I still remember the crunchy, dissonant chords coming through the speakers of my music history classroom and the repetition of the phrase, “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

We were studying Charles Ives’s modern American art song about the founder of the Salvation Army—“General William Booth Enters into Heaven”—and even as I tried to navigate the cacophonous chords and angular vocal lines in my score, I found the language and themes familiar and meaningful.

But the clarinet player sitting next to me had a different reaction. He leaned over and whispered, “Gross.”

Those of us who have grown up in the church singing songs like “There Is a Fountain,” “Nothing but the Blood,” and “The Wonderful Cross” are used to singing about blood. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are the center of our faith, and the blood spilled from the body of God incarnate is a symbol and physical reality for those who believe.

So when Elevation Church opted to avoid words or phrases like blood of Jesus in promotional materials for this year’s Easter services, a chorus of online voices accused the megachurch and its pastor, Steven Furtick, of watering down the gospel.

“We’re not going to use the words Calvary, resurrection, or the phrase the blood of Jesus. We won’t use language that will immediately make someone feel like an outsider,” said Nicki Shearer, Elevation’s digital content creator, in an interview with Pro Church Tools.

“If you talk to someone who doesn’t know Christ, they are never going to use the word resurrection … Jesus came back to life again after dying for us. I’d rather say that. It’s clearer,” she clarified.

Since the seeker-sensitive church movement gained momentum in the late ’90s and early 2000s, much has been written about what it means to present the gospel to those who are curious but still on the “outside.”

Practices like Communion, baptism, and even corporate singing are unusual for those who don’t regularly attend church. And with no preparation or explanation, talk of being “washed in the blood of the Lamb” sounds bizarre or even cultish.

Elevation has gained popularity in large part because of its musical output; Elevation Worship has solidified its position as one of the “big four” worship music producers in the industry.

And although the messaging the church is using to publicize its Easter services avoids mention of blood or Calvary, Elevation’s music (arguably its most powerful outreach medium) doesn’t exclude words and phrases that evoke the physicality and violence of the Crucifixion.

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Elevation’s “No Body” was in the top 25 on PraiseCharts’ weekly list of most popular songs between Palm Sunday and Easter. The first verse describes Jesus’ death:

Behold the Lamb
Upon the cross
Who takes away the sins of all
Forgiveness flows
From hands and feet
As violence meets the Prince of Peace
Behold the King

Its very popular “Praise” includes the violent and vivid lines, “praise is the waters / My enemies drown in.”

“RATTLE!,” another popular Elevation song, includes a number of references and phrases that would require explanation for a newcomer: “Pentecostal fire stirring something new,” “resurrection power runs in my veins,” “the bones of Elisha.”

At least in its music, there’s not much evidence that Elevation avoids the “insider” language that Shearer mentioned in her interview. The messaging strategy she described seems limited to the act of inviting someone to church for Easter while trying not to confuse them by calling it “Resurrection Sunday.”

Though Easter is the top Sunday for church attendance, “Only the most visible church in the community is likely to get visitors who simply appear at church on Christian holidays,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. Much of the bump comes from high turnout from existing members or from people being invited personally.

The backlash to Shearer’s statements in the interview came from a contingent of Christians who see it as valuable—crucial, even—to foreground themes and ideas like blood and resurrection.

“One of the things that’s wrong with our world … Everyone is made to be too comfortable,” wrote one commenter on Instagram.

But a look at the top songs leading up to Easter shows that, at least among the churches that use PraiseCharts, people are singing about the blood of Jesus.

Charity Gayle’s “Thank You Jesus for the Blood” currently sits at No. 1. On CCLI’s SongSelect, “The Old Rugged Cross” holds the top spot on its list of “Top Songs for Easter,” and Hillsong’s “O Praise the Name (Anástasis)” and Chris Tomlin’s “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)” hold the third and fifth spots, respectively (the first lines of “O Praise the Name” are “I cast my mind to Calvary / Where Jesus died and bled for me”).

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Few contemporary songs paint a picture as bloody as “There Is a Fountain,” but the suspicion that today’s congregations shy away from songs about the death—the blood and body—of Christ seem to be unfounded. Brooke Ligertwood’s recently released “Calvary’s Enough” is another counterexample:

You resolved to die, scarlet flowing from your hands and side,
Covenant is sealed and ratified, you knew the cost
As the darkness fell and the temple curtain tore,
The death that I deserved you made yours upon the cross

In her book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge argues that a failure to embrace the language and imagery of sacrifice impoverishes Christian faith:

The motif of sacrifice, and specifically blood sacrifice, is central to the story of our salvation through Jesus Christ, and without this theme the Christian proclamation loses much of its power, becoming both theologically and ethically undernourished.

If there is a lack of meditation on Christ’s sacrifice in church services, it doesn’t seem like we can blame it on popular contemporary worship music. There will always be dissonance when we talk about the goodness of a bloody death in a fallen world where the dead stay dead.

Dissonance, I think, is what I liked—and still like—about Ives’s “General William Booth Enters into Heaven.” It’s fitting to hear “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” set to discordant piano music. It’s an odd question and a grotesque image. And I know I won’t fully grasp the beauty and glory of those words until the new heavens and earth.