GS 2007 art 149

GS 2007 Article 149 – SCBP – Expanded Hymn Section

The advisory committee presented its proposal:

1.      Material

  • 1.1     SCBP Report 11
  • 1.2-14  Letters from the following thirteen churches:
    • Carman West, Flamborough, Burlington Ebenezer, Fergus Maranatha, Carman East, Cloverdale, Yarrow, Carman West, Glanbrook, Willoughby Heights, Langley, Orangeville, Burlington Fellowship

2.      Observations

  • 2.1     The committee report (section 11.0) serves as observations.
  • 2.2     Synod Chatham mandated the committee to deal with the submissions, re Hymn section as outlined in Observation 6.1.1 of Art. 115, and to present a proposal to the next general synod.
  • These are:
    • •    Maintain the current structure of our hymn section.
    • •    Identify and correct deficiencies and/or weaknesses in the existing hymn section and come with a proposal for change, addition or improvement.
    • •    Select suitable hymns using the Guidelines and Principles agreed upon by the committee together with the Psalter-Hymnal committee of the URCNA.
    • •    Set the limit at 100 hymns since psalms have a predominant place in the liturgy of the Reformed Churches.
    • •    Publish a revised section proposed for testing by the churches.
  • 2.3     Carman West recommends that if a supplement is to be published it should only contain hymns that are fully acceptable to the SCBP and the Psalter Hymnal Committee of the URCNA since discussions are ongoing regarding a common songbook with the URCNA.
  • 2.4     Carman West, Carman East, and Willoughby Heights recommend that the committee be mandated to consider also deleting some of our current hymns that are of lesser quality.
    • 2.4.1    These churches point out that this was part of Synod Chatham’s mandate.
    • 2.4.2    Carman West says that this will avoid having an excessive number of hymns. The church at Carman East appreciates that Synod Chatham set 100 hymns as the maximum, but encourages Synod Smithers to keep the number smaller than that. The usage of the psalms should be promoted by making less hymns available as historically done in the Reformed Churches.
    • 2.4.3    Carman West says that consultation with the Psalter Hymnal Committee of the URCNA could be helpful in deciding which hymns to delete in our Book of Praise. Less popular hymns and those not well known in other churches can be replaced by those more well known to a wider public including the URCNA, RCUS, and the OPC, assuming they meet the criteria adopted by our churches and the URCNA.
  • 2.5     Regarding the making of suitable music available for singing the Votum and the Amen:
    • 2.5.1    Flamborough recommends Synod Smithers to mandate the committee to make suitable music available for singing the Votum and the Amen to be included in future editions of the Book of Praise. Flamborough agrees with the committee that the matter of singing the Votum and/or the Amen is in the freedom of the churches, but that this has nothing to do with the request the committee dealt with: the request was to make the music available for this purpose, not to make this a rule. The committee should have served the churches by providing suitable music and tunes that would help the churches in case they decide to implement these liturgical practices.
    • 2.5.2    Langley recommends that synod clarify whether the committee is correct in stating that the singing of the Votum and Amen is in the freedom of the churches. Langley asks this in order to ensure good harmony in the federation.
    • 2.5.3    Burlington South supports the proposal of the Kerwood Canadian Reformed Church to include music for the Votum and the threefold Amen, so that this is available for those churches who wish to adopt the practice of singing these.
  • 2.6     Carman West, Burlington Ebenezer, Cloverdale, Orangeville, and Willoughby Heights give suggestions, and/or express reservations/objections regarding a number of proposed hymns.
    • 2.6.1    Carman West hopes that further critical attention will be given to the proposed hymns before they are published.
    • 2.6.2    Some churches brought specific concerns about faithfulness of some of the lyrics to Scripture and confession. The following are the more significant ones:
      •  re Hymn 1 (We come O Christ to You.).
        •     General: The hymn separates/confuses the works of the Trinity. We do not come to Christ directly and praise him at the expense of the triune God. One should never bypass the Father and exalt the Son to a higher level. This hymn ascribes all works of the triune God to Christ.
        •     stanza 3: God is sung to as being the sure answer to our every quest. However, not every quest is a legitimate one and God certainly does not answer sinful quests.
        •     stanza 5: How are old or weak people supposed to feel about singing, “to you our youth and strength adoringly we bring.”
      •  re Hymn 4 (Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands). Stanza 1 indicates “but now at God’s right hand he stands.” Although there is a scriptural reference to Christ standing (Acts 7:55) that is unusual. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess that he sits at the right hand of God. We therefore wonder at the appropriateness of highlighting in a hymn Christ as standing at God’s right hand.
