Wash Us in the Blood

Although I am a convert to the traditional Lutheran confessions and believe the historic liturgy is generally the proper form of Christian worship, I have a great appreciation for all forms of music.  Particularly, I enjoy traditional Gospel music.  For this reason, Kanye West’s release of the song and video entitled, “Wash Us in the Blood” fascinated me.  This follows Mr. West’s release of the gospel album in late October 2019 entitled, “Jesus is King.”  When I watched the video for West’s “Wash Us in the Blood,” I found its mixture of gospel-inspired themes with the commentary on the current issues in American society compelling. 

This song seems to be a prayer to God to wash America (or the world) in the blood of Christ.  He also asks God to send the Holy Spirit down.  The track includes selections from a preacher who identifies the devil and the world as sources of evil.  West’s video also brought to my mind Martin Luther’s teaching on the means by which God in fact washes us in blood of Christ and brings down the Holy Spirit upon us.    

Remember the explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed from the Small Catechism where Luther wrote that Christ “purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own.”*  Here Luther borrowed from I Peter 1:18-19 to explain Christ’s redemptive act.  In the early 1520s, he published an edited version of his sermons on I Peter.  In this text, he described Christ’s blood as a treasure and wrote that “one drop of this innocent blood would have been more than enough for the sin of the whole world.”**    

According to Luther, however, how does God distribute this costly treasure to sinners?  In Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525) he explained God achieved the forgiveness of sins on the cross but He distributes it through the preached Word and the sacraments.***  In this case, God washes sinners in the blood of Christ and brings the Holy Spirit down to them in holy Baptism.  In his lectures on I John 5:8 (1527), Dr. Luther stated that the Christ’s blood is connected to the water of Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  He explained in the following manner:

In Baptism there is the blood and the Spirit.  If you are baptized with water, the blood of Christ is sprinkled through the Word.  If you are baptized in the blood, you are washed at the same time with the Holy Spirit through the Word.  Therefore these three must be accepted as one testimony.  For these three constantly accompany one another, and through the Word a daily immersion and a perpetual Baptism takes place, a perpetual shedding of the blood of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, a continual cleansing from sins.****

*Small Catechism, Part II, Second Article http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#creed

**Martin Luther, Sermons on the First Epistle of St. Peter, Luther’s Works 30:36.    

***Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets, LW 40: 213-14.

****Luther, Lectures On The First Epistle of St John, LW 30: 316.

8 thoughts on “Wash Us in the Blood

  1. Here are the lyrics to the song by Kanye West.

    A roaring lion, walketh about
    Seeking whom he may (devour)
    (Ronny J, please turn me up)
    Take some rain, nonstop
    Rain, don’t want war
    Rain come, rain come
    Come shine, come rain, good month
    South side, let it bang
    Outside let it rain
    Rain down on the pain
    Rain down on the slain
    Rain down for my mom (ooh)
    Rain down on the farm (ah)
    Shower us with your love (ha)
    Wash us in the blood (ooh)
    Drop this for the thugs (ah)
    Know I grew up in the mud (ha)
    The top is not enough
    Wash us in the blood (ah)
    Is there anybody here? (Ha)
    Is there anybody here? (Ooh)
    That can save, no matter how much he player-hate? Hahaha
    It was the blood that (ooh)
    It was the blood that (God)
    It was the blood that cleansed me, ha
    It was the (ooh)
    Shower down on us (ah)
    Wash us in the blood (ha)
    Wash us…

  2. Where might doctrine be in Mr. West’s ballad?
    Mr West is in desperate need of the Book of Concord.
    His “Wash Us in the Blood” music video is just another celebratory exhibition
    of bad behaviors. Just because he is screeching along to a monstrously crafted
    tune while saying the words “wash us in the blood” does not make it the least profitable for anyone’s salvation. The video is scandalous and it is doubtful his fan base will discern any pure doctrine from its secular production. Rather it will likely promote breaking of the commandments.
    Most confounding is why a Lutheran pastor would be “fascinated” by this useless tripe. Might you also be fascinated by Mr. West’s “devil in a new dress” hymn????

    Here are just a few of mr west’s devil dress lyrics:

    They way you look should be a sin, you my sensation
    I know I’m preaching to the congregation
    We love Jesus but you done learned a lot from Satan
    I mean a nigga did a lot of waiting
    We ain’t married but tonight I need some consummation
    May the Lord forgive us
    May the God’s be with us

    Mr West has an extraordinary number of EXPLICIT tunes. How does his catalog of filth help sinners?? Just because he mentions Jesus now and then?????

    TRULY ABSURD and I’m frightened for the LCMS if Kanye is now considered a shining light. Why bother attending church? No need for Sunday school. Just sit the kids down with Kanye’s Youtube videos!!!
    Madness is upon us!!!
    I’m married to my husband. We have three children. I’m not fascinated by Mr West and you shouldn’t be either. Rather, send that man a Book of Concord and set him straight.
    Good Grief!!!

