Archive for April, 2012

Jehovah: A Solution?

A few days ago, I discussed the name “Jehovah” and pondered its removal from the songs of the URC Hymn Proposal.  Although I didn’t offer my own viewpoint at that time, I did identify four questions that can help us evaluate the Songbook Committee’s decisions:

  1. How serious of an offense is it to God when we use the name “Jehovah”?
  2. Does the Jewish practice of replacing “YHWH” with “Adonai” actually have Biblical grounds?
  3. What name for God is an accurate replacement for “Jehovah”?  Should we instead use “YAHWEH”?  “Adonai”?  “The LORD”?
  4. What is the best way to non-intrusively replace references to “Jehovah” with a better name?

Last June, I submitted an 88-page report on the Hymn Proposal to the leadership of West Sayville Reformed Bible Church.  (After being compacted a bit, the report eventually made its way to the Songbook Committee through classical overture.)  In this critique, which I’ve quoted below, I devoted a section to this very topic.  While I can’t give any wise answers to the second and third questions, I did have some recommendations (albeit rather uneducated ones) regarding the first and fourth.

Due to my lack of knowledge about God’s name in the Hebrew language, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the name “Jehovah”—I trust the Hebrew scholars the Songbook Committee has consulted in their decision that the name should be avoided where possible.  Since the arguments at the end of this explanation seem a little faulty, however, I would like to make a few comments.

With regard to the “phonetic corruption of God’s name”: Certainly we are to reverence God’s name, but we must also realize that human language in its entirety is flawed!  How do we know that the way we pronounce God’s “real” name, YAHWEH, is not incorrect as well?  I would humbly submit to the Committee that God knows our hearts when we use the name “Jehovah.”  We know we’re referring to God, and God knows we’re referring to him.  If a choice is offered between “Jehovah” and “Lord” or some other name for God, then I would definitely try to pick the other name.  However, in the psalm and hymn settings, I am not sure that it is wise to sacrifice the quality of the poetry or the familiarity of the hymn for the sake of linguistic exactness.

With regard to the offense given to Jews: By no means do I want to disrespect the Jews, but “Jehovah” seems comparatively low on the list of things they would be offended about in Christian worship.  Do we make any effort to tone down our declarations of the deity of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Trinity, or God’s purpose of election to avoid disturbing the Jews?  It seems slightly convoluted to me to worry about one word when the whole of Christianity is offensive to them.

To flesh out my position on this issue, here are two contrasting examples.  Consider hymn № 8 in the 1959/1976 CRC (blue) Psalter Hymnal: “O Jehovah, Hear My Words.”  This is an unfamiliar psalm setting to most, I would venture to assume.  Because of that, familiarity is not a big factor when considering modifications to this hymn.  Additionally, the placement of the syllables is favorable enough that the first line could be changed to “Lord, my God, O hear my words.”  This alteration does not interfere with the poetry of the setting, stilt the relationship between poetry and music, or place God’s name on a weak syllable (which I believe should be avoided if at all possible).  It is faithful to Psalm 5 and does not change the meaning of the line significantly.  In this case, I believe removing “Jehovah” works well and is a wise modification to the song.

On the other hand, consider hymn № 304 in the blue Psalter Hymnal: “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.”  I can’t speak for all URC churches, but I know that in West Sayville, we sing this song regularly enough that most of us are familiar with it.  Compare this psalm setting with the version in the 1987 CRC (gray) Psalter Hymnal, № 188.  In this second instance, “Jehovah” has been completely removed.  The first line of the hymn is completely unrecognizable, and many phrases in the original have needed to be changed as well.  In this case, the poetic aspect has been completely changed, the words do not fit as well with the music, some elements of the original meaning have been altered, and congregations’ familiarity with the psalm setting is lost.  In instances like this, I do not recommend that “Jehovah” be removed from the text.  (Note also that for this hymn, the 1990 Trinity Hymnal has kept “Jehovah” even though the text has been modernized—see № 110.)

To distill this information down into a few bullet points, I object to removing “Jehovah” if…

  • Scriptural, doctrinal, or confessional accuracy is compromised (I, 1, 3, 4).
  • The original meaning of the hymn or psalm setting is affected (vii).
  • Congregations’ familiarity with the hymn or psalm setting is lost (viii).
  • The poetic flow of the hymn or psalm setting becomes stilted (III, i).
  • God’s name ends up on a weak syllable (i).
  • The altered lyrics interfere with the original music (iv).

