The medievals had a slogan, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It means, “If we can change liturgy, we can change what folk believe.” This axiom means that whoever controls the liturgy controls the future of the church, humanly speaking.
One of the matters coming out of this year’s CRC Synod that is likely to be overlooked in the controversy about the completion of the program to admit females to ministerial and presbyterial office, is the plan to create a new hymnal by 2013. Clearly this move is designed to facilitate merger with the more liberal RCA.
That this is a goal is ironic since the CRC was formed out of reaction to the RCA in the 19th century. In the mid-19th century the RCA was too American and too broadly evangelical for CRC. Now, in the early 21st century, the RCA is just right. Has the RCA changed? Well, it hasn’t become any more confessional since the mid-19th century. Remember the RCA is the home of Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale. Any denomination that couldn’t find the will and resources to discipline two prominent Pelagians is arguably not Reformed. So why does the progressive leadership of the CRC find the RCA so attractive now?
Given the history of Dutch Reformed theology, piety, and practice the particulars of the plan for a new hymnal are striking. First, they’re going to omit the Heidelberg Catechism because the two denominations have different interpretations. You’re kidding, right? There have been established English translations for hundreds of years and the two groups cannot find one on which to agree? So, on that basis, they’re going to omit it from what will become practically the central liturgical and instructional text. They will, however, reportedly have common liturgical texts! So, between now and then they can work out common liturgical texts but not a common translation of the catechism. This is bizarre. On the other hand, do we use the catechism in the way it was intended? Do we require our young children to learn the catechism before profession of faith or are we only different in degrees from those of whom we’re so conservative? Would we really miss it if someone took the Heidelberg Catechism out of the Psalter-Hymnal?
Just as concerning for those who still want to be Reformed is the plan to re-organize the Psalter Hymnal so that the Psalms are scattered throughout the book under topical headings. In other words, the CRC plans, by 2013, to give up the Psalter-Hymnal in favor of a hymnal. If you doubt me, try finding a Psalm in the Trinity Hymnal. Having traded Psalms for paraphrases and having buried the paraphrases of the psalms with hymns, it seems that folk are about to dispense with the formality of having a psalter altogether.
I understand that conservatives want to remain the CRC. The question is in what are you remaining? It’s still nominally the CRC but is it the CRC in substance? If your great-grandparents came to life and came to church, would they recognize the substance of what is being said and done?
What exactly will have to happen to the CRC to make you decide that enough is enough? How many times will you re-draw the line in the sand?
For URCNA types, tell me why we’re not just a little more conservative than the CRC? Shocked, why? We’re mostly using a Psalter-Hymnal that is only a few decades behind where the CRC wants to go. Where will we be in 2013? On what principle are we different from the trajectory of the CRC? We can reprint the 1959 Psalter-Hymnal until the cows come home but we’re just reprinting an older collection of (mostly) psalm paraphrases and hymns.
We jumped a chasm in the late 1920’s and early 1930s when we began singing uninspired hymns and using musical instruments in worship. In for a penny, in for a pound. Are we willing to reconsider our worship as a matter if principle or will be content to try to react conservatively to the progressive developments in the CRC and RCA?