Much writing has been done concerning the so-called “Hymn Question” in our church periodicals during the past few years. And discussion is proper, even though some feel, even as they write, “. . . that any amount of writing will not convince the opponents, because it is their conviction, and it is impossible to change or even argue against one’s conviction.” This, if discussion is to retain any merit whatever, and if the concept that the Word of God is the determining criterion for all our convictions is to be maintained, I emphatically deny.
“Hymn Question”? Perhaps. The question does involve hymns, in a secondary sense. Yet it is obvious that the above title more correctly “tags” the issue for what it is. And then the implications become much more grave and serious. The entire issue of introducing hymns into our church services must necessarily have followed upon a conclusion or a supposition that the present mode of our congregational singing, namely the Psalters based on the Psalms, had been tried and found wanting. Therefore we have the clamor for hymns as songs that are needed as “supplements” to the Psalm-based Psalters. We don’t busy ourselves by making issues of matters that, as they presently exist, are in good order, do we? If so, I would refrain from comment on a senseless point. If not, then the former is true, and that concept I just as emphatically contest. More than that! I tremble because of the regard thus shown for the structure of the Word of God as a whole.
Some writers assert that they will prove “that this Hymn Question cannot possibly be a matter of principle,” or “. . . we must all agree that there can be nothing principally wrong in singing Scriptural hymns in our churches.” Nevertheless, to date there has been no writing or argument forthcoming which shows that this question does not involve a basic principle. On the other hand, the editor of “Decency and Order” has pointed out, among many other considerations, that to depart from the basic principles which were adopted by the fathers, without any regard for their possible basis, is dangerous indeed; moreover, he further suggested the probability of a principle objection by noting that no mention is made of any other basis for songs, even in the apostolic church, than the Psalms. Therefore, with respect to these above quotes, I once more disagree, and purpose to show principle objection.
I believe that the church of Christ HAS principle objection to the introduction of hymns INTO THE CHURCH SERVICE (and this, although many that write fail to remember this vital point, is the question!). Considering the STRUCTURE of the complete Word of God, we note the various books written in either the Old or the New Dispensation, but we note further that there is ONE book of Psalms, or literally “songs.” ONE book of psalms which was given to the church, in the Old Dispensation already, as their song content or text. ONE book, designated specifically for songs and singing by His church, never subsequently added to by the Holy Spirit in the New Dispensation. We contend, of course, that the Scriptures as we have them are complete.
Did God give the Psalms to the Old Dispensation church as a filling of their responsive need, which same Psalms would be deemed “inadequate” by man (by His CHURCH?!?!), and then neglect to provide for this same need in the New Dispensation church ? Certainly not! Neglect? No, they are, therefore, the complete text that the Holy Spirit ever intended should be used for singing by the Church of Christ.
It has been advanced that nowhere in the Word of God do we read that the Psalms are to be regarded as the only basis for the songs of the New Dispensation church of God. This may be true. But wait! Think of all the institutions of the Old Dispensation church which were no longer maintained as such in the New. They were each specifically and detailedly replaced by the New Dispensation form, e.g., the Passover by the Lord’s Supper, Circumcision by Baptism, and the doing away with all the bloody sacrifices in the presence of the perfect sacrificial work of Christ. But we find no such indicated change concerning that bundle of poem songs which had been given through the heart of the psalmist to the Church of Christ in the Old Dispensation! It was not replaced! Therefore it STANDS today as the basis for the songs in the New Dispensation, even as it did in the Old.
I believe, therefore, that this issue is not primarilyconcerned with the following considerations:
1) Whether or not people of our denomination possess the ability to compose song-texts that are faithful versifications of the Word. I assume that if it were correct to introduce song-texts based on other parts of the Scriptures, we would be led by the Holy Spirit to compose and select those that are scripturally correct.
2) Whether or not any existing hymn is a faithful versification of the Word. In fact, I believe that there aremany hymns today that are just that!
3) Whether or not there exist in our Psalter some songs that are NOT faithful verifications of the Psalms. In fact, here also, I think that several of that type have been cited at various times throughout this discussion, so that further citation is useless. 4) Whether or not we, as a denomination, could at this time finance a revision of our Psalter to include some of the scripturally-correct hymns.
5) Whether or not a majority of our congregations want and would adopt such a revision if it became available.
6) Whether or not we must conform to that which was done through the course of history by the church fathers, without regard for their motivation or reasons for doing so. For we do not say, do we, that simply because the church fathers decided in a certain manner, that therefore it must be correct? No, but due regard must be given as to their possible basis for doing so!
7) Whether or not there are those that feel that we as churches possess some distinctiveness, without which we would be much better off, and question the praiseworthiness of such distinctiveness!
Rather, I believe it is evident that the issue involves a desire to supplement that which God has given as complete. And, on that basis, I believe that the whole idea of introducing hymns for singing in the worship services of our churches ought to be treated and rejected!
As to the Psalter revision, I feel that we are always duty bound, for our own spiritual good and that of succeeding generations, to attempt to root out those things which are shown to be in error; so here also.
Finally, on the question bf altering the present reading of Article 69 of the Church Order, I also feel that a change is indicated. Inasmuch as no other portion of the Word of God has been designated as songs for His church, I believe that our next reading of Article 69 should be: “IN THE CHURCHES ONLY THE 150 PSALMS OF DAVID SHALL BE SUNG.” The Ten Commandments were not given to the church militant as a song, nor was the Lord’s Prayer, nor were the passages that relate the words of and events concerning Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon. These then are the additions already with us that should be discarded AS SONGS!
Let us drop them, then, as songs, and let us as churches SING! Indeed, let us sing the infallible responses of the regenerated and sanctified child of God, as the Holy Spirit has given them to His church in the Psalms.