He Lives within My Heart

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What happened when that recommendation actually hit the floor is my all-time favorite synod moment.

Emily Brink’s article (p. 18) reminds me of a time almost three decades ago when synod, the annual leadership meeting of our denomination, had to ratify the predecessor to our new songbook (Lift Up Your Hearts). That was the “grey Psalter Hymnal” many of us still have in the pew or up on our screens. Back then, synods did more micromanaging. As a delegate I was assigned to the advisory committee that was to propose to synod what it should do with each and every hymn in the book. It was the most edifying committee I’ve ever served on. We sang our whole way through the entire hymn section, noting which songs we thought needed revision, a thumbs up, or a thumbs down.

The most difficult decision, one we debated endlessly, was whether or not to advise synod to include a perennial favorite hymn, “I Serve a Risen Savior.” Throughout the process the song had been included, tossed out, reintroduced, and tossed out again. Reason? The closing line in the refrain goes like this: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” That line was perceived by many to be subjectivistic, basing our belief in the resurrection on our own (subjective) experience rather than on the (objective) Word of God that clearly tells us that Jesus rose. Others argued that the hymn does not actually deny the importance of the objective truth of Scripture, but that it merely highlights the reality that the Holy Spirit also confirms the truth of the resurrection in our personal experience (our “hearts”). But, of course, the song doesn’t actually say that.

The advisory committee finally agreed that subjectivism in our times is enough of a threat that synod should toss the song out.

What happened when that recommendation actually hit the floor is my all-time favorite synod moment. Our reporter, Rev. Roger Kok, dutifully moved to have synod drop “I Serve a Risen Savior” from the proposed hymnal. After some back and forth debate, it seemed clear that the grey hymnal would be lighter by at least one song. Then an elderly delegate took the microphone and gently asked: “Mister chairman, before we ditch this song can we at least sing it?” The chair shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?” Emily Brink sat down at the pipe organ and led the body in such a thrilling, soul-stirring singing of “I Serve a Risen Savior” that it nearly brought down the thousand ceiling lights in Calvin College’s Fine Arts Center.

Roger Kok, clearly a veteran reporter, spied the writing on the wall well before the echoes of “He lives within my heart” had died away. He vigorously waved his white handkerchief in surrender. The rest is history: “I Serve a Risen Savior” went on to be a favorite in the grey hymnal and has been adopted with nary a peep of protest in Lift Up Your Hearts.

As long as the Holy Spirit still finds ways through and around our “due process,” I have hope for our church. Like brother Kok, may those among us who have ears to hear, hear. And may the rest of us receive the grace to listen to them.

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (2)


Thanks, Bob, for your interesting article on the choice of favored hymns to include in our official hymnals.  I don’t know if the choice of “I Serve a Risen Savior” has anything to do with the Holy Spirit’s leading in our churches or denomination.  But I would say it has everything to do with the direction that our denomination has been and is continuing to move.  It is moving in the direction of a much more feeling orientated or experiential religious experience (or subjectivism, as you suggest).  That’s also evidenced by the choice of contemporary songs that are sung in most CRC churches today.  No longer do they have to pass the scrutiny of the elders or a song committee.  It seems that the more emotional or experiential the songs are, the better. “It feels so moving.”  And we just pass this off, as the moving of the Holy Spirit who lifts my spirit.  Are we saying, now today, that feelings and the Holy Spirit are synonymous?  Does my experience confirm the truth of the Bible (as I see it), even though my experience is different from another’s experience?  And how can I question or doubt your personal experience, especially if it’s given by the Holy Spirit?  And we could find other areas of our theology where this (emotion) seems to be where we as a denomination are reaching for.  So maybe if we put our confessions to a popular votes (as at Synod) we could weed out a lot of our questionable theology.  What do you think?  This may not all be bad, but it shows where we are moving, slowly but surely.  So what do we say, embrace this change or question it?

What I notice especially about this editorial is that synod is recalled as having much more to do with what was then regarded a core task of the ecclesiatistical government.  So true.  Flash forward three decades to the future (today): synod not only does little micromanaging but as well does little macromanaging.  Between back then and now, synod has instead relegated both micro and macro-managing to a board of trustees (and executive officers and agencies under the BOT).  Sure, the BOT sends things to synod for its ratifiying, but increasing the adage "if you can control the questions, you can control the answers" applies.  Add to that of course controlling who is assigned to various task forces and committees.

Now. it is certainly the case that BOT members are not bad people.  I'm quite sure they are all very good people with very good intentions.  But that doesn't mean that in the course of thirty years, the CRC hasn't effectively transformed the means by which it governs itself.  It has, and remarkably, without even changing the church order.

Is it any wonder that the distance between local churches and the CRCNA bureacracy (which is now what we have as opposed to 30 years ago) is so great?  It used to be that when churches, via their classes, sent representatives to the annual synod (which met for two weeks, twice as long as now), members of the various local church had cause to believe there was some significant connection between their sending their representatives and the governance of the church (this article illustrates that).  Now, not so much, maybe hardly at all.  Now, it is far more likely for many CRC members that they can have more to say about a local or even regional parachurch effort they may have chosen to be involved with, than their denomination.  Yes, each CRC member has a BOT representative that is "assigned to them."  Still, I doubt 5% of the people in my local church even know that.  And I doubt that even one person in my local church can even name him or her.

Off hand, I've forgotten the name of my church's BOT representative, not that he has ever communicated with my church in any meaningful (or even unmeaningful way).  I'm in Oregon.  I believe he is in Utah.  And he is my local church's most meaningfuly connection to what happens in its denomination.  Are you listening SPACT members (whoever you are)?