It was only a matter of time. There is a story on CNN about the the 2019 publication of a LGBTQ hymnal, Songs For The Holy Other: Hymns Affirming the LGBTQIA2S+ Community. This collection is published by the Hymn Society, which is a century old this year.
The story begins with an acknowledgement of the affective power of singing. The first interview is with a Lesbian who chafed at being “tolerated” in the church. She wanted her Lesbian sexuality be affirmed even as she wanted to retain her Christian faith. She sought to synthesize Christianity with feminism as she studied music and “fell in love” with her “now-wife.” She contributed two hymns to the collection.
The title is a play on words. Theologians often speak of God as “wholly other” as a way to characterize his transcendence. The title uses a homonym but applies it to homosexuals in the church. They are the “holy” other. According to CNN, the hymnal was compiled by people from “seven denominations and a wide range of sexualities and gender identities.”
The contributors are explicit about their aim: “It is important for churches to explicitly state who is welcome there. It is important for members of our community to hear their names spoken—and sung—in their houses of worship…”. One authority contacted for the piece identifies as “pansexual.” “Queer people,” she says, “are longing to be heard,” she says “The church was supposed to protect them and love them and teach them about God. It has made a lot of mistakes, and we have a lot to make up for.”
We are in the midst of the third phase of a great sexual revolution in the last century. The first, a century ago, was about the role of women in secular society and in that revolution women gained the freedom to drive and to vote. In the second phase, in the 1970s, women left the house for full-time careers, gained no-fault divorce, and abortion on demand. In the third, the very definition of marriage has been turned on its head and the heterosexual hegemony—grounded in nature since time immemorial—is being overturned in favor of queer, pan-sexual neo-paganism. It turns out that Pandora’s Box is pan-sexual chaos. It is so radical that even some third-wave feminists and advocates of homosexuality and homosexual marriage are complaining about being marginalized.
In the face of this revolution Christians have two choices, to try to co-opt the culture (or be co-opted by it) or to resist it. Of course, the mainline churches (e.g., the United Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church USA et al) will try to incorporate the radical new sexual ethos in a sad attempt to remain relevant, but after giving up the Scriptures as the un-normed norm, what else can the seven sisters do?
For our purposes, the question facing the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches is this: is there a rule of worship or not? It is the unquestioned assumption of this hymnal and its advocates that it is the function of the church and her hymns to affirm and to express the religious experience of the church. As the church changes, so must the hymnal.
The confessional P&R churches, however, do not begin with that assumption. They begin with the assumption that it is not the function of singing in worship for us to say whatever we want to God but to repeat God’s Word after him. The role of a song in worship is not for us to say to God what is on our hearts but for the congregation to say to God what is on his heart.
This is how the classical Reformed churches understood the function of singing. They understood worship to be a dialogue in which God speaks and his people respond but the Reformed all understood that God’s people are to respond with his Word. This is part of what they understood sola Scriptura to mean: God’s Word is sufficient for the Christian faith, the Christian life, and public worship.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, as religious subjectivism swept through the Modern church, first under the influence of Pietism, and then under the influence of the liberal children and grandchildren of the Pietists, God’s Word was gradually marginalized in favor of Watts’ paraphrases of the Psalms and then, finally, hymns. Eventually, in virtually every quarter of the church (and even in most P&R churches) the hymnal completely routed the Psalter.
The new Trinity Psalter-Hymnal is a promising but rearguard action that seems to be largely unknown beyond the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches that produced it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Psalms have become completely unknown in most P&R churches.
Yet it was not so for most of the history of the church. From the early second century until the middle of the 19th century, the Psalms were universally the songbook of the church. The early Christians sang them. The medieval monks memorized and chanted them. The Reformation translated them and set them to meter for use in public worship. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to find a Reformed church on the Christian Sabbath all one had to do was listen for the congregation that was singing the Psalms.
