Psalter Revision and More
The work undertaken by the PRC to revise the Psalter we all recognize to be a very important work, because it involves changes to the songbook we have used to worship God for ninety-plus years in the PRC. While I do not disagree that improvements can be made to the Psalter, my concerns and apprehensions about the project rest upon the scope and magnitude of the changes made, so that the revised edition may no longer be very familiar to myself and my children.
As decided by the 2015 PRC Synod, a newly formed Interdenominational Psalter Revision Committee was formed, which then submitted a sample of their work (Psalter #s 203-243) for evaluation to Synod 2016. Synod 2016’s evaluation of that work, while I am sure knowledgeable of the interdenominational committee’s mentioning in 2015 that the revision could be as much as 15-20% of the Psalter, was this: “we have a concern that the scope of the revision has become too broad,” and that the lyrics “would result in a Psalter that is no longer familiar to our people.” This seems to confirm that my concerns and apprehensions are justified.
In the October 1, 2016 issue of the SB Rev. Douglas Kuiper reported that “the three PRC men on the committee understood Synod’s concerns and conveyed and explained them to the rest of the interdenominational committee.” (20) The rest of the article and those that have followed from Rev. Kuiper’s pen have explained the work that the committee has and is doing, but he has not told the readers what the rest of the committee’s reaction to the PRC Synod’s evaluation was, nor how the scope of the work has been narrowed down. Could Rev. Kuiper allay my apprehensions and the possible concerns of others?
Psalter revision necessarily involves working with the Psalms. The Psalms are cherished by God’s people because they give expression to every aspect and emotion of the Christian’s life and, therefore, are often the book to which the Christian turns for comfort and guidance. In addition, the Psalms are rich in doctrine. In articles entitled “God’s Covenant of Grace in the Psalms” published recently in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (April and November 2016), Prof. R. Dykstra demonstrates the doctrinal nature of the Psalms clearly. He proves from Psalms 89, 105, and 132 that God’s covenant is eternally established with Christ and the elect in Christ. Prof. Dykstra states that the Psalms clearly teach that God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed, citing Psalms 78, 90, 103, 105, 127, and 128. And the Psalms teach the eternal nature of God’s unbreakable covenant as reflected in believers’ marriages and families in Psalms 45, 48, 73, 78, and 128.
Rev. Kuiper wrote “Although the FRC (Free Reformed Churches), HRC (Heritage Reformed Congregations), and PRC (Protestant Reformed Churches) have their differences, all have in common a commitment to be faithful to Scripture, a desire to worship God in a way that pleases Him, and a love for the Psalter” (SB, Oct. 1, 2016, p. 20).
The doctrines of the covenant of grace, particular grace, and marriage, which are clearly taught in the Psalms and elsewhere, would necessarily have to be included in the “differences” that Rev. Kuiper acknowledges separate the three denominations working together on the Psalter revision. In light of the PRC’s extensive writings explaining the correct biblical and confessional understanding of these doctrines, I ask Rev. Kuiper to elaborate and explain what he means by the words, “all have in common a commitment to be faithful to Scripture.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Response to Ron Koole
Mr. Koole reflects on my article regarding Psalter revision that was published in the October 1, 2016 issue of the SB. I will respond in turn to the two key points in his letter. At the outset, I thank brother Koole for his comments and questions. In answering, I aim to be as concise as possible, without sidestepping his question or withholding pertinent information.
Concerns and Apprehensions
Mr. Koole’s first point is to express “concerns and apprehensions about the project.” He is concerned that “the scope and magnitude of the change made” will result in a “revised edition” that “may no longer be very familiar to myself and my children.” He considers statements that Synod 2016 made to have confirmed that his “concerns and apprehensions are justified.” He asks me to allay those apprehensions, in part by telling “what the rest of the committee’s reaction to the PRC Synod’s evaluation was” and “how the scope of the work has been narrowed down.” I respond:
1. As brother Koole indicated, the Synod and members of the PRC may expect the committee to propose revision to as much as 20% of the Psalter. Synod was aware of this figure of 20% before it committed to the project. Synod 2016’s concern did not regard the figure of 20%, but the figure of 33%, because the committee reported that it was proposing changes to 33% of the tunes of Psalters 201-243.