      •  re Hymn 7 (Since our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus). In the 4th stanza we seem to elevate our position as friend of Christ.
      •  re Hymn 13 (O God, Great Father Lord and King). The phrase, “we dare your love to prove.” Is it proper to “challenge” God in this way?
      •  re Hymn 23 (O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart’s Desire). This hymn lacks clarity with respect to the works of the triune God.
  • 2.7     Burlington Ebenezer, Fergus Maranatha, Glanbrook, and Willoughby Heights find it unnecessary to include two hymns about marriage since it is very unlikely that they will be used as part of the regular worship services.
  • 2.8     Yarrow considers that the churches should test the proposed new hymn section before it is provisionally adopted as per Art. 55 CO. Hence Yarrow recommends to not adopt the recommendation of the committee to “provisionally adopt the Hymns presented… for testing by the churches,” and further states that singing the proposed hymns should be done before the worship services, on music evenings or at various other occasions , but not during the worship services.
  • 2.9     Willoughby Heights expresses concern about both the direction that the churches are taking in the addition of still more hymns and also in the choice of the hymns to be included in the expanded hymn section. This church
    • 2.9.1    opines that in view of what has happened in history and in other federations, the Canadian Reformed Churches will also face deformation with the increasing number of hymns, particularly those not in the “style of the psalms.” The social gospel with its humanistic approach is greatly promoted by purging psalms from the liturgy.
    • 2.9.2    gives some general remarks regarding the 28 proposed hymns:
      •  Our forefathers made a concerted effort to limit the hymn section to so-called “scripture songs” to minimize the emergence of unscriptural hymns.
      •  Duplication or replication undermines memorization of the tune and the words and thus the message that the words are meant to convey.
      •  Mention of God’s wrath and anger toward his covenant people is absent.
      •  Congregational singing is an act of professing faith, and the Genevan tunes, with their easily recognized characteristics, are still the most suitable for reformed congregational singing.
      •  they have no definable style or standard, so almost anything goes – something that also applies to our present hymn section.
    • 2.9.3    remarks that we should focus our efforts on finding and creating hymns that are based on scripture passages and are in the style of the Genevan Psalms. If we move away from that aim we should be fully alert to the inherent danger of adopting unscriptural songs and singing heresy in harmony.
    • 2.9.4    remarks that in the selection of our hymns in the style of the psalms, we should consciously err on the side of caution since the slope is slippery and the consequences irreversible.
    • 2.9.5    remarks that we do not need more hymns, but should make every effort to “identify and correct deficiencies and/or weaknesses in the existing hymn section.”
    • 2.9.6    opines that we have a rich and powerful heritage in the Genevan tunes, and that we ought to adopt for our worship singing the principles that underline these tunes.
  • 2.10   Willoughby Heights on the basis of the above as well as specific points about the proposed hymns requests synod to:
    • 2.10.1  endorse the mandate that the SCBP received from Synod Chatham to “identify and correct deficiencies and/or weaknesses in the existing hymn section.” (1.1.10 / 6.1.1, p.2)
    • 2.10.2  not adopt the proposed hymns for testing by the churches and not proceed with further initiatives toward an expanded hymn section.
  • 2.11   Langley recommends that synod mandate the committee to include an introduction or appendix with the proposed supplement which will clarify the manner in which the hymns are to be accompanied, reasons for the inclusion of the harmonies, some suggestions/guidelines for the use of the harmonies, and background on the selected harmonizations for each hymn. Grounds: currently there is no explanation as to why the particular harmonies were chosen. Furthermore, the inclusion of harmonies is new to the Canadian Reformed churches and the churches will use these harmonies more profitably with some explanation provided for their proper use.
  • 2.12   Langley recommends that synod mandate the committee to explain to the churches the reasons why each of these 28 particular hymns were chosen. Grounds: while we have been given some general criteria, the committee has given no information to the churches about the way in which each of these hymns was individually evaluated and determined to be suitable. The churches would benefit from knowing this.
  • 2.13   Burlington South endorses the committee’s recommendation for the test period of the hymns.

