The Hymn Matter (continued)

The Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church, we wrote last time, overtured the Synod in 1959 to revise Article 69 of the Church Order so as to make room in our churches for the singing of a select number of hymns as approved by the synod. Five grounds, which we also quoted, were given for this overture.

Briefly we would comment concerning these grounds as follows:

As to the first ground, viz. “that Article 69 has lost all significance for us in its present form,” it may be said that this could be remedied by simply eliding those parts of the article that have become obsolete. This would entail no general revision and would preserve the main thrust of the article which is that the hundred fifty Psalms shall constitute the songs of the church. We wonder why this is used as an argument only with reference to Article 69. Certainly the First Church knows that there are other parts of our Church Order that have also become obsolete and if this is their real concern they ought to propose a general revision of the entire Church Order so that all the articles are brought up to date. That this seemed to trouble the authors of this overture appears evident from the fourth and fifth grounds adduced. Here they say that the Church Order should be meaningful, workable and recognize actual circumstances and conditions. They add that it is impossible to apply and obey Article 69 in its present form in our English worship services. Granted that this is so, it is equally true that these same things can be said of other articles. By adducing these things as grounds for the overture it seems to me that the concern of the First Church is not so much that of the Church Order but the desire to get the hymns into the churches. The reasoning in these grounds is camouflaged and therefore misleading. Under the pretense of seeking to make the Church Order workable and meaningful, a single article is picked out where several should have been, a revision proposed that would in no way affect the main body of the Church Order and all this to introduce an innovation that has always been looked upon in the churches with askance.

The second ground given in the overture argues that since the present form of Article 69 provides for the use of some hymns, it follows that the proposed revision is in order when it makes room for more hymns as approved by the synod. This argument is defeating to the very intent of the present form of Article 69. It is true that Article 69 provides for certain hymns but it is our opinion that the intention of this article is that these should be on a very limited basis. So limited is this that the allowable hymns are specifically mentioned. It is not the intention of the Church Order that along side of the Psalms there should be introduced a collection of hymns in the churches as the overture requests. We feel that the proposed revision would not limit the use of hymns (except perhaps at first) but would gradually extend their use until in time the Psalter is virtually replaced. This fear has basis in historical precedent and let none of us say that we are above this and that our churches would not subject themselves to this error.

That the last mentioned matter is of real concern follows from the argument advanced in the third ground of the overture. This argument is that “Other churches such as the Reformed Church of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Churches of America have already made revisions of the article.” If this ground means anything at all, it seems to me that the argument is that we should do, as they have done. We may then also infer that if we do so with respect to the revision we will also follow in the path of introducing more and more hymns and the singing of Psalms will be gradually replaced. We hope this does not happen and we certainly hope that we never introduce this thing on the ground that other churches have done so, except where it can be shown that these other churches have enriched themselves through such changes. With respect to the hymn question this is obviously not the case as many within these churches themselves will testify.

In view of all this we feel that we can wholly concur with the sentiment expressed by the Southwest Church as appears on page 77, Acts of Synod 1959. We quote the following:

“But we say again, that unless we are ready to revise our entire Church Order, we see no immediate need to change one article with which we have lived all these years without any amendment or change. And at this time, we are not at all ready to approve the proposed change First Church offers, nor the reasons for which this church proposes such change.”

Synod, however, in 1959 did not go along with this but evidently felt that this overture and its grounds was worthy of further consideration. Although all the material submitted by Classis East was not treated, the Synod followed the suggestion of Southeast Church and referred this overture to a study committee which reported the following year. Before we now consider the report of this committee and the subsequent action of the synod, we will pause to reflect upon the material that was before the synod in 1959 in order to show from it that there is added reason why the synod even at that time should not have pursued the matter further.

