Tag Archives: Hymns

Prioritizing the Psalms — How?

Over the last while, a couple of classes (plural of ‘classis’) in the Canadian Reformed Churches have adopted overtures seeking to make a change to the CanRC Church Order.  They want to add a new line to article 55: “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches.”  That wording is exactly the same as what the United Reformed Churches have in article 39 of their Church Order.

In principle I agree completely with this proposed change.  In Aiming to Please, I have an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of Psalm-singing.  In the final chapter, I mention “Prioritized Psalm-Singing” as one of the distinctives of Reformed worship. 

However, there’s one question I didn’t answer in that regard.  It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately in relation to the proposed changes to the CanRC Church Order:  what does it look like to have the Psalms in “the principal place in the singing of the churches”? 

One could take a simplistic approach to this question.  If, in a given worship service, there are more hymns than psalms in the order of worship, then the Psalms are not being prioritized.  Take this example of a recent order of worship:

  • Hymn 79
  • Psalm 75:1-3 (after the law)
  • Psalm 47
  • Hymn 69
  • Hymn 81

So, there are three hymns, but only two psalms.  According to this reasoning, the Psalms are not being prioritized.  It’s simple math:  three is greater than two.  But what about this order of worship?

  • Psalm 100:1,2
  • Psalm 51:1 (after the law)
  • Psalm 85:3
  • Hymn 67
  • Psalm 146:1,2

That would seem to be better.  After all, now we have four psalms and one hymn.  Four is much greater than one.  But is it really that simple?

Two factors are being neglected with that kind of an approach.  One is that it shouldn’t just be about the number of individual psalms that appear in the order of worship.  We also have to account for how much of the psalm is being sung.  In the second order of worship above, we don’t sing any psalm in its entirety.  Instead, the pastor has just selected a few stanzas, even when with Psalm 100 it’s no burden to sing the entire piece.  This is a common practice in our churches.  So you could have a scenario where you have four psalms and one hymn in the order of worship, but you actually end up doing more hymn-singing than psalm-singing because only small portions of the psalms are being used.         

The other factor being neglected is the relation of the order of worship to the sermon.  A well-crafted order of worship is going to reflect the theme of the passage being exposited.  In some instances, it then makes more liturgical sense to have certain hymns than the psalms.  To use the first order of worship mentioned above, the text of the sermon was John 12:1-8 and the theme was: The Lamb is worthy to receive all our honour.  Where do you find a psalm which explicitly speaks in those terms?  “Lamb/lambs” is mentioned twice in the Psalms, both times in Psalm 114, and both times used poetically for hills skipping.  But there’s no explicit reference in the Psalter to the Messiah as the Lamb of God.  However, in our Book of Praise, we do have Hymn 69, which is based on Revelation 7:13-15 and 5:9-10.  That hymn explicitly says, “Worthy the Lamb, for sinners slain…”  There are some worship services where, in relation to the sermon and the passage it’s based upon, a greater number of hymns can better serve the glory of God.

As another example of that, think about “Days of Commemoration.”  When we celebrate Christ’s incarnation, it is liturgically odd to sing a preponderance of Psalms, particularly since there aren’t any explicitly related to this event.  Christ’s incarnation is one of the greatest events in history – and yet we’re just barely permitted to mention it in song?  On this occasion, it’s more suitable to sing a selection of the appropriate hymns – and perhaps one or two psalms.  To do otherwise gives the impression of slavish and simplistic adherence to a rule for the sake of a rule.

So what does it look like to have prioritized Psalm-singing?  We have to think big-picture.  We ought to think beyond the number of psalms and hymns in a given order of worship.  A better metric would be to look not only at the number of psalms sung over a longer period (like a year), but also how much of these psalms are being sung.  Another important metric might be the number of different psalms being sung – in its worship is the congregation singing the full range of God’s revelation in the Psalter?  Furthermore, when comparing psalms and hymns, we also have to remember that not all hymns are the same.  Some hymns are based on the Psalms – in the CanRC/FRCA Books of Praise, for example, Hymn 54 is based on Psalm 90 and Hymn 46 is based on Psalm 72:8-19.  More than a few hymns are directly based on other specific passages of Scripture – as just one example, Hymn 36 is based on 1 Peter 1:3-5.  Surely more weight has to be given to these hymns based on the Psalms and other passages of Scripture.

