One of the most popular worship songs being sung in churches around the world today has been rejected for the hymnal of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) due to the song’s lyrics that speak of the wrath of God being assuaged through Christ’s death on the cross.
The hymn at issue is In Christ Alone, penned by Keith Getty and Steward Townend. In the second verse of the song, the lyrics proclaim, “‘Til on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied/For every sin on Him was laid/Here in the death of Christ I live.”
Members of the PCUSA originally wanted to include the worship song in their hymnal since it is so popular, but disagreement soon began to stir over the lyrics. The denomination then contacted the songwriters and asked if instead of “the wrath of God was satisfied,” the lyrics could be “the love of God was magnified.” Getty and Townend refused.
Mary Louise Bringle, member of the PCUSA committee, recently explained the debate that ensued over whether or not to include the song in the denomination’s hymnal.
“People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: … that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim,” she wrote in an article entitled Debating Hymns. “While this might not be our personal view, it was argued, it is nonetheless a view held by some members of our family of faith; the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body.”
“Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger,” she continued.
Bringle explained that in the end, the vote was 9-6 to reject the hymn.
In response to the matter, writer Keith Getty, pointed fans last week to an article entitled No Squishy Love, asking, “Why do many Christians shrink away from the thought of the wrath of God?”
“Sin, judgment, cross, even Christ have become problematic terms in much contemporary theological discourse, but nothing so irritates and confounds as the idea of divine wrath,” author Timothy George wrote.
“As the early Christians understood Isaiah 53:4-5, Christ was pierced there for our transgressions, smitten by God and afflicted,” he outlined. “God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.”
Getty’s fans agreed.
“As a Presbyterian, I’m disappointed and embarrassed,” wrote one commenter named David. “These days it seems like the Great Commandment has been whittled down to little more than, ‘Y’all be nice to one another,’ with many of the other more ‘difficult’ passages receiving the same treatment. You know, in chemistry, if you continue to dilute an acid it eventually becomes less and less active until it becomes water. Same thing with the Word.”
“How else could the cross be explained if it wasn’t God’s wrath being poured out on sin? ‘Yet it pleased the Lord to crush Him.’ ‘God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us so that through Him we might be saved,’” said another supporter named Kim, citing Scripture.
“If there is no wrath, then there was no reason for Christ to come to die in our place as punishment for sin, giving us the opportunity to claim that as our own through acceptance of Jesus into our lives,” added a commenter named Charla. “It negates the entire Gospel. If a church does that, then it is not a Christian church in truth, but a church of man.”