  3. “obscenity.” … “utterly without redeeming social value,”…”absolutely devoid of any serious artistic merit” … “Theologically barren”… “a disgrace”… “noise, like the devil flatulating amplified by stereo 500kW megaphones”… One could go on and on.

  4. I haven’t (yet?) listened to any of Kanye’s ‘Jesus is King’ album, but I’ve followed the story, intrigued, from a distance. It’s not often we see a compelling conversion story involving a pop artist, and one on his level of public notoriety/fame. It’s not the hip-hop part that turned me off, though: I don’t have a habit of listening to any ‘contemporary Christian music’ as I find it lyrically cringey and musically uninteresting/ flat. Songs don’t need to be didactic / sermons. As far as criticism of this particular text goes, consider Kanye’s base, who is likely not churchgoing, and is used to thinking and speaking (living?) in obscenities. To get someone thinking about Jesus, or even curious about the imagery (Satan as a prowling lion seeking to devour; absolution through Jesus’ blood) is a huge first step toward getting through to / softening the hardened heart with the balm of the gospel. Well-catechized Lutherans aren’t Kanye’s audience, but he can show you (if you want to listen) how to talk to those outside the church, initially, so they might listen. Consider C.S. Lewis’s philosophy of storytelling as a way to sneak Christian themes ‘past watchful dragons.’ Christianity is as repellent to some people as depictions of sin (or, even watered-down theology!) in art/culture is to many Confessional Lutherans (myself included;). Good music is good music (a gift of God, to be sure; to be made for his glory and our neighbor’s good), and I for one, hope to see many more Christian creatives busy at this pre-apologetic type of work ‘til Christ returns. Thanks for bringing ‘Jesus is King’ back to mind, Dr. Phillips; I’ll check it out when I get a chance! (I am a longtime roots Jamaican music listener, and learned a lot of African-American spirituals that way! <3)

  5. @Alison
    What Jesus is Mr. West getting people to think about? I don’t know the Jesus that Kanye screeches about. Kanye is actually delivering doctrine through his lyrics, but it’s not good doctrine. I’ll go back to his devil dress song for a moment.

    In particular the following horrid lyrics:

    “We ain’t married but tonight I need some consummation
    May the Lord forgive us
    May the Gods be with us”

    Kanye seems to be teaching that you can sin all you want & not bother with true repentance. Just mumble, “may the Lord forgive us” and carry on in sin. Isn’t that antinomianism? Additionally, it appears Kanye may be confused regarding the Trinity.
    “May the gods be with us”. Who might the gods be?

    I cannot agree that the use of obscenity for those living obscenity laced lives, “can be a huge step in getting through a hardened heart with the balm of the gospel.” The only thing to get through a hardened heart is the Word. The Pure Word.
    Does Isaiah 55:11 apply here? “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

    “Well-catechized Lutherans aren’t Kanye’s audience, but he can show you ( if you want to listen) how to talk to those outside the church, initially, so they might listen.” This is a tremendous insult to all people. For the obscene we will deliver the gospel with obscenity. For the lurid, lurid we shall be? And for the white collar criminals – Lutheran pastors should embezzle with the best of them? People do not hear the gospel from Kanye because he is not sharing the gospel. It is curious how a professor was able to see a “mixture of gospel inspired themes” in Kanye’s, Wash Us in the Blood music video. There is no discernible gospel in that video. St. Stephen’s critique is stunningly accurate.

    Perhaps Kanye’s audience would be closer to hearing truth if Kanye announced that he will be removing all his rated E for Explicit songs from iTunes because they are sinful. No more downloads. No more sales.

    Lyrics from Kanye’s song, “I am a god”

    I just talked to Jesus
    He said, “What up Yeezus?”
    I said, “Sh* * I’m chilling
    Trying to stack these millions”
    I know he the most high
    But I am a close high
    Mi casa es su casa
    That’s our costra nostra
    I am a God
    I am a God
    I am a God

    As I understand, Kanye was indoctrinated by a mega church fanatic. Therefore his theology is sloppy at best – that’s as humble of an opinion as I can muster.

  6. Hi Carol!

    I can’t disagree with your criticism of those lyrics. I wouldn’t defend them either. I haven’t listened to Kanye, so I’m certainly not familiar with those songs you’ve quoted.
    I did listen to ‘Wash us in the Blood’ after commenting above. I can see why some may not like it from an aural aesthetic POV (I personally like less-produced, more pared-down music, generally-speaking), but the sound is on-point as far as the modern conventions go for the genre, and the rhythmic (triplet) flow of the lyrics is pleasant, to my ear anyway. You won’t find it pleasant if you don’t like the style or substance—and that is ok. I don’t listen to 99% of what plays on the radio, and I consider myself a person who really likes music (albeit, mostly dead music;).

    I don’t particularly mean to either critique or defend Kanye’s music (especially since I really have no acquaintance with him beyond his new Gospel album, and this particular song). But I can’t help butting in to a discussion involving aesthetics / Christian cultural engagement.

