In light of the continued defense of the revision of the Psalter I share the following observations with the reader.
Any thoughts of changing the music of the Psalter weigh heavily on my heart. If I may, I would like to share some of the things that I have witnessed and observed during my membership in our denomination:
- After 60-plus years of instructing the Psalter in our elementary grade schools, we finally have generations who know and love the Psalter. We have been blessed with singing churches.
- Rewriting music in different key signatures than they are presently written will hamper our young children from learning and mastering the Psalter. Many already have them perfected as written.
- I have been a church organist since the split of 1953. Since then, I have witnessed “struggling Psalter-singing” churches become “powerful Psalter-singing” churches. I attribute this benefit to the work of our Protestant Reformed Schools.
- In 1976, I attended the Conference on Liturgy and Music at Calvin College. There I heard firsthand from conservatives sorrowing because the Psalter Hymnal of 1932 lost the Psalms as they were established in the 1912 Psalter. Out of these “studies” evolved the revised 1957 and 1989 Psalter Hymnal. The committees ignored the heart and soul of the believer in the pew. They gave no thought to the coming generations, churches, and schools they were serving. What is their legacy? Destroyed “Psalter Books.” This wrong decision removed from the saints the blessed unity of singing from the same book, generation after generation. This must not happen in our denomination.
The 1912 Psalter has served us wonderfully. I am still teaching today because I am committed to having children learn to play from the Psalter. They love the Psalter. Here are their comments:
“This is my favorite song.”
“I love this one!”
“When can I start the Psalter?”
“Look at the list I have learned from the Psalter!”
“All I want to practice and play is the Psalter and not the other stuff.”
Scripture warns not to offend these little ones. We need to cherish this treasure as deeply as we do the KJV, the Heidelberg Catechism, or the Canons and Belgic Confession. If we don’t know our song to sing, we will be destroyed for lack of knowledge. It may sound very innocent and even lofty to make so-called “discreet changes,” but this generally leads to unnecessary destruction. Preserve what we have for future generations! We must “remain distinctive” was Rev. H. Hoeksema’s admonition from the pulpit.
Mrs. Fran Lubbers
This letter was accompanied by a note from Mr. Case Lubbers, asking that it be placed in the SB before June 1, so it clearly is a letter from both Mr. and Mrs. Case Lubbers. I can appreciate their concern for the Protestant Reformed Churches, especially the children, as they have selflessly and capably served both the churches and schools all their adult life.
Because of my deep personal admiration and respect for this brother and sister, I am saddened by their letter. I will, nonetheless, seek to answer it in the spirit of meekness and out of the genuine love and respect that I have for them both.
First, the letter speaks of a “continued defense of the revision of the Psalter” in the SB. However, the articles of Rev. D. Kuiper are not intended to defend Psalter revision. The synod of the PRC mandated this work to be done. That does not need a defense. The articles are written to explain the actions of the committee—what they are doing and how it follows the guidelines adopted by synod. Such information, it was thought, would be helpful to the readers of the SB.
Second, the letter refers to action in the Christian Reformed Church revising the 1912 Psalter. The actions of the CRC cannot be in the least compared to what the Psalter revision committee is seeking to do. The CRC stripped down the Psalter and added hymns. Our current activity is seeking to improve the Psalter, and increase the Psalm selection. Hymns are not part of the activity.
Third, the letter states that “Scripture warns not to offend these little ones.” The letter implies that changes to the Psalter may do this. But surely Mr. and Mrs. Lubbers know that the “offend” in Jesus’ warning means leading, even causing, children to sin. If the brother and sister want to make that statement, they must demonstrate that a change in the Psalter will cause children to sin. That charge would be true, for example, if the new Psalter inserted false doctrine into the songs. In fact, a significant goal of the committee is to make the Psalter more faithful to the Psalms, and the process may well result in removing language that contains false or misleading teaching.
