GS 2022 art 105

Article 105 – Overtures RSE 2020 and RSW 2021 re GS 2004 Art. 115 (Hymn Cap)

Committee 1 presented draft 2 of a majority report and draft 2 of a minority report on Overtures RSE 2020 and RSW 2021 re GS 2004 Art. 115 (Hymn Cap). The reports were discussed. The Majority Advisory Committee Report was voted on first (as per Synod Guidelines III.A.5) and adopted.

1.   Material

  • 1.1    Overture: RSE 2020 to Remove the Current Hymn Cap for the Book of Praise (8.4.1).
  • 1.2    Overture: RSW 2021 to Rescind the decision of GS 2004 art. 115 re Hymn Cap (8.4.3).
  • 1.3    Submissions from the following CanRC and ARC: Toronto-Bethel (, Owen Sound (, Carman-West (, Brampton-Grace (, Niagara-South (, Nooksack Valley (, St. Albert (, Willoughby Heights (, Smithville (, Yarrow (, Cloverdale (, Attercliffe (, Coaldale (, Carman-East (, Flamborough-Redemption (, Fergus-Maranatha (, Glanbrook-Trinity (, Barrhead (, Neerlandia (North) (, Edmonton-Immanuel (, Lynden (, Burlington-Ebenezer (, Grand Rapids (, Edmonton-Providence (, Owen Sound (, Ancaster (, Willoughby Heights (, Neerlandia (North) (, Edmonton-Immanuel (, Langley (

2.   Admissibility

  • 2.1    Overture RSE 2020 to Remove the Current Hymn Cap for the Book of Praise was declared admissible.
  • 2.2    Overture RSW 2021 to Rescind the Decision of GS 2004 Art. 115 re Hymn Cap was declared admissible.
  • 2.3    The submissions from the churches were declared admissible.
  • Ground
    • Both overtures are applying the decision of GS 2019 (Art. 64, Cons. 4.4) and CO Art. 33.

3. Decisions

Synod decided:

  • 3.1    To work with both overtures together;
  • 3.2    To deny the recommendation of both overtures to remove the cap of 100 hymns regarding the Book of Praise.

4.   Grounds

  • 4.1    Re 3.1:
    • 4.1.1   Both overtures seek the removal of the cap of 100 hymns regarding the Book of Praise, although providing different considerations.
    • 4.1.2   Most churches interacted with both overtures in one submission to GS 2022.
  • 4.2    Re 3.2:
    • 4.2.1   GS 2004 (Art. 115 Obs. 6.1.1, Cons. 6.2.1, Rec. 6.3) expressed the principle that Psalms have a predominant place in the liturgy of the Reformed churches, and on that basis, set a limit. Any decision to rescind the conclusion of GS 2004 should demonstrate that the basis of that decision is erroneous.     
      •   GS 2004 (Art. 44 Cons. 4.3) affirmed this principle when it states that the Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad (CRCA) is correct that a “proper proportion between the number of hymns in itself reflects the importance – even the priority – of the Psalms”.
      •   GS 2007 (Art. 133 Rec. 5.3) did likewise when it mandated the CRCA to “end the discussion [with the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (GKv)] about the proportion of Psalms and hymns by expressing the concern that the vast multiplication of hymns does nothing to advance the priority of Psalm singing and places at risk this principle”.
    • 4.2.2   Although RSE 2020 acknowledged the unique, privileged, and predominant role of the singing of Psalms in the liturgy of the churches, and that they should be retained as such, it then concluded that limiting the number of hymns in the Book of Praise is not an effective way of achieving this goal. Many of the churches, however, appreciated how the hymn cap flows from the principle of the predominance of Psalms in Reformed liturgy. As one church put it, “Why should the appearance of a thing not testify to and confirm the underlying principle of that very thing? If Psalms [are] predominant, then that should be visibly testified to and confirmed by a greater number of Psalms than hymns in the church’s songbook.”         
    • 4.2.3   Additionally, RSW 2021 argued that “it is clear from the Preface of the Book of Praise that the hymns are not less desirable” (Cons. 2.5). This argument is a round-about way of stating that, when it comes to the selection of songs to sing in the worship services, there is to be no distinction between hymns and Psalms. This is not the Reformed principle held since the Reformation, and stated time and again by our general synods (e.g., GS 2004 Art. 44 Cons. 4.3; GS 2007 Art. 133 Cons. 4.2; GS 2013 Art. 173 Cons. 3.6). RSW 2021 did not treat the Preface from the Book of Praise forthrightly, specifically where it states, “Although in Reformed liturgy the Psalms have a predominant place, our churches have not excluded the use of scriptural hymns”.
    • 4.2.4   Although RSW 2021 argued that a limit of 100 hymns makes it likely that there would be less room for hymns that are traditionally sung during specific seasons of the Christian calendar, such a claim is unsubstantiated. In fact, as one church argued, for hymns to be useful to the churches, they would largely centre around the days of commemoration and would leave out many other hymns of praise, adoration, supplication, petition, etc. since there are Psalms which do the same.
    • 4.2.5   Although RSE 2020 and RSW 2021 suggested that the hymn cap needlessly limits the churches in their choice of other Christian songs, limiting the churches’ selection is exactly the purpose of CO Art. 55, and therefore, does not serve as an argument for additional hymns.
    • 4.2.6   Although RSE 2020 and RSW 2021 argued that a hymn cap does not guarantee the primacy of Psalm singing, numerous churches, both in favour and against removing the hymn cap, have argued for a change to CO Art. 55 that includes a statement re the primacy of Psalm singing as a way to maintain the practice of this principle.
    • 4.2.7   It is true that RSE 2020 and RSW 2021 argued that the specified limit of 100 hymns is arbitrary and has no other function than to force the churches to choose from among the best hymns for inclusion in the Book of Praise rather than allow for the consideration of all best hymns, also as they continue to be written.
      •   This implies, however, that the Book of Praise will never be a completed book, and that it needs to include an unlimited number of hymns.
      •   Despite the considerations of RSW 2021 and RSE 2020, a goal of a church songbook should be that the congregation can know it well, can memorize it, and make it part of its everyday life. The proliferation of hymns works against this. As such, it does a disservice to the churches. This sentiment was expressed by the Committee Church Books, Psalms and Hymns Section (1980) when they wrote, “if we keep changing the rhymings, the rhymed Psalms and the hymns will never become ‘part and parcel’ of the lives of believers and they will never become such an integral part of the knowledge of faith…” Such would also be the case when the churches add and change the Book of Praise regularly.
      •   Many churches rightly expressed concern with the claim of arbitrariness. As one church put it, “this is true as far as it goes, but both overtures then leap to the conclusion that this means there should be no limit on the number of hymns. This does not follow from the question of arbitrariness.”
    • 4.2.8   Although RSW 2021 argued that a limit on the hymns means that the churches will have to struggle with the process of removing good hymns to make room for better hymns, this process has benefits since it continuously forces us to evaluate the strength of new hymns by comparing them to existing ones. Without the limit on hymns, the churches may well resort to a default practice of simply adding new hymns without deciding if they are an improvement on existing hymns. A hymn cap helps the churches to be careful when adding hymns.

For the text of the Minority Advisory Committee Report that was not voted on, as the Majority Advisory Committee Report was adopted, see Appendix 24. (With respect to retaining this document, see GS 2022 Art. 115.)