I love and treasure the Psalms.  I’m thankful to be in a Reformed church that fosters that positive attitude towards these songs.  Nevertheless, it’s important to be mindful of the tendency for churches to drift away from God’s covenant song-book.  That’s why I’m thankful for these proposals in the CanRC and why I’d support a similar move here in the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.


FRCA Synod 2021 (8)

This will be my last update on the synod. I now have all the relevant information I can share with you.

Let me first relate some decisions that I forgot to mention from Tuesday. Synod 2018 had decided to adopt 19 new hymns from the Canadian Book of Praise. One of the churches appealed the adoption of 8 of these hymns. Some of the objections were judged inadmissible, some invalid, one was unsubstantiated, and one was unproven. In short, the appeal was not upheld and the hymns remain.

With regard to theological training, Synod decided to direct the Deputies to “continue discussion with CRTS to explore the feasibility of a CRTS Australian affiliate and, assuming a positive outcome, to develop a plan and report to the next synod with recommendations towards implementation.” So the dream for an FRCA seminary is still alive! The Deputies have also been directed to develop guidelines for a voluntary vicariate program to be implemented in 2025. What is a vicariate? It’s one year of paid “on-the-job” experience for men who’ve graduated from seminary, but are not yet ordained. It’ll be done under the supervision of an experienced pastor. You could say it’s a step beyond and above a pastoral internship.

Now I come to the big decisions made yesterday (Wednesday) on the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). There are two decisions. One had to do with an appeal submitted by one of the churches against the decision of a classis to adopt the proposal to send observers to the ICRC. Here’s the text of the Synod decision on that:

Article 111 – International Conference of Reformed Churches

  1. Material

Item 8.b.2 – Appeal from FRC Mount Nasura – Appeal against the decision of Classis North, requesting synod not to mandate the Deputies for Inter-church Relations to accept invitations to the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura argues that the classis proposal fails to engage with the reasons why the FRCA withdrew their membership from the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura contends that membership within the ICRC promotes denominationalism and pluriformity by promoting cooperation before becoming sister churches.  FRC Mount Nasura expresses concern that the sending of observers will lead to the FRCA becoming members the ICRC.

Item 8.h.2 – Letter from FRC Launceston interacting with the appeal from FRC Mount Nasura, giving their support to send observers to the ICRC.

Admissibility

All the material is deemed admissible.

Decision

To deny the appeal of FRC Mount Nasura.

Grounds

  1. FRC Mount Nasura does not prove that accepting invitations as observers to the ICRC is against the Word of God and/or the Church Order.
  2. The concerns expressed by FRC Mount Nasura about past decisions in the FRCA regarding the ICRC are relevant and worthy of consideration should an overture for membership in the ICRC be proposed by the churches.

ADOPTED

The delegates from FRC Mount Nasura abstained from voting.

**************

The other decision was on the classis proposal itself. Here’s the synod decision on that:

Article 112 – International Conference of Reformed Churches

Material

Item 10.b.2 – Proposal from Classis North – Classis North proposes that Deputies for Inter-church Relations be mandated to accept invitations to send observers to ICRC conferences.

Item 8.b.2 – Appeal from FRC Mount Nasura – Appeal against the decision of Classis North, requesting synod not to mandate the Deputies for Inter-church Relations to accept invitations to the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura argues that the classis proposal fails to engage with the reasons why the FRCA withdrew their membership from the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura contends that membership within the ICRC promotes denominationalism and pluriformity by promoting cooperation before becoming sister churches.  FRC Mount Nasura expresses concern that the sending of observers will lead to the FRCA becoming members the ICRC.  Synod Albany 2021 has denied this appeal.