When these problems can be avoided, I support the Songbook Committee’s decision to remove “Jehovah.”  Otherwise, I recommend that the original version of the hymn or psalm setting be kept—as the Committee has done in the case of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (URC 2010 № 176).

(The parenthetical references in the bulleted list refer to grounds for selecting church music presented by the committee and expanded by the West Sayville musicians, which appeared in the report.  I’ve uploaded them here on URC Psalmody in a document called Principles and Guidelines.)

Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, where do you stand on this issue?  Does the name “Jehovah” continue to be a common appellation for God in your congregation?  Should this questionable term be removed from our new Psalter Hymnal, or should it remain for the sake of tradition and familiarity?  In what unobtrusive ways might the Songbook Committee be able to solve this dilemma?  I look forward to your comments.

Blessings,

–MRK

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Psalm 51: Salvation in Song

Adultery.  Deceit.  Murder.  Who would want to even begin a song about such egregious wickedness?

David, king of Israel, had just committed adultery with the wife of another man, then hatched a complicated plot to bring about the death of her husband.  The prophet Nathan had come to the king with a pronouncement of God’s fierce wrath against this sin (II Samuel 11:1-12:15).  Thus far, as Biblical stories go, we find no surprises.  All throughout the Old Testament we see individuals, groups, and even nations blatantly disobeying God and suffering the just consequences for their misdeeds.

But what David says afterwards is a surprise.  He doesn’t try to justify himself, accuse his new wife, or distance himself further from God.  He says simply, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  It is this bald confession of guilt from II Samuel 12:13 that forms the basis for Psalm 51.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

–Psalm 51:1-4 (ESV)

In four simple verses, David conveys all of the following ideas:

  • I have sinned.
  • I have sinned firstly against God.
  • God is just.
  • God is also merciful.
  • God alone can blot out my sins.

Here we see a marvelous blend of guilt and grace, despair and hope, sin and salvation, which continues throughout the rest of the psalm.  David goes on to declare man’s total depravity, as compared to God’s perfect righteousness:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

–Psalm 51:5-6

Despite his realization of utter helplessness, the psalmist is not without hope.  He goes on to express his confidence in God as his only Savior:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

–Psalm 51:7-12

Only by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could David present this stunning picture of regeneration.  Though living in the time of the Old Testament laws and sacrificial worship, he understood that God demanded a clean heart—not just a clean façade.  He saw that it was the Holy Spirit who preserved his relationship with God, and that true joy could only come from total reliance on his Savior.  This revelation is marvelous enough, but David does not stop here.  Instead, he goes on to express his reaction to the saving grace of God:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

–Psalm 51:13-15

Here we see a clear display of gospel evangelism—in the Old Testament!  Expectant of forgiveness, David overflows with praise for God’s righteousness and promises to tell others what his Savior has done for him.  As we study the Old Testament, we might ask why David doesn’t first provide the thank offerings prescribed by the ceremonial law.  As if he anticipated this question, the psalmist writes:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

–Psalm 51:16, 17

Echoing the theme of Psalm 50, David perceives that God has never desired only superficial obedience to his commandments.  Instead he requires a pure heart.  Because all of us are corrupted by sin, however, only God can give us this new spirit.  Through Psalm 51 we can obtain a glimpse of the true nature of the triune God as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12).

With this context, the final verses of Psalm 51 almost seem misplaced:

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

–Psalm 51:18, 19

I’ve often struggled with the meaning of these last few lines.  The reference to Jerusalem appears to be practically irrelevant in light of the pointedly individual theme of Psalm 51.  The statements about “burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings” seem almost contradictory compared to v. 16, which declares that God has no pleasure in such sacrifices.  This passage only makes sense when viewed from the perspective of the complete story of salvation.

You might be familiar with the series “Sin, Salvation, Service” or “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude” as summaries of the content of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Interestingly, I believe this progression is the key to completing the message of Psalm 51. In the first twelve verses, David focuses on guilt and grace.  But in v. 13 and following, we see David’s joyful reaction to God’s salvation, in which he pours forth his gratitude.  So what are the sacrifices in v. 19?  Could it be that David is referring not to specific ceremonies, but to heartfelt deeds of service in gratitude to God?  Certainly this is how we as Christians should react to the salvation of Jesus Christ.  And what is Jerusalem?  In the New Testament, Zion is consistently understood to refer to the church of God.  Thus, Psalm 51 seems to indicate that the proper response to God’s mercy should include a desire to unite with the body of believers.  What a glorious completion!

