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I agree, Jesus was a fully-human baby and crying is not a sin.  We know he cried later in life, so why not as a baby?

Larry Norman's 1972 album "Only Visiting this Planet" was an album that was highly rated by secular and Christian music stations & magazines. He was eventually inducted to Gospel Music Hall of Fame and honoured posthumously at the Grammy Awards in 2009. As a young teenager, I listened to the album frequently (still have a copy somewhere) and the lyrics of the one track definitely provoked thought... at that time. Now, I just think it's a great song.

Excerpts from Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready":
A man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head he's gone
I wish we'd all been ready
Two men walking up a hill, one disappears and one's left standing still
I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind, how could you have been so blind
the father spoke, the demons dined, the Son has come and you've been left behind

Your article helps me understand why discussions regarding and planning of music for a worship service so often come with tension and difficulty. If our attempts at God-glorifying music are so full of tension and failings, why do we plan and stumble? Why not just always let music happen? What you have written has helped me sort out that it is so important to put effort and intention in our music, because it is this effort and intention inherent in music that is at the very foundation of our desire and attempt to see the perfect glory of our great God! With this in mind, it is easier for me to see why God wants and even commands us to worship Him in song.

I've always interpreted the use of the word in hymns in the sense that Bill lays out, the idea of "rapturous delight" and not speaking about an end times event.  But it dovetails with the whole question of theology in song.  I for one cringe a little when I sing at Christmas "the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes."  Why shouldn't he cry?

rapture (n.) 
c.1600, "act of carrying off," from Middle French rapture, from Medieval
Latin raptura "seizure, rape, kidnapping," from Latin raptus "a carrying off, abduction, snatching away; rape" (see rapt). Earliest attested use in English is of women and in 17c. it sometimes meant rape (v.), which word is a cognate of this. Sense of "spiritual ecstasy, state of mental transport" first recorded c.1600 (raptures).
The word is about 350 years older than John nelson Darby's invention of dispensational eschatology. 

In response to your question, Bert, if a song is in the public domain, as Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus is, you may write new stanzas, print them, sing them for worship or whatever use is appropriate. It's only when the hymn or song is still under copyright that you need to be careful. 

I have been listening to a lot of messianic music lately (look up chavah messianic radio if interested), and a lot of it is straight scripture, especially Paul Wilbur's songs...    here's just a taste  =)


in this song, the Shema by Paul Wilbur (Deut 6:4), you can even learn the Shema in Hebrew =)  but most of the song is in English... ;


Medley: Let God Arise (Psalm 68:1-3)/ It is Good (Psalm 92:1-5,12-13; / Roni Roni (Zeph 3:14);  again performed by Paul Wilbur


We have a prayer group, coming together once a month in prayer support fore our sidewalk counselors at the abortion clinic.Typical we write a responsive reading and sing a song. As an example we may sing "Stand up, stand up for Jesus"

Often we add an extra song just created to fit the occasion. Normally the extra is just used at that time among our group. But whould it be permissable to use it during a church service?


I hear you on all of these points, Rebecca. It does take time, and correct licensing is a big deal - to the point of being a burden on many church staffs. We will be doing a webinar on Copyrights and Worship on Feb. 26 at noon - the goal is to give  practical information and helps for those in the church and allow for questions. (sign ups currently taken through the Network or the hymnal website - )

RE: Copyright for new hymnals (Diane)

I am loving planning worship using the new Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal, but ensuring correct licensing is BIG. DEAL. As in, taking a lot of time to make sure we are doing it right. But I LOVE this hymnal, it's terrific.

RE: Why change lyrics?

Sometimes contemporary and popular worship songs do not reflect reformed theology. All our songs go through a review before we add them to our song list. In some cases, we have chosen just to simply not sing a particular verse of a song if it's questionable. (I know of one song we do this for, and if I can just remember the name of it, I'll post it as an example.)

