Category Archives: Reformed Worship

The Book of Praise’s Uncertain Future

For several decades the Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter has been the exclusive song book of both the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  It’s something we’ve agreed upon in our Church Order.  Here in Australia, our last synod decided to move towards an Australian version of the Book of Praise.  It will have the extra 19 hymns in the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise, the FRCA Church Order, Australian spellings (like ‘baptise’), and a few other bits and pieces unique to the FRCA.  Overall, however, it will still be the familiar songbook.

In Canada, the Book of Praise is facing an uncertain future.  There were two recent proposals at regional synods which illustrate some changes afoot in the CanRC.  While only one of the proposals passed and will move on to the General Synod in Edmonton next year, the existence of these proposals demonstrates that there are questions in the CanRC about whether the hegemony of the Book of Praise is a sure thing going into the future.

Classis Central Ontario of September 6-7, 2018 adopted a proposal from the Fellowship CanRC in Burlington regarding a change to Church Order article 55.  The proposed reading was as follows:

The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in public worship. The metrical Psalms and hymns adopted by General Synod, as well as songs approved by consistory that faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity, shall be sung in public worship.

This proposal was then forwarded to Regional Synod East of November 14, 2018.  The hope was that RSE would adopt it and then send it on to General Synod 2019.  However, RSE didn’t adopt the proposal.

On the other side of the continent, Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018 adopted a proposal from the Aldergrove church dealing with the Trinity Psalter Hymnal recently published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches.  This proposal stated that the psalms and hymns of the TPH also be approved for worship in the CanRC.  The proposal went to the Regional Synod West of November 5, 2018.  This was RSW’s decision, as reported in the press release:

RSW decided to forward the various submissions about the Trinity Psalter Hymnal to General Synod
with the recommendation that, in addition to the adopted Book of Praise, General Synod Edmonton 2019
approve the Psalms and Hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (TPH) for use in public worship as per Church Order Article 55. Along with this recommendation it added the following remarks:
6.1 Those letters which were submitted as appeals were received as letters of the churches interacting
with the overtures.
6.2 The overtures demonstrate a commonality in speaking about the Trinity Psalter-Hymnal (TPH) and
its merits in addition to the Book of Praise (BoP).
6.3 The purpose is not to replace the BoP but to enhance the unity in worship between us as sister
churches in North America by allowing the churches to also sing from the TPH.
6.4 The language of the overtures and the other materials received by RSW demonstrates that this is a
topic that lives in our churches. In addition, the material shows that some of the arguments either
supporting or opposing these overtures are subjective.
6.5 There is great value in maintaining the principle of a federative approach to corporate worship.
While not wanting to make exceptions the rule, RSW acknowledges the uniqueness of certain
congregations in their circumstances (e.g. mission churches).
6.6 The SCBP’s (Standing Committee for the Publication of the Book of Praise) evaluation process of
suggestions for new hymns from the churches is perceived as not sufficiently responsive to what the
churches through decisions of general synods have requested. It is debatable whether the SCBP is the
appropriate forum to evaluate the TPH.
6.7 In order to have the churches appreciate the quality of the TPH, the churches should have ample
opportunity to interact meaningfully with its contents, as has happened in the past with the introduction of the Augment.

So this matter will be going to the General Synod in Edmonton next year.  They will have to decide whether the Book of Praise will continue to be the exclusive song book of the CanRC.

What are my thoughts on this?  I haven’t actually seen the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, so I’m in no position to judge its contents or quality.  I do, however, place a lot of stock in trusting my brothers and sisters in the OPC and URCNA.  They’re not theological slouches.  So, that’s one thing.

Another thing is whether the exclusive use of the Book of Praise is necessary or helpful.  Is it required of us by God or is what’s agreed upon in our Church Orders a matter of convention that may or may not be helpful?  Obviously the latter.  It’s not the “law of the Medes and Persians which can never be changed.”  Circumstances can change, church sub-cultures can change (in matters indifferent), and therefore so can what we might agree on as our collection of songs for public worship.

Moreover, there’s also the question of adding more hymns.  I once held to exclusive psalmody.  When I became convinced that biblically based and biblically sound hymns fit within biblically regulated worship, then I also became convinced we should sing the best hymns.  If we’re going to sing hymns at all, then we should have the best collection of hymns in our songbook.  The 1984 Book of Praise had 65 (actually 66) hymns, but there were gaps in the selections, and other issues.  The 2014 Book of Praise has 85 hymns and there is improvement in expanding some of the sections (notably, with the resurrection of Christ).  But there is still the question of whether this is the best we can do in terms of our hymnody.  After all, shouldn’t we offer to God our best in worship?  Therefore, in principle, I’m open to the idea of adding more, carefully vetted, hymns to what we sing in public worship.

Finally, a word about the Genevan psalm melodies.  I love them, at least most of them.  I grew up with them and still sing them daily.  But I’m not stuck on them as the be-all-and-end-all of psalm singing.  Some of them are challenging to sing, especially for new comers to our churches.  Still, most people get used to them and even start to enjoy them.  The Genevan psalm melodies are used in Reformed churches around the world, in many different cultures (which is rather amazing!)  However, we need to keep all this in perspective.  The psalms themselves are far more important and precious than the tunes to which they’re sung.  If there’s a way for certain psalms to be sung and appropriated by God’s people more effectively by using a different tune than the Genevan, then we ought to be open to that.

I’m sure the Book of Praise will continue to be used in the CanRC for the foreseeable future.  Yet the inescapable reality is that the days of its sole primacy are numbered.  If the change doesn’t happen at General Synod 2019, it will surely happen further down the track.