Item 8.c.7 – Overture from FRC Darling Downs – Darling Downs requests synod not to send observers to the ICRC, in view of past concerns among the FRCA congregations, shortage of manpower to fulfil the mandate, and lack of unity with all churches at the conference (e.g CRCA, PCEA).

Item 8.h.2 – Overture from FRC Launceston – Launceston interacts with the appeal from Mount Nasura, voicing their support to send observers to the ICRC.

Item 8.i.1 – Overture from FRC Melville – Melville supports re-engaging with the ICRC.  However, they also see merit in reflecting on what has been said by our synods in the past, and where appropriate, to engage with matters that were left unresolved.  They also suggest that input from the churches would be valuable.

Admissibility

All the material is deemed admissible.

Decision

Not to accede to the proposal of Classis North.

Grounds

  1. Prior to re-engaging with the ICRC, there is merit in reflecting on what has been said by our synods in the past and, where appropriate, to address matters that were left unresolved.
  2. Even though the proposal from Classis North is limited to involvement in the ICRC as observers rather than as members, one of the grounds provided by Classis North mentions the possibility of reconsidering membership.  This is the aspect that some of the churches have expressed concerns about.
  3. Further input from the churches would be valuable, prior to making a decision to re-engage with the ICRC.
  4. Synod has mandated Deputies for Inter-church Relations to develop guidelines which may have implications for FRCA engagement with the ICRC.  The consultation process around guidelines will give churches a further opportunity to provide input.

ADOPTED

*******************

As you might expect, I’m disappointed at this decision, but at this point I’ll refrain from commenting further.

The synod concluded last night. The next synod is scheduled for 2024 with FRC Darling Downs as the convening church.  


FRCA Synod 2021 (5)

The officers of Synod Albany 2021: Bert Veenendaal (first clerk), Reuben Bredenhof (vice-chairman), Hendrik Alkema (chairman), Wes Bredenhof (second clerk)

On Friday evening several decisions were made regarding inter-church relations. Synod decided to continue maintain contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Some of the churches had expressed concerns — Synod acknowledged them and mandated our Deputies to investigate. Some of the churches had expressed a desire for further ecumenical contact with the OPC — Synod acknowledged those too and to that end decided to stay the course. A decision was also made to stay the course with De Gereformeerde Kerken and Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland, maintaining contact and “subject to the outcomes of this contact, work towards entering a sister-church relationship.”

On Saturday the delegates were treated to a 4x4ing expedition to West Cape Howe, the most southerly point of mainland Australia. Good fun!

Today there’s been some committee work again and some discussion about advisory committee proposals. The only noteworthy decision so far was on a letter from FRC Darling Downs asking Synod to judge that the last synod “erred in approving additional hymns without interacting with their concerns about the increasing the number of hymns.” Synod decided that Synod 2018 did not err on this. Synod also affirmed “the importance of the singing of Psalms in the worship services.”

We’re currently about to begin our evening session — hopefully there’ll be more to report on tomorrow.


Battle Hymn of the Republic

There are at least three notable things with this “hymn.” The first is that it is a Civil War hymn, celebrating the triumph of the Union.  The second is that it is odd when Canadians sing it, as if we had some kind of dog in that fight.  The third is that it’s strange when Christians (no matter their nationality) sing it, thinking that it is about anything else other than the American Civil War.

I thought about all this again when reading Michael Horton’s the Gospel-Driven Life:

We expect presidential speech to be peppered with references to God and our leaders to give some indication of their personal relationship with Christ.  We want the nativity scene in the city park, even if it means that it has to sit beside other religious symbols.  Sometimes, we even sing about the triumph of the Union in the Civil War by invoking the language of Christ’s last judgment (as in ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’) or the imagery of the new heavens and earth in the book of Revelation for ‘America, The Beautiful.'”  (162)

Sure, the Battle Hymn has a catchy, martial kind of tune (and that explains its popularity more than anything), but pretending that it is a genuine “Christian” hymn is a tad silly odd.