We have contended that it is wrong for the church to introduce hymns into its worship services. Our argument rests upon the claim that the Holy Spirit has given the church of all ages one book of songs, the inspired Psalms, and has nowhere indicated a desire that the church should occupy herself with the task of versifying other parts of or all the rest of the inspired Word. From the Holy Spirit’s silence in this regard, we conclude that the church has no calling to add to the Divinely provided songs for the church. The Holy Spirit might have indicated such a calling very simply by moving the apostle Paul to write in I Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction (for singing), for instruction in righteousness.” But the words in parentheses do not appear in the text nor is there in the entire New Testament, to the best of our knowledge, any passages that indicate that Scriptures were given to be versified and that the church through the ages should enrich her bundle of songs by occupying herself with this task.
It is then our further contention that the attempts on the part of the church in the past as well as now to do this are, in effect, a rejection of the songs the Spirit has provided for her use in public worship. No church will admit this and neither do those who want hymns in our churches today concede this. This we understand but the fact is that in all the history of hymnology and psalmody, the hymns have replaced the psalms in every church that introduced them. This is not because the church itself expresses that desire. The very opposite is true. They have said that they purpose to retain the Psalms but this proves to be impossible. It is our conviction that the reason for this lies in the fact that the Lord Himself makes this impossible. The church that sets aside the book of songs He has provided and begins to use the songs she has provided is not worthy of the former and the Lord takes them away in spite of her best intentions to keep them. We are agreed with the following from the pen of the late Rev. H.H. Kuiper in the October 15, 1961Standard Bearer:
“We have always been taught, and rightly so, that the church of all ages is ONE. I cannot see, apart from the arguments advanced by you (Editor of S.B.) in the S.B. some years ago, why the giving of a bundle of songs to that church in the Old Dispensation, is not good enough for the Church of the New Testament. It seems to me that if something else were needed for the church today, the Holy Spirit would have provided such, and the burden of proof why He did not and yet permits the church to make its own bundle, lies with those that want it. Granted that God’s people may sing other songs unofficially, and to this I have no objections, where is it indicated in Scripture that there must be such officially?”
To me the answer of the editor of The Standard Bearer is unsatisfactory. He points out two things. In the first place, he points out that ‘(we do not sing the Psalms in the form in which the Holy Spirit gave them to the Old Testament Church and that this would be impossible.” This is no proof from Scripture that the New Testament church is mandated to provide its own official songs apart from the Psalms. At best it demands a more diligent labor of Psalter revision and to this none object. There is room for Psalter improvement. We have said before that the talent in the churches that is so energetic toward composing hymns ought to be diverted in this direction.
In the second place the editor writes: “And what, if the church may only sing the bundle of the Old Testament Psalms as given by the Holy Spirit to the Church, must we do with Article 69 of the Church Order?” Here, too, the question does not offer any proof. It is further stated, “In this article, to be sure, the principle that only the Old Testament Psalms may be sung by the churches is completely abandoned. It does not even maintain, as we proposed, that only such hymns as are faithful versifications of Scripture and are approved by the Synod, shall be sung.” This may indeed be true but why did our fathers in Article 69 state so emphatically, “ONLY the 150 Psalms . . . .” and then proceed to permit a few—a very limited few exceptions to this? Could it have been that even then there was such a strong demand for hymns (right or wrong) that it could not be entirely suppressed? Let us then revise the article of the Church Order but until it is proven from Scripture that the church is permitted to make its own bundle of songs along sides of those provided by the Holy Spirit, let us refrain from making any exceptions and abide with “only the 150 Psalms.” To us they are sufficient to express the praise, the prayers, the needs, etc. of the church. Let the inspired Psalms be the official praise of the church. That is all we need and that is our plea.
In connection with this yet, it must be pointed out that our Synod is duty bound to review past decisions of the synod before deciding this matter. In 1949 the then existent Psalter revision committee reported to synod and among other things requested:
“4. The Psalter Committee also comes to Synod with the request for permission to work on versifications, as literal as possible, of Scripture passages dealing with Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection, Pentecost, etc., and incorporate it in the new Psalter” (Acts of Synod, 1949, p. 57).
