GS 2013 art 178

GS 2013 Article 178 – Appeal of Spring Creek re: Capitalization of Pronouns

Committee 2 presented its proposal with this result: 

1.         Material:

Letter of appeal from the church at Spring Creek (8.5.18)

2.         Observations:

  • 2.1.      Spring Creek is appealing the decision of Synod Burlington 2010 Article 109, asking that said decision be rescinded and to instruct the SCBP to once again capitalize all pronouns referring to God throughout the entire Book of Praise.
  • 2.2.      Spring Creek introduces a number of pertinent elements in its appeal:
    • 2.2.1.   The issue of the capitalization of pronouns referring to God in the Book of Praise was first raised by the church at Chatham to General Synod Chatham 2004. Chatham wanted to ensure that the Book of Praise would maintain its capitalization of referent pronouns, because the Book of Praise was employing the NIV which, (like the RSV and ESV) does not employ this practice. The request was passed onto the SCBP.
    • 2.2.2.   It is important to note that the issue stems from changes being undertaken to the prose section of the Book of Praise, not the song section. Since the finalized Book of Praise came into being in 1984, the song section has always had the pronouns in question capitalized – and there have been no objections.
    • 2.2.3.   The SCBP obtained the permission of the publishers of the NIV to capitalize the said pronouns whenever the NIV was quoted within the Book of Praise.
    • 2.2.4.   Two churches objected to such capitalization to Synod Smithers 2007 and Synod then decided that consistency with past practice was best: capitalized pronoun referents to God were maintained.
    • 2.2.5.   The church at Surrey appealed the decision of Synod Smithers 2007 to Synod Burlington 2010 and the matter was reviewed once again. Synod decided to overturn previous decisions and “bring all pronouns for God in the entire Book of Praise into conformity with the NIV.”
  • 2.3.      Spring Creek expresses its view that “We are convinced that Synod 2007 made the wisest decision and that Synod [Burlington] 2010 had no compelling reason to overturn it.”
  • 2.4.      Spring Creek notes that “The Book of Praise (1984) employs capitalization of pronouns referring to God, a practice which had not been appealed until the APV was approved by Synod Burlington 2010.”
  • 2.5.      Among the Bible translations recommended by various general synods over the years, the RSV, ESV and NIV do not capitalize the pronouns in question whereas the NKJV and NASB do.
  • 2.6.      Spring Creek notes that prior to Synod Burlington 2010, successive synods since the 1984 Book of Praise was published either did not deal with this matter, or decided to maintain capital referents.
  • 2.7.      Synod Smithers 2007 supported the “past practice” position and thus favoured employing the capitalized referents to God, despite the following summarized points opposing this practice:
    • 2.7.1.   This is not done in the NIV;
    • 2.7.2.   This does not follow current rules of English usage;
    • 2.7.3.   This is not supported by the original languages of Scripture;
    • 2.7.4.   Maintaining such capitalization has no biblical grounds.
  • 2.8.      Synod Burlington 2010 considered the following points which led it to instruct the SCBP to refrain from capitalizing referent pronouns for God (Acts, Article 109):
    • [3.1.]    “…To base capitalization on what is done in the Forms in the Book of Praise instead of sound principles of biblical interpretation constitutes a very weak ground or consideration.
    • [3.3.]    “…‘the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic text of the Bible have no such practice, current rules of English usage avoid this, the NIV does not use this and there are no known biblical arguments for this convention.’”
    • [3.4.]    “…‘[U]sing an uppercase initial letter may obscure the immediate Old Testament referent.’ As well, ‘in some texts of the Old Testament it is not clear who is in view when pronouns or metaphors are used that have God as their referent.” This shows that capitalization is not just a matter of translation but can so easily become a matter of interpretation and a wrong interpretation at that.’”
  • 2.9.      Spring Creek takes issue with the first two arguments (3.1 and 3.3, above) by stating the following:
    • “It is true that the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages do not know of any usage to distinguish a referent by the capitalization of pronouns – but the English language does. If English allows for it (which it does) and God’s name is worthy of distinction from all others (which it surely is), then it is certainly quite appropriate for the church to make use of this convention… The Bible constantly exhorts Christians to honour God’s Name. When given the choice, Christians do well to use whatever convention of language available to duly honour God’s Name.”
  • 2.10.    Spring Creek takes issue with the third argument (3.4, above) by stating that “The argument that capitalizing pronouns for God at times obscures the Old Testament referent or that at times the original referent may not be clear is no reason not to return to the capitalization of the pronouns for God because the obscurity is not removed by leaving all pronouns in the lower case. In fact, even greater obscurity results when all pronouns are placed in the lower case!”

3.         Considerations:

  • 3.1.      Spring Creek has clearly demonstrated (Observations 2.2 and 2.6) that the matter of capitalization of pronouns referring to God has a long history in our federations of churches. Capitalizing referent pronouns, however, had not been closely scrutinized as a legitimate practice prior to the synods of 2007 and 2010.
  • 3.2.      Spring Creek claims (Observation 2.3) that “Synod Smithers 2007 made the wisest choice… and Synod Burlington 2010 was not justified in overturning it.” This claim is a matter for debate. Synod Smithers 2007 approved the capital referents primarily on grounds of “past practice” (Observation 2.8). Synod Burlington 2010 overturned for the more compelling reasons involving the original languages, usage and biblical norms (Observations 2.8, 2.9).
  • 3.3.      Spring Creek notes that the original languages don’t reflect the call to capitalize referents (Observation 2.10). They also cite the fact that English usage “allows for” the use of capital referents. It could be argued then, that neither the original languages, nor the conventions of current language require the capital referents. It remains, then, a personal preference rather than a matter of fully considering evidence.
  • 3.4.      Spring Creek correctly notes (Observation 2.10) that both capitalizing and not capitalizing referents will lead to obscurity/ambiguity and subsequent interpretation. Spring Creek has not proven its claim that more obscurity results when capital referents are not employed.
  • 3.5.      A key element in Spring Creek’s appeal is that using capitals to refer to God’s pronouns is a legitimate way to give honour to His name. In Spring Creek’s view, “The sole purpose of capitalizing is to give recognition to the unique character of the Divine referent, namely, that he is the one, true God.” Moreover, they state that “we should use every means at our disposal to bring such honour… to God.” The element of praising God was, in fact, dealt with by Synod Burlington 2010, but it was deemed insufficient grounds to offset the other arguments presented. The onus is on Spring Creek to prove (with Scriptural, church orderly or confessional evidence) that Synod Burlington 2010 erred in its decision to remove the capital referents to God. Thus Spring Creek’s evidence only amounts to preference.

4.         Recommendation:

That Synod decide to deny the appeal of the Spring Creek church.