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Heated Debate Stirs Over Changing Lyrics in "In Christ Alone"

According to a story in The Tennessean, a committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has dropped the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal because the publisher refuses to allow them to change the lyrics. The original lyrics say, “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian committee wants to change that phrase to “the love of God was magnified.” Songwriters Stuart Townend and Keith Getty objected to the change, so the committee dropped the song from their hymnal.

The issue is not the “wrath” of God, as some might think, but rather the word “satisfied,” which the committee says does not conform to their theology. The Rev. Chris Joiner of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin explains the words of the song don’t work. “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.”

In a blog post on the Christian Copyright Solutions website, Susan Fontaine Godwin explained how changing lyrics in a hymn or song is an infringement of the copyright on the piece. “It’s amazing how many times church worship leaders and pastors actually do change song lyrics without even thinking about asking permission first. Often it is because a pastor disagrees with a song lyric based on a theological point … Other times, a worship leader or songwriter may feel compelled to ‘improve’ the song with a new verse or chorus. Then again, lyric changes may be suggested due to a desire to make a song more inclusive or gender friendly. No matter how compelling the reason for changing, modifying or adapting the lyrics, it is the “exclusive” right of the song owner to make that decision and requires permission prior to any modification.”

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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.