“Our Song of Hope”—A Critique (3)

We have already noted that this provisional confession of the Reformed Church in America is admittedly vague and ambiguous, and therefore subject to various interpretations. We have noted, too, that this provisional creed is deliberately broad and ecumenical: it is not designed to distinguish the RCA as Reformed, but purposely designed to be “catholic” and “evangelical” (p. 3), and to be such that it “will not separate the Reformed Church in America from other denominations, but on the contrary will serve to help people learn from each other’s traditions and promote unity in Christ,” (pp. 1, 2). It is plain to see that in this document the RCA deliberately purposes to be all things to all men and all churches. Reading the document can only convince one that the RCA has indeed succeeded in this purpose, but thereby has lost every vestige of being distinctively Reformed, and thus has become terribly offensive to the truly Reformed believer. Moreover, refuge cannot be sought in the fact that this new creed is only an additional creed and that the old Three Forms of Unity remain in effect. For it is the avowed purpose of “Our Song of Hope” to displace the old creeds: it “will be used in public worship, in religious education, and in re-affirming the traditional faith in the contemporary situation.” In other words, this new creed will be the creed that is in use in the RCA, which will be the medium for the education of new members on the mission field as well as the education of the church’s coming generations, while the Three Forms of Unity will become museum pieces.

However, this is not the worst! That is reserved for Appendix B, pp. 86-90. This is a section entitled “References to Creeds and Confessions.” In this section one finds an “index which will help those who study ‘Our Song of Hope’ to locate in those older documents (the ancient Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity, HCH) the articles which bear especial relationship to the stanzas of ‘Our Song.’ ” This index, of course, will make it simple to compare the proposed new creed’ with the Three Forms of Unity. But in this section it is also made plain that “Our Song of Hope” deliberately diverges from the Three Forms of Unity. On page 87 we find the following:

On the other hand, “Our Song of Hope” will be seen to develop three aspects of the Reformed tradition quite differently from the Standards. One set, of issues relates to Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. The changes which have occurred in church-state relationships during the last four hundred years have been such as to require us to say today whether and how we now see the activity of the Spirit of God in our world. 

“Our Song of Hope” has also given much attention to the use of the words “election” and “righteousness” in the Old Testament. As a result, one can feel considerable tension between “Our Song” and the Canons of Dordt in the understanding of “election” and between “Our Song” and the Heidelberg Catechism in the use of the word “righteousness.” In regard to these words, one soon is involved in complex issues and is forced to do careful exegetical study of the Scriptures. We mention these tensions here in hope that many persons will take the time to study the Scriptures carefully in order that before “Our Song of Hope” is submitted for final vote, we may be more certain of the full teaching of Scripture and of our relationships to our fathers in the faith.

Now it is not our intention at this point to enter into these differences in detail. We call attention to these paragraphs in order to point out that it simply is not true that “Our Song” is only a re-affirmation in contemporary language of the traditional faith. Admittedly “Our Song” develops “three aspects of the Reformed tradition quite differently from the Standards.” (italics added) Now we will leave out of consideration the rather complicated matter of Article 36 of the Belgic Confession—although the reasongiven for this divergence is a specious one for changing a confession (Notice: church-state relationships have changed in the last 400 years. A fine reason for change indeed! Does the truth change?) But take special note of the other two items: “righteousness” in the Heidelberg Catechism, a key item, and “election” in the Canons of Dordrecht. What does that “considerable tension” mentioned in quotation above mean? That is a euphemism to cover up the fact that “Our Song” pulls in one direction while the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordrecht pull in the opposite direction. 

Now isn’t that a fine way to bring about radical revision in the church’s creeds? No gravamen! No open overture for revision! Adopt a new creed which is alleged to be only in addition to the existing creeds and which is alleged to be a contemporary reaffirmation of the traditional faith. But cut the heart out of the Heidelberg Catechism by re-defining a key concept like “righteousness,” and cut the heart out of the Canons of Dordrecht by re-defining the one doctrine which controls all five heads of doctrine! 

It would be far more honest for the RCA to say bluntly and openly: “We no longer believe what the Three Forms of Unity teach and confess, and we no longer want them as the standards of our denomination.” Then, at least, there would be no deception involved. 

Next time, D.V., we will examine this matter a little more closely, and will see what becomes of those doctrines which are characteristically Reformed and commonly referred to as the Five Points of Calvinism when “Our Song of Hope” mutilates them.