Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Doing away with the wrath of God

It's sad when churches begin to preach a powerless, ineffective, watered-down gospel.

The hymn In Christ Alone, by Irishman Keith Getty and Englishman Stuart Townend, has become a favourite with congregations on both sides of the Atlantic.

The hymnal committee of the Presbyterian Church USA wanted to include it in their new hymnal. But part of the second verse says

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid -
Here in the death of Christ I live.

The committee wanted to  change "The wrath of God was satisfied" to "The love of God was magnified." They approached the hymn's authors, who declined to approve the alteration. The committee decided to drop the hymn from their new hymnal.  

Committee chairwoman Mary Louise Bringle wrote: "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. The final vote was six in favor of inclusion and nine against, giving the requisite two-thirds majority (which we required of all our decisions) to the no votes. The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness."

Failing to recognise God's capacity for wrath can effectively trivialise God's power, said academic Timothy George. "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. . . but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil."

Someone pointed out that the committee's objections were scarcely in line with the Presbyterian Church USA's historic beliefs. The Westminster Confession in the current edition of the denomination's Book of Confessions says:
Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal and eternal. . .
The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.
Mary Louise Bringle said later that people thought they had taken the wrath of God out of the hymnal. They hadn't; it was all over the hymnal. The issue was the word "satisfied."

Either way, it seems like the majority of the hymnal committee no longer believe in a substitutionary atonement.

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