Timothy George explains why the Presbyterian Church USA has recently rejected the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal:
Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.
There is no surprise in this news. Although not all PCUSA churches are theologically liberal, the denomination by and large is. Liberalism and wrath go together like oil and water; they don’t mix. And historically speaking, one of them eventually has to go. When wrath goes, so does the central meaning of the atonement of Christ—penal substitution. At the end of the day, the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn.
You can read the rest of George’s article here. …
…On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”
Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God. How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots. I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church, having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.
Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offenses we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”
The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:
[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us; that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions; that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God, was damned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God; that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God), but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people. After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin: which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.
1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.
They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath. I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):
The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.
The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA). What a shame! Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied. He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV). It is finished. God’s wrath is satisfied. Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation…
It [the song] avoids shallow promises of earthly comfort in favor of the ultimate comfort — no matter our earthly destiny — found in Christ. And it’s a beautiful song, covered by countless Christian artists.
The core of the dispute is the mainline break with orthodoxy on the very nature of God and mission of Jesus. In orthodox Christianity, sin demands sacrifice. God’s wrath against sin — our sin — was atoned through Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
This is the essence of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and mainline protestantism is increasingly rejecting it in favor of a doctrine that places Jesus not as Savior in the orthodox sense but more as an example of love and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi on divine steroids.
The importance of rejecting substitutionary atonement is tough to overstate, with ramifications across the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and cultural engagement. In fact, it’s likely one of the key reasons for the steep decline in mainline churches. After all, when the purpose of Christ’s presence on earth is ripped from its eternal context and placed firmly within (and relegated to) the world of “social justice” and earthly systems of oppression, there’s little that church offers that, say, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, or a subscription to Mother Jones can’t also supply.
If, on the other hand, Christ represents the sole source of our eternal hope, then church offers something that no political movement can replicate or replace. No amount of “social justice” or political liberation can save your soul.
A comment posted on John Meunier’s blog:
This song was also sung at the recent worship service when the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby took office — at HIS request. As I followed the tweets for the service, a number of people noted that about half the congregation refused to sing the words about God’s wrath.
Frankly, I am clear that John Wesley would like the author’s words. He emphasized the need for sinners (including Methodists) to “flee from the wrath to come”. I know you have written about this in the past. I am pretty well convinced that our reluctance to consider the wrath of God is one of the reasons the church has lost it’s emphasis on winning souls.
You know, after reading that last one, I’m determined to return to the top of this article, replay the video and sing loud and strong.