We must return once more to the report of the Synodical Study Committee and its report to the Synod of 1960 on the hymn matter. In addition to the committee’s historical and exegetical survey of the hymn question, it includes in its report a section entitled “Conclusions Of Your Committee.” To this section we will direct the attention of our readers in the present article.
Although the committee readily grants “that the singing of the hymn in public worship is nowhere expressly forbidden in Scripture and neither is there an express command that the hundred fifty Psalms shall be sung exclusively,” it reaches the conclusion that hymns ought not to be introduced in the churches. The committee has, in our opinion, some very valid reasons for this conclusion. It did not suck this out of the thumb. It did not express this simply as a personal preference. It had studied the matter and after weighing all the facts it arrived at this sound conclusion. Note, if you will, a bit of the committee’s reasoning.
The committee underscored the sentiment expressed by the Rev. H. Hoeksema when he stated: “Therefore it is always much safer to keep ourselves to the songs which the Scriptures present us.” (Italics ours.) It asserted that “history teaches that hymns were introduced, either when the Church was in decline or when heretics assailed her with man-made songs in order to sing their errors into the churches,” and it pointed in this connection to Gnosticism, Arianism, Appolinarianism and Donatism in the early church Arminianism in the post-reformation period. It further argued the point that “the hymn always has a tendency to crowd the psalm out of “public worship” and pointed to the history of the Reformed Churches as an example. Then, too, we must quote the following from the committee’s report because to us it is a stronger argument against the introduction of hymns than all we have mentioned above. The committee wrote:
“The hymn does not give us the knowledge of God such as the Psalms do. In the Psalms of David we have the complete and adequate knowledge of God in the sphere of Psalmody. All situations, conditions, trials, temptations, warfare, struggles and pitfalls of the child of God are sung, prayed, and supplicated, as well as his victories, ecstasy, thrills, gladness and joys and hallelujahs. God shines forth gloriously as the God of our salvation in the Face of His anointed Son, telling us in beauteous strains of His love, mercy, loving-kindness, faithfulness and goodness. But also we sing with trembling of His wrath, judgment, righteousness, holiness and sure vengeance. Where is the hymn that can stand in this heaven-breathed array?”
The antithetical note that is so pronounced in the Psalms must be sung by the church as well as preached. It is very much needed today. Even more! It must be lived by the church in every sphere. The life of the church today is being more and more synchronized with that of the world. The church is playing a conciliatory role and reneging in her call to battle. In no single facet of our worship and life may we contribute toward this synchronization, conciliation and apostasy. This we believe the introduction of hymns into the worship of our churches will do by the gradual process of depriving us of the antithetical battle song which we, by the grace of God, have dared to sing through the ages. We must bolster our defenses. We plead for Psalter revision and Psalter improvement by which the beauties of the Psalms may be expressed with greater clarity and accuracy. Let the talent of musical composition be diverted into this channel rather than toward the adding of other songs which will only deprive the church of her present heritage. With Rev. Hoeksema we fully agree when he wrote, “Let the congregation first learn the riches of the psalms before she begins to speak of the need for other songs.”
Another interesting note in the report of the committee of synod is their mentioning of a part of the original Article 69 of out Church Order which has somehow become lost. The Synod of Dordt appended to the article this sentence: “All other songs shall be kept out of the churches, and there where some are already introduced, one shall do away with them through the most decent means.” Although there undoubtedly weresound hymns in existence at that time, including some written by Luther and Calvin, the Synod of Dordt banned them all from public worship. Would this Synod have said that it is principally wrong to sing these songs? We doubt it but this consideration did not move the synod to decide that these songs should be introduced into the churches if they were synodically approved, On the contrary it decreed that the Psalms (with a few specified additions) were to be sung and “all other songs kept out of the churches.” We advocate that our synod walk in the steps of these forbears.
And now the conclusions of the study committee of our synod as found on page 115 of the 1960 Acts of Synod:
“1. History teaches that the hymn is, generally, the carrier of heresies, and has the tendency to oust and supplant God’s Book of Psalmody.
“2. The hymn is largely silent anent retribution, damnation, election and reprobation, the wrath of God, corruption and the filth of man in his fallen state. This is its greatest weakness: in its totality the hymn is not the complete knowledge of God.