After studying this text, I have to challenge the common notion that Psalm 51 is merely a song of confession to be utilized only in times of deepest guilt and repentance.  Rather, how rich our Christian walks would be if we lived out every day in the assurance David describes!  Every believer would do well to hold this psalm in constant remembrance, for without a doubt, Psalm 51 is one of the clearest Old Testament pictures of God’s ultimate plan of salvation—from guilt to grace to gratitude, and from the grave to glory.

Sinners then shall learn from me
And return, O God, to Thee;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
And my tongue shall sing Thy love;
Touch my silent lips, O Lord,
And my mouth shall praise accord!

–MRK

Psalm 51

God, be merciful to me,
On Thy grace I rest my plea;
Plenteous in compassion Thou,
Blot out my transgressions now;
Wash me, make me pure within,
Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

You don’t even have to attend a Reformed church to be familiar with these lyrics based on Psalm 51.  According to Hymnary.org, “God, Be Merciful to Me” appears in at least 14 hymnals, including the 1976 and 1987 Psalter Hymnals and both editions of the Trinity Hymnal.  On YouTube, these lyrics have been recorded by musicians both popular and obscure, from Jars of Clay to  “The Wretched Brothers” to the First Presbyterian Church in Perkasie, PA.  Today we’ll consider the three versifications of Psalm 51 in the blue Psalter Hymnal.

94, “God, Be Merciful to Me”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

What is it about this song that makes it so perennially popular?  First of all, the text is eloquent yet clear, simple but heartfelt, and concise but full of meaning.  No, the authors of this setting didn’t exactly match the literal text of Psalm 51, yet “God, Be Merciful to Me” is just as sincerely penitential as David’s original.  The text is especially poignant when sung to the tune provided here, AJALON (also called GETHSEMANE and REDHEAD 76).  If you’re accompanying a congregation, try to find a suitably mellow organ registration, or use the una corda (left) pedal on the piano.  You might even consider singing the third stanza a cappella.  (Note: The trend of newer hymnals to lower the key of AJALON to D is totally unnecessary and completely ruins the warmth of the melody.)

As a solo piece, “God, Be Merciful to Me” is one of the best selections for communion (if your church has background music during the administration of the Lord’s Supper).  Experiment with the modal quality of the tune: you can play the melody line unaltered, yet replace the E-flat-major harmonies with c-minor progressions.  This is also one of those extremely rare cases in which adding dissonant harmonies can actually enhance the music.  As you play always remember the horror of sin portrayed by the text!  Don’t ease the dismal quality of the melody until at least the third verse, if not the fourth; if necessary, you can balance out the mood with the more tranquil tone of number 95.

95, “Gracious God, My Heart Renew”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Since this text is a continuation of number 94, it is often sung in connection with the words of “God, Be Merciful to Me.”  Like its counterpart, number 95 is built on four stanzas of well-crafted poetry, accurately reflecting the message of Psalm 51:10-19.  The tune, named GETHSEMANE (confusing when compared to number 94), is extremely suitable for these words.  While it preserves the key, meter, and motifs of AJALON, the phrases at the end of each line rise rather than fall.  This lends a reverent, passionate, and hopeful tone to the melody, particularly fitting for stanzas 2 and 4.

Again, this selection is best played with a mellow timbre for congregational singing, but the conclusion of Psalm 51 offers more opportunity to build up the sound on the last verse.  Opinions vary on whether or not to hold the quarter note at the end of each line; the best choice is usually whatever your congregation is more familiar with.  Just like number 94, “Gracious God, My Heart Renew” is an excellent choice for the Lord’s Supper, or even for a simple offertory.

96, “O God, the God That Saveth Me”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Since the entirety of Psalm 51 is represented by numbers 94 and 95, why did the editors of the blue Psalter Hymnal decide to include yet another setting?  The most likely explanation is that “O God, the God That Saveth Me” is considerably more literal than the previous two numbers.  Although the focus of the text only encompasses vv. 14-19, the lyrics closely follow the original Scripture.  SERENITY, the tune, is in the uniform key of E-flat, making it easily combinable with AJALON and GETHSEMANE for a beautiful Psalm 51 medley.  For worship service use, playing through an entire stanza before the singing begins is probably a good idea, since the sudden leap in the middle line and the unexpected pause in the second-to-last measure can easily throw the congregation.  Still, the union of text and tune in this case is both solid and singable.

You may notice that I haven’t directly commented on the content of Psalm 51 so far.  That’s not because there’s nothing for the Christian to learn from this passage!  Rather, the content of Psalm 51 is so replete with the gospel message that I intend to look at it separately.  Thus, I plan to follow up on this post with a piece about the Scripture itself.

