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The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has decided to not include the hymn "In Christ Alone" because one phrase speaks about God's wrath.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, told The Christian Post on Friday that the Congregational Songs Committee's decision is evidence of why churches are leaving the PC (USA).
"For the denomination to decide, intentionally, to remove 'In Christ Alone' from the hymnal, in my view, bares evidence of serious erosion of the denomination's theology related to the atonement," LaBerge asserted.
"God chooses to reveal about Himself what He chooses to reveal. And what God has chosen to reveal about His nature and character in the scriptures includes His anger toward the reality of sin; and the manifestation of that through what scripture describes as His wrath," LaBerge continued. "The wrath of God is God's own holy righteous response to the reality of human sin. God solved that problem, graciously, through the act of Christ upon the cross."
According to LaBerge, when Christians strip away the acceptance of the full nature and character of God, because there are parts that they don't like, believers "fall into a very real and very dangerous spiritual trap of creating a religion for ourselves – a God of our own making."
The denomination's unwillingness to accept God's wrath, as a response to human sin, exemplifies where the PC (USA) stands, theologically, "on the veracity of the scriptures and the necessity of the act of Christ on the cross for the atonement for sin," she added.
Mary Louise Bringle, who chairs the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs, recently wrote about the decision in her blog for the Christian Century. Bringle shared that after they initially voted for the inclusion of the hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, they discovered that although they had found materials that changed the words, "as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied," to "Till on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified," if they wanted to include it in their updated hymnal, the wording would have to be printed as the authors originally intended, and not revised.
"In the process of clearing copyrights for the hymnal we discovered that this version of the text would not be approved by the authors, as it was considered too great a departure from their original words: 'as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied,'" Bringle wrote. "We were faced, then, with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors' original language or to remove it from our list."
According to Bringle, six people on the committee voted for inclusion of "In Christ Alone," while nine others were opposed, citing that "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 wrote.
The counter argument, she noted, is that the hymn shares the necessity for Jesus Christ's death on the cross in order to atone for humanity's sins.
"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: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, 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 said. "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," she affirmed.
LaBerge told CP that the last time the denomination adopted a new hymnal, the revisions that were made focused on inclusive language and the removal of militaristic hymns, such as "Onward, Christian Soldiers."
"The last time the PC (USA) adopted a new hymnal, the blue hymnal – we call it the blue hymnal because the old hymnal prior to that was red, and the one prior to that was green – the emphasis in that revision was on inclusive language, and anything that was viewed as militaristic."
Speaking to the exclusion of the hymn "In Christ Alone," LaBerge asserts that it has more to do with modern theological trends.
"This revision seems to be focused on a theology that is more in vogue, among Presbyterians, which would be a theology that downplays the necessity of the atonement. That would seem to be the theology that's at work here, in terms of the choice this hymnal revision committee is making."