We have taken cognizance of Rev. Hoeksema’s editorial comment in the January 15th issue of The Standard Bearer relative to our writing on the hymn matter in connection with Article 69 of the Church Order. We will not, however, at this time interrupt our present discussion to reflect upon these editorial comments but choose to continue to discuss the history of this question as it has been an issue before our Synod especially the last three years. Later we hope to comment upon all that our esteemed editor has written on this question during this same time. But this must wait until we have completed our series and presented all our reasons for objecting to the introduction of hymns into our churches.
Last time we gave you various objections that were raised by the consistories of Classis East and with which we concur. We also said that the overture of First Church, together with all the opinions of the consistories in Classis East, was brought to the Synod of 1959. Following the customary procedure of synod, this matter was put into the hands of an advisory committee. The advice of this committee to synod was very brief. It consisted of two parts which are:
“First that synod table the hymn question until the next synod, meanwhile giving our churches in Classis West the opportunity to express themselves in regard to this matter.
“Second to eliminate from the printed Acts all the answers of the various churches re the hymn question.”
None of this advice was adopted by synod. Oh, there was a motion to adopt the first part but this was ruled out of order on the ground that motion militates against the rules of synod re tabling. The same motion was repeated only this time the word “postpone” was used instead of “table.” But this was defeated. Now it is interesting to observe that this same matter came up again at the synod of 1961 and once again it failed to pass. It appears that synod is quite determined not to let the churches of the West have an opportunity to express themselves in regard to this question. This is another reason we are opposed to this overture and its treatment by the synod. We realize, of course, that the synod does not have to do this. It has the prerogative to decide matters that concern the churches in common without consulting the churches. However, we feel that with a question of this nature, the synod has no right to impose hymns upon the churches against their desire unless synod can show (as we wrote last time) that the churches in their present practice of singing are principally wrong. Synod has no right to impose a change merely for the sake of change or because a small minority of the churches want it and a synod that does so, in our opinion, acts unwisely. If, on the other hand, the synod gained the sentiment of the churches and it became evident that the churches wanted this innovation (which it will not), the synod could proceed to institute this change in the confidence that the churches would support it.
We want it understood that our argument here does not nullify the functioning of the synod as the broadest gathering of the churches. It might be said that if synod does this with weighty questions it might just as well not exist but that matters simply be decided by majority opinion of the consistories. This is not true. If this were a matter of doctrine, of our missions, of our theological school, etc. the matter is entirely different. These are things that the Synod is called upon to decide and this they must do. We, as churches, have been singing from our Psalter for decades and evidently have been satisfied with this arrangement. Must a change be coerced upon us by the synod without the churches’ being given the opportunity to say what they think about it? We feel that it should not and we regret that twice the synod refused to give the West this opportunity.
Though synod in 1959 rejected the advice of its committee of pre-advice, it did not apply itself to a study and investigation of the merits of the proposed overture either. It did not consider the validity of the grounds offered even though these had been questioned and criticized by various consistories in Classis East. It obviously did not even take too seriously the fact that this overture came without the approval of the Classis. Had the synod done this at that time it would likely have come to the conclusion that the overture with the grounds presented would have to be rejected. We base this on the fact that when the study committee came a year later with a proposal to change Article 69 somewhat in line with the request of the overture, the synod sent the committee away for another year in quest for grounds. It is evident that the original grounds presented by First Church were not valid in the mind of the synod for otherwise it could have simply used them. So what the synod in effect did was accept the idea of the overture (the request for hymns) but sought to supply that idea with its own grounds since those offered were admittedly invalid. This we believe, too, is wrong. Synod should have judged the matter in 1959 and rejected this overture and its grounds as Classis East had done. But synod liked the idea and put all the material in the case in the hands of a study committee.