An example from the news recently was when a church (PCUSA, I *think*) opted not to include the popular hymn, "In Christ Alone" in their new hymnal because they wanted to change the words "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied" to "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified" and the copyright holder declined to approve the change.

Just one more note about changing the words, calling it a derivative work, and claiming the copyright for yourself. They will not let you do that today- I realize that it was done in the past. But in today's world of copyrights and permissions - publishers and most individuals won't allow another person to hold the copyright for a change or addition to their original work. For example, if you wrote another verse to a hymn that fit really well - and you sent it to the copyright holder  for their permission to use it, they might say that they like it and 'thank you very much, we will let it be a part of our hymn, but we will now own the copyright for the new verse, too".   Sometimes for older (still copyrighted) hymn texts publishers or authors will allow you to do that. Probably more often they will not. But for any contemporary music, absolutely no changes are allowed - no word changes, no additional verses or choruses, no new words to contemporary tunes, etc.

I only know these things because I just obtained all of the copyrights and permissions for the most recent two hymnals that the CRC (Faith Alive) published - Psalms for All Seasons, and Lift Up Your Hearts. Trust me, we tried to do several things that were definitely turned down. And we added some great new verses to hymns but the original copyright holder now owns the copyright to them.

The only way to take freedom with lyrics or tunes is to work with public domain material - then you have real creative freedom and if you write something new you do retain the copyright.

I hope this makes sense. I'd hate for someone to work on something and think they would be able to claim the copyright ownership and then be disappointed.



Thank you for adding your clarifications.  You're absolutely right that performance and reproduction rights are distinct.  I should have read the statute more carefully.  So, as you said, we are free to sing/play songs without permission, but to display or copy the music/lyrics we are obligated to secure a license (I do have some reservations about the practice of liscensing, but I'll save those for a possible future blog post).

I still don't think changing the lyrics is a big deal.  If you were trying to get other churches to sing your alternate lyrics, and then ultimately you wanted to get credit/royalties for the changes, that would be a clear derivative-work situation.  But what Rebecca is talking about isn't quite so serious (again, just my opinion).

Perhaps the bigger question is why you would want to change the lyrics at all.  If you like the song, is there a compelling reason not to sing it as published?  For my part, I often find updated lyrics in the Psalter to be unneeded and less appealling.  So I prefer to use the older forms (I like to think of them as the "original" lyrics, but that's not always true).  However, in such cases, we would still be using a published version of the lyrics, not something we came up with ourselves.  If there are a few lines/words you just really don't want to sing, I guess you probably shouldn't use that song.

Thanks to all for taking the time to contribute to these forums.

Thank you for adding your comments about copyright and music as well as about copyright related to visual arts. I appreciate you taking time to add to the discussion.

Interesting discussion. I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I've worked with copyrights and church music quite extensively. The 106 Clause states that the copyright owner has exclusive rights to do and authorize any derivative works. In other words, no changes can be made without the copyright owner's permission. If a song is copyrighted, the words should not be changed without permission even for singing in the local church. Some of the copyright licenses (CCLI) allow for you to arrange, translate, or write instrument parts for a copyrighted song for use in your local church's worship service if a published version is not available. (check CCLI's website for more information).

The 110 exemption referring to performing a copyrighted song in church refers to singing or playing a song - whether by choir, soloist, or congregation. These things don't need licensing or permission. But that is different than reproducing music - either by projecting, photocopying, printing in bulletins, sending to musicians to rehearse, etc.  Doing those things for church use without permission or license, will make you liable for infringing on the copyright holder's rights. 

The reference to displaying a work would seem to refer to the displaying of a work of religious nature - probably some kind of artwork. Displaying it in its original form for people to enjoy and worship would not need permission or license. But copying it, or pasting a copyrighted image into a presentation or bulletin without permission would again be an infringement of the copyright holder's rights.

Thanks again for asking the question. Many people in the church today are busy and overwhelmed, and while they want to do the right thing, they just don't even dare ask the copyright questions. I give you a lot of credit for caring.


Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

As for the performance in worship aspect as referred to in § 110, I have read elsewhere that there is a difference between performance and congregational singing. That is, if the praise team or a soloist presents the song, it would be a performance and there is no issue, but that is distinct from congregational singing, when we reproduce the words and/or music under a license to guide corporate singing. In that case, when the words are changed, it's stickier because we note that we've licensed the work, but have actually changed it withouth noting that we have done so.

I don't know that this applies to musical changes in the same way in our setting; we don't generally reproduce music, so the mucisians have the liberty to do many of these things as in a way, they are "performing" music - original or adapted works - but it's the words that are the issue because we do reproduce those.

I'm also not a lawyer, so this is all my opinion too... but it would seem that if we could fairly claim a derivative work even if we didn't seek copyright of such, and then simply add notations to indicate that words have been changed, that might be OK. Although as you said since we aren't seeking copyright that doesn't seem to apply. I just haven't been able to find any resource that indicates that this is actually OK (nor clear information that says "you may" or "you may not.") 

I do appreciate your taking time to write. I didn't have any familiarity with the derivative works aspect, and I appreciate your thoughts on the topic.


There are two sections in the US copyright law that pertain (somewhat) to what you are asking.

The first one concerns creating a derivative work, which is when you take a song and make substantive changes.

[quote] § 106 . Exclusive rights in copyrighted works

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

     (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;[/quote]

Here is the official definition of a "derivative work":

[quote] A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.[/quote]

Usually this section applies when trying to claim a new copyright for changes made to a published work, such as what Weird Al Yankovic does.  So while changing the lyrics of a song is technically creating a derivative work, you are not trying to claim a new copyright, so my view is this section doesn't apply.

The section that truly applies is this:

[quote] § 110 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

     (3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;[/quote]

This section brings into question the very need to secure a license to use copyrighted songs in worship.

The bottom line is we make changes to songs all the time.  We play them in different keys, use different chords, add descants, harmonies, and counter-melodies, etc.  If anything, displaying alternate lyrics could be classified simply as a typo.  And section 110 allows us to use religious songs in religious services without permission.  So I don't think you are violating copyright law, neither its letter nor spirit, by changing some lyrics.

Now, I need to say, and this is very important, that I am not a copyright lawyer, nor even what could be called an expert.  I've done a lot of reading on the topic over the years, but my sentiments above are nonetheless just my opinion.

Do with them what you will.

Thanks David.  I tend to think God loves music. It just seems to fit with how he made us.

Good stuff, Christy. I'm always haunted by the Augustine statement "He who sings prays twice" and I definitely think of our hymn-singing as prayers with notes attached. I wonder to what extent our God is musical at the core and hears us kind of speaking His language when we sing...?

I love it that you used a harmonica in worship. I was given a harmonica at age 5, and that started a lifelong love of music for me,especially church music. (I am now a senior)

Welcome aboard, Christy!  Blessings in the coming year.

I don't folks. If the word is truly as powerful and convicting as we say it is, maybe we should be sitting down to hear that? I'm being facetious of course, but the point is that standing or sitting can be symbolic and/or practical either way. Perhaps standing for the reading was always symbolic of respect, or perhaps it was just a practical way to get people closer to the speaker because sitting takes more room. Obviously in Nehemiah the symbol of respect came primarily from the length of time that the people stood. If our churches are being intentionally symbolic with sitting or standing, I think very few people would argue in favor of giving the Creed a place of highest honor. But if we are using this as a standard to try and judge other congregations, this is a silly display of insecurity, and besides, we should be careful not to assume that a symbol understood one way in one congregation will carry the same meaning in another congregation.

