Thank you for the special issue on the Psalter (April 1, 2014). I always appreciate the special issues, and this one was especially dear to my heart. I read with interest all the articles and benefited from them. I can imagine the editorial committee sitting down last summer and coming up with eight to ten different topics on this subject, and I can only hope that at that meeting Prof. Dykstra was assigned the unfortunate topic “Improving the Psalter.”
But when a summary of the daily acts of Synod, Day 4, 2014, was handed out in the churches and I read that “the CC was instructed to stay in contact with the Publication Committee of the Free Reformed Churches with a view to a possible revision of the Psalter,” I detected that revising the Psalter was being seriously discussed in some circles. This concerns me. Hence, this letter.
I love the Psalter.
I especially love the 1912 Psalter that has been used in the Protestant Reformed Churches for nearly 100 years now. I, myself, have been singing these songs and teaching my children, grandchildren, and students to learn and love them as well for many years (I might even have had a small part in instilling the love of this precious book in Prof. Dykstra, whom I was privileged to teach when he was a student in 3rd grade), and I still don’t know all the songs by memory or recognize every tune when it is played. Our Psalter is a rich and matchless songbook. It is a book for all seasons of the Christian life. We need to sing from it more often, daily in our homes and the Christian school, not neglecting this majestic book in our church-sponsored and school programs; then we will learn to love it more.
The introduction to the 1912 Psalter tells us that the committee that was instrumental in putting together this book spent 20 years at its work. During that arduous, however delightful work, it’s possible that this committee may have included some disappointing rhymes, an archaic word or two, or even a clumsy tune. After all, it was a committee, not a divinely inspired body. But isn’t it likely that a newly-formed committee, also not divinely inspired, would make just as many—if not more—misadventures with tunes, phraseology, rhyming, and textual accuracy?
Proceed slowly when considering change. Just change your carpet sometime and notice that once the carpet is updated, the curtains in the room don’t look so good. So you invest in new curtains, and, suddenly, the couches look really shabby…and the lamps no longer fit in at all. Change is a fickle mistress.
I do not support change in our Psalter. Not any change—even though I breathe a sigh of relief that no minister, in my experience, has ever chosen Psalter number 289, “Let’s sing all 19 verses.”
For the record, I oppose any change in tunes, words, rhymes, numbering systems, or versifications. All the improvements that Prof. Dykstra deems advisable for our Psalter are hardly egregious enough to warrant revision, in my estimation, and what we stand to lose by such tinkering is more than we would gain. (Make it your concern to find out what has happened in other denominations with making mischief in their songbooks over the years. It’s not pretty. Historically, changes in a church’s music have separated those in the pew. Why, do you think, do the emergent churches need three or four songbooks or an overhead projection device in their services?) The Psalter stands on its own credentials.
While Prof. Dykstra in his well-written article laments the loss of the work that an earlier committee to improve the Psalter had accomplished, my earnest prayer is that these documents may never be dredged up. There must have been good reason at that time that synod abandoned such an ill-advised project, and we do well not to repeat this failed attempt.
Take a step back. Think carefully about the probable snowball effect of such a venture. The grandeur of the 1912 Psalter has served us and our children admirably for decades and requires no modifications.
Respectfully and urgently submitted,
Mary Beth Lubbers
It is always a pleasure reading letters written with the style and flair that yours have. And one of the many blessings of our schools is that one can have quality teachers who later in life transition to esteemed friends.
I appreciate the caution on possible revisions of the Psalter. Those who suggest changes to a songbook, even what many see as obvious improvements, do not know what the final product will be. The church’s songbook is a vital part of her worship in home, school, and especially in official worship.
The letter also expresses well the angst that we of the later generations feel when someone suggests changes to our venerable Psalter. The Psalter has indeed been an inestimable blessing to all who learned to sing God’s praises, to confess sin, to cry out of the depths, and to teach and admonish each other using these versifications. From a personal point of view, I could happily use the Psalter just as it is until the Lord takes me home.
While it is true that I was more or less assigned the topic in the special issue, I had enough heart for it to be willing to write on the topic. I remain convinced that we can produce a better Psalter. Many synods, going back to the days before I was born, have taken decisions in favor of revisions. Although we certainly can use the Psalter as is, if the next generation will be able to worship God with a better Psalm-book, I am willing to learn some new versifications and tunes, though I would no doubt miss some of the old ones. I also have confidence in the men commissioned to serve at our classes and synods, that they will make wise and careful decisions on such a crucially important work.
That brings me to the decision of Synod 2014. The decision does not express any commitment to Psalter revision, but only recognizes that some other Reformed churches who use and love the Psalter are looking into improving it. Synod thought it wise at the very least to keep in touch with them.