This study committee reported to the synod of 1960. Their report is very lengthy and it is not necessary to reprint it as any interested reader can find a copy of it in the 1960 Acts of Synod. Concerning this report, however, we have a few things to say:
First, we must note that the committee evidently did considerable work and conducted a thorough research into the question of hymnology. However, what strikes us in this lengthy report that includes a long historical survey, an exegetical study and various conclusions, the committee says exactly nothing about the material committed to it for study. To this committee was given the original overture, the expressions of all the consistories in Classis East, and the decision of Classis. Synod mandated it to study this material. We understand that the intention of the synod was that this committee should appraise the overture and its grounds, evaluate the arguments of the consistories and come to the synod with sound advice regarding action to be taken in this matter. This the committee did not do. It quoted the overture at the beginning of its report and beyond that no further mention is made of the material committed to it for study. The synod could just as well have appointed a committee to study the matter of hymnology in general.
Secondly, the report as it is, however, does bring out that historically the introduction of hymns into the church has not been unto her spiritual profit. We like to quote just a few things from the report which bolster our antipathy to this innovation. Quoting Dr. A. Kuyper the committee offers six propositions. They are:
“1. That Holy Scripture did offer us a separate volume of Psalms, but no separate volume of prayers.
“2. That the Psalms in depth of spiritual process by far transcends that which afterwards presented itself as church song, or endeavored to place itself above the Psalms.
“3. That the hymns almost nowhere insinuated themselves into the churches, but they soon revealed the inclination to first replace the Psalms, and afterwards to put them aside.
“4. That in the Psalms resounds the abiding, eternal keynote of the godly mind, while all hymns bear a temporal character, stamping the one sided conception of the moment in the church of God.
“5. That the hymn almost everywhere has led to all kinds of choir singing, while the congregation finally fell silent.
“6. That in the struggle between hymn and Psalm, the indifferent in the congregation all took part against the Psalm and for the hymn, while the godly more and more chose for the Psalm and against the hymn.
“We do not mean with this distinction that all who pleaded for the hymn by the same token would stand outside the gathering of the godly. Who would exclude Luther from the company of the godly?
“But in general it seems to us that the above 6 propositions in their context express the truth in this sphere.”
The same report quotes Rev. H. Hoeksema’s advice to the synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1928 when said church confronted this same question. His advice was:
“a. Not to proceed to the introduction of hymns in the public worship of her churches.
“b. Neither to appoint a committee to study this matter.
“c. But do admonish the churches to keep themselves in public worship to the Psalms of Scriptures.
“d. At the same time to admonish the leaders and the consistories especially to cooperate in reviving the psalms in the consciousness of the congregations: Grounds—
“a. There is no need of hymns alongside of the psalms which are presented to us in the Holy Scriptures: (1) There are in those psalms spiritual riches wherein also the heart of the New Testament congregation is able to express itself perfectly, provided one learn to understand those psalms well. (2) The congregation knows only a few of the psalms. Comparatively speaking only a few of the rich psalms are sung in public worship. Let the congregation first learn the riches of the psalms before she begins to speak of the need for other songs.
“b. Today is not the time to introduce hymns: (1) Spiritual life is not of a high degree today. In order to sing spiritual songs a church must be full of the Holy Ghost. (2) The knowledge of Reformed Truth is at a low degree, as appears from the contents of the Three Points which are adopted by our church in 1924 and which were just now withdrawn by our churches. (This advice naturally presupposes that one accepted our first advice. That first.)
“c. History teaches us a lesson here: (1) The hymns which were abolished in the Netherlands by the church of the separation were full of the spirit of Remonstrants. (2) And by means of those hymns the heresy of free will was easily introduced.”
With exception to the part above that refers to the adoption of the Three Points of 1924, which the Protestant Reformed Churches have always rejected, we could desire that Rev. Hoeksema would give our own synod this same advice today. We need it! We are in full agreement with it and synod has here a ready made decision with its grounds. We would be for rejecting the motion that is now before the synod and then proceed to adopt this in its entirety, omitting only the last part of the second part of “b” under the grounds.
It might be argued that the knowledge of the Reformed Truth is not at a low degree in our churches today since we have not adopted heresy or the Three Points. Our churches are strong in the Reformed Truth and, therefore, we can certainly introduce hymns without fear of evil consequences. With this argument we cannot agree. Evidence to the contrary is all too abundant. We are living in a spiritually dangerous age. Let us be humble and thank God with all our heart for what we have and never tempt Him with our own substitutions. Standing, let us take heed lest we fall.