Psalms and Hymns
The metrical Psalms adopted by general synod as well as the Hymns approved by general synod shall be sung in the worship services.
The Reformation in the sixteenth century, which brought a general return to the Word of God, also restored the congregational singing to its rightful place and glory. For centuries choirs took the place of the people and the latter could only listen. The Reformation changed this, too. Alas, in many instances choirs have been re-introduced in the services also by those who trace their roots back to that great Reformation. Although we have inherited some glorious pieces of music from the period before the Reformation, these compositions are good for performances by choirs, not for being sung by choirs during the worship services. There only the voice of the Lord should be heard and the response of all His people in prayer and song.
The question what shall be sung in the worship services has received the attention of the New Testament church from the early days on. The opinions are divided as to whether the church in the New Testament days knew also other songs beside the 150 Psalms. From various places in the New Testament it appears that the conclusion may be drawn that they did. We mention Eph. 5: 19; Col. 3: 16; 1 Cor. 14: 26; James 1: 17; 1 Tim. 3: 16; 2 Tim. 2: 11-18; Titus 2: 4-6 . The fact that hymn singing was very much favoured by sects such as gnosticism, Arianism, etc. made the churches often wary of hymns. Hymns can readily introduce all sorts of errors as has been demonstrated throughout the centuries. This prompted more than one assembly to warn against hymns “made by man” as distinct from the songs found in Scripture, which are the “work of men who spoke being inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
The Canadian Reformed Churches were faced with the sad reality that no complete Psalmbook using the Genevan tunes existed, and that the songbooks which were found on this continent also contained numerous hymns whose origin and contents often dated back to the days of Pietism and other movements, with pious man and his experiences in the centre. This is not to say that the Genevan melodies were considered to be sacrosanct and that any other melody should be barred from the services; but wishing to continue in the line of the Calvinist Reformation, the churches included the Genevan melodies in their endeavours.
The result was that the first complete edition of the Book of Praise appeared in 1972, containing a wholly new or revised rhyming of the Psalms on the Genevan tunes, and a collection of 65 hymns. After further revisions, the finalized edition appeared in 1984. It contains 65 hymns which have been scrutinized regarding their being in full harmony with Holy Scripture. They are arranged according to the elements of the Apostles’ Creed. Songs
in praise of the Holy Trinity are followed by those extolling the promise of the coming Saviour, His sufferings, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the work of the Holy Spirit, while the hymn section closes with congregational praise to God.
By restricting themselves to the metrical Psalms as adopted by general synod and to the hymns approved by general synod, the churches have put up a safeguard to prevent that, at least in the worship services, wrong theories or influences are smuggled in via songs. As for the hymns, each general synod that dealt with them emphasized that the first requirement was faithfulness to the Scriptures.
The reason why hymns have been approved in addition to the 150 Psalms is the desire of the New Testament church to sing of Christ not only in prophecy (the Psalms), but also in fulfilment (the hymns). The present selection of hymns gives ample opportunity to do so and there is no need to increase their number, since no other major event in the history of redemption can be expected except the Lord’s appearance on the clouds of heaven, and of that event we do sing already.