Thinking Out Loud

August 2, 2013

Presbyterians Reject “In Christ Alone”

Denny Burk:

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. …

Shane Vander Hart:

…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;[1] that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions;[2] that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God,[3] was damned in the presence of an earthly judge,[4] that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God;[5] that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God),[6] but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father,[7] 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.[8] After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin:[9] 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…

David French:

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.

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November 10, 2010

Wednesday Link List

One of the more interesting lists of lynx links I’ve posted in a long time…

  • Starting out, here’s the ultimate list of stats comparing the NIV 2011 with previous NIV editions.    Lots of changes in Ruth, Ezra, Amos and Jonah.  And III John.   But nothing like the 32% new content in Galatians.   The least renovated is Song of Solomon, with other low change rates in II Kings and Esther.
  • Very shocked to learn recently about the accident involving Ruth Graham’s husband Greg, who was in a major automobile accident.  (Ruth is a daughter of Ruth Bell Graham and Billy Graham.)   Pray for Ruth, Greg and their three sons.  You can follow some of the story by clicking on the ministry website, selecting Ruth’s blog, and scrolling back to September 30th’s entry.   Really, really try to remember to pray for this family.
  • Barry Simmons has embedded a film clip dramatizing a critical moment in Martin Luther’s trial before the Diet of Worms, where he is given a chance to renounce his beliefs.     Where would we be today if Luther hadn’t stood up the doctrinal corruption that was taking place at the time?  (No, this Diet isn’t a weight-loss program.   Click here and here to learn more.)
  • Speaking of film clips, a regular reader — and one-time guest contributor to this blog — Simon Fraser University film student Nathan Douglas scored an opportunity to do a film review for Christianity Today magazine of a Finnish movie releasing on DVD in February, Letters to Father Jacob.
  • Here’s a link to last night’s story on ABC World News about pastors who have lost their faith but can’t afford to lose their jobs. “…When speaking to parishioners, they tried to stick to the sections of the Bible that they still believed in — the parts about being a good person. Both said that they would like to leave their jobs though they can’t afford to.
  • Timmy Brister at the blog, Provocations and Paintings has been busy reading AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, and highlights two videos that were used to open the AND Conference.   I really like these videos, which help make the point of encouraging the blending the missional and the attractional approaches to church.
  • And speaking of Calvinist bloggers, Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs seems to take great delight in pouring gasoline on this fire, in a post entitled The Problem For Arminians.    I’m not 100% sure what — other than intense pain — this particular line of discussion is serving, but I’m not alone, as the 200-odd comments clearly indicate.
  • Mike Gilbart-Smith posts some fairly extensive notes from a lecture by Stuart Townend on Leading Corporate Worship.    He also summarizes them here at 9 Marks.    Don’t know who Townend is?  Then click here.
  • The author of Heaven almost got there at an earlier stage of life.  Randy Alcorn talks about working at a 7-11 and being robbed at gunpoint.  Well, actually he kinda glosses over it.
  • Adam Young aka Owl City performs In Christ Alone with a couple of interesting key changes.   He ends the blog post related to the song with this:  “When He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me… because my banner will be clear.”
  • And then, at the other end of the musical spectrum, we have the bluegrass sounds of The Franz Family kicking off the Christmas season early with O Come, O Come Emmanuel.     I’ve always like this song; I like the simple harmonies on this, but I was really struck by the production of the video itself.
  • Guess I’m going nuts with video links this week.   If you were part of the Jesus Music scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s; you’ll remember an early worship song from the Maranatha! Five album by Bill Sprouse and the Road Home based on Psalm 5.
  • Our cartoon this week is a bit of a mystery.  I clicked on Church People at Baptist Press by Frank Lengel and ended up with a string of Friends cartoons by Franko.  Same person?  Beats me.  I haven’t seen this one before among the seven different cartoons available there.  The way I see it, the “news” value of telling that story makes up for my ignoring the copyright notice.

August 23, 2010

Stuart Townend – British Worship Leader & Songwriter

He co-wrote In Christ Alone with Keith and Kristen Getty.

Beyond that, Stuart Townend is perhaps better known in Canada where, despite its 5/4 time signature, How Deep The Father’s Love For Us is currently the 15th most used worship selection according to Christian Copyright Licensing (CCLI).   All the more so in England, where Christ Alone ranks first, and How Deep ranks third.

For my mostly U.S. blog readership, if you have some familiarity with the worship scene in the U.K., you could fairly draw a comparisons between Stuart and Graham Kendrick, though many Americans would still be at a loss since, other than Shine Jesus Shine, very little of Graham’s music has made it stateside, either.

