GS 2013 art 159

GS 2013 Article 159 – Appeal of Kerwood re: Hymns 30, 45 & 79 of the APV

Committee 4 presented a proposal. With a minor change, this was the result:

1.         Material:

Letter of appeal from the church at Kerwood against the inclusion of Hymns 30, 45 and 79 in Book of Praise (8.5.31)

2.         Observations:

  • 2.1.      Kerwood appeals the decisions of Synod Burlington 2010 in Articles 124, 127 and 163, to approve of the hymns “We Come O Christ to You” (Hymn 79), “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (Hymn 30) and “Jesus Shall Reign” (Hymn 45). Kerwood requests that all three hymns be removed from the final version of the Book of Praise.
  • 2.2.      Regarding Hymn 79 (“We Come O Christ to You”) Kerwood states that this hymn unnecessarily blends the three persons of the Trinity into the one person of Jesus Christ. Kerwood sees this hymn as fitting with a modern evangelical notion of overemphasis on Christ instead of a balanced approach to the unity in the Trinity.
    • 2.2.1.   Kerwood disputes the phrase in stanza 1, “By whom all things consist.” Kerwood maintains that this does not agree with Hebrews 2:10, “For it was fitting that [the Father] for whom and by whom all things exist,” and with how the confessions refer to God the Father as the one by whom all things were made.
    • 2.2.2.   Kerwood argues against the phrase in stanza 2, “Your love has met your law’s demand,” for it erases the distinction between the Father and the Son, who came to do the Father’s will and fulfilled the law.
    • 2.2.3.   The phrase in verse 3 (spoken of Christ), “You are the source of every skill” is described as a downplaying of the work of the Holy Spirit. Further, Kerwood argues that “the one eternal True” in verse 3 conflicts with the teaching that the Holy Spirit is also true and eternal God.
  • 2.3.      Concerning Hymn 30 (“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”), Kerwood detects a confusion about the meaning of Christ’s death and his descent into hell.
    • 2.3.1.   Kerwood says the first two lines of stanza 2 are questionable, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended,” as this may suggest that Christ’s resurrection was not a sure reality when his body was lying in the grave.
    • 2.3.2.   Kerwood highlights the historical context of this hymn, written by Luther. It asserts that the Lutheran belief about Christ’s time in the grave is evident (stanza 1: “Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands;” or stanza 2: “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended”). Kerwood argues that this reflects the Lutheran belief that after his burial the whole person of Christ descended into hell, conquered the devil and destroyed the power of hell and Satan.
  • 2.4.      With respect to Hymn 45 (“Jesus Shall Reign”), Kerwood questions the logic of modernizing the Psalms in the Book of Praise, while adding hymns like this one, which uses challenging phrases.
    • 2.4.1.   Kerwood seeks clarification on what is meant by “prisoners leap to lose their chains.” While the simple reading would imply that prisoners leap in order to lose their chains, it couldmean that prisoners leap because they have lost their chains. The English is unclear, which could also be said of the phrase describing the moons “waxing and waning.”
    • 2.4.2.   Kerwood complains that this hymn speaks in generalizations and highlights that stanza 2 could be confused for supporting the notion of universal salvation, or at least for anyone who suffers, that “The prisoners… the weary… and all who suffer want” will “lose their chains” and “find eternal rest… [and] are blest.”
    • 2.4.3.   Kerwood questions the origin of the phrase in stanza 3: “Angels descend with songs again,” arguing that it seems scripturally imprecise.

3.         Considerations:

  • 3.1.      Regarding Hymn 79 and the phrase, “By whom all things consist,” it may be pointed out that Scripture speaks of Jesus as the agent of God’s creation (John 1:2) and the one in whom “all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17). The phrase “Your love has met your law’s demand” emphasizes how the Triune God made provisions to satisfy his own justice, through the active and passive obedience of the Son. When this hymn speaks of Jesus as being “the source of every skill,” this is not a downplaying of the work of the Holy Spirit, but a recognition that Christ equips his people through his Spirit (John 14:16). In all of these points Kerwood can be pointed to the SCBP Report to Synod Burlington 2010 (p. 34), where it stated, “The Committee considers that this hymn very well, correctly and beautifully ascribes attributes of the LORD God to the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 8:58 and the other I AM sayings of Christ; the Prologue of the Gospel according to John; Acts 3:15; Col. 1:16 and 2:9; Rev. 1:8; 21:5-7; 22:13). Finally, it is not clear how the phrase “the one eternal True” conflicts with the teaching that the Holy Spirit is also true and eternal God; Kerwood also does not interact with Synod Burlington 2010’s explanation of this line (Article 124).
  • 3.2.      With respect to Hymn 30, where Kerwood alleges the presence of the Lutheran theology of Christ’s descent, there is no interaction with what the SCBP wrote in its report to Synod Burlington 2010 on this point. There it cautioned against reading the hymn through the lens of Lutheran theology and pointed out that the hymn instead “sings about the intense life and death struggle on the cross and about how Christ won the victory through His death and resurrection” (SCBP Report to Synod 2010, pp. 35-36).
  • 3.3.      Concerning Hymn 45, the notion of “prisoners leaping to lose their chains” should be understood in the wider context of the hymn, which speaks of the exalted Christ’s redeeming and governing work. We know that it is He who has set the captives and prisoners free (Luke 4:18). It is this context which also prohibits reading stanza 2 in a universalistic way. As for the notion of angels descending (and ascending) in worship of the Christ, John 1:51 is a suggestive text.

4.         Recommendation:

That Synod decide to deny the appeal of the church of Kerwood and maintain Hymns 30, 45 and 79 in the final edition of the Book of Praise.