Published August 6, 2013

Paul's Epistle...
"In Christ Alone"

There is nothing more basic to Christianity than the firm belief that Christ came to earth, lived and was cruelly crucified – shedding his precious blood to pay the penalty for our sins.

But for many in today's liberal mainline churches, that's just too much. It's much "too bloody." Many singers over the years have told me they've gotten into churches where they were instructed not to sing any songs about the blood. (To their credit, they usually did anyway.) Why preach the cross when one could preach love, peace and justice (all of which are, of course, important and were specifically taught by Christ).

But it is, I'm afraid, a sign of the times when we see a mainline denomination refuse to include a powerful modern-day hymn such as "In Christ Alone" in their new hymnal because it pictures God as wrathful, requiring Christ's atoning sacrifice.

The Committee on Congregational Song of the Presbyterian Church USA made headlines recently by refusing to include the hymn because of one line in the song: "‘Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied." No, no, no, they said – let's change it to, "‘Till on that cross as Jesus died / The love of God was magnified." It's much better to talk about love than about the gruesome, bloody cross and God's wrath. More friendly. Nicer. Kinder. Gentler. Isn't it?

Well, putting aside for the moment the fact that the cross was, indeed, the ultimate expression of God's love, it is unconscionable to remove the foundational truth that Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the cross was absolutely essential to our salvation. It was the whole reason He came. Teacher, yes. Example, yes. But Savior above all.

There is a penalty for sin, and Christ came to pay that penalty so we could be saved. Christ Himself said He would shed his blood "for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28b). Christ "died for our sins" (Romans 11:27) and "gave Himself for our sins" (Gal. 1:4) in order "to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17b), that is, to make us right with God. Peter noted that Christ "Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).  The writer of Hebrews clearly reminds us that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]" (Heb. 9:22b).

This is the doctrine of "substitutionary atonement." Christ died on the cross so that we might be able to live eternally with Him. He was personally sinless, so His death on the cross — and His alone — could pay for our sins. The penalty God required for sin was paid on our behalf by Christ on the cross. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

As the song itself put it, "For every sin on Him was laid / Here in the death of Christ I live." And, "For I am His and He is mine / Bought with the precious blood of Christ."

Did the Presbyterian hymn selection committee object to picturing God as "wrathful?" Perhaps they should check what the Bible says. Our righteous and holy God is often said to be "wrathful." Do a computer Bible search for "wrath of God" and you'll turn up dozens of references. John, whose favorite theme is God's love, nevertheless says, "he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him" (John 3:36).

We don't have to wonder about the Presbyterian hymnal committee's motives. Chair Mary Louise Bringle wrote in The Christian Century that the committee didn't want to suggest in the new hymnal that Jesus' death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice needed "to assuage God's anger" over sin, which, she added, "might not be our personal view," thus explaining the matter.

What?  Hello?  See the Scriptures above, Ms. Bringle.

To their eternal credit, songwriters Keith Getty and Stuart Townend refused to allow the suggested changes to their song, saying the changes would have been too large a departure from the original intent of the lyrics. And so the committee simply deleted the song from their hymnal, depriving Presbyterians of one of the most doctrinally sound of today's new hymns.

But, perhaps, ironically, because of all this publicity, fundamental Bible-believing churches may begin to appreciate and sing "In Christ Alone" more than ever. Getty and Townend got it right:

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

- Paul

PS: "In Christ Alone" has been recorded by many Southern Gospel artists in recent years, including the Booth Brothers, Lauren Talley, the Nelons, Michael English, the Rick Webb Family, Larry Ford and others.

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