Editor of The Standard Bearer
Attn.: Rev. H. Hoeksema
Dear brother in Christ, Will you please print these few lines in The Standard Bearer in regards to the article in the July 1, 1960, issue under Varia, “ Synod of Protestant Reformed Churches 1960,” by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema.
In this article the Prof. writes about Article 69 of our Church Order. He writes: “I think these fears (concerning the overture of First Church for the introduction of hymns) are a bit groundless and based on misunderstanding.”
I wish to make plain that these fears, especially in the West, are very real and that the people have good grounds to fear, i.e., those who love the Psalms and are convinced that only the Psalms should be sung in our churches.
We are amazed that the overture from the First Church ever reached our Synod. The overture reads as follows: “The Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church in recognition of the common use of hymns by our people and the often expressed desire for their use in our church services appeal to your body to consider the matter, and adopt measures enabling their use in our churches, furthermore, in recognition of the present character of Article 69 of the Protestant Reformed Churches we herewith overture Synod the Article to read: “in our church service only the 150 Psalms and hymns as approved and adopted by the Synod shall be sung.”
It is very plain that the study committee did not misunderstand the overture and neither does the West. The study committee writes in the first paragraph of their introduction: “your committee realized that the problem before us is not merely the proposed change of Article 69 of the Church Order, but that the whole question of hymnody is on our table. This is evident from the First Church overture.” We do not have a request for faithful versifications of Scripture, but a request to sing hymns. It is this request for hymns that has disturbed and caused much fear in the West. It is like a flock of sheep that have heard the bark of a wolf.
This fear, furthermore, is not groundless. For over nineteen hundred years the faithful church has fought to sing only the Psalms in their church services, and we believe that we are the faithful continuation of that church. Reading the report of the study committee is proof enough that the faithful church is convinced that God has decided and that it pleases Him that His church sing only the Psalms in their services. How then can any Synod decide on other songs. The Psalms are the song book of the Scriptures. Just as there are good hymns, there are good books, but they have no place in our church services.
It should be proof enough that if God wanted to have His church sing other songs besides the Psalms He would have had the New Testament Church sing them in their beginning and not when we are looking for the end of all things. If ever the church needs the Psalms, it is now and more so as it approaches the end. The apostate church has no need to sing about God’s wrath and vengeance on his enemies, but the faithful church receives great comfort from the Psalms.
Let us all reread the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s article in The Standard Bearer, Vol. IV pp. 317-319, and take heed to what he writes. We quote: “There is no need for hymns next to the Psalms of David which are presented to us in Holy Scripture. There is in the Psalms a spiritual wealth wherein also the heart of the New Testament Church is able to express itself perfectly, provided one learns to understand those Psalms well.”
Remarks have been made that we do not have songs to fit sermons for special days such as Easter and Pentecost. I would like to know why it is not fitting that we sing about this victorious King of Kings and of the wrath of God on His enemies when we hear a sermon on Christ’s resurrection and ascension. The Psalms comfort the church through all the ages from beginning to end. If we wish to have our children’s children sing the Psalms, then we must; not have any other songs besides them. History teaches us that if we do, the Psalms will be crowded out.
God has preserved a church for all these years which sings the Psalms. He will also preserve a church which loves the Psalms and will sing them only in their services until Christ comes again. Again we quote Rev. H. Hoeksema: “Therefore, it is always much safer to keep ourselves to the songs which Scriptures present us.”
If we wish to change Article 69, let us go back to the Synod of Dordrecht and add again what we lost: “all other songs shall be kept out of the churches.”
If our Psalter lacks something, let it be proven with good grounds and something better be offered in its place. I urge every member of our Protestant Reformed Churches to read the report of the study committee and Rev. H. Hoeksema’s article in Vol. IV, pp. 317-319 in The Standard Bearer.
Yours in the Lord,
Our Editor referred this contribution to the undersigned because it is a reflection on some of the comments made by him in the July 1 issue in connection with the hymn proposal at our 1960 Synod.
In reply, the following:
1) I am very glad that brother Huisken contributed his thoughts on the subject. This is in harmony with my suggestion that we have some discussion of this matter in our Standard Bearer. And this, I believe, is good for our Standard Bearer, and also good for our people and our churches. Through clear and calm discussion of issues that concern our churches we may all be enlightened and arrive at real unity. I hope that more discussion will follow.
2) I do not intend at this time to offer a thorough reply because I wish to encourage others to contribute their thoughts on the subject. I shall therefore offer only a few remarks which may incite more discussion. And if the occasion and/or the need arises, I will write more in the future.
3) My remarks are as follows:
a) I still think that these fears are a bit groundless and based on misunderstanding, as I wrote originally.
b) I have great respect and love for sheep who are on the alert against the wolves. But in this case I believe the bark of the wolf that brother Huisken refers to is imaginary. At least, I do not think that the Consistory of First Church is the wolf, nor that the wolf’s bark can be detected in their overture.
c) I do think that the formulation of the First Church overture is a bit unfortunate and brief, and that this perhaps is the occasion of some of the fears.
d) I do not agree that the whole question of hymnody was on the table of Synod. And certainly, at this time the question has been reduced to one of “faithful versifications of the Scriptures.” Personally, I believe that the latter is quite in harmony with the intentions of First Church.
e) If I am not mistaken, this idea of faithful versifications of the Scriptures has been before our churches in the past, and then—without much ado—a committee was given permission to work on such versifications. At that time, therefore, there was no weighty objection against the idea as such.
f) I would agree if brother Huisken said, “The Psalms are the song book of the Old Testament Scriptures.” But, while I have great esteem for both our English Psalter and the Dutch Psalms, I beg to point out that it cannot be said that we sing the 150 Psalms of David in our churches. In other words, our Psalter is not the same as the Psalms, and in some cases far removed from the Psalms.
g) I still feel that especially on some of the special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, our Psalter lacks in selections that have direct and pointed application to the occasion concerned.
Perhaps the above will suffice to arouse further discussion, both pro and con. In the meantime, I would especially like to see one or more of the brethren from First Church defend his overture.