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Singing Psalms

I would like to express my appreciation for your editorials of May 1 and June 1, 1995 entitled “Music in the Church.” These articles deserve careful reading, so that the principle that underlies them, namely that the Psalms constitute the church’s songbook till the end of time, is clearly understood. We sing them, not first of all because it is required of us by the Church Order, but because it is required of us by God Himself.

I do however have a question. In my study of the Psalm/Hymn question I have read that the original word-order in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 is “psalms and hymns and songs spiritual” – the idea being that the adjective “spiritual” (that is, Spirit-breathed, or inspired) qualifies psalms and hymns and songs. Is this correct? And, if so, does that not provide additional evidence that God’s command is that we sing the Psalms, since they alone are inspired?

God’s command that inspired songs be sung in the worship services was taken very seriously by the apostolic and patristic church. And that was at a time when, as can now be proven through the Dead Sea Scrolls, many uninspired hymns were already in existence. Those hymns did later find their way into the worship services. Hardly a coincidence that that was soon followed by acceptance of false doctrine and unbiblical worship. A cause and effect relationship is difficult to prove, but I found it interesting to note that students of the Reformation have observed that in many places where the Psalter preceded the actual Reformation, and where people began singing Psalms in the homes and fields, there the Reformation proved more likely to prosper. Can there be any doubt that such power of the Psalms lies in the fact that they are God breathed?

Psalms, as products of the Spirit, are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, that the man of God may be furnished unto all good works. Is not this the reason that we are commanded to sing from the only songbook given to the church? And do we not also run the risk of losing the “little Bible” when, in our schools and homes, we find ourselves using more and more hymns?

This is not to say that our 1912 version of the Presbyterian Psalter is above criticism. There is in fact room for improvement in some songs both in music and poetic structure, to make them more singable and closer to the Ring James Version of the Bible. In the late 40s a committee was appointed by synod to work on Psalter improvement. That attempt was later aborted when the committee attempted to introduce good hymns. Is there something to be said for resurrecting that attempt at the synodical level – in an attempt to make of the songbook of our churches a closer versification of the original, inspired Word?

John VanBaren

Grandville, MI

Response

Grammatically, the adjective “spiritual” both in Ephesians 5:19 and in Colossians 3:16 modifies “songs,” not “psalms” or “hymns.” The adjective has the feminine ending corresponding to the feminine noun “songs.” The other two nouns are masculine. As far as the text is concerned, therefore, “spiritual songs” is distinguished from “psalms” and “hymns.”

The 1944 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) appointed a committee “to purge the Psalter of doctrinal errors and if possible to make recommendation for some revision” (Art. 53) Out of this committee came a request to the synod of 1949 “to work on versifications, as literal as possible of Scripture passages dealing with Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection, Pentecost, etc., and incorporate it (sic) in this new Psalter” (Acts of Synod, 1949, Art. 27). This, of course, was a request to revise the Psalter into a Psalter Hymnal and the PRC out of exclusive psalmody. This history should caution one who desires that the churches remain a psalm-singing denomination: “pas op!”

Referring to our Psalter as the “1912 version of the Presbyterian Psalter as is done more often of late, strikes me as odd. We do not refer, to our Bibles as “our 1611 version ,of the Church of England Bible” or to our creed as “our 1563 German Reformed Catechism.” Why is not the Psalter that the PRC have, used with profit for some 70 years, and that they are using at present with enthusiasm, simply our Psalter?

– Ed.

Called to Indoctrinate

The “Reformation Issue” of the Standard Bearer (October 15, 1995) was one of the best ever. A pregnancy of Reformed orthodoxy pervaded every article, and every article in turn dealt with the core of the Reformed faith. I confess to having been immensely encouraged by those doctrinal fibres, which, when woven together, create the distinctive and attractive position of the PRC.

Rev. Cornelius Hanko’s Where We Stand Today” dealt excellently with the most important matter of all, the future of the distinctive doctrinal stand of the PRC. He asks: “Has the pendulum swung too far the other way [from indoctrination toward contemporary, social matters]? Are our people being as thoroughly indoctrinated as they should be?” Of course, not being a member of the PRC, I cannot answer these questions. But, certainly, while members of the PRC must ask (and answer) such queries, in the final analysis ministers must honestly interrogate themselves on this matter. Is God’s grace particular? Yes! Is common grace a myth? Most definitely! Is the “well-meant offer” erroneous? Yes – it is full-blown Arminianism. If so, the onus is on ministers to “indoctrinate” continually their congregations and reading public.

Many of us in the British Isles have recently come to hold doctrines similar to yours, mainly through the polemical writings of Herman Hoeksema and others, for which we are thankful. Our regret is that we were not part of that great heritage from birth common grace and the well-meant offer were part of our upbringing. The unenthusiastic cannot be enthused by gimmicks or innovations: Hoeksema was correct in saying that the people needed “Doctrine” in the first place, in the second place, and in the third place. Therefore, the antithesis (obliterated by common grace) must be maintained – namely: II… saying Yes to God and all that He requires, and saying No to what God forbids, and to all that opposes God” (Rev. Dykstra, p. 36).

The Standard Bearer might consider reprinting more doctrinal and polemical articles by Herman Hoeksema. Hoeksema’s crisp and incomparably Reformed writings that led me to seek a truly Calvinistic theology will doubtless invigorate others, giving both “indoctrination” and historical perspective. We desperately need those voluminous writings, locked away in Dutch, to be translated, for the advancement not only of the PRC, but of the entire body Reformed- for example, A Power of God Unto Salvation, or Grace Not an Offer, already begun by the late Prof. H.C. Hoeksema. Who will begin this great task? Will you? Please begin now!

Raymond Kemp

Co. Cavan

Republic of Ireland