I am so excited about an EP debate that doesn’t have advocates of each position at each other’s throats (see the many excellent comments on the previous post), that I want to continue this discussion. Dr. Clark has favored me with an excellent response on his blog, with many weighty arguments that will require careful consideration. And, if he wishes to leave me with that word as a sufficient reply, I will not complain.
Dr. Clark’s first argument is to this effect: there is no such thing as a “good hymn” (contrary to my assertion otherwise) for worship, any more than there is a “good” rendition of Jesus Christ in art. Dr. Clark doesn’t say this, but I presume that it is implied that he regards both as equal violations of the second commandment. Furthermore, he argues that public worship and private worship are different things. He would agree with the use of “A Mighty Fortress,” for instance, in the context of private worship, but not in public worship. These are, of course, two distinct parts of his response. We can boil it down to these two assertions: 1. There is no such thing as a good hymn for public worship, and 2. Public worship and private worship are distinct categories. Now, I agree with Dr. Clark’s position on pictures of Jesus. Why is it, then, that I would not agree with his position on hymns? Does his analogy hold? I would argue that it does not hold, for the following reasons. The debate is not about the difference between modes of portrayal of Jesus (we follow the Word’s portrayal of Jesus, not a pictorial portrayal), but rather about the content of the one element of worship, namely, singing. So the question could be framed in this way: if a hymn’s content is a summary of some aspect of the Bible’s teaching, or of some particular Scripture passage, why would that be in a different category from a verbatim singing of that same Scripture? Although Dr. Clark could never be accused of being biblicistic, does his approach come close to what we might call “singing biblicism?”
Secondly, in answer to my question of whether singing hymns is a mark of liberalism, he responds by saying that singing hymns is a mark of indifference to God’s law, and is oppressive to the consciences of those who do not wish to be bound by the consistory/session to sing anything other than the ipsissima verba of Scripture. So my response would be this: if someone, in their conscience, believed that singing hymns was not only biblical but mandated by Scripture, would the consistory/session be binding their conscience by forbidding the singing of hymns in worship? Could this binding thing, in other words, go in reverse? My congregations, for instance, love hymns. We sing Psalms, too, but they can’t get enough of hymns. If I ever tried to restrict the singing to Scripture-only, there would be quite the resistance. They would claim that their consciences were being bound. In RRC, Dr. Clark claims that “Where those who would ask worshipers to sing uninspired songs might think that they are exercising Christian liberty, in fact, they are impinging on the liberty of Christians” (p. 243). Now, this would be true of people who believe in Scripture-only songs in public worship. But how exactly is that true if the whole congregation believes that singing hymns is biblical? He would probably answer that it is a question of “time, pastoral care, and patient instruction to help elders and laity to understand the RPW once again” (p. 265). Perhaps. I’m not sure that’s very workable in most cases. I have not yet seen why it is that the ipsissima verba is required in all circumstances for the congregation as their dialogical response to God speaking to them. A hymn that summarizes what the Bible says is, it seems to me, in the same category as the ipsissima verba. I will address the rest of his post tomorrow, Lord-willing.