All in all, it’s no wonder that these versions of Psalm 51 are so beloved today.  Endeared to many over the years, Psalter Hymnal numbers 94-96 are rich with examples of excellent psalmody.

–MRK

Jehovah: Why (and Why Not)?

Have you ever sung “Come, Ye That Fear Jehovah”?  A favorite selection from the blue Psalter Hymnal, this jubilant paraphrase of Psalm 22 has been used in worship for about a hundred years now.  At first, I was grateful to see that it had been included in the URC Psalter Hymnal Committee’s Hymn Proposal.  But when I looked at the music for the first time, I was flabbergasted—the text had been drastically altered.  Instead of singing “Come, Ye That Fear Jehovah,” we were now singing “Come, All Who Fear the LORD God.”  As in several Hymn Proposal selections, the name “Jehovah” was eliminated from this song.   Why?

In the March/April 2012 issue of The Outlook, Mrs. Sheila Ypma of the URC in Lethbridge, Alberta, presents a commentary on this trend.  Below is an excerpt from her article.

If the name Jehovah will be taken out of our psalms, then we will no longer sing these wonderful words of exaltation to and of Jehovah.  Then we will also lose a wonderful heritage.  I am not sure if members in the URCNA want such drastic changes made to the beautiful psalm renditions of our PH [Psalter Hymnal].  However, if Synod 2012 approves the removal of the name Jehovah from the four songs mentioned above (HP [Hymn Proposal] #3, 4, 19, and 271) then, to be consistent, all other references to Jehovah will likely be eliminated.

We wonder why the name Jehovah is no longer a suitable name for our God.  Until now, we delighted in the name Jehovah and considered it to be theologically sound.  We had not been told that it was sinning against God to call on the name of Jehovah.  If it is sin to call God by the name Jehovah, then by all means change the above songs and the more than seventy-four other blue PH psalm versifications that attribute praise, glory, honor, and reverence to Jehovah.

To be accurate, I should mention that some small errors in reasoning are present in this opinion piece.  For one thing, the issue related to the name “Jehovah” is mainly one of linguistic correctness, not theological soundness.  Personally, I do not believe that we can label the use of this name as a sin against God.  (I’ll give a justification for this view in a future post.)  Also, without giving a clear case for continuing to use the name “Jehovah,” the author appeals only to tradition, a source that should always be secondary to the authority of Scripture.  Nevertheless, I share Mrs. Ypma’s fundamental concern: I too would be extremely disappointed if favorite psalm settings like “Jehovah Is My Light” and “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” appeared in drastically modified form in the future URC Psalter Hymnal.

Yet it is unwise for us to ignore the significant reasons presented by the Psalter Hymnal Committee in defense of their decision.  In a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the URCNA website, the committee offers this explanation:

The Songbook Committee, along with the Canadian Reformed “Book of Praise” committee, requested advice about the best rendering of the covenant name of “Yahweh” (YHWH) from several Old Testament (Hebrew) scholars.  We received responses from Dr. Cornelis Van Dam of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and from Prof. Mark Vander Hart of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.  Both of these scholars encouraged us to avoid the term “Jehovah” as much as possible.

The term “Jehovah” first appears in the medieval church and arises out of a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text.  Here’s what happened: When reading the Torah, the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, was not pronounced by the Jews and so when they came across the name, they would automatically say “Adonai” (meaning “Lord”) or sometimes “Elohim.”  Later, when vowel markings were placed under the Hebrew letters, the ancient vocalizers put the vowels of “Adonai” under YHWH in order to remind the reader to say “Adonai.”  What happened in the medieval context was to take the consonants YHWH of the written text and read this with the vowels of “Adonai”—thus “Jehovah” or the alternate spelling “Iehoua.”

 This means that “Jehovah” is actually a phonetic corruption of God’s name. Further, the pronunciation “Jehovah” sounds blasphemous to Jews today. They still highly reverence the covenant name YHWH, and we would do well not to cause unnecessary offence.

Based on the advice of the scholars we consulted, our committee thinks it best to find replacements for “Jehovah” wherever possible. In this we are also following the practice of the Trinity Hymnal (1990 edition), the Book of Praise, and other songbooks used by most confessionally-orthodox Reformed churches.

