Rightly handling the words

Everyday Ministry

Andrew Malone raises some pertinent questions about how we treat the words of congregational songs.

Song words used to be fixed in our hymnbooks or on overhead transparencies. If you wanted to modernize “Thou o’er death hast won” or paraphrase how God is “ineffably sublime”, you had to petition your denomination for a whole new publication. Today, everyone can publish whatever and whenever they like. We cut and paste lyrics into pew bulletins and, increasingly, into the latest data projection package.

With this shift into self-publishing, we seem to have decided that all lyrics are public domain. At least, where I come from, if you don’t like the theology of something, you simply change the offending word or phrase as easily as you might change its font or colour. We want to be a little bit Hillsong, but baulk at singing to “the darling of heaven”. We adore the popular triumphalism of ‘In Christ Alone’, but are hesitant to commend its theology that on the cross “Glory died”. We subtly cross the line from being a publisher to being a co-writer with the professionals.