Great article. Funerals have come a long way. I attended one this past week where they played Frank Sinatra "My Way" along with songs by the Gaithers. In the past, I have been to funerals which hardly mentioned the deceased or their life. As you mentioned, we can show gratitude to God by sharing stories of this person - what better way? Real concrete ways. I hope that when I have entered the heavenly realm, people can see the love of God, the work of God through memories they have of me. I may not have been perfect but Grace is all I needed. May I also add, that I do not like it when people preplan their funeral by saying "no funeral, no gathering etc." Funerals are for the living, for those left behind to grieve , not the deceased.  It is a family matter but that depends on your vision of family - my family includes those related by blood but also those related by the blood of Christ, those related by friendship, love and support. A favourite new quote by Ram Dass - "we are all just here to walking each other home".

Neil, I would like to suggest that a minister of the church does not have to lead the memorial service.  In my own case, my immediate family members have absolutely no connections to the pastor of my church because they live far away.  They know, however, that my faith community is central to my life, and they will honour that. So, I have suggested that certain family members they know can serve as the leader.  No sermon is mandatory, but the presence of Christ and words of comfort can be shared in so many other ways than just during a sermon.  Maybe I am just a rebellious person :-), but I just want to put it out there that there is lots of room for creativity.   Diane Plug

In the key of D, the bridge is not too high.  It only goes up to a high D, which is decent for most congregations, if the song doesn't linger there.   The second chorus hits a high G (except for a possible grace note up to A).  While this makes for powerful music, it makes the song less congregation friendly.  Just like "God Of This City," the chorus is repeated an octave higher, which makes for a wide vocal range.  

The lowest note is the tonic, D.  That could be pushed a bit lower, and still congregation-friendly.  

 Try for the key of B (key G capo 4 if you play guitar).  That gives you a B on the low end, and high E.  Still a wide range, but probably better.  (I'm not in front of my piano, nor do I have my guitar in hand.  I may be slightly off).

Thanks, Ken, for the reference to Piper.  Good stuff.


Having read (and appreciated) this article, I just ran accross this today...
This supports what you have found about the centrality of preaching God's Word.

You are right on.  Thanks for the qualifier.

Thank you Sam for reminding us once again of the importance of the preaching of the Word and why it is and always will be considered one of the 3 marks of the true church.

Ed, thanks for weighing in on the connection between the sermon and church growth. Seems to me that, through casual observation, we see a connection between the quality of preaching and church growth - in some but not all contexts. Yet, I don't think my survey, as constructed, makes that a necessary connection (as in A + B = C). We simply asked the leader of the worship ministry of each church about the focal point of the service, a question which probes the design of the Sunday service. Still, I agree with the connection you make to sermon preparation. Surely, if the sermon is the focal point, preachers best bring their best. And, if God so allows, the fruit of such efforts may be the spiritual and perhaps numeric growth of the congregation.

If 86% consider the sermon as the central part of Sunday worship, it would seem that the decision on joining a church, or even attending on a given Sunday is a function of the characteristics of the sermon, and by inference, of the efforts of pastor in preparing and delivering that sermon. If true, that would lay the responsibility for church growth largely on the shoulders of the pastor. Is that another one of the take aways of this study?

John, thanks for the feedback. I hope the blog did not come off as prescriptive (suggesting the need for change). It was only meant to be descriptive of the worship life of eighty Protestant congregations in Northern Illinois. 

As for the sample, in a short blog it is difficult to offer all the details of the survey. I wish I could  have included the names of the congregations which participated in the survey. It was a very diverse group, reflecting the diversity of the student body at Northern Seminary. The sample included a large number of non-denominational congregations and representatives from many denominations.

Of course, the diversity of the sample is both a strength and weakness. It would have been beneficial to survey eighty congregations of one denomination or one theological tradition. But it was equaly beneficial to see the similarities between congregations of different theological traditions, cultures, races, econmics, worship styles, sizes, and neighborhoods. And one similarity was the centrality of the sermon.

I can't remember standing for the reading of the Word, the Apostolic creed which we used every Sunday was sung for a long time, but this was done in a time where we would stand for each hymn if able to do so. It has been suggested that we would stand for each song again, but that because one sings better standing. As for the reading for the sermon passage, our minister uses this mostly throughout the sermon. Is it important, Biblical? or is it legalistic?

