I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Friday, March 18, 2016


Is the wrath of God something we should sing about?

The doctrines of sin, judgment and the cross have become unpopular and rejected in much of our contemporary theology.  There is nothing that irritates liberal Christians more than the idea of divine wrath.

In 1934, Richard Niebuhr wrote a book titled, The Kingdom of God in America.  In it, he described liberal Protestant theology, which was called “modernism,” in one famous, concise sentence; “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

One Sunday morning, the text for my pastor’s sermon, was Romans 1:24-32.  The subject was “understanding Our Sin-Sick Culture."  As is my custom, I attempted to select songs for our worship, that support the sermon.  And I found that there are very few Christian songs on the subject of God’s judgment or wrath.

One of them, “In Christ Alone,” is probably the best-loved and most often used contemporary song among Christian churches in the past several years.  And most of you are familiar with it.  But it is despised by liberal Christianity.  

Recently, that song became a major point of controversy among Presbyterians.  A PCUSA denominational committee voted to exclude the contemporary worship song from their new hymnal.

Although most Presbyterians wanted to include it because of its popularity, they just couldn’t allow it because of one short line in the second stanza.  The committee wanted to change the song’s lyrics from “Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied" to, 'the love of God was magnified.

Well, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, the authors of the hymn, insisted on the original wording so the committee vote to discard the song.

Interestingly, though, Presbyterians were not the only, nor the first, denomination to find the line problematic; It seems that some of us Baptists balk at the subject too. Unbeknownst to the songwriters, the alternate lyric had already been inserted and published by the American Baptists in a 2010 hymnal.

So what about it?  Were the authors right?  Is God angry?   Well, consider these verses:

Psalm 7:11 - "God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day."

Nahum 1:6 - "Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?  His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him."

Romans 1:18 - "For the wrath of god is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."

Revelation 14:18-20 - "And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs."

There is a popular little meme that says, "God hates the sin but loves the sinner," but that is a false and unbiblical statement that is found nowhere in Scripture.  In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that God is angry at, not only, sin but also sinners.

And He has revealed His anger at the sin of mankind many times; He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. He wiped out the entire world, except for Noah, his family, and a few animals, in a universal flood.  But those were nothing compared to His ultimate act of vengeance when He poured out His wrath on His Only Son who bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.   The book of the Revelation foretells a time when God will bring terrible judgments during the Tribulation.   And finally, at the end of the age, God will display His wrath against all the unrighteous at the great white throne judgment.

One of the main points of my pastor's sermon suggested that we may be observing God’s judgment and wrath on our nation as He abandons us to the consequences of our own reprobate minds.  

Words mean things and the words of our Christian music are especially important. Debating over doctrinal issues in the lines of hymns is not a new thing and it is not always a bad thing.  But, in this case, if we fail to recognize God’s capacity for wrath, we, in effect, trivialize His sovereign power.  It is true that God is Love.  That’s one of His attributes.  Wrath is not one of His attributes, but wrath is a function of His holiness and justice; without His wrath, there is no need or appreciation for His mercy.

It is good to sing songs about the judgment and wrath of God.  They are direct reminders of His mercy toward us.  And this contemporary song is one of the great ones and this controversial line is even greater.  We will only know and fully appreciate God's grace when we understand the magnitude of our sin that required His great sacrifice.

“…'Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.  For every sin on Him was laid, here in the death of Christ, I live.”

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