2. At the heart of Mr. Koole’s concern is that the revision will no longer be very familiar. Of course, revision means change, and some changes will result in unfamiliar tunes. If synod adopts the revisions, the PRC will face a period of relearning the Psalter. But, not all of the proposed changes will leave us with something unfamiliar. Consider:
a. What is familiar or unfamiliar to one person is not necessarily so to another. Even from one congregation to another, there is difference in what is considered familiar. And one of our goals is that, even if we must go through a learning curve, in the end we become more familiar with the Scriptures on which our Psalter is based.
b. The committee has data to support the contention that some of our current tunes are not very familiar to our congregations. We might know that those tunes are there, but we seldom sing them, and find them awkward. Replacing these tunes will not result in a significant loss of familiarity. At times, the replacement tune will be more familiar than the tune it replaces.
c. As regards proposed change, 33% (the figure the committee presented to Synod) is correct; but as regards familiarity, it is not. I remind Mr. Koole of these crucial sentences that begin at the bottom of the first column on page 21: “Apart from the Genevan selections, the proposed revision of Psalms 73-89 includes 41 selections. The tunes of 34 of these 41 selections are current Psalter tunes. That is 83%! Of the remaining 17% (7 tunes), at least two will probably be unfamiliar, possibly two will be somewhat familiar, and perhaps three will be very familiar to most members of the PRC.” Mr. Koole’s concerns should be alleviated: none should find less than 83% of the proposed tunes for Psalters 201-243 to be familiar, and some will find as much as 95% to be familiar.
3. As to the reaction of the committee to the concerns of Synod 2016, I can say that the committee heard us respectfully. The secretary noted in the minutes of the September 9, 2016 meeting: “The constructive comments from [PRC] synod: a request for more rationale for decisions, and some cautions about the amount of change.”
4. How has the scope of the work been narrowed down?
a. Psalters 201-243: three specific changes in lyrics that the committee originally was going to propose it is no longer proposing. Some in the committee want the committee to abandon two proposed new tunes and revert back to the current tunes. The committee has not yet faced the issue, and I make no promises about the outcome.
b. Psalters 1-200: the draft report to the 2017 synods contains this statement: “Proposals for books I and II (that is, Psalms 1-72, DJK) are being developed. Currently, it appears that from Psalters 1-200, approximately only 15% will receive any substantial changes.” I did not compile that statistic, and did not check it for accuracy, but it rings true to the work my own team did on Psalters 1-68. This should alleviate your concerns.
5. Finally, let me not mislead on this point: even though Synod expressed caution about the scope of the revision, the committee is still reviewing every Psalter number using the principles that Synod 2016 approved. In other words, at no point does the committee intend to say: “We have reached our 20% limit, and we are only 75% of the way through this section, so we had better not even evaluate the rest of the section.” You may expect we will evaluate the entire section and apply the principles. If, as a result, we end up proposing more revisions than Synod wants, Synod may reject the proposed revisions, but the committee will not have neglected to review the Psalter as it was mandated to do.
Explanation of a Statement
The other matter that Mr. Koole raises regards the statement I made in my article that the FRC, HRC, and PRC “all have in common a commitment to be faithful to Scripture.” Pointing out that the PRC differ from the FRC and HRC regarding the doctrines of the covenant of grace, particular grace, and marriage, Mr. Koole desires that I elaborate and explain what I mean by my statement.
I distinguish between the degree to which a denomination is faithful to Scripture, and the commitment of a denomination to be faithful to Scripture. My statement regarded the commitment of the denominations, and made no assessment of the degree to which they are faithful. Nor did I mislead the reader of the SB on this point; I clearly indicated that the PRC differs from the FRC and HRC in significant areas, and did not suggest that the differences are trivial.
