The “Hymn Question”

Dear Rev. Hoeksema,

I have been reading very carefully the discussion inThe Standard Bearer concerning the “Hymn Question” and am greatly disappointed that there should be so much strong opposition to a matter that is absurd and to a problem that really does not even exist because of its very nature. I know 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. I hope, however, that the comments I will make will prove to a few of them that this Hymn Question cannot possibly be a matter of principle if considered logically and objectively.

In the first place concerning our present Psalter: our present Psalter is composed merely of versifications of the Psalms set to music. This began early in the Sixteenth Century by Marot who translated the Psalmsfrom Hebrew to French and these were set to music to entertain the court of King Francis I. These Psalms of Marot and Beza composed the completed Genevan Psalter of 1562. Since that time, these Psalms were translated into various languages, and revisions upon revisions were made of the original Psalm verses, and new ones were composed, so that in our present Psalter, the words of the hymns are quite different from the text(s) they are taken. The Psalms are also hymns. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the definition of a hymn is “an ode or psalm of praise, especially a religious ode or song.” (See also “Hymns” by R. Petersen, Beacon Lights, November, 1961.) Although the Psalter may be complete, those that are opposed to introducing hymns must admit that the Psalms view the life of Christ especially his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and His second coming from an Old Testament standpoint, and therefore, are incomplete. The Psalter is not without error. There are lines and entire verses that have Arminian connotations; (see Psalter No. 255:4, 188:3 and 138:4).

Secondly, concerning hymns: there are some very beautiful hymns that express more clearly the birth, suffering, death, etc. of Christ, the Christian’s sanctified life or the main thought of a sermon, address, or discussion than our Psalter, but these we are not allowed to sing just because they are not versification of the Psalms. How ridiculous! Do those that oppose hymns object to direct quotes of Scripture set to music because they are not found in the Psalms such as many of the parts in Handel’s Messiah or the Lord’s Prayer? If so, why are we allowed to sing the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon? Also, are there not hymns that though they are not exact versifications of Scripture express those truths, i.e., “Perfect Peace” by the late J. Jonker, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “The Love of God,” “He Lives, ” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” “All Glory, Laud., and Honor,” etc. etc. (Remember all the Creeds, the form of I the Lord’s Supper, Baptism and Ordination are not versifications though they express the truths of Scripture.) Is there any Scriptural texts that prove or mention that Psalms may be sung and hymns may not?

Thirdly, concerning the “Hymn Question”: Rev. Vanden Berg challenges the discretion of his colleagues and the future of our churches when he questions the ability of a committee to select proper hymns. Further, it isnonsense to assert that our churches will depart from the pure doctrine it now has, or that hymns will become dominant in our worship services if introduced. (Our Christian [P.R.] Day Schools sing some selective hymns and I fail to see where they have departed from the truth.) We, as churches may lose our distinctiveness by introducing hymns into the church, but if so, it is the distinctiveness that would be desirable to lose!

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that our Synod will someday appoint a committee to revise the presentPsalter, and add to it a number of hymns fitting for worship, especially concentrating on those points wherein the Psalter is lacking because they represent the Old Dispensation. This I am sure will not lead to heresy in our churches because, if for no principle reason, the time and money devoted to this project will make it impossible and unnecessary to make another revision for many years. This new Psalter-Hymnalwould also solve the problem of which hymns may be sung at Young People’s Hymn sings. Considering this problem in itself, it would be worthwhile for Synod to undertake such a project. Moreover, those churches which are yet opposed, need not be compelled to accept a Psalter-Hymnal. However, if the matter is considered logically and objectively, and given a few years, I think a Psalter-Hymnal would be accepted unanimously.

Respectfully submitted,

Karlene Oomkes

Grand Rapids, Mich.