Theology and Hymnology

Paul exhorts Christians to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your heats to God” (Col. 3:16; cf. Eph. 5:19-20).

As the people of God sing corporately, the lyrics ought to support the truth and teaching of the Scripture. They become a very important means of imparting and impacting people with truth that is singable and memorable. It is a form of catechizing that supports biblical truth. All of these reasons explain why it is important that those who are responsible for the teaching, instruction and oversight of the Word – elders/oversees/pastors-shepherds – also need to give careful attention to the music that is sung.

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s  (PC-USA) Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS) has compiled a new song book for the denomination, Glory to God. How they compiled this new collection of songs illustrates the significant connection between theology and hymnology. The PCOCS decided not to include the hymn “In Christ Alone” because of its view of the atonement!

Mary Louise Bringle, “Debating Hymns,” writes of two significant theological debates the PCOCS encountered. The one addressed the death of Christ, the atonement. Bringle recounts the following debate:

Even more sustained theological debate occurred after the conclusion of the committee’s three-and-a-half years of quarterly meetings in January 2012. We had voted for a song from the contemporary Christian canon, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone.” The text agreed upon was one we had found by studying materials in other recently published hymnals. Its second stanza contained the lines, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.” 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.” We were faced, then, with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors’ original language or to remove it from our list.

The final vote of the committee was 6 to include, 9 to exclude. Thus this biblically faithfully, theologically rich song was excluded from their new songbook, Glory to God. This is, I confess, a very sad, but not surprising, decision!

The PCOCS wrote a “Statement on Language” that served as a guide for their discussions and decisions of what to include, what not to include and what to edit, which will be included in the appendix to the songbook. Two key principles from this Statement were commitments to “inclusive language for the people of God” and “expansive language for God.”

In response, rooted in the absolute truth of God’s Word, that it alone is the norming norm of all we know and say, we will be as inclusive as the Bible commands and allows, and we will be as expansive as God has revealed of Himself in the Word, nothing less (expansive) and nothing more (divinely revealed limitations). As those who live under the authority of the Word and seek to honor and glorify the Trinitarian God, we are not at liberty to refer to Him or rename Him based on our preference or what we perceive would not be offensive. Any time we believe this is necessary, either for God or the Word, we take a significant step away from both living under the authority of the Bible and confessing the name of and worshiping God appropriately.

 

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