New Dutch Resource

I’ve just added a new article in Dutch:

Waarom nog steeds de Tien Geboden voorlezen?

This translation was originally published here at Een in waarheid.

The English original can be found here:  Why Still Read the Ten Commandments?

 


New Liturgical Help

One of the challenges faced by pastors is the organization of public prayer.  I have long used a document for myself, Regular Items for Thanksgiving and Intercessory Prayer.  This document has all the regular things which should be remembered in public prayer on the Lord’s Day — at least the ones I could think of (with the help of my elders).  They are organized into eight groups.  The idea is to pray through one group each Lord’s Day.  I typically do this in the second prayer in the PM service.  Using a system like this helps prevent lengthy “around the world” prayers, as well as the neglect of certain matters.  I’m sharing it as a MS Word file so other pastors can modify it for their own purposes.


CRCA Synod 2018

The Christian Reformed Churches of Australia held their synod from May 6 to 11 in Melbourne.  For those unaware, the CRCA is not the antipodean equivalent of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA), although they do have ecumenical relations.  The CRCA was formed through post-war Dutch immigration and today consists of over 50 congregations throughout Australia.  Besides the CRCNA, and unlike them, the CRCA also has ecumenical relations with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (“ecumenical fellowship”) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Last year, the CRCA also joined the International Conference of Reformed Churches.

A few items of interest from this recent synod:

In the area of ecumenical relations, the CRCA synod decided to suspend their relationships with two sister churches in South Africa.  The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of South Africa  have both made synodical decisions compromising the biblical view of homosexuality.  If there is no repentance in these South African churches by 2021, the next CRCA synod will terminate these relationships.

Until recently the CRCA Church Order stated in article 56:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship twice each Sunday unless valid reasons make this impractical.”  A proposal to change this was discussed and approved.  The CRCA Church Order now reads:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship at least once a Sunday.”  This effectively makes two worship services optional in the CRCA.

Finally, there was a noteworthy discussion regarding children at the Lord’s Supper.  According to the official Short Minutes a proposal was tabled to allow children access to the Lord’s table “on the basis of their covenantal membership and exercising an age and ability appropriate understanding of God’s grace and how it applies to them.”   After extensive discussion, a committee was appointed “to review previous synodical, theological, and exegetical studies, to consult with churches in ecclesiastical fellowship, consider whether the practice is a confessional matter, and to clarify other theological issues and practical implications.”  This committee has been mandated to report to the next synod in 2021.

Of course, other matters were discussed as well, and you can read a longer summary of them all here.


Pastoral Q & A: Why Still Read the Ten Commandments?

In Reformed churches it’s normal to hear the Ten Commandments read during the morning worship service.  This is a historic practice going back to the Reformation.  Yet, sadly, there are churches claiming to be Reformed that have dropped this practice.  There are individuals in Reformed churches which still do it who question why it continues to be done in their churches.  They look at it as unnecessary, repetitive, or creating an unhealthy sense of guilt and maybe even shame.  Some also object to it because, they say, it adds a legalistic flavour to our worship.  So why still read the Ten Commandments?

Let’s start from the way the Scriptures teach Christians to regard the law of God.  Think of Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day.”  That is not just a statement of how that one Psalmist felt — rather, it’s a vision for how all believers should regard God’s law.  It’s a vision that was perfectly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, and to be fulfilled in all the disciples united to him in true faith.  Similar sentiments are expressed elsewhere in Psalm 119:  “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.  Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.  Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”  Psalm 119 teaches believers to have a positive attitude towards God’s law — to love it and, as part of God’s Word, to treat it with respect.  So, from that perspective, what problem could a Christian have with hearing God’s Law read to him or her on a weekly basis?  If we were meditating on it regularly throughout the week because we love it so much, why would we object to hearing it in the holy presence of our God on Sunday morning?

We could approach this also from the angle of the function of the law in our worship.  While it does remind us of the way of thankful living, its primary purpose is to remind us of our need for God’s grace at the beginning of our worship.  Its primary purpose is to create a sense of humility in sinful people appearing before a holy God.  It prepares us to confess our sins to our Father and seek forgiveness from him through Jesus Christ.  In this regard, we ought to look at the law as our friend.  It is there in our worship to help in the renewal of our relationship with our Father through his Son.  It helps us to identify our sins and weaknesses, so that we would always be humble before our God.  Here you can think of what the Holy Spirit says in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”  That passage originally refers to human friends, but the principle still applies here.  The best of friends will sometimes hurt you for your good.  Similarly, the law is our friend as it exposes our sin and misery and drives us to Christ.  How can we be negative towards something God gives us for our good?

I want to leave you with two important points to conclude.

First, we ought always to remember that our public worship service is a meeting with the thrice-holy God.  This is the God who left Isaiah awe-struck with fear in Isaiah 6.  Sometimes I fear that many Reformed people don’t see that God is present in our worship in a way that he isn’t present elsewhere.  If we could perceive the full reality of what that means, would we be glib and casual about coming into God’s presence?  Would we not welcome a reminder from him to be appropriately humble?

Second, we ought always to remember how prone we are to minimize, rationalize, deny, and forget our sinfulness.  Every Christian is a sinner who still, to varying degrees, has the remnants of a sinful nature.  We would rather be told “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).  We would rather have prophets prophesying smooth things (Isa.30:10).  We would rather not have the bad news which makes the good news so great, and in so doing, we begin to lose sight of the grandeur of the gospel and the Saviour it proclaims.  The law of God is like a mirror giving us our weekly reality check as we begin our worship.  It gives that ever-needful reminder that, even as Christians, we are in constant need of God’s mercy in the Redeemer.  How could that not be a good and helpful thing?