Nothing gets dyed-in-the-wool Canadian Reformed folk more animated than the Book of Praise. Not animated in the charismatic/Pentecostal sense, but in the old fashioned CanRC sense of an…ahem…lively discussion. So as I looked over the third provisional agenda for Synod Carman 2013, I’m not too surprised to see 47 letters from the churches regarding the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise report. Forty-seven. Our federation has 54 churches. Now it’s true that some churches sent multiple letters interacting with this report. But still, this is a remarkable amount of interaction.
What’s up with this report? Over the last three years, we’ve been using an “Authorized Provisional Version” of the Book of Praise. It has the 150 Psalms, many with new and improved wordings. It also included a number of new hymns. The NIV (1984) was incorporated into the liturgical forms and confessions. The SCBP has received feedback on the changes. There are a few improvements proposed for the final version of the text of the Psalms. The hymns are staying, but there are some changes proposed to the music. I gather that some of the churches are still not pleased with either the new text of some of the Psalms or the addition of new hymns. However, I can’t see that Synod 2013 is going to turn back the clock now. However, they might deviate from the SCBP recommendations on the music of some of the hymns.
There are also some matters of interest in section 9 of the report. One has to do with a long-standing issue regarding our Abbreviated Form for the Lord’s Supper. The words “for the second service” were added by a past Synod, though as noted by the committee, this never was “a SCBP proposal nor did it come as a proposal from one of the churches.” It should never have happened, at least not in that way. So the SCBP proposes that the words “for the second service” be dropped. The practical significance of this rests with churches that may want to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently. A church might want to do it monthly, for instance. A church could then decide to use the full form every third month, and the abbreviated form at every other celebration. This is a welcome development, in my estimation and I can see no reason why Synod 2013 would want to maintain a heading in the liturgical forms that had no business being there in the first place.
Another interesting proposal has to do with QA 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The SCBP proposes a change there in order “leave some of the original ambiguity.” This so that preachers can bring out the nuances as they see fit. I don’t find the reasoning of the SCBP persuasive here. There is a lot of talk of the original German, as if we are translating a text from biblical Hebrew or Greek. The issue ought to be fidelity to Scripture, not fidelity to the original German text of the Catechism. I can’t see that there is a problem with our present wording, nor am I persuaded that we should strive for ambiguity. Moreover, the Catechism is not just for the preachers. The Catechism should also be used in our homes and by us as individuals. For that, we need clarity, not ambiguity. As I read it, there is nothing unclear in the present wording. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Will the Synod agree? Here I wouldn’t dare to venture a guess.
I commend the SCBP for their hard work and the quality of the final product being proposed. I love the Book of Praise and think it’s been improved dramatically over the last few years. Hopefully this present revision will serve us well for at least a generation, maybe more. This is a church book with substance — biblical Psalms and hymns plus our creeds, confessions, liturgical forms, and church order. It really is a defining part of what it means to be a Canadian Reformed Church. But above all, the Book of Praise is a tool in our hands to magnify the praises of our gracious God. It’s still going to be around for years to come.