ALL THIS WRATH BUSINESS

51dUNqbDZ0L“In a recent issue of The Christian Century (May 1, 2013; written by Mary Louise Bringle) it was reported that the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS), operating under the authority of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. (PCUSA) evaluated the theological merits of the popular worship song, In Christ Alone (written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend). Evidently they are preparing for the release of the denomination’s new song collection, ‘Glory to God.’

“As you probably know, the second stanza of the song contains the line, ‘Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.’ An earlier version of the denomination’s hymnal had changed it to read, ‘Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.’

“Although no one would deny that God’s love was magnified in the death of Christ for us, Getty and Townend, much to their credit, refused to approve the change. The committee, wrote Bringle, was faced ‘with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors’ original language or to remove it from our list.

“The final vote was six in favor of retaining the song with its original wording and nine against. The “No” votes prevailed and the song was removed.”
samstorms.com

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Gotta’ love it when church makes the news, huh?

There are thousands of blogs and articles about this whole thing, many of them wise and helpful and well-crafted. While I can’t add anything additional to the argument, this development has got me thinking. Please accept the list below as honest retellings of thoughts regarding this weird story. Obviously, I disagree with the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song, but this poses some interesting questions.

– Even if they’re wrong about the line, isn’t this what denominations are supposed to do? Don’t many of us in the church world often affirm protecting our people from singing heresy? If the powers-that-be feel this song is in error, isn’t it their duty to take action? (Even though they’re in the wrong…)

– Or is this denominationalism run amok? Is there an argument to made here for local church autonomy?

The day I stop acknowledging God’s wrath is the day I lose the understanding of what a miracle it is that I am loved by Him. How does the Presbyterian leadership think they’re people are going to understand God’s love? What makes it amazing and kind if not the reality of punishment deserved atoned by God’s son?

– Anybody else stunned that PCOC had already released an earlier version with the different lyric? Since the writers said no to the official request, I’m guessing the Presbyterian church changed song lyrics without permission/clearance.

– Does anybody believe requesting the writers change the lyric was anything other than an empty gesture? They didn’t think Getty/Townend were gonna’ go, “You know what? You’re right about that. We gotta’ change that line.”

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Any weird thoughts filter through your head in all of this? Or am I way too obsessed with church culture and songwriting?

*I find it interesting that the majority of online articles about this story were posted at conservative, political/Christian websites. Would have expected more outlets to give at least minimal coverage. (And yeah, I blended “political” and “Christian.” Don’t act like that’s not a real thing out there…)

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6 comments

  1. Jonathan Benedetti

    Theology aside, whether or not worship leaders should change lyrics that they deem to be questionable, incomplete, or just plain wrong, is an interesting dilemma. It’s a shame to lose a good song over one line, but then again, there are so many good songs out there, perhaps it’s best to just avoid a song with a problematic lyric. Todd, I know you’ve changed lyrics before in songs that you’ve led at Bethel. Do you have any personal rules for altering/omitting lyrics?

    • toddwright

      I think there’s historical precedent for changing lyrics. Dedicate an hour or two to find all you can about your favorite old hymn and you’ll see that there are dozens of versions of these old songs…with lots of contributors over the years.

      I have modified lyrics before, but primarily for clarity, not heresy. Songs are weird because they’re relatively “small” things. I don’t know that any song can completely express every facet of the life of faith. I do think it’s a worship pastor’s job to make sure the songs are both true – and a fit for his congregation. I’ve actually changed my perspective a bit these days (or maybe been convicted!) When I see a lyric that’s a little unclear, I’ll try to find a way to explain or “teach” through that line as opposed to just changing it. (As a songwriter myself, I’d much rather folks talk through my songs instead of changing them.)

      If I do come across a song that says things in direct contradiction to scripture (which is not very common, in my opinion) I just skip the song.

  2. johnnydrummer

    That a mainline denomination is squeamish about the Lord’s wrath is no surprise, but it’s ironic that it’s Presbyterians. It’s the Orthodox who deny any substitutionary atonement or the suffering of Gods wrath on the part of Christ. They view propitiation as the expiation of sin, not the satisfaction of the wrath of God. And they think they have a pretty good grasp of His love. 😉

  3. bygracethroughfaith

    There are those who pit themselves against the gospel and do their level best to remove the offence found in it so as to be comfortable in their sins. These religious folk tend to mockingly characterize the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ by the Father as the doctrine of divine child abuse for the purpose of minimizing their own sinfulness and guilt before a righteous and holy God. Have they not read that it pleased God to crush Him? Isa. 53:10.

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