God’s Word is a bulwark, a stout defense against trendiness. Were the P&R churches devoted to learning and singing God’s Word, how much better off would we be and how much less susceptible to the sort of decline that leads to a gay-affirming hymnal? If the rule of worship is that we do (including singing) in worship only what God has commanded, where has he commanded us to sing anything other than his Word? Before you answer, check your sources carefully. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says “each one has a psalm.” Read in context, Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 are most certainly not referring to the 150 Psalms, nineteenth-century hymns, and contemporary praise music (as I heard one preacher argue). They are referring to different kinds of psalms. Indeed, when the use of non-canonical songs began to grow in the fourth century AD it became controversial. Synodical opinions were divided but the psalms remained the principal source of songs for public worship even after Gregory’s chants (seventh century) mounted an onslaught against the Psalter.
Were we to sing only God’s Word (the Psalms and other portions) in response to God’s Word, we might have other worries but we will not find ourselves singing songs affirming Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Two-Spirit identities. The others are flatly contrary to God’s Word but the last, “two-spirit” is flat paganism.
Instead, we will find ourselves singing about God’s good creation, his marvelous and gracious redemption of his people, his covenant faithfulness to us, his constant and gracious provision, and his care for his church in all ages. In other words, the center of our singing would not be ourselves but our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and especially of God’s grace to us sinners in Christ.
The LGBTQ etc. hymnal is religious but it is the songbook of the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:38–40). It is not God’s songbook. We are called by God to love our LGBTQ neighbors but we are not called to affirm them and much less are we called to synthesize their religion with the Christian religion. Paul faced this problem in Corinth. He spoke plainly:
“No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Cor. 10:20-22; NASB95).
In the spirit of Paul we confess, “For since the entire manner of worship which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one–even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says–ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us” (Belgic Confession art. 7).
The LGBTQ movement is telling us who they are and what they demand: complete submission, fealty, and worship. Justice Kennedy and the rest of the majority in Obergefell thought that they could sue for peace with their middle-class homosexual neighbors. They were naive and ignorant of the movement they (and the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations) have unleashed on the country. They thought that Obergefell would license nice middle-class homosexuals guys to get insurance. They should have listened to Camille Paglia, who mocked the very notion on which Justice Kennedy relied in Obergefell. If I may, I warned about this in 2013:
Masha Gessen makes explicit what’s been known underground in the homosexual community for a long time: Homosexual marriage is not about civil rights. It never has been. Camille Paglia exposed that story in the early 90s in her essay, “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex.” She said the whole point of homosexuality is to break convention. Homosexuality is enticing because it is illicit and she mocked the mainline Presbyterians (i.e., the PCUSA) for vainly trying to domesticate what was always going to be a wild animal, as it were (i.e., homosexual activity).
Gessen says, “fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do when we get gay marriage.”
Indeed. The point of redefining marriage is to redefine marriage. This is not really, ultimately, about homosexual marriage. It is about nature. It is about limits. It is about givens. It is about creation and it is about God. Yes, I will even invoke Sodom and Gomorrah. Those episodes were about defying divinely established limits revealed in creation (Rom. 1). To the degree that Christians talk about homosexual marriage as if it were about “civil rights,” they’ve accepted a false premise. It’s about gaining civil sanction for defying creational limits. The state (magistrate, legislature) can no more redefine marriage than it can redefine gravity. As they say in sports, it is what it is.
The majority in Dobbs may not want to revisit Obergefell but this nation cannot wait fifty years to reverse the state-sanction of the third-phase of sexual revolution. Today it is gay, child-molesting strippers dancing in front of school children (if this shocks you then you are not paying attention); it is not decent even to contemplate what is next. The Old Testament is coming alive before our eyes. Suddenly Sodom and Gomorrah seem more real, do they not?
Nothing will subvert the new sexual order more than singing joyfully the Songs of Zion in the midst of the nations raging against the King (Ps. 2).
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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