The Hymn Matter (concluded)

It is evident from what we have written in the last two issues of The Standard Bearer that in 1953 the sentiment of the churches in the east was, in the main, adverse to the use of other songs than those permitted by the Church Order in our consistorially sponsored radio programs. With this sentiment we agree because it is our position that these programs, officially sponsored by the church, in which the Word is ministered as a mission endeavor, should also be regulated by the rules of the Church Order. Consistency demands this. A simple illustration can make this clear. Suppose that our missionary would go out into the field where he finds an interested audience. To them he preaches the Word and instructs them in the truth of the Confessions as maintained by our churches. During this time he uses the Psalter Hymnal, leaving the impression of course that these are the songs our churches use. When they are ready to organize into a Protestant Reformed Church he must tell them that Article 69 of the Church Order will then apply to their singing as a congregation although for some time he has left the impression with them that both Psalms and Hymns were permissible. Isn’t this misleading? Isn’t it plainly wrong?

Yet, this is what we do in our radio witness. This, do not forget, is the official witness of the church. In it we leave the impression upon the unseen audience that the Protestant Reformed Churches, sponsors of this witness, are both Psalm and, Hymn singing churches. But, if in response to that witness the church is gathered, we must tell them that they cannot use the songs which we ourselves use in our official witness into the church because Article 69 must be maintainedin the church. This duplicity does not strengthen our distinctive witness but weakens it.

In conclusion yet on the hymn matter it may be noted that the synod of 1962 voted down the motion to revise Article 69 of the Church Order. This was consistent with the decision of the 1949 synod so that this is now the second time that the request was before our synod to make room in our churches for songs, other than the Psalms, that are literal versifications of Scripture. And this is the second time that the broadest gathering of the churches has refused this request. In both instances the synod acted negatively, that is, they simply voted the matter down. Had synod adopted a positive position, we would undoubtedly also have specific grounds or reasons for the stand taken. As it is now we do not have this. It is not only conceivable but even quite likely that the delegates of the last synod voted this down for various reasons. Although the vote was unanimous (there may have been abstentions), it cannot be said that all voted as they did for the same reason. If the matter comes up again, as we expect it will, we hope our future synods will recognize and sustain the decisions taken in 1949 and 1962 but that then the matter is approached positively so that a definite stand is taken and a clear expression given as to the songs to be used in the churches. As it is now our churches have twice synodically said that we do not want hymns or versifications or other songs than those stipulated in Article 69 but they have not answered the question, “Why not?” By implication we have twice said that we want to remain a Psalm singing church but we have failed to express the basis of this stand.

Holy Matrimony

“Since it is proper that the matrimonial state be confirmed in the presence of Christ’s church, according to the form for that purpose, the consistories shall attend to it.”

—Article 70, Church Order

The above article of the Church Order treats the subject of church weddings. In discussing this subject we observe, first of all, the change in this article as found in the proposed revision of the Christian Reformed Church. There we find the following article:

“Consistories shall instruct and admonish those under their spiritual care to marry only in the Lord. Christian marriages should be solemnized with appropriate admonitions, promises, and prayers, as provided for in the official Form. Marriages may be solemnized either in a worship service or in private gatherings of relatives and friends. Ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God.”

Comparing this article with the one appearing in our Church Order, we find several striking differences. Ours speaks of the “proper” way in which marriage is to be confirmed; theirs mentions several possible ways that are proper. Ours mentions that marriage shall take place in the presence of the church and with the consistories attending; theirs states that the “consistories shall instruct . . .” and the church need not be witness to the marriage. Ours makes the use of the Marriage Form mandatory while theirs states that “marriage should be solemnized with appropriate admonitions, promises, and prayers, as provided in the official Form.” Ours is based on customs existent in the seventeenth century; theirs is more in harmony with present day practices. Which of these is correct is again another question.

Regarding church weddings we would like to quote a bit from the Church Order Commentary of Monsma and Van Dellen who describe the past and present usage in the Netherlands. They write:

“The Roman Church holds that marriage is a Sacrament. Prior to the Reformation the Church had full control over marriages. The government did not concern itself with this important institution. After the Reformation the solemnization of marriages continued as a function of the Ministers and the Churches. But it was soon felt that the government should have something to say regarding this all important matter. The first Synod (Emden, 1571) already declared that marriage is in part an ecclesiastical interest and in part a civil interest. The Churches urged the adoption of uniform, Scriptural marriage laws. But the government seemed loath to do its part. For a long time the state held itself aloof and left the matter of marriages almost entirely to the Churches. Even those who held in connection with any Church sought marriage by Ministers. For this reason the Synod of Dordt, 1618-19, decided that marriages of those who stood outside of the Church should not be solemnized publicly and with the solemn blessing in the Church. The ministers were permitted to unite such parties in marriage privately. Jews and others were married by government appointees from the close of the 16th century on.

“Not until after the French Revolution of 1789 did the governments solemnize all marriages, taking this right away from the Churches. And not until 1848 did the Dutch government annex this right to itself. From then on the Church could and did ‘confirm’ the marriages of its members, but the actual solemnization, valid before the law, was performed by government officials.

“In one of the oldest editions of our Church Order, 1586, we therefore find that the Churches are urged to abide by usages regarding marriage ceremonies then prevalent, until the government should have taken action. The Synod of Dordt, 1618-19, virtually adopted the same reading, and stressed that uniformity was highly desirable and that the government should be asked as soon as possible to take action. In 1905 the Churches of Holland rewrote this antiquated 70th article of the Church Order, as it is also found in our Church Order since 1914.

“At present the marriage proper takes place before a civil magistrate. The Church no longer has the right to solemnize marriages. Consequently, Christian marriages are confirmed in the Church, upon authorization of the Consistory concerned, immediately after the marriage as a civil institution has been consummated at the court house. For this reason the Holland Form speaks of confirmation of marriages and not of their solemnization. We copied the Dutch wording in 1914, but this is a mistake, since our weddings are the actual solemnization of marriages. Our new Form has reckoned with these facts and it is very correctly called: Form for the Solemnization of Marriage. With us solemnization for the state and confirmation by the Church coincide. In private weddings the Minister only solemnizes the marriage for the state. In Church weddings he solemnizes the marriage for the state, and confirms the, same for the Church.”

This is all very interesting and raises many questions with regard to the matter of marriage as relating to the church. Is marriage a civil matter, an ecclesiastical matter or both? If the latter, the question of “church and state” becomes involved here? Does the minister in performing marriage function as an agent of the state, an agent of the church or both? What can be said about the distinction between “solemnizing” and “confirming” the marriage? Is the “engagement” a part of the marriage or how is it related to the marriage proper? What is a “church wedding” in distinction from a “private wedding” or a “wedding in church”? What is the function of the consistory in a church wedding? Are they simply witnesses? What “Form” is to be used at weddings? Does the kind of wedding make a difference as to the “Form” that is to be used? In this connection we might also make an inquiry into comparing the old marriage form found in our Psalters and the new Christian Reformed marriage form in the Psalter Hymnals. And, finally, why do we have an article of this nature in our Church Order when, to all practical intents and purposes, it has no purpose? The marriage today that is consummated according to the provisions of this article is almost the exception to the rule. Should we discard it and propose something that is in harmony with current customs? Or, does this article have merit and should we as churches enforce its provisions?

Space does not permit us to go into these matters now. However, we purpose to continue this in the next issues of The Standard Bearer and write at length about the institution of Christian marriage.