Although a formal motion to do so was not passed by the synod of 1960, it appears as though the synod was inclined to go ahead with the overture of the First Church and revise Article 69 of our Church Order so as to make provision for hymns in our churches. At least when the study committee advised that the article should be revised to read: “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, as also such hymns which are faithful versifications of the Holy Scriptures, in each case the General Synod being the judge,” it was moved that this advice be adopted (Art. 85, Acts 1960).
Synod must have felt, however, that the grounds for doing this as submitted in the original overture of First Church were not adequate and since the study committee offered no grounds whatsoever for this proposed revision, something else would have to be done before this motion could be passed. The whole matter was therefore given back to the study committee which was instructed to “furnish the grounds and report to the next synod.”
This entire procedure in our opinion is wrong and must be cited as an added reason we are opposed to seeing hymns introduced into our churches in this way. The fact is that First Church came with a request to revise Article 69. The study committee advised such a revision, although we do not understand how the committee could do this in the light of its own study conclusions. This we showed last time. This is nevertheless the case and, therefore, we contend that this proposed revision of Article 69 could be considered by the Synod only in the light of the grounds of the original overture. It was not the work of the study committee to formulate grounds for the overture but their task was to study and evaluate the overture, its grounds and the related material submitted to it. It is plain that by this time the synod had discarded the overture and was dealing with something entirely new. It also appears obvious that the study committee would not advise synod to revise Article 69 as requested by First Church, that is to say, on the grounds First Church had presented. Synod, in its attempt to get this thing into the churches, is guilty of procedural bungling. The product that comes forth from this must then not be adopted but rejected.
Another year went by. At the synod of 1961 the study committee submitted its report containing the groundsthe synod had requested. The committee, however, in its report proposed one additional change in its original advice to revise Article 69. This had to do with changing the word “hymns” to “songs.” (See the revision above.) The reasons for this the committee gave as follows:
“1. There is some misunderstanding regarding the use of the word ‘hymns.’ Although the word can, no doubt, be used for versification of Scripture, it has come to mean much more in our day.
“2. There is, by the change of this word, no fundamental change in the article itself.”
The synod discussed this matter at some length and then decided to retain the word “hymns” in preference to “songs which are literal versifications of Scripture.” From this decision alone it should be obvious that what is wanted is hymns and with this goes unavoidably the rejection of the Psalter in time. No church (ours included) would ever admit when it began to toy with this thing that this was the case but without exception the lesson of history is plain.
And now the grounds offered by the committee. We shall first quote them from the report:
“1. It is the express purpose of this revision to keep from our worship services the hymns commonly in use in other churches which are not faithful versifications of Scripture. Our reasons for this can be found in our conclusions under ‘B’ of the original report and there is no need to quote them here.
“2. The grounds for including versifications of Scripture are the following:
“a. We are already singing them in our churches contrary to the original Article 69. Examples: ‘Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,’ ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’
“b. There are other parts of Scripture which are written in poetry and which are suitable for versification. Examples: 1. The Song of Moses. 2. Habakkuk 3. 3. The Songs of Mary and Zacharias. 4. Parts of I Corinthians 15. 5. Parts of Romans 8. 6. Parts of Revelation.
“c. The Psalms speak of the revelation of God from the viewpoint of the types and shadows of the Old Dispensation. The New Testament Scriptures, written after the fulfillment of .the promise, speak more clearly and directly of that promise since the shadows fell away. While it is not impossible to interpret the Psalms in the light of the New Dispensation, there cannot possibly be anything wrong with using other parts of Scripture, including the New Testament Scriptures, as a basis for the versifications to be used in the church.
“d. It is evidently a legitimate occupation of the church organism to provide the church here on earth with songs to sing even in its worship services. This task ought not to be discouraged by limitations binding the church to the Psalms.
“3. Our grounds for the phrase ‘in each case the general synod being the judge are:
“a) no individual congregation should introduce additional songs by itself.
“b) the synod must have the authority to determine the worth of any particular song.
“c) this will safeguard the introduction of unsavory songs into the church.
“4. As far as the original redaction of Article 69 is concerned, we point Synod to the following:
“a) The ‘150 Psalms of David’ evidently refers to the Dutch Psalm Book.
“b) The other songs mentioned are not available to the English speaking church.
“c) We have not adhered to the literal reading of Article 69 since the beginning of our existence as Protestant Reformed Churches.
“5. The Psalms of David are mentioned specifically in the proposed revision of this article because the emphasis should fall on them in our singing.
“6. Finally, we hope that the clarification of this article through the proposed revision will:
“a) Keep our churches and our people from bringing into the church the hymns in common use in the American church world.
“b) Inspire and encourage talented people within our fellowship to add to the songs we already have.”
Here then we have the basis on which the synod would proceed to revise Article 69 of our Church Order. All of our readers can learn from Article 20 of the 1961 Acts of Synod that all of these grounds have already beenadopted by the synod. The only thing that remains is to pass the motion to revise Article 69 as proposed on these grounds. Rev. H. Hoeksema seems to feel that this will not happen (Standard Bearer, Feb. 15, 1962) and we hope that in this he is correct but in lieu of the fact that these grounds have already been adopted, it is doubtful to us that this trend that has been pushed now for three years will be reversed.