Which is really too bad.  This is worship with a richness and depth that commands your heart’s attention and doesn’t let you walk away without knowing what type of music you’ve experienced.

What we have instead in North America is a worship agenda very much driven by Christian music execs in Nashville, and wannabe bands who think they have to fit a certain mold in order to achieve success.  (Yeah, worship and success in the same sentence; go figure.)  We need to distance ourselves from that sometimes, even if takes several thousand miles of ocean to do the distancing.

Churches in the U.K. don’t bow the knee to Nashville so much.   So we find a number of writers in Great Britain producing something just a little mellower that thereby satisfies the needs of more seasoned church members who want something new and fresh (see Isaiah 42:10) but still like a good melodic tune with a form that doesn’t contain too many melodic exceptions.   (That’s my term for various bridges, codas, irregular rhythms, or other variations on the musical form.  My belief is that the people can deal with only one exception per song.) (More on the contrast between UK and US worship in this post.)

What I’m trying to say here is, American Christians, you need someone like Stuart Townend.   Someone who can blow in like a breath of fresh air into the present worship scene as a reminder that things don’t always have to look a certain way in order to provide worship connection to our creator God.

And now you have that opportunity.

Under pressure from people like me — they call it whining actually — Kingsway Music U.S. has not only released Stuart’s full length album, There Is a Hope, but has included the full DVD recording as a bonus.  (There’s even more to the story, they’ve also opened up a full North American branch of Kingsway Music to broaden the music pipeline between the U.K. and North America.)

For my Canadian readers, if you enjoy the music of Robin Mark or you enjoyed the Today DVD by Brian Doerksen, you will want to add this CD/DVD to your worship collection.

What you’ll find is a live recording of 14 of Stuart Townend’s songs from a concert in Ireland; though strangely, it’s more like a collection of individual video cuts as there is no spoken patter anywhere.   The emphasis is on the songs themselves, and the atmosphere is worshipful to the point there is often no applause as a song concludes.

But this isn’t just a laid-back worship collection you buy for your grandmother.   The band contains some tight performances by players who handle a variety of instruments including valve trombone, flugel horn, Uillean pipes, violin, and the usual rhythm instruments and backup singers.   (Steve Hindalong’s name appears in the credits, though I didn’t spy him on the video.)   There are also guest vocal appearances by Kelly Minter and Aaron Keyes.

I first heard of this album, and started pressing for a release of the DVD here, through this song, Behold the Lamb (Communion Song).     (Again, for my Canadian readers, very reminiscent of Robin Mark’s The Wonder of Your Cross.)   You can never have enough cross-centered worship songs.   I’ve also embedded the opening song from the DVD, Across the Lands at my devotional blog, Christianity 201.

I can’t recommend this enough.  Find a Christian bookstore and purchase a physical copy (not a download) of the whole album, so that you get the whole DVD as well.  Then turn off the mobile phone and the computer, take the other phone off the hook, and enjoy an hour of worship in your own home like no other you’ve had before.

June 24, 2010

Worship in the United States vs. Worship in the United Kingdom

Two countries.   Much shared history.   A common language.   Similar politics.

But when it comes to church or when it comes to our expression of Christianity, are we in North America more alike our British cousins or are we more unalike?

Living in Canada gives a few of us a unique window on both our neighbours to the south and our friends several thousand miles to the east.   To many of us here, Adrian Plass, Selwyn Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, etc. are names we have at least heard, if we haven’t also read their books or sung their songs.

What amazes me though is how little my contacts in the U.S. know of Christianity in England.    Where this turns up most is in a cursory examination of worship music in both countries.

Because we’re still a few weeks away from getting the biannual numbers from CCLI — the next six month report comes out in August — we’ll have to settle for a look at the February 2010 stats.

Here’s a look at the Top 25 worship songs in use in the U.K.

Without getting too deep into statistics — we’ll leave that to the sportscasters — you see on this list a couple of Graham Kendrick classics along with the beautiful “I Will Offer Up My Life” by Matt Redman and a number of pieces that follow the ‘hymn style’ of verse/chorus, such as “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “Be the Centre,” and the classic “All Heaven Declares.”   The American #1 most-used chorus, “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong doesn’t even appear on the list.

Here’s the U.S.A. list for the same period:

For some of my American readers, this list seems rather dated, or perhaps even rather tame.  Your church has already moved on to newer songs.   I personally think that the U.S. church has adopted a rather “disposable” attitude toward its worship music in the last five years or so.   Anything before 2006 is considered a “golden oldie.”

That’s rather sad in a way.    The British churches contributing to their list seem to hang on to a good song a little longer.

I also feel bad for American churches who aren’t using “Once Again” by Matt Redman, but also wish that the British list contained at least one song by Paul Baloche.

