Doctrinally Sound Songs

I was putting together my lead for this Sunday’s meeting, and a thought came into my head that the song, “In Christ Alone” might be a song worth considering. If you don’t know it, here’s a version by Owl City (of Fireflies fame)

Now, this song has come under a bit of scrutiny in the past because of its lyrics. Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA wanted to include this song in their new hymnal, but decided not to because they were unable to change one of the lines of the song in verse 2. The original verse reads

’Til on that cross as Jesus died
the wrath of God was satisfied

Where as the altered version they wanted to use read

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
the love of God was magnified

And to be honest – the change isn’t a bad one. I think it fits doctrinally, biblically and personally I’m more than happy to focus in on the Love of God (which is very evident in the New Testament) as opposed to the Wrath of  God (which is very evident in the Old Testament). However, the original lyrics also work, they are sound, and they also have powerful meaning. When the Getty’s decided not to allow the change, they were well within their right to do so, and for me this issue isn’t a deal breaker.

However, I’m uncertain as to whether to use this song or not. My doctrinal issue with the song comes in the last verse.

No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man
can ever pluck me from His hand

Now the issue here comes with the ninth Doctrine of The Salvation Army:

We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.

Commonly known as the doctrine of backsliding, this means that as Salvationists, we believe that in order for you to remain in a state of salvation – that is saved by Jesus Christ – you need to continue to have obedient faith in Christ – that is, faith that follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. The flipside of this is that if you stop having obedient faith in Christ, then you lose your state of salvation. There’s no “once saved, always saved” here in the Army. Once saved, you need to keep being faithful to God.

And that’s where the issue lies. For Salvationists, if you stop having faith, then you are effectively plucked from his hand, to use the imagery from the song. Where the song states that there is nothing on the earth or below it that can remove our state of salvation, our Doctrines state that there is in fact a situation where we can lose our salvation.

That being said, there is a different way of reading those lyrics. You could argue that in fact, the line is stating that because my faith is so strong, because I have my continued obedient faith, that there is now nothing that can remove my state of salvation. But it’s a bit ambiguous.

And my problem is that I love the song – the melody is fantastic, the rest of the lyrics are so incredibly powerful, and such a grand statement. But can I, as an officer who is to proclaim The Salvation Army doctrines as the defining articles of our faith, use a song that has one single line that speaks against one of our doctrines?

This is the beauty of our Songbook. When we choose songs from there, we are guaranteed that the lyrics are doctrinally sound to The Salvation Army Doctrines. There have been people – far smarter than myself – who have gone through and analysed, and worked out whether the song can be used or not. I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the new songbook, hoping that it might have a few more recent worship songs which will make planning a meeting easier. When we move away from the songbook – as many corps are doing in order to stay relevant – we need to give at least a bit of a thought as to whether the songs we choose meet the standards set by our doctrines. If not, we have an obligation not to use them in our meetings, because as officers we are to proclaim the Gospel and uphold our doctrines.

So until I am suitably convinced otherwise, unfortunately, I cannot use this hymn, as much as I love singing it. Now I best get back to choosing that final song for Sunday’s service.

What do you think? Does one line mean that we shouldn’t sing this song? Is there a strong argument that means that it can be used in a Salvation Army context? or am I just overthinking things?

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

2 thoughts on “Doctrinally Sound Songs”

  1. Hey Ben,

    Yes this verse has been hotly debated amongst salvationist’s since its introduction to our meetings. I think though we often miss what the lyric is trying to convey.

    We often read it in reference to our salvation and if we backslide then this lyric doesn’t fit our theology, as you have stated, but I feel that the lyric is more aimed at the sovereignty of God.

    Yes we backslide it is our human condition, but if we backslide does this really mean that God loves us less and possibly cuts communication with us… I think this line of thought skews our doctrine as well.

    But if we sing this lyric in reference to God’s sovereignty we are then saying that there is nothing on earth nor in the spiritual realm that can fully remove us from God’s love. God is sovereign over all so the question is from this viewpoint, if we cannot claim this lyric for the authority it speaks to are we saying that Satan can defeat God?

    No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man
    can ever pluck me from His hand… Because God is sovereign over all

  2. Glenn kind of goes where I was going to go. Like you Ben, I like the song. Like you, I have no problems with the wrath of God bit, as it is a biblical image of atonement (though an incomplete one, and not one I would major in).
    With the other lyric, while I get where you are coming from, I think Glenn gets the idea a little closer. The lines are a direct reference to John 10:28-29 (I think the KJV uses “plucked”). The sentiment is similar to Romans 8:38-39 where no power can separate us from the love of God. Neither verse contradicts our 9th doctrine as they do not preclude the idea of us turning our back on God’s love and walking away by leaving aside our continued obedient faith. It is however our action. No power of hell, nor scheme of man or woman can take us from his embrace unless we cooperate with them. It is our action. In this sense it is like Glenn’s comment on the sovereignty of God. No power can take us from him- though we can choose to leave. God gives us even this freedom.

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