Psalm-Singing in the Consciousness of the Congregations

Because the hymn/psalm question is larger by far than a mere difference of opinion between two writers of letters to the editor, please allow me to respond briefly to the letter of Mr. Gerald Kuiper (“Correction and Comment”) in the February 15, 1996 issue of the Standard Bearer.

It seems to me that to argue, in defense of hymns, as Mr. Kuiper does, that some hymns are better versifications of the Scripture than are “many of the songs in our Psalter,” and that hymns based on “other parts of the God-breathed Scriptures” are no less appropriate for singing in our homes, schools, wedding, funerals, etc., than the psalms is to miss the point.

May we sing hymns? Of course! But when hymns virtually displace the psalms in many of our homes, school programs, weddings, and funerals — “in times of distress and joy, as well as during special seasons” — then something is not right.

I refer Mr. Kuiper to the lengthy study committee report (“Acts of Synod,” PRC, 1960, pp. 87-116) on the basis of which our churches eventually rejected a recommendation that Article 69 of the Church Order be changed to allow in our worship services the singing of hymns “which are faithful versifications of Scripture.” In it he will discover that what I wrote concerning Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 is not just my “opinion.” It is the explanation upheld by Clement, Jerome, Beza, Owen, and a “host of other able and accepted Reformed Bible expositors” (pp. 105-108). Clearly, it is the psalms of David which are here prescribed by Paul for the people of God. That’s the point.

“The psalms are dictated by the Holy Ghost. When we sing them, we are sure that God lays His words in our mouth, as though He Himself sings them in us in order to exalt His honor” (p. 108, from John Calvin, who “gave back to the church the psalms as the spiritual song of the people”). One of the conclusions of the study committee: “The hymn cannot and may not be compared to the Psalm. The former is the work of man, the latter the work of God.”

On page 111 Herman Hoeksema is quoted as having offered the CRC synod of 1928 this bit of advice relative to the hymn-question: that synod “admonish the leaders and the consistories especially to cooperate in reviving the psalms in the consciousness of the congregations.” That’s it. It takes a concerted effort to assure that the psalms are not lost “in the consciousness of the congregations.” How can we expect our children to come to know and to understand and to love the psalms if, though they sing them in church on Sunday, it is hymns, either primarily or exclusively, that they memorize in school and hear at home? We ought all to work harder at it. That was my point.

John VanBaren

Grandville, MI