Note here that the committee did not ask for “hymns” as the original overture of First Church did. They ask for literal versifications of Scripture which is the same thing the study committee in the present case advised and with which the synod is currently occupied.
Then notice too that in 1949 the committee of pre-advice gave to synod the following advice: (We assume that the motion that was made on the floor of synod was made upon recommendation of this committee. This is customary procedure. There is no report of the committee of pre-advice as such in the Acts.)
“Motion is made and supported to adopt advice under 4, c, to grant permission to work on versification of other passages of Scripture and to advise the committee to search the field of existing hymns for doctrinally sound hymns for special occasions.” This motion was defeated by the synod. (Art. 27, Acts of Synod, 1949.) Regrettably there is no record in the Acts of the grounds or reasons Synod decided as it did. Undoubtedly these things were brought out in the discussion of the matter. It would have been well if the Synod, after defeating the above motion, had entertained another motion to the effect, that: “Synod rejects this request and that on the following grounds.” Then the reasons would have been recorded and we would have a stand by which we could be directed now that the hymn matter or the matter of versifications is once more before synod.
In the present case, Synod should do just that. If the motion that is before synod “to adopt a proposed revision of Art. 69” is defeated, the matter should not be dropped there. Synod should then either:
(1) Express that the present Art. 69 be retained and then give the reasons for rejecting any proposed revision of that article or,
(2) Adopt a different revision of Article 69 and give the grounds for its adoption.
The point is that if the synod of 1962 acts consistently with the past synods (1949) it will reject the proposed matter of introducing new songs in our worship services.
Hymns And Our Radio Broadcasts
In connection with the question of hymns, we purpose to also write a bit about the question of the propriety of their use on our officially sponsored radio programs. The readers will recall that this question was treated by Classis East in January of 1953. In July of the previous year, the consistory of Oak Lawn began a series of correspondence and protest with the consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The whole matter dealt with the question of the use of hymns on the Reformed Witness Hour, a practice which is still current today.
Oak Lawn’s consistory contended that whereas the radio program was an official service of the church, the rules of the Church Order (Art. 69) applied and, therefore, it was and is a violation of Church Order for the consistory to permit the use of hymns on the program.
First Church contended that although the radio service was official, it was not an official church service in the accepted sense of the word and, therefore, Article 69 did not apply and there was and is no violation.
It is not our purpose to enter into the arguments of this protest at this time but the matter was presented to the Classis and then Classis East requested the consistories within its resort to express themselves on the question of the use of hymns on the radio broadcasts. These we will share with our readers because they reflect the feeling of our churches on this matter. Again, the churches in the west did not express themselves except that during the course of the treatment of this matter, the consistory of Oak Lawn inquired about the practices of those churches in the west that were also sponsoring radio programs. All of the consistories that responded informed us that the practice in the west was to use the Psalter on the radio exclusively. This would indicate that the west was satisfied with the Psalter and felt no need of new or additional songs, not even for the radio.
We let the readers judge for themselves as to how the churches in the East felt about this matter. To do so our readers will have to know that at Classis there was a “majority” and a “minority” report on this matter. The majority report favored the use of hymns while the minority report maintained the position that hymns should not be used on our official radio programs.
We have room yet this time only for the reply of Creston. They wrote:
“The sentiment of the consistory is that we feel very strongly for the position of Oak Lawn. We believe that the majority report arguments are not all valid. Although we cannot legislate a rule that we shall have no hymns at all, we feel that Oak Lawn signals a very great danger here, that is, of losing the distinctiveness and consciousness of our Psalter which has in it particularly the prophet and also the strong consciousness of the antithesis between the church and the world, election and reprobation, the righteous and the wicked, the keynote of which is in Psalter No. 1. That is the position of our consistory.”
Next time, the Lord willing, we will present what other consistories had to say.