continua). Here a pastor systematically preaches through, for example, Romans, and treats each chapter (or part of a chapter) in a sermon. In addition, Reformed pastors have often been guided by the Heidelberg Catechism for choice of subject and text. A variation of the latter is to preach according to a lectionary—-that is, a designated list of texts that tries to cover most of the Bible's teaching. The one most commonly used today is the Revised Common Lectionary. Your pastor may be using a lectionary, since a lectionary usually suggest two or three Scripture passages (normally, Old Testament, epistle, and gospel).
Each of these ways of choosing a Scripture passage has its own strengths. Your pastor's decision to use two passages regularly is especially helpful in relating one part of the Bible to another.
Q. Several of our worship leaders frequently use the word "just" in their prayers—as in "We just want to thank you for the beautiful weather for the church picnic." Does the word have any particular meaning, and why is it used so much?
A. Good question! The "just" phenomenon has been around for some time and seems to seep in and out of churches. Linguistically the word is an "intensifier," and its use also appears to be an indicator of sincerity and spiritual earnestness on the part of the prayer. For further reflection, allow me to reprint an excerpt of a piece I wrote on this some years ago entitled "Just Neat" (Reformed Journal, 1982).
Some of my Christian friends have such "neat" lives. Their fellowship is neat, and the answers to prayer are neat, and so is the Scripture text, the gospel song, and Moody Monthly, fesus himself turns out to be so neat, even a neat guy.
If "neat" is used most often in testimony, "just" is the all-purpose lubricant in prayer. "Lord, we just thank you, and we just want to praise you, and we just love to be here." I know that a prayer without "just" may lack a certain aura of sincerity, but I still propose that every "just" user set a limit of no more than one "just" for every three sentences, with a total of no more than ten in a thirty-five-word sentence or a nine-minute prayer, whichever comes first.
As religious pieces go, mine is not, I suppose, very spiritual, and won't get reprinted in the Christian Digest. But it does seem to me that implementing my small suggestions would be ... well, just neat.