We stand occasionally for the reading of the Word, but we *always* stand for reciting the creeds of the church. I say to we stand for both, neither, or only the Word. Not only the creed. It's been bothering me. When I'm alone at home I don't stand when I read, my problem is with standing for the creed and not the Word.

I think standing for the reading makes sense and is a good thing, but I would be fine with not standing as well. The Word is strong enough whether we stand or sit. I read the Word sitting, even lying in my bed. It's not a sign of disrespect.

That is a great verse, too.  "Fill the whole universe" -- that's pretty big! Thank you, Kirk.

posted in: God, He's Huge!

We stand for scripture reading every Sunday.  About 8 years ago, one Sunday the worship leader invited us to stand, saying this was customary in Jesus' day.  No fuss, no discussions, no meetings needed.  We were invited to stand, we did it, it was well received and we've done every Sunday since.  It has became the norm for us.  On the occasional time we forget to let a guest pastor know they should invite us to stand, the congregation just gets up of it's own accord. Now when we visit another church where they remain seated, it feels very strange and borderline disrepectful.  I heartily recommend standing for the reading of scripture. 

Yes, there are churches stand for the Gospel Reading and the recitation of the creed.  I was in  an ELCA (Lutheran) church for a year, and it was "standard" to stand.   

Are there churches that are really doing this? I bet the meeting that decided it was interesting ;)

You should either stand for neither, both, or the Word.


It is good to take time to think about the "bigness" of God, this past Christmas season I thought about it often as well.  The verse that stood out for me was Ephesians 4:10  ( He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe.)

posted in: God, He's Huge!

Does that mean that we as preachers can sit down when we preach like the rabbis did? Sounds good to me! ;)

Read Nehemiah 8. There it talks about the Reading of the Law and the People standing to hear the Law being read.  (It has other acts of worship in there too! - not to mention the idea of a pulpit above the congregation).  So It is appropriate to stand to hear God's Word being read.  Other Denominations (Lutheran, etc.) stand to hear the Gospel Reading.  Jesus must have stood to read the scroll in the New Testament, because the passage says that he "sat down" after Jesus read.  So why not stand to hear the reading of God's Word?  It Is Biblical!


Thank you, Denise! Amen to that.

posted in: God, He's Huge!


I enjoyed being reminded that our God is big! Psalm 8 is one of my favorite psalms. In 2014, as we think about him may we be inspired to give all praise! Thanks

posted in: God, He's Huge!

Good, insightful stuff here, Sam! I am challenged in a good direction by your urging of an integrated, basic style to set the overall format of worship, thus avoiding the disjunctive "variety show" problem. And I love your notion of pushing the boundary outward to other worship sensibilities! I note all three of the major musical orientations you see operating are Western. But then, of course, we are here in the West! That, however, is rapidly changing because of the demographic shifts in Euro-American society--shifts happening even faster in the churches. So we'll get to explore the boundaries that include more global music styles; some congregations will have dominant styles, as well, from Asian cultures, African cultures, Islander cultures, etc. Here in Salt Lake City we have strong Tongan and Samoan congregations, strong Hispanic congregations, and various others--Nepalese, Burmese, South Sudanese, etc. I work for The Vine Institute which equips leaders from these various groups, working multiculturally; two or three times each year we sponsor a multicultural worship experience and usually feature two different ethnic groups in a service leading with their own style and language (translations on screen). It is very rich, but I must say I hunger for more integration in the service as a whole--thank you for your wisdom and encouragement toward this! 

Thanks, Joe.  You have hit on the tension we face a Christian congregations. When we gather as a congregation, do we so in a way that reflects the present or the future, who were are or who we hope to become?  And to what degree do we, as a gathered community accommodate our guests? Tough decisions.  I am thinking that each congregation will have to determine their answers to those questions.   You?     

John, thanks for your thoughtful response.  I would have loved to have witnessed the 24 hour sing-a-thon!  