3.      Considerations

  • 3.1     re 2.3 – it should be noted that the mandate already specifies that the hymns selected must meet the guidelines and principles adopted by the CanRC and URCNA committees.
  • 3.2     re 2.4 – it should be noted that the committee evidently read the mandate differently than the churches. The committee understood that it was required only to come with a proposal for change, addition, or improvements to the ten categories in the hymn section currently in our Book of Praise (pp. 312-3). The churches understood that the committee was required to review the hymns already adopted and in use. The committee understood the mandate correctly, but the recommendation of the churches merits consideration.
  • 3.3     re 2.5 – the committee is correct in stating that “these are matters left to the freedom of the churches.” Such votums and amens are in a different category than our psalms and hymns, and therefore ought not be included in the Book of Praise.
  • 3.4     Most churches would have assumed that the time for giving input would come after Synod Smithers.
  • 3.5     re 2.6 – this should be passed on to the committee to consider along with other input that the churches will give before next synod.
  • 3.6     re specific concerns about faithfulness of some of the lyrics to Scripture and confession:
    • 3.6.1    re Obs. – in Hymn 32 we sing/pray specifically to Christ, and in Hymn 37 we sing/pray specifically to the Holy Spirit.
    • 3.6.2    re Obs. – context makes clear that a godly quest is assumed – and God does answer the prayers of the godly.
    • 3.6.3    re Obs. – particularly in the worship service this hymn will be sung corporately. We should also understand the spiritual meaning of these terms (cf. Psalm 92:6 in the Book of Praise).
    • 3.6.4    re Obs. – the concern itself gives a scriptural reference to Christ standing.
    • 3.6.5    re Obs. – cf. John 15:15.
    • 3.6.6    re Obs. – though the phrase can be taken wrongly, the verb “dare” has several connotations, and the poetic character of the language must be kept in mind. The phrase can just as well be taken to mean “We have courage (first meaning of “dare”) to ask you to prove your steadfast love. This fits with the preceding sentence, “we come in faith and hope and love.” Anyone who comes this way does not come with “defiant” or “challenging” daring. cf. Hymn 33:6; Heb 4:14-16.
    • 3.6.7    re Obs. – while normally the title “Creator” is assigned particularly to the Father, yet without Christ nothing was made that was made (cf. Jn 1:1-3; Col 1:16).
    • 3.6.8    The adoption of the 28 Hymns is provisional, and the committee will be mandated to interact with the input from the churches for a final decision by Synod in 2010.
  • 3.7     re 2.7 – it should be noted that a marriage can be performed in a worship service (CO 63), that the Form for Marriage is found in the Book of Praise, and that the final selection of hymns will be made at the next synod.
  • 3.8     re 2.8 – the last time hymns in our federation of churches were tested, they were sung in the worship services. Yarrow gives no reason for not following this practice again, and in this regard should also take note of Consideration 3.1.
  • 3.9     re 2.9 – many important cautions and principles are given, but
    • 3.9.1    if deformation comes with hymn singing, then we should have no hymn singing at all. Willoughby Heights itself does not approve of exclusive psalmody.
    • 3.9.2    the hymns chosen have been selected according to the criteria adopted – and the church at Willoughby Heights has not challenged this criteria.
    • 3.9.3    to say that the Genevan style is “crucial to and essential for the preservation and promotion of the heritage of Reformed congregational singing” improperly absolutizes the “Genevan style.”
  • 3.10   re 2.11 – what Langley requests here does not belong to the mandate of the Book of Praise Committee: the committee is not mandated to suggest or specify in detail how the churches ought to sing. Such inquiries can be directed to the committee itself.
  • 3.11   re 2.12 – it should be noted that the committee has agreed upon a set of guidelines, has decided which sections of the hymnary need additional hymns, and would have chosen accordingly after evaluating over 500 submissions.

4.      Recommendation

Synod decide:

  • 4.1     To pass on the above letters of the churches to the committee for evaluation.
  • 4.2     To provisionally approve the 28 hymns for a three year period of testing in the churches.
  • 4.3     To encourage the churches to send responses directly to the committee before March 1, 2009.
    • Individual church members are asked to send their submissions through their consistories.
  • 4.4     To mandate the committee:
    • 4.4.1    To also review the suitability of individual hymns that we already have in our Book of Praise, for possible change, deletion, or improvement.
    • 4.4.2    To evaluate the input from the churches and come with a final proposal concerning the hymn section to Synod 2010.