Presbyterian Church USA Drops Hymn Over “Wrath of God”

By:  Dave Bohon
Presbyterian Church USA Drops Hymn Over “Wrath of God”

The Presbyterian Church USA has dropped a song from its new hymnal over lyrics that refer to the wrath of God.

The Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA) has pulled a popular modern Christian hymn from the latest edition of its hymnal because the composers refused to grant permission to alter a phrase in the song that refers to God's wrath. Baptist Press News noted that the hymn “In Christ Alone,” penned in 2001 by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “consistently ranks in the top 20 songs sung in churches of all stripes, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International. Yet it contains one line that the PCUSA's Committee on Congregational Song did not wish to include in the denomination's hymnal.”

The controversial line, from the song's second verse, reads: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The PCUSA's hymn committee had a problem with God being portrayed in the song as wrathful, and asked the writers for permission to change the problem stanza to, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The love of God was magnified.” The author's refused, explaining that they had written the song to present the “whole gospel,” and in their view changing the line would compromise the message.

In all fairness to the PCUSA, the hymn committee had actually noticed the changed lyrics to the hymn appearing in a Baptist hymnal published in 2010 and assumed that the alternate lyrics had already been approved by Getty and Townend. But when the committee sent its request for permission it learned that the authors had not approved the change.

The committee ultimately decided by a nine to six vote to drop the song from the PCUSA's upcoming Glory to God hymnal, rather than keep the line about God's wrath. “The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness,” committee chair Mary Louise Bringle wrote in an article in the May issue of Christian Century. She explained that the majority of the committee felt the hymn as written “would do a disservice” to the educational mission of the hymnal by perpetuating the “view that the cross is primarily about God's need to assuage God's anger.”

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