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).
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.