All Around Us

“Join and Recieve” Plan for Presbyterians

Three of the smaller Presbyterian denominations will be, and are, talking merger—but in a manner rather unique. Attention has been called in the Standard Bearer to this proposal during the past year. Details concerning various Assembly meetings are presented in the April 29 issue of the Presbyterian Journal:

Never before in American Presbyterian history has there been anything quite like it. 

Presbyterian denominations have divided often and merged on rare occasions. But the proposal before the major assemblies of three conservative Presbyterian bodies during the next two months suggests a new course: that the largest (and newest) of the three churches simply receive the two other denominations. 

Well, almost simply. Since the procedure is not a merger and not a union in the historic sense, years of negotiation and discussion have been bypassed. 

But there still have been practical matters to be worked out. There are presbytery boundaries to redraw, parallel ministries to bring together, employees to take care of, and traditions on all three sides to be sensitive to. 

Center stage in this ecclesiastical drama for the last few months have been the inner-church committees of the three denominations, which have met repeatedly (and often with observers from the churches looking on and listening to the process) to hammer out details. 

The work of those committees is now largely done, and that part of the cast will withdraw to the wings while delegates to the assemblies themselves walk out to play their important role in the process. 

The scenes will be played first at Lookout Mountain, Tenn., where the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, gathers May 22-28 for its 159th General Synod. 

Then the scene shifts to Beaver Falls, Pa., where the 48th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is scheduled to meet May 28-June 4. 

And finally, the focus will be on Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the week of June 15-19, when the Presbyterian Church in America convenes its Ninth General Assembly. 

The actual documents and recommendations to come before the three assemblies, already distributed to teaching and ruling elders of the churches, (are reproduced in the Presbyterian Journal for study of its readers).

The proposed division of the new church into presbyteries is presented. The editor of the magazine comments:

Whether the churches will be joined we do not now dare predict. But one request we earnestly would make of the debating parties: Do not—please, do not—employ that standard stalling tactic so familiar in the devious ways of man-centered ecclesiastical politics, “We need to postpone action on this proposal because we have not had time enough to study it.” 

That one is unworthy of men who profess a high regard for perfect candor. Let every man vote his conscience, for or against the proposal. But let it be done this year—not put off and put off and put off. 

By the time this article appears in print, these assemblies will probably have made their decisions. The results will be interesting indeed. The difficulties of this kind of merger have been pointed out many times. These three denominations have similar creeds, yet they differ in important respects. The question will be how these differences will be resolved—or whether the church can live with this “diversity.” These churches might decide on uniting, but unresolved differences have a way of surfacing again later—and often result in divisions once again. 

A Plea for the Psalms

In Calvinist Contact, January 23, 1981, Rev. J. Tuininga addresses a letter to the editor concerning the singing of the psalms:

On the matter of music, I agree with Mr. Tensen that the New Testament church should not sing only the 150 Psalms. At the same time, in picking songs for worship services, I find myself going back again and again to these Psalms. These Psalms are so God-centered in comparison to many of the hymns, even in the Psalter Hymnal. The latter are too often mancentered, and are too sweet and sentimental, not to say unbiblical…. I hope some of these will be eliminated in a new edition of the Psalter (Hymnal). There are indeed some very excellent hymns…. But apart from some of these, I still prefer the psalter section to the hymnal section. 

I would also like to make a plea for our Christian schools to teach our children more of those versified psalms. Many of our parents and grandparents could sing many of the psalms without cracking a book. They learned them in school. Why can’t we do the same? Let’s use the treasure we have in the Psalter rather than concentrating on cheap gospel ditties and other frothy songs. Our children will be the richer for it.

And I would add: “Amen.” We have used the psalms for song exclusively in our church services, and largely also in our schools. Sometimes we grow tired, it seems, of the old songs. One hears at times of complaints because of the extensive use of the psalms in our circles. Yet one can also be heartened in hearing pleas for a greater emphasis of the psalms in song. These are indeed theologically rich. They are not of a sickly sentimental nature— though some are indeed sentimental in a proper way. There’s “meat” in the psalms and in their versification. Recently there has been a bit of revival of interest too in these songs. Dordt College choir, with Dale Grotenhuis as its director, has prepared a number of records on the psalms-beautiful arrangements made by the director and sung by the choir. Mr. Grotenhuis, a few months ago, led also our Covenant High School Choir at First Church in Grand Rapids, in the singing of these psalms. The interest and deep appreciation of our people were seen in the large audience which gathered to listen. It was a soul-stirring presentation which brought tears to some eyes. The music was not complicated or difficult. The words were well-known and oft sung in our own churches during their services. Yet the program appeared to be appreciated above even some where more difficult music would be used, and greater effort and ability of a choir and its director would be required. 

One can hope and pray that this interest and appreciation of the versified psalms develops and grows in our own midst, and that others also see increasingly the beauty and richness of the versified psalms. With shame, one must confess that it appears easier to appreciate the rich heritage which is ours—when others outside of our own churches indicate their own interest and appreciation of these same psalms. 

May I add: those of us who were privileged to attend the 2000th broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour at First Church, Grand Rapids, were again also deeply moved by the singing of the audience and choir under the direction of Mr. Roland Petersen. Several psalms were sung—the arrangements of which proved most interesting and uplifting. Cassette recordings, I understand, of this singing too are available by writing to the Reformed Witness Hour. 

Remarks on Pentecostalism

The Christian News, March, 1981, contains an article of interest concerning Pentecostalism. It states:

The charismatic phenomenon, though labeled as a fresh manifestation of the Spirit in the latter days has all the earmarks of a cult. If numbers is to be taken as a sign of the fact that the movement is crossing denominational lines, then what of the Moonies, the Hare Krishna cult and numerous others isms that are sweeping the world? What of the Muslim religion itself? The fact is this should give leaders a pause as to what might actually be taking place when orthodox churchmen are taken in by its influences. 

That the whole movement is based on some very faulty interpretations of the Scriptures is very evident to anyone having any workable knowledge of the New Testament. In the first place, the term “charismatic” is a misnomer and very misleading. One might just as well speak of the “energematic” or the “diakonic” movement, since these words are also used in

I Corinthians 12

to describe the workings of the Spirit. Or better yet, why not speak of the “karposaic” movement since fruit-bearing is after all the ultimate aim of the Christian life, not boasting of the gifts we have in watering and planting or whatever. 

Being baptized in the Spirit seems to be another emphasis—not “with” or “by,” when actually the New Testament Greek allows for no such subtle distinction. Always we are told in the Scriptures that the Spirit was poured out upon them—the new Christians were not immersed in the Spirit. Is there perhaps a subtle twist to reinforce immersion as the proper mode of baptism? 

And then there are the “tongues.” It is unfortunate indeed that this old English word, once commonly used for languages, was not translated languages. The word “tongues” carries with it a kind of esoteric meaning, a certain mystique, as if here we have some very special manifestations where people prattle in some unknown Spirit language. In fact “unknown” does not occur in the original Greek as you will note in the use of italics in the English Bible where this word occurs in

I Corinthians 14

The “tongues” used on the day of Pentecost were only unknown to those who were from a different country….

The author continues, pointing out that this is nothing else than another form of ecumenism where doctrinal soundness is not a determinative factor in union. Let us too be warned against this “sect” where the individual is highly magnified and God is not truly and properly honored.