Wednesday, April 12

Such a Worm!

If you remember, the second question in Monday's post, That's a Good Question, was about a change in the hymn book used at my church to the words of Isaac Watt's hymn Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed, specifically the removal of the phrase such a worm as I, replacing it with sinners such as I. Since then I've found out that some versions of this song don't even mention sin at all, but have replaced the worm phrase with such a one as I.

I'd suspected that the motive behind the change might be theological, since the very first time I experienced someone changing these words was in Bible college, when the student leading the singing in the chapel service had us change those particular words because he objected to the picture of humankind that the worm image painted. This particular student was big on self-esteem, and the problems - at least as he saw it - that a lack of self-esteem created in individuals within the Christian community.

Chris's comment on that first post, with his mention of the term worm theology, helped confirm my suspicion. It was a term that I was unfamiliar with, but a Google search revealed that worm theology is a derogatory term used for Calvinism in general, and the doctrine of total depravity specifically. I found a Missouri Synod Lutheran article bemoaning the removal of any statements referrencing "the 'corrupted-nature' language of Luther and the Formula of Concord" from new Lutheran liturgy. This change, says the author .
..was undoubtedly influenced by critiques caricaturing this as "worm theology," but the point of the older liturgies was to acknowledge not only that we have sinned but that we are sinners.
Chris also notes that our hymnal (Yes, Chris goes to the same church as I do.) is a Mennonite hymal. Conservative Mennonites believe that human beings inherited a tendency toward sin as a result of the fall, but that Christ's death removed the guilt of Adam from the account of every person, so that every person stands justified before God with respect to the guilt of Adam. Therefore, human beings are not born under condemnation, but are only condemned for their personal sin. Babies, according to Mennonite belief, are born with right standing before God, and only lose their standing when they first knowingly do something they shouldn't. So it is possible that the belief that we are all born uncondemned may have played a role in the removal of the phrase such a worm as I from our hymnal.

Whatever you think of worm theology, you can't get around the fact that the Bible itself uses the image of a worm in reference to human beings in several places, for instance Job 25: 4-6, Isaiah 41:14, and Psalm 22:6. The image isn't used to deny our value as beings made in God's image, but rather to show that in comparison to God, who is righteous, perfect, eternal, and all-powerful, etc, we are like insignificant worms.

Isaac Watts uses this scriptural image to paint a similar picture in Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed. In comparison to the infinite value and perfection of the Sacred Head, we are such worms! And yet, in the glorious act of God's Son that we will remember especially on this upcoming Friday, the Sacred Head was devoted - my Sovereign bled and died - for such a worm.

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