I think every church service should contain at least a couple of songs from these lists.   This is the worship music that connects us; these songs are being sung across denominational lines.   Too much new and unfamiliar music weakens the worship time.   I also hope your church does at least five or six different worship songs each week.   There’s a trend right now to only doing a couple, but I think it leaves both seasoned worshipers and seekers a little shortchanged.

If you missed it, last week I had another couple of posts on worship music in light of a recent book, and you can read those here (June 11th) and here (June 17th).  (If you think I’ve gone conservative, rest assured that the author of that book wouldn’t have even posted these lists!)

I think it is incumbent on worship leaders to stay aware of what’s happening in worship on a worldwide scale, and know about other material that is available to them.   If you click on the links, you’ll end up at the site which also allows you too look at lists in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

Brooke Fraser has a total of four songs on the N.Z. list, including #2 and #3, but the Africa list has more familiar songs that you might expect.

If I could only sing 25 songs in the next year, I’d be content to make the Africa list my songbook.

Today’s forum:  What do you think of the song selection at your place of worship?

February 24, 2010

Link List Anniversary Edition

The celebration of our second birthday, which is actually today, got bumped to yesterday so we could observe Link Day.   Priorities.

I gotta admit, last week’s link list was amazing.   If you missed out on that one, here’s a link.   But there are some really good things here as well.  Who says blogging’s dead?

  • Well this is no surprise:  Music legend and now part-time theologian Elton John announces that Jesus was gay.   You can pass on this one but if you insist, go here and here.  (Don’t bail yet, the links get better after this…)  Actually you might want read this response at Captain’s Blog.
  • But seriously, sexual attraction is something you need to talk about with your kids, beyond the usual ‘birds and bees’ talk.   The subject is dealt with by Jay Younts  here at Shepherd Press’ blog in one part of a six-part article on conversations parents need to have with children.
  • Here’s a link with great potential value to anyone involved with any kind of sexual addiction or blatant sexual sin.   Pete Wilson describes this as a sermon he was reluctant to do, but some amazing things took place when he confronted this topic, and I believe will continue to happen as people view it online.   If you or someone you know is dealing with this issue and is willing to invest a half hour to hear some straightforward talk on the subject, then click here.
  • This week I learned a new word while reading about reproductive technology:  snowflake children.  The term came up in a Q & A on Russell Moore’s that asked about the ethics of  embryo adoption.
  • I’ve been so busy e-mailing this link to people, I can’t remember if I’ve included it here yet.   Behold the Lamb by UK worship leader Stuart Townend is an awesome communion song.
  • Floodgate Productions is one of many companies producing video clips for church use, but this one in particular is recommended for church websites, though I think you could show it Sundays as well.   Watch the two-minute clip, Around Here.
  • Unless you’ve been living in a blog vacuum, you know the topic of the week has been Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity. Rather than specify a specific link, why not type his name into Google Blog Search.
  • This might be a repeat, but if you haven’t yet, take some time to read some backstory behind Shaun King, blogger at Shaun in the City.   The accident report is called I Experienced a Miracle and I’m Not a Loon.
  • Our new blog for the week is a sort of Best of YouTube meets Stuff Fundies Like.   Wild and wacky and all somehow Christianity-related video clips abound on Crazy Christian Clips.   (One of my favorites, still, is this one.)
  • Most of us can’t remember when the Roman Catholic mass was conducted entirely in Latin, but now Muslims are dealing with how much English to include inside mosques without violating Islamic law and betraying their culture.    Read it at USAToday Religion.  (I wonder if there’s a The Message-style version of the Qu’ran in their future?  No, not really.)
  • New Kind of Church  idea #68,251 from Christian Week:  Church in a bowling alley.
  • Prayer Request:  Church Report is reporting the arrest of the leading evangelical pastor in Iran.
  • I think Kevin Leman’s books on marriage and parenting meet a definite need.   But when he’s on Christian radio — which he does a lot of — he can be exceedingly blunt when he talks about sex.   I wouldn’t suggest playing this video clip if you’ve got kids or teens nearby.
  • Considering a blog, Twitter of Facebook sabbatical? How about, more accurately, a sabbath-ical? First check out what Scott Couchenour has to say here (it’s short) and then especially here.  (I’ve been doing this for several years.)
  • Our upper cartoon is from ASBO Jesus, by UK blogger Jon Birch.  Our lower cartoon is Preacher’s Kids by David Ayers which you can catch weekly at Baptist Press.   If this still wasn’t enough, check out the sidebar, “Oh, Oh, The Places We’ll Go” and especially the ones that begin with the word Links.

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