Hymns and Atonement Theory

26 06 2011

I have recently attended two ordinations where a famous Christian hymn was sung. It’s lyrics were changed at one so as not to offend an intolerant group of liberal agitators in our denomination, at the other I was told that a few of the congregation chose not to sing the line (I did not notice their silence personally). Quite apart from the fact that, out of respect for others, I sing plenty of liberal tripe without grumbling and display none of their angst about this, I wonder how they square their intolerance for the lyric of this hymn with the recognition of the United Reformed Church’s own particular heritage of faith in statements of Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Churches of Christ.

In particular the language of this hymn can be drawn completely from the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration where the ‘wrath of God’ against unredeemed humanity is affirmed (WC: chapter VI paragraph VI, SD: chapter 6 paragraph 6) and where Christ’s work upon the cross is seen as ‘undertaking the punishment due to us’ (SD: chapter 8 paragraph 4) and ‘satisfying the Father’s justice on our behalf’ (WC: chapter XI paragraph III and SD: chapter 11 paragraph 3). Ironically, whilst we state in the ordination service that we acknowledge these declarations in the statement concerning the nature faith and order, it appears that we may not recognise these declarations when they confront us in our hymnary!