Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In Christ Alone

Christian Worship Supplement, the new WELS hymnal supplement, includes this contemporary song by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend.  "In Christ Alone" was also one of the 100 contemporary songs, the 100 that were given the "green light" and "stamp of approval" by the LC-MS Commission on Worship and commended for use in LC-MS parishes.  However, is it a "starke Kirchenlied"?  Is it a strong church-song?

This text has much to commend itself and a depth that is so often absent in much of the genre of contemporary praise and worship.  The first stanza begins with the powerful statement, "In Christ alone my hope is found."  Period.   I like that!  This initial stanza speaks of Christ as the solid Rock upon which all believers stand.  The second stanza has some nice incarnational imagery and language as well as incorporating the language of propitiation: Christ's death turning aside God's wrath over humanity's sin.  That's a thought that is hard to find these days!  Getty and Townsend ought to be commended for choosing such words as these.  The third stanza, the resurrection stanza, presents the reality of the resurrection and what that event means for individuals.  So far so good.  It is the final stanza that raises a red flag or two with me.  The fourth line doesn't seem correct somehow.  What does the writer mean, "Jesus commands my destiny"?  Does that mean Jesus has commanded the destiny of some to salvation and others to damnation...or am I reading too much theology into that?  The combination of Romans 8 and John 10 language in the final stanza is appreciated.  However, as a Lutheran, I am wishing there was an additional stanza that would use "means of grace" language to answer this question: How does the Christian stand in the power of Christ?  

1.  In Christ alone my hope is found.
         He is my light, my strength, my song;
     This cornerstone, this solid ground,
             Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
     What heights of love, what depths of peace,
     When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
         My Comforter, my all in all,  
             Here in the love of Christ I stand.

2.  In Christ alone--who took on flesh,
         Fulness of God in helpless babe.
     This gift of love and righteousness,
             Scorned by the ones He came to save.
     Till on that cross, as Jesus died,
     The wrath of God was satisfied;
         For ev'ry sin on Him was laid.
             Here in the death of Christ I live.

3.  There in the ground His body lay,
         Light of the world by darkness slain;
     Then bursting forth in glorious day
             Up from the grave He rose again!
     And as He stands in victory,
     Sin's curse has lost its grip on me.
         For I am His and He is mine--
             Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

4.  No guilt in life, no fear in death,
         This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
     From life's first cry to final breath,
         Jesus commands my destiny.
     No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man
     Can ever pluck me from His hand;
         Till He returns or calls me home;
             Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a non-LCMS member, I assume the list of 100 songs you are referring to is this. I was just wondering - is this list actually all approved for use by the synod as your post indicates, or is it just a list of songs that have been "evaluated" from which maybe only a few are green-light-worthy? Several of the songs on the chart seem to have been evaluated as having little going for them; In Christ Alone being evaluated as one of the highest.

amelithpastor said...

As an LCMS member, I wonder what is the exact purpose of such a list. I have read the rationale for such a list as a response to a synodical convention resolution. My interpreteation is that these 100 are deemed to have value for use in LCMS parishes, otherwise they would not be on the list. It appears many others were rejected. While it is admitted that these songs did not go through the same rigorous process used by the Hymnody Committee that prepared Lutheran Service Book and while it is recognized that a song is not a hymn and that songs generally have a shorter shelf life than a hymn, for me it still comes down to the fact that everything we sing in corporate worship is teaching something about God in some way. Many of the songs on that list I would never consider substituting for a hymn that says much more in a far better way. I believe that "In Christ Alone" has a great deal to commend it for use both textually and from a musical standpoint. The problematical line for me is the one I mentioned, "Jesus commands my destiny." In what sense is that true? Christ is indeed a gracious Lord that rules in the heart of the Christian not with an iron fist, but rather with His mercy and forgiving love. (Here again, my Lutheran eyes would long for the visible and audible assurances of that mercy and grace given in the means of grace, Word and Sacraments, including Absolution.) When such lines were encountered by the Hymnody Committee as they reviewed hymn texts submitted for possible inclusion in LSB, such lines generated a great deal of discussion before a decision for inclusion was made. Unclear theological expressions could be enough to shortcircuit an otherwise fine text. Is that the case here? It obviously did not raise any red flags with the WELS committee that put together Christian Worship Supplement so perhaps I am reading it incorrectly.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you Pastor; very interesting.

I have been familiar with In Christ Alone for some time and it has become one of my favorites. I never took "Jesus commands my destiny" to mean double-predestination; but simply that has called me by the Gospel and will bring me safely home to heaven (as the following lines expound). Without his death and resurrection, my doomed destiny would have been sealed. But by his grace and in his providence I am kept safe until I enter my eternal home.

I agree with your means of grace assessment. The plan of salvation is so beautifully laid out, except that how we receive it personally and tangibly is left out.

revpaulcain said...

Have you examined in detail any other Getty/Townend hymns? I like "O Church, Arise" as much as this one. "There Is a Higher Throne" and "I Will Stand on Every Promise of Your Word" are becoming favorites, too.

amelithpastor said...

I have not had a chance to look at those. Are they too more hymn-like (in the sense that some doctrinal substance is present) and are they too joined to good, churchly music? I will have to hunt those down. Thanks for the comment!

revpaulcain said...

Yes, they are remarkably hymn-like. I have found that their recorded arrangments tend toward the drum set/electric guitar "contemporary" mode, but I have used them with organ, string ensemble, acoustic guitar, piano, and I would like to try handbells.
Visit http://www.gettymusic.com/ to see their material how they present it. CDs and downloadable "hymnals" are available.