The children in our church, along with children from some other churches, organized a twenty-four hour sing- a-thon to raise money for our community christian radio station.  They set a target of $5000 and raised $5100!   Singing non-stop for twenty four hours (in shifts of course) means you sing a lot of songs, perhaps over 700 songs, maybe more, although a few were sung more than once.  It started with a concert by two children's choirs, and in the second day they had three guest musician groups singing different styles of music.  Some of the kids learned praise songs they had not known before, while other kids who normally did not sing hymns, learned a lot of hymns.  They began to enjoy all types of worship music. 

Sam,  not just ethnic cultures abound, but worship cultures also vary.   The idea that people do not all relate to Christ in exactly the same way at all times, is an idea that can help to understand the benefit for variety in the music, in the words, in the order of worship, and in expressions of praise and thanksgiving.   Not everyone will be happily flexible towards all kinds of music, but I think if a few principles are maintained, then a variety of music will be possible, and eventually upbuilding and rejuvenating for all.   Variety is not for show, but to enlarge the beauty and variety of creation in our response to God. 

First, when singing, the words need to be heard, and preferably, singable by all.  ("Performances" should be infrequent, and rare, and perhaps participatory.)  That means words for new songs on the overhead or in print.  It also means that drums and organs and brass should not drown out the singing, but should have their volume adjusted downwards.  It's interesting how many hymns can be accompanied by drums as well.  Volume needs to be appropriate;  damage to ear drums not allowed, but a sense of joyous praise encouraged.  Sing more songs standing up!  Second, the theology of the song must not be incorrect.  (With allowances for poetic language!)  Every song will not express the entirety of the gosple, but it certainly should not express something which contradicts scripture.  Third, the majority of songs should be familiar with new songs introduced one or two at a time.  If the congregation cannot sing the song after three tries, the song should probably be dropped.   But repeating a new song or singing it two or three times in a row may be a good way to learn a new one. 

I personally find most genres of songs beautiful, whether hymns, southern gospel, vineyard, children's songs, spirituals, or whatever.   But a few songs in all genres strain the meaning of praise.   And harmony adds a huge beauty to the singing, so songs that can be harmonized should be included preferentially most of the time, although ocassionally a unison song can also be very beautiful in contrast.  Also consider some acappella verses in some well known hymns.... its a beautiful contrast!  Think of music like the landscapes in the world.   Singing the mountains is grand, but the budgies, the streams, the canaries, the trees, the prairies, the seas, and even the desert has its own music, meant to praise and worship God.   Sometimes the music is like a hurricane, and other times like the quiet wisper that spoke to Elijah.  Sometimes the music is like the bellow of a bull, or the roar of lion, and other times like the rippling of a brook, or the honking of the migrating geese, and sometimes it is blended together in a melodious harmony.  Sometimes the music makes you laugh, and sometimes it brings tears of joy and sadness.  God made it all.   It is our prayer to God, and His gift to us. 

There is another side to this. To organize the worship service in a way that helps a few people unfamiliar with traditional praise songs feel more at home, we risk turning the worship hour into an unfamiliar experience for the greater part of  the congregation. I wasn't born here and I've learned to worship my God in the spirtually-uplifting songs and music of my congregation. As a former Roman Catholic I'd find it disenchanting to have the liturgy in an RC format, reminding me of the errors of the Church of Rome I left behind when I joined the CRC.  

I guess that is your personal preference.  Our church sings a lot and loud even with a full band on stage. You seem to be suggesting that if there's a full band then it's entertainment which is not necessarily true. Not everyone worships the same way.  Your response also judges those who are being used by the Lord to lead people into the Lord's presence through contemporary music.  By it's nature, contemporary worship music is more of a band oriented style.  It speaks to many people in our culture in a way you may not appreciate. But God still inspires some very faithful, committed Christian men and women to write this contemporary worship music from the depths of their love for Christ.  Your assumptions are just that, assumptions and judgements.