Tuesday, April 3, 2018


I just returned from a Bible study at a local Episcopal church. The Rector (pastor) confided that he didn’t believe in the atonement. Instead, he claimed that this doctrine was merely the creation of the early church. He also claimed that Jesus’ horrid beating and crucifixion made God look like a bloodthirsty sadist. Nevertheless, he claimed that the crucifixion was necessary but simply as an invitation proclaiming that the door of salvation was now unexplainably open to all people.

I protested that the atonement was both Biblical and necessary as far more than a mere invitation. I argued that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had fulfilled everything that the Mosaic system of animal sacrifice was unable to fulfill:

·       For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” [A quotation from Psalm 40]…We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10 ESV)

Clearly, the crucifixion of Jesus was more than a mere invitation. However, I was denounced by one member who protested that, “You’re not the teacher here.” I therefore left. However, this issue remained on my mind. I recalled that the death of Jesus wasn’t one option out of many. It was the one means by which God could forgive:

·       For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:13-15)

True and complete forgiveness was not available without the atoning blood of Jesus. Even the OT believers required this blood to redeem them “from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” But why? It seems that God’s righteous character required it:

·       [We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:24-25)

Without the blood of Jesus, sins could not be forgiven but merely “passed over.” God’s righteous nature had to be satisfied (propitiated) with this offering. People will ask:

·       If God is all-powerful, certainly He could forgive without sending Jesus to die on the cross.

This statement represents a failure to understand the Biblical concept of God’s omnipotence. Biblically speaking, there are things that God cannot or will not do. He will not sin, contradict Himself, or violate His holy nature. Although we cannot fully understand this, His nature required an adequate payment before He could forgive sin, and only the blood of Christ was able to provide such a payment:

·       Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)

It is clear that the Church didn’t invent the idea of substitutionary atonement. Instead, we find this doctrine throughout Scripture. Here are just a few examples:

·       For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

·       In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

·       For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

·       For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

·       For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

·       And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)

Even the OT teaches that, instead of animal sacrifice, a sinless Man would die as an offering to reconcile us to God (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)

Although, at first, Jesus hadn’t been explicit about His identity or His mission, towards the end He was more candid about His atoning mission:

·       Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

·       And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)

According to Jesus, His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection was the time of His glory:

·       And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:23-24; also 27-28)

It was also the time of the Father’s glory:

·       When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. (John 13:31-32)

To deny that Jesus died to take away our sins is to deprive Him of His glory. It is also to say that Jesus died a needless death, since God could forgive sins without a cross and without a Jesus. It is the repudiation of the entire Gospel. Instead, it is this blood that gives us the confidence that our sins are cleansed:

·       Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

If Jesus while we were His enemies, we can certainly be assured that He will protect His investment now that we have become His friends. (Romans 5:8-10).

I don’t understand why any pastor who denies the atonement would even bother with Bible studies. Why not just study the New York Times? Instead, to play with Scripture is to treat the Holy Word with contempt and to bring a greater damnation upon oneself and one’s flock.


  1. Well stated, and it does not surprise me the Episcopal's viewpoint. They are pretty liberal.

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  3. Is it a new doctrine of the Episcopal Church to deny the atonement, or just the personal belief of that particular pastor? I don't know enough about that denomination, neither its history nor its dogma. If the Episcopal Church is a Protestant church, that is a very strange position that pastor is taking.
    If Reformed churches abandoned the notion of salvation by Grace, made possible by Jesus Christ dying for our sins, I believe they would lose their reason for being and might as well abandon any claim of being Christian.

    1. Annie, Although it seems that within the EC, anything goes, I don't think that the denial of the atonement is their official position.

      However, I don't see how this pastor can deny that Jesus died to forgive our sins and yet still consider himself a Christian.