    Sometime I mean to devote a little more thought, myself, to the topic of “gratuity” in art in general. It’s been on my mind since I attended high school and college (both Lutheran), where we were not permitted to draw from a nude figure, but could dissect human cadavers (college, not hs;). But many Lutherans have issues with nudity whether in art, or in chapel (the perceived immodesty of some/all nursing mothers has been a hot topic at times in our synod). Hip hop is a big genre, but is known for very explicit content in some corners. Same with rock, etc. J.S. Bach and his extended family were known to enjoy ribald / lewd music playing and singing at their occasional get-togethers. Shakespeare is full of bawdy (quite explicit in places). Post-enlightenment, we have lost some of our ability to laugh and sing about the silly, sublime, humble grandeur of human life in these human bodies. Art is supposed to help us learn to see the lines around sin/stewardship, despising/loving, idolizing/appreciating creaturely life and the ‘first article gifts.’ Someone (Plato? Aristotle?) said that the young must be taught in order to have their affections trained to appreciate and love the good. Art helps in the training of those affections (for good, or, as you well observed, for ill). When it comes to musical styles, there really is a lot to love—then, there’s a lot of trash, too. And in between there is plenty of room for personal preferences.

    If you’re interested, though, Carol, try skimming through the full album lyrics for Jesus is King—that’s Kanye’s full-length Gospel album, which, if I’m not mistaken, came out last year(?). It looks a lot like CCM, basically! I’d be surprised if the songs you’re quoting were released this year, considering Kanye’s described changing his views on a number of issues (described in lyrics throughout Jesus is King) since his faith was rekindled. Again, I don’t mean to sound like a Kanye-apologist (it’s wise to stay cautious of celebrities, I think;), I just want to be charitable to a fellow Christian (and Christian artist:). -Alison

  7. Carol,

    Your references to West discography pre-2019 are an uncharitable distraction. If you are concerned about the potential mischief wrought by a mega church fanatic, perhaps we may pray for Mr. West rather than throwing him back to the wolves. West has explicitly stated that he will no longer perform his old songs in an unaltered format. In at least one case, he made a show of performing one of his first popular songs with changed lyrics.

    There are many great powers afoot these days. We must say that has always been the case, but lately especially we see much more out in the open. Not everyone can be said to be clearly “for Christ” or “against Christ,” but we do have these clear words: “The one who is not against us is for us.” Consider the context. And consider the great manifest societal, cultural, and spiritual upheavals before us. West may be one more hapless pawn in the perennial scheming of the nations and false prophets. God is well able to make that reckoning for us in due time. But in the meantime let’s not dismiss too proudly the peculiar circumstances whereby a particular mass of manifest pagans may have been suddenly incited to look up specific Bible verses for the first time in their remembered life (see his October ’19 album). On account of a screeching celebrity. Aspiring now to become president of this sovereign nation. It seems an awfully strange event. Perhaps this is merely a reminder that our vast land which is ostensibly united is not so clean and ordered as we should like to think, and that we Lutherans are a spectacularly tiny dot on the landscape, culturally and spiritually.

    I’m as skeptical as anyone. West’s financial commentary is suspect in particular. And I’m well able to comprehend the assertions of social and artistic meritlessness and a lingering tolerance of lewdness. But you also know as well as anyone that neither West, nor any of his associates, ever actually banked on receiving a penny from any subscriber to the UAC. Surely they have no idea what that even means. Should Mr. West ever profess to be a Lutheran and attempt to join the rolls of your church, you can be the first to demand he remove his ungodly songs from all public sale as a prerequisite. Indeed I would gladly stand behind you. As things are now, however, it seems your issue is more with Dr. Phillips than with Mr. West.

    I also encourage you to send Mr. West a copy of the Book of Concord. I am confident he has secretaries to receive all manner of physical mail for him. I myself have often contemplated doing the same to various notable people. It is a great treasure.

  8. Jonathan,
    Thank you. I now see I have unfairly clobbered Mr West and failed to recognize that the wolf also needs a BOC. Preferably one with large print so he doesn’t miss a single jot. Additionally I have neglected the professor altogether. My only comment for Dr Phillips should have been PHOOEY.
    I did not pay attention to the release dates of Mr West’s songs. I imagine his fan base is likely to do the same. Undoubtedly, playlists will be compiled with both his gospel music and his former. Perhaps the removal of such songs is forthcoming. BTW, I too, do not know about the UAC ???

    Indeed I shall pray for Mr West and will send him that BOC straight away. I also thought I might send a few lyrics for him to compose a future Lutheran hip hop song:

    Martin Luther is coming to town
    He dresses kind of funny but he ain’t no clown.
    Here he be with hammer and theses
    The time has come to smash false doctrine to pieces.
    Smash it.
    Smash it.
    Ooh la la

    Even better if he would rap the BOC word for word. Rather than rap, a sprite melody would be preferable. He seems to have a nice voice hidden under all the other sounds.

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