“a. Many hymns are out and out Arminian, both in words and music.
“b. They are sentimental and superficial and not worthy of use in the exalted worship of the church, “c. They are not expressive of the truth of Scripture, but rather of subjective feelings and experience, and divorced from the objective truth of God’s Word.
“d. They are Christo-centric. While in itself a song concerning Christ is not wrong, it should be noticed that Scripture is Theo-centric. A wrong emphasis on Christ to the exclusion of God is characteristic of hymns.
“3. The Psalms are the Book of Songs to be sung in Public Worship:
“a. Christ, the Apostles, and the early Church sang them exclusively.
“b. The Church of Christ at her most flourishing periods employed the Psalms for public worship almost exclusively.
“4. The Psalms of David give us in the sphere of song in public worship the full, adequate and complete knowledge of God.
“5. In the Psalms of David resounds the ever abiding and eternal key-note of the godly mind, while the hymns usually bear a temporal character, marking the one-sided conception of the moment in the Church of God (Kuyper).
“6. 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 learn to understand those Psalms well (Hoeksema).
“7. Faithful versifications of Scripture, other than the Psalms, may be sung in the churches.
“And so, let us not dilute our beautiful Psalmody by the inclusion of uninspired hymns, but let us live in harmony with Moses, David, Asaph, Christ, the Apostles, the early Christian Church, the Council of Laodicea, and the Synod of Dordrecht.”
We must keep in mind that this committee of synod was given the original overture of the First Church, together with related material from Classis East, for study. Would we not expect then, in view of the first six conclusions drawn above, that the committee would have followed with the advice that the overture requesting the introduction of hymns be rejected? This, it seems, would have followed logically from these conclusions. And this would have then covered the main thrust of the overture.
There were other things in the overture, particularly in the grounds. For example, the First Church contended that Article 69, in its present form, is not workable. These matters could then have also been treated under separate advice as we have suggested before.
The point to be observed, however, is that in spite of its own conclusions, the committee did not so advise synod. They added the seventh conclusion and thereby introduced into this question a new matter which was not in the scope of their mandate and study. In effect the committee turned down the overture but then, it appears to me, as a sort of conciliatory gesture toward the First Church they introduced the matter of “versifying Scripture” and advised Synod to so change Article 69 that the introduction of versified songs or versified hymns would be permitted.
We do not approve of this tactic. It is a compromise measure and we look with askance upon compromises. In effect it is saying to the First Church that their request for hymns is unacceptable but we will meet you half way and work out something that will satisfy both you and the churches which will not accept hymns. We will not talk anymore about hymns; about hymns in general; Arminian hymns; worthless hymns but we’ll speak only about “versified hymns,” i.e., those hymns which are literal versifications of the Word of God and to this no one can have objection because in principle it is permissible to sing these songs. Therefore, “let us drive the carriage along the edge of the canal” (Hib Kuiper) in spite of all the dangers we are aware of and about which we have told you. Let us revise Article 69. And although we told you in our conclusions that “we must not dilute our beautiful Psalmody by the inclusion of uninspired hymns, but live in harmony with the Synod of Dordt” which said that “all other songs are to be kept out,” we now advise you not to listen to that Synod but go ahead and include as many “literal versifications” as the synod will approve.
We do not stomach this advice. When synod moved to adopt this proposed change of Article 69, it is our contention that synod was no longer treating the overture of First Church but a new matter introduced by its study committee. And if synod proceeds to adopt this, it will be imposing upon the churches a thing that was never brought to it through the proper ecclesiastical channels. We may call this point a technicality but it is an important one if this whole matter is viewed in its proper sequence. The overture of the First Church, with its grounds, was in effect that we follow the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church here and introduce into our churches hymns. Let us boldly say “No”—an uncompromising “NO”—to that request and there let the matter rest. But we must notice yet that again in Art. 85 of the 1960 Acts of Synod a motion was made “that the churches be given opportunity to express their opinion in re the advice of the study committee.” This failed to pass. If synod is hesitant to speak an unequivocal “No,” why does she persist in refusing to let the churches speak their opinion?
The synod in 1960 referred the matter of revising Article 69 back to its study committee with the instruction that they supply grounds for this action. These grounds were brought to the Synod of 1961 and to these we will call attention, D.V., the next time.