Before the synod were a number of reports from the various consistories of the churches in Classis East as well as the decision of said Classis to send the overture of First Church to synod without its approval. Gleaning the reports of the nine consistories of Classis East we find that the only one that expressed itselfpositively in favor of the overture is the consistory that originated the overture in the first place. Three consistories expressed agreement with the idea of the overture and offered various suggestions as to how synod should proceed in this matter. One felt that the hymns to be used should be approved before theChurch Order is revised. Another felt this matter should be studied thoroughly. And another expressed agreement with the spirit of the overture but felt that better grounds could and should be advanced for this step. Five consistories expressed themselves negatively on the proposal and gave various reasons as to why it should not be adopted.

All of these reports make interesting reading. The reader may find them in the 1959 Acts of Synod. From them we will select and then abbreviate the various arguments raised against the introduction of hymns in our churches since we cannot take space to reproduce all of the material here. With the following arguments we agree and believe that even though the principle of the issue may not be involved in these arguments, they are nevertheless matters that must be taken into consideration in resolving this question as they affect the practicality and expediency of this proposed innovation. The only exception where these things would not have weight is where it can be proven that our churches are acting contrary to sound principle by maintaining the status quo in regard to, the singing of the church. And this should also be done by those who advocate the change and are insistent that the opposition prove the proposed change is wrong in principle. The burden of proof lies equally with them to show that our present practice is wrong in principleand, therefore, a change to> sound principle is necessary. But now the arguments as gleaned from the reports.

“1. The proposed overture militates against a decision take in Classis East in 1954.

“2. Our churches are physically, mentally and spiritually in no mood to enter what may be a hot controversy on the hymn question.

“3. Under the present financial burden of our churches the publication of a song book containing songs to be used in our churches is prohibitive. It is financially unfeasible and to this we might add that any available funds could, in our opinion, be much more wisely spent in many other ways. I might cite, for example, the fact that the lowering of our synodical assessments would make available more funds to establish and maintain our Christian schools and also complete our educational system. Our people can rightly be encouraged to sacrifice for such causes but I for one could not induce one to sacrifice to raise funds for the publication of a church hymn book.

“4. Our churches are not ready to adopt hymns. The reports of the consistories of Classis East bear this out and, should the Western Churches be given opportunity to express themselves, I feel certain that this contention-would be substantiated.

“5. The word ‘only’ in Article 69 speaks volumes. There must have been weighty reasons for the exclusion of all then existing hymns by our fathers when they drew up the present Church Order. The word ‘only’ assumes the proportion of a bulwark against the threatened invasion of the hymn.

“6. There is no need for hymns next to the psalms of David, which are offered to us in Holy Scripture. There is in the Psalms a spiritual wealth wherein also the heart of the New Testament Church is able to express itself perfectly, provided one learn to understand those Psalms well (Rev. H. Hoeksema, S.B. Vol. 4, p. 319).

“7. The grounds adduced by the First Protestant Reformed Church do not have sufficient weight to warrant this action at this time.

“8. The introduction of hymns into our churches would have a detrimental effect upon the generations to come.

“9. The singing of the psalms by our churches is one of the marks of our distinctiveness and this should be preserved.

“10. Future synods may be weak and undiscerning in. the very difficult task of determining which hymns are worthy of use in our services.”

We may admit that none of these arguments areconclusive in themselves. Yet they are things that merit consideration if for no other reason than that they express the sentiments that prevail in the churches. The churches have expressed themselves. They have said in effect concerning the proposed innovation that although we will not argue that the course suggested is wrong in principle, we nevertheless see various reasons we should not go in that direction. To introduce the hymns is not going to make our churches more distinctive; is not going to set us upon a more solid foundation of truth; is not going to enrich us or our posterity spiritually but this course may very well cause us strife and division; impose upon us unnecessary burdens; threaten our distinctive position and deprive us of the heritage we now possess.

Is it worth it? We say it is not! It is like the little boy who had the habit of playing with matches. It would not hurt anything if the boy had the matches as long as he did not ignite them and it might be that he could even do some good with them. Mother would have been wiser to have taken them from him before he burned the house down. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”