Overture Overview: #8 on Modifying Songbook

Following is my synopsis of the content of Classis Western Canada’s overture entitled “Modify Songbook” in the provisional agenda for Synod 2012.

Summary: “Classis Western Canada overtures Synod 2012 to direct the Songbook Committee to significantly modify and restrict its approach to the implementation of a new songbook and consider ways by which there may be the least amount of unrest and concern preceding and subsequent to the implementation of a new songbook.”

Key ideas: Classis Western Canada divides their concerns into six primary matters, which I’ve compacted below.

  1. Gender neutralization, which occurs in some instances in the Hymn Proposal, “violates the Word of God,” “alters the intent and meaning of the originating author” in hymns, and “is a capitulation to worldly standards and policies.”  Such modifications are “beyond the mandate given by any synod since the committee was first appointed in 1997.”
  2. The Songbook Committee’s argumentation for discontinuing the use of the name Jehovah (see the answer to Question 10 on the Committee’s FAQ page) “is unconvincing.”  The overture notes that none of the common English names for the Deity (including “Lord,” “God,” and “Father”) are found in the original Biblical languages.
  3. “Many word changes in the proposed book appear to be unnecessary or trivial,” without substantial support or Biblical grounds from the Songbook Committee.
  4. The extensive changes to familiar hymns in the Hymn Proposal will disrupt the ability of many older members to sing from memory, “and congregational singing will suffer greatly” from such modifications.
  5. The fact that some Hymn Proposal selections remain unaltered seems to demonstrate “an arbitrariness or inconsistency in the process of changing select songs, possibly on the basis of preference rather than on principle.”
  6. “Some proposed songs have little or no track record, tradition, or established durability in Reformed churches, or the wider church community,” making them unreliable selections for a new Psalter Hymnal.  The overture argues that the use of these newer songs violates the ninth Guideline for Selecting Church Music as approved by synod: “The music of the church should be expressive of the Reformed tradition.  Use is to be made of the music developed in the tradition of this rich heritage.”

Examples: After each main point, Classis Western Canada provides an extensive list of applicable songs in the Hymn Proposal.  They identify 20 gender-neutralized selections, 4 removals of the word “Jehovah,” 21 hymns with “unnecessary or trivial” modifications (noting that this is a “partial list”), 36 instances of drastic changes (again, only a partial list), 11 unchanged hymns, and 11 songs with “a life span of less than 15 years.”

Grounds: Although the grounds in Overture #8 are not directly based on the synodically-approved Principles and Guidelines, the classis provides six primary reasons for their overture, as outlined below:

  1. “The transition to a new songbook is too great and abrupt, and may cause great turmoil in the church.”
  2. The classis requests that the URCNA seek “a smooth and painless transition” to the new Psalter Hymnal, as was implemented during the CRC’s shift from the red Psalter Hymnal to the blue in the 1950s.
  3. The Hymn Proposal “opens up old wounds” for URCNA members who left their former congregations as a result of the introduction of a new hymnbook.
  4. “The present proposal contains far too many changes, adjustments and new material for it to function well in the foreseeable future.”
  5. “The tide of significant objection” to the Hymn Proposal within the URCNA “gives cause for review and reflection.”
  6. “There exists a misunderstanding as to the will of the originating classis whose overture was adopted by Synod 1997.”

1976 Psalter Hymnal

My thoughts: The basis of this overture rests exclusively in the blue Psalter Hymnal, whereas Overtures #4-6 often depart from it entirely.  Can synod form an acceptable compromise that will satisfy the requests presented in all of these overtures, ensuring that the United Reformed Churches in North America will create a Psalter Hymnal which utilizes the best of the blue book without carrying over its flaws?  (On the imperfections of the blue Psalter Hymnal, see my thoughts on the “About This Blog” page.)

Let’s earnestly pray for God’s direction as Synod 2012 endeavors to attain this goal.

See pp. 87-89 of the Provisional Agenda for the entirety of this overture.


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