A discerning reader will recognize that there is a very emotional attachment to the 1912 Psalter, and this attachment is shared by many in the PRC. I would like to say a few things, not to disparage those who have this attachment, but to put the matter into perspective.
A proposed change in the Psalter brings an emotional response from all who, as I, love the Psalter. Singing is a highly spiritual and emotional activity of worship. Any talk of changing the book we have sung from our youth arouses strong emotions. This kind of change is similar to the switch from Dutch to English in the catechism classes and in the worship services. In the history of the PRC, that elicited very strong emotional responses. “How,” some argued, “could the Reformed theology be properly expressed in the vile American language?” They were convinced that this change in language would lead to departure from the Reformed faith. Some congregations went through similar conflicts when changing (in the Lord’s Supper) from one common cup to individual cups. “It is destroying the unity,” some complained. These are difficult changes. Today, we may see them as being insignificant. To (some of) the forefathers, there were not. Reformed churches have split over these emotional issues.
Other changes have happened in the PRC worship services. In my lifetime, some years ago, a lone congregation began reciting the Apostles’ Creed in the worship service. “What new thing is this?! Are we following the CRC with responsive readings?” I recall the strong expressions of concern.
Now synod has commissioned three of our men to join a committee of two other Reformed denominations to work toward improving our beloved Psalter. That has caused consternation among some—”We are joining in this work with churches that are not Protestant Reformed?” Those so concerned need to consider the history of the 1912 Psalter. This song book was formed by a number of churches, mainly Presbyterian, led by the United Presbyterian Church. This latter denomination was hardly a purely Reformed denomination in 1912. And the CRC representative on the committee was Rev. J. Groen, the man who was pastor at Eastern Ave. CRC before Herman Hoeksema. You can check the history books to investigate how much he agreed with Protestant Reformed theology.
The Synod of 2016 adopted certain strict guidelines for the work of Psalter revision. A selection (Psalms 73-89) of the work of this full committee will come to the Synod of 2017. Synod will be able to see what kind of work is being done, and give advice to our committee. I hope that synod will share this work with the churches, and somehow, elicit constructive criticism. We want the best product possible. Singing praises to God demands that we produce the best possible Psalm book. And that includes a Psalm book that the churches love.
I assure the Lubbers that I might well share in their great concern, but for two things. First, I am greatly reassured by the integrity of the three men appointed by synod. They are men who have earned the respect and confidence of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And, they all love the Psalter. They believe it can be improved for better use in worship, but they love the Psalter. That gives me confidence in what they are doing. All the members of the PRC ought to share in my confidence in this regard.
The second reason that I have confidence in the broader committee’s work is something that, admittedly, I have, but few others do. I inhabit the office next to Prof. B. Gritters, one of these three men commissioned by synod to serve on this committee. I eat lunch, have coffee, hold meetings, stop to talk with him at least five days a week. And I am privileged to hear firsthand accounts of the work that the interdenominational committee is doing. I hear of his deep respect for the men on the committee. I hear his testimony that “these men love the Psalter.” I hear the report that they are committed to doing careful work. I am informed that the members on this committee take very seriously the input of the PRC men. That relieves me of much of my personal concern as this committee carefully reviews the words to make them faithful to the Psalms, seeks better music when necessary, and yet makes sure that the Psalter we (and they) have used from childhood is not lost.
And one last thing. Perhaps the objection will be raised, “If you love the Psalter, why revise it?” To which I answer, you love your wife, right? You love your husband, correct? Does that mean you consider your spouse to be perfect? You love your husband because you see in him the picture of Christ, the husband of the church. And if it were possible to make a change in him that would result in your beloved husband being better, even more faithfully reflecting the reality of Jesus, our Bridegroom, would you decline that change because you love him? Or, welcome it? The committee is seeking to produce a Psalter that enables us to sing the Word of God even better and more faithfully that has been done since 1912. Eventually, a Protestant Reformed synod will have to judge whether or not that goal is achieved. But let us at least give the process a chance.
—Prof. R. Dykstra