Decently and in Ordure

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but part of the problem with Presbyterians today is they do not often enough smell to high heaven.  That is, Presbyterians look down their noses more regularly at bad order than at bad odor.  Obviously God made human beings with five senses.  Puzzling over how they worked together caused Aristotle to posit a "common sense" (De Anima, III). 

The Bible addresses all five of our senses:  See my hands 9Luke 24; 39); Hear, O Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4); Touch his clothes (Mark 5:28); Taste the heavenly gift (Hebrews 6:40, but for most of us smell is the most undeveloped and unimportant of our senses.  My wife has a much sharper sense of smell than I do.  She claims that she could be blindfolded, ears stopped, hands tied, and she could walk down a line of 100 men and pick me out every time.  I am not entirely sure that is a compliment, but some day when I can get 100 guys to stand still, I intend to test her on it.


Years ago ordination services had an identifiable smell.  According to the instructions of Exodus 29, the ram of ordination was killed and some of its blood was put on the new minister’s right ear, and the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot.  More blood was splashed on altar and clothes.  Then the new minister was given the ram’s intestine to wave around — an action called “a wave offering before the Lord”  (Exodus 29:24).


I have often thought how much liturgical fun it would be to twirl a slimy intestine around my head like a Western movie star in a vigorous wave offering.  However, with my luck it would slip out of my hand and sail over the heads of the congregation.  Doubtless someone would start the rumor that I was “gutless.”


Therefore I am not sorry that ordinations today are bloodless, except that the Aaronic ordination service reminds us that life is identified with blood in the Bible.  If the new minister stood covered with the blood of the ram of ordination, the congregation would be vividly reminded that all Christians are ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19), the Lamb of God slain for us before the foundation of the world (Revelation 5:12).


A very prominent Presbyterian minister on being asked what he made of the blood of Christ answered, “As little as possible.”  This comment demonstrates the theological maxim that what is not easy to understand is not hard to dismiss.


The sacrificial instructions of Exodus 29 include not only blood but something else that T-shirts and bumper stickers assure us happens.  I once read an exam paper in Reformation history that discussed “Martin Luther’s 95 feces.”  “The flesh of the bull, and its skin, and its dung, you shall burn with fire outside the camp”(v. 14).


On the mind of all Christians that verse should explode on impact.  We know that Christians are supposed to get their hands dirty in the world, and walking obediently with the Lord means that sometimes our feet will stink.


The 13th chapter of Hebrews makes it very clear that Christians are to work outside the camp where the dung is burning.  That servants are required to clean up the mess is no surprise.  Servants are always employed to do unpleasant tasks.  What is a surprise is, that the Master is already out there working in the filth.  And, if we want to be the servants of that Master, we must join him outside the camp where the dung is burning:  “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.”


“Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp bearing abuse for him.  For here we have no lasting city . . .”(vv. 11-14).


In our language four of our senses carry positive presumptions, “You see,”  “You hear,” “You touch,” “You taste” are descriptive in a way that “You smell” is not.  Most of us would rather have bad breath than no breath at all.  But Christians (and Presbyterians among them) are supposed to have a strong smell, because we are “the aroma of Christ’ spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere.  “. . .[T]o the one we are a fragrance from death to death; to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
March 2001