I bring forth two evidences to support my statement that the FRC and HRC do have a commitment to be faithful to Scripture.
First, though the PRC judges them wrong in certain key areas of doctrine and practice, they are not apostatizing, that is, they are not continually moving away from truth, adding error to error. Consider the case of the denomination that adopted a position on common grace in 1924, proceeded to tolerate the idea that Christ died for and God loves every man (1960s), adopted a document that exposes its low view of Scripture (1970s), defends and promotes theistic evolution (1980s), permits women to hold church office, is not sound in its view of homosexuality… and the list could go on. I am demonstrating a path of apostasy. The PRC strongly disagrees with the FRC and HRC on significant points, but it would be wrong to conclude that the FRC and HRC are moving in the direction of rejecting Reformed and biblical truth.
Second, they desire to sing Psalms in worship, almost exclusively! The very project of Psalter revision in which we are jointly engaged, and which the FRC initiated, indicates they have a high view of the worship of God. Not many denominations place such emphasis on Psalm singing in worship today. The FRC, HRC, and PRC do.
I find these two evidences weighty. May God preserve the PRC in our own love for the truth and in our desire to apply the doctrines of sovereign, particular grace and an unconditional covenant to all areas of doctrine and life. May He also keep us from supposing that one who does not agree with us on every point thus shows that he lacks a commitment to be faithful to Scripture.
Rev. Doug Kuiper
1953: a Pruning?
I always look forward to receiving the next Standard Bearer in the mail. When I received the March 1, 2017 issue, and read “Trivia Answer” on page 263, I became upset.
The author quoted that only four congregations of the eleven that were in Classis West in 1951 remain today, “as God used the history of 1953 to powerfully prune this portion of His vineyard.” In John 15:l and 6 we read, in part, that every branch that does not bear fruit is destined for the burn pile (destined for hell). In 1953, the majority of Protestant Reformed members did not go along with the Hoeksema faction. So now, are we all destined for hell?
I am looking forward to seeing the author print a public apology for such a rash statement.
I am glad to hear from a reader in Montana and I am pleased he wrote with his concern. I have often said it is hard to have too much communication. Often the opposite is the case and there is too little.
The reader takes issue with the sentence “Only four of the 11 (churches in Classis West in 1951) exist today, as God used the history of 1953 to powerfully prune this portion of His vineyard.”
When I used the word “prune,” my attention was focused on the act of removing…, God removing seven of 11 churches from Classis West as a pruner removes parts of a plant.
The reader looked at the action of pruning in the light of the familiar passage of John 15, and focused on the fact that individuals who do not bear fruit are taken away by the Father, the husbandman. He correctly states that these individuals are destined for hell. And I certainly understand his natural progression from pruning to discarded branches.
The reader then states that “in 1953 the majority of Protestant Reformed members did not go along with the Hoeksema faction.” Because of my statement about pruning, he appears to conclude that I believe God has pruned these individuals when he asks if they are all going to hell.
I see the reader’s concern.
To clarify, I do not maintain that all those who “did not go along with the Hoeksema faction” are destined for hell, nor do the Protestant Reformed Churches teach that. God alone is the judge of each heart.
Due to the fact that my comment could be taken to state something I did not intend to, I believe it would have been better to simply say “God used the history of 1953 to greatly reduce the number of congregations in Classis West.” That is what I meant to say, after all. And hindsight is pretty good…, just leave the vineyard out of it.
I am sorry for contributing to the misunderstanding. No accusation was intended. Thanks again to the reader for taking the initiative to write with his concern. It has convinced me to be more careful in the future. To the brother in Montana…, please keep reading the Standard Bearer. We value you as a reader. And yes (sigh), I grow grapevines.
And yes, they are due to be pruned in April.
Perry Van Egdom