How important is it to say (or sing) the same words as your neighbor? When your congregation says the Lord's Prayer, does everyone use the same version in the same language? Does it matter if people in the same community use different turns of phrase?
OR, if you learned a hymn using "Thy" instead of "Your", do you have to relearn the text? Does it matter if your pew neighbor sings "God's" instead of "His"?
The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS) had regular conversation about language and tradition. Words are important, though they are limited in expressing our deepest intents and understandings. To guide their process, the PCOCS developed two statements: a Theological Vision Statement and a Statement on Language. Here are a few excerpts:
Collections of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs give voice to the church’s core beliefs and theological convictions. Their texts are “compact theology,” and the selection of hymns and songs (both the themes that are emphasized and those that are overlooked), the order in which they are presented, and even the ways they are indexed shape the theological thinking and ultimately the faith and practices of the church...
... Scripture uses an abundantly rich array of prose and poetry to tell us about God’s powerful acts of creation, redemption, and final transformation. Much biblical imagery is indeed masculine, but there is also a wide variety of other metaphors that are either feminine or gender-neutral. Most important, behind all biblical narrative lies the deep and prevailing sense that God is the one whose ways and thoughts are as beyond human speech as the heaven is higher than the earth (Isa. 55:8). Our lips need to be cleansed by a burning coal before we speak or sing any word about the holy God (Isa. 6:5).
The framework of salvation history requires a collection of songs that reflects the full extent of the biblical narrative and also the full array of biblical language used for God – even if that leads us to using words and imagery that go beyond our natural comfort.
Given these commitments, the Committee seeks a songbook that is characterized, as a church document formulates it, by “inclusive language with reference to the people of God, and expansive language with reference to God...”
To read more about the guidelines adopted by the PCOCS, visit our website.
To read more about the PC(U.S.A.)'s practices, download either this brochure (published by the Racial Ethnic, and Women's Ministries Division) or this short paper (published by the Office of Theology and Worship).