Of course, the argument that was advanced on the floor of the last synod that “if the grounds are adopted, the motion must be passed” has no validity. On the surface this might seem to be the case but it is not so at all. It is argued that if you approve of grounds for a certain motion (those grounds: must be good or they would not be adopted), then it follows that the thing itself must certainly be adopted on the basis of those grounds. Hence, if (and synod has already done so) synod says “Yes” to the six reasons advanced as to why Art. 69 should be revised, she cannot say “No” to the question: “Shall it now be revised?”
But is this actually the case or is this a maneuver to force the issue by circumventing the main issue? Let us suppose momentarily that all of these grounds are valid and we say “yes” to each of them. All that we, in effect, have done so far is to say that the possibility of changing Article 69 is real. We have a proposed change and we have grounds or reasons to make such a change. At this point we are ready to face an entirely different question. That question is: “Is this change advisable? Is it necessary? Is it in the best interests of our churches? Is this decision going to enrich our churches and direct them in the right way with respect to their worship songs?” To answer that we must weigh not only the sis reasons that are given for it but also all the objections that are raised against it and if the latter are more cogent than the former, the motion with its grounds must still be defeated. Then the grounds advanced are not sufficient to warrant passage of the motion.
I will illustrate this point very simply. Suppose that before me there is a very delicious looking meat pie. I am very hungry at the moment. My hunger would appear to be a valid ground for me to proceed to devour that pie. However, I happen to know that the pie is poisoned and to eat it will mean that I die. This consideration is a cogent reason that I should not eat that pie in spite of my hunger pangs. Must I nevertheless go ahead and eat it because I have already decided that I am hungry and this is a good reason to eat? Or must I consider all the facts and act in the best way which, in this case, is to abstain? Must synod now pass the motion before her because she has approved of six grounds? Or must she decide the passage of the motion in the light of all the evidence, including the reasons that would motivate or ground a negative vote?
In light of this, we give just two considerations to these grounds adopted by the synod. These considerations are:
1) Are these grounds true, i.e., factually correct?
2) If so, are they sufficiently weighty to necessitate the introduction of hymns into the worship of the churches over against the many objections that have been raised to this innovation?
It is my contention that the arguments presented in these grounds are not entirely valid and in the measure they are correct they do not outweigh the objections that have been raised. We will make a few comments yet on the grounds offered by the committee.
The first ground argues that this revision is necessary to keep undesirable hymns from our worship. This is hardly a valid argument in view of the fact that the present Article 69 has kept these hymns from our worship as long as our churches have existed. But it will be argued that we do not observe the present article. Literally, of course, this is true. However, our churches have felt the main intent of this article and this they have also observed. That undoubtedly is that we should be a Psalm-singing church. The proposed revision will not assure us that this will continue to be the case. On the contrary, other songs will be introduced and although we might keep out Arminian hymns, we will lose the Psalms in the process and the latter end will be worse than the first. The proposed revision is not necessary to keep out undesirable hymns. The article can be revised much more simply to achieve this end as well as to keep out other songs that would tend to replace the Psalms. We say that the proposed revision is in conflict with the expressed intent of the Synod of Dordt.
The second ground adduces several reasons why literal versification should be included. The committee cites two examples from our present usage to show that we are in conflict with the present Article 69. Now the committee knows that the first example is not even a “literal” versification while the second is. But be this as it may and let it be granted that this inconsistency is wrong, such wrong doing cannot be a ground for revision. The way is not to change the Church Order to harmonize with the wrong doing but rather to correct the wrong and bring it in harmony with the established rule. What is then presented under points b through dunder ground 2 we will not dispute. We only contend that this does not yet demonstrate the necessity of moving in this direction nor the desirability of it in view of historical precedents where many churches have attempted this. We say again, let the church learn to understand and appreciate the Psalms and let the church organism occupy itself with the task of Psalter improvement. We must not neglect this area of labor in preference to the making of new songs.
Ground three presents reasons why the General Synod should judge the songs to be adopted. This ground assumes that the main proposition will be adopted and if that assumption is granted then it would indeed be logically correct that the Synod (not individual churches) decide this even though such a position is not without its dangers.
The fourth ground is valid as an argument for revising Article 69 so as to make it applicable to the English speaking churches but it has no validity as an argument for the introduction of a new element in Article 69 that is foreign to the original intent of the Article itself.
The fifth ground is undoubtedly well-meant but we do not think that the church, five or ten years from now, will take cognizance of the position in which the Psalms are mentioned in the Article. The emphasis will easily shift to the last part of the article. We may cite the experience of the Christian Reformed Church in this regard.
The final argument is hardly a ground. It expresses a “hope” that the common hymns of the American church world will be kept out and that our talented young people will produce songs which can be added to those we now have. We do not “hope” but we “fear” this will indeed be the result so that the present beautiful, antithetical Psalms will be buried under the new “hymnal.” We would rather hope that a revision of Article 69 keeping out other songs would “inspire and encourage talented young people in our fellowship to employ their talents to improve the versification of Psalms as we have them today.”
Here the matter rests. The motion is before the synod and must be decided in June unless synod finds a way to postpone it again for a year or two. The next time, D.V., we will present the opinion of others on the matter of hymns.