Those who have never been really involved in religion sometimes do not realize how intense discussions can be about what seems (to outsiders) like trivial matters over the meaning of words. A recent example is the controversy over the decision of the Presbyterian church to reject a popular new hymn for inclusion in its official hymnal because the song’s authors objected to a change in the wording.
The committee putting together a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God.
The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”
People thought that the problem was with the word ‘wrath’ which seemed to denote a vengeful god but the real problem was with the word ‘satisfied’.
That term was used by the medieval theologian Anselm, who argued that sins offended God’s honor, and someone had to die in order to satisfy his honor.
The 15-member committee rejected Anselm’s view and voted 9-6 to drop the hymn.
The Rev. Chris Joiner of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tenn., agrees with that move. He said some of his church members are fans of the song and will be disappointed that it was dropped. But the words of the song don’t work, he said.
“That lyric comes close to saying that God killed Jesus,” he said. “The cross is not an instrument of God’s wrath.”
But the Rev. Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, disagrees. He said the word “satisfied” means that Jesus paid the whole price for sins.
“There’s no more work to be done,” said Sauls, whose congregation is part of the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America. “It is finished.”
There once was a time when I too would have been engrossed by such theological questions. Thank goodness I don’t waste time on such things anymore.