Now, to be frank, I must admit that I don’t completely agree with the Psalter Hymnal Committee’s conclusions.  Unfortunately, because we must work from existing songbooks and centuries-old traditions, the best solution is not as simple as a blanket removal of this questionable term.  From Mrs. Ypma’s article and the committee’s decision, these key questions arise:

  1. How serious of an offense is it to God when we use the name “Jehovah”?
  2. Does the Jewish practice of replacing “YHWH” with “Adonai” actually have Biblical grounds?
  3. What name for God is an accurate replacement for Jehovah?  Should we instead use YAHWEH?  Adonai?  The LORD?
  4. What is the best way to non-intrusively replace references to “Jehovah” with a better name?

Feel free to share your own responses and reactions to these questions in the space below.  In the near future, I hope to follow up on this post with some related thoughts.  As always, stay tuned!

–MRK

Exclusive or Inclusive? (Part 3)

Over the past week or so, we’ve looked at the notion of “exclusive psalmody” and how it relates to the more familiar view of “inclusive hymnody.”  Don’t worry if you missed the first and second installments in this series; they’re easily accessible at any time in the blog archives.  My purpose today is to offer a personal response to the exclusive-inclusive debate.

First, let me say that I am not a proponent of exclusive psalmody.  At least, not yet.  Since I’m still researching and learning, it is entirely possible that I’ll eventually become convinced of the necessity of singing only the psalms.  Until then, however, I’m going to share these thoughts from the perspective of an inclusive-hymnist URCNA member.

How can exclusive psalmody be advantageous to a congregation?  Two main reasons come to mind.

  • As so many theologians have noted, the psalms are unquestionably the best songbook the Christian could ever have at his disposal.  Singing the psalms is a great privilege and a definite requirement for worship.
  • Amidst a Christian culture so illiterate with the singing of God’s Word, it is hard to overdo the psalms.  For that reason, exclusive-psalmody churches are radically and refreshingly different from the seeker-sensitive Christian worship atmosphere so prevalent today.

Yet the doctrine of exclusive psalmody also has its pitfalls and drawbacks, including the following:

  • Are we to believe that Paul was simply being redundant (or triply emphatic) in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians when he speaks of singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”—that is, “psalms, psalms, and psalms”?  Although non-inspired songs were probably just as common then as they are now, Paul makes no special effort to distinguish the psalms from any other Christian songs.  If he had exclusive psalmody in mind, I find it surprising that he would use these three distinct terms.
  • This position presents some inconsistencies when applied to other elements of Christian worship, such as preaching.  If the regulative principle of worship were applied to a sermon in the same way as the exclusive psalmists apply it to singing, I have to conclude that anything beyond the unembellished reading of God’s Word would be forbidden.
  • Often, exclusive psalmody denominations insist upon using one particular Psalter and reject all others.  As one example, the Presbyterian Reformed Church sings only from the Scottish Metrical Psalter of the 1600’s.  Some other denominations hold exclusively to the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter.  As reassuring as it may be to sing from a centuries-old songbook, the advocates of exclusive psalmody must acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that these songs are not divinely inspired either.  Yes, they are originally based on God’s Word, but in order for us to sing them, they have been translated into English by uninspired men, and have additionally been rendered into poetic verse.  It’s also evident that the meaning of many of these psalm settings has been modified.  A study of some of the selections in the 1912 Psalter, for instance, reveals that a large number of songs have been interpreted to include themes from the New Testament—exactly the fault propounded against the use of hymns.  Thus, while the exclusive psalmists insist upon singing only the inspired Word of God, the very psalm settings in use often contradict this stipulation.

Which view is more Biblically accurate?  At this point, I can’t really say.  Dozens, probably even hundreds, of essays have been written on both sides of the debate (and many are available online if you’d like to do some extra reading).  Both sides can find Scriptures to support their claims.  But regardless of your view on exclusive psalmody, there are a few important points that we would all do well to keep in mind.

  • If your church is confidently and consistently singing the Psalms in worship, whether or not hymns are also in use, the best course of action is probably to leave the matter alone.  If it’s obvious that the worship of the congregation is sincere and God-glorifying, promoting change may do more harm than good.
  • If the leadership of your church strongly feels that a move should be made in either direction (towards exclusive psalmody or inclusive hymnody), consider making the change gradually.  Putting an announcement in the bulletin one Sunday morning that reads “The elders have determined that from now on we will sing only the psalms in worship” will certainly create more strife than a slow, well-planned transition.
  • In general, it’s safe to say that we can always sing more of the psalms.  Whatever your denomination’s views on psalmody may be, never forsake the psalms.  If necessary, introduce more recent arrangements or get a new songbook.  But remember that singing the psalms is not an optional activity for God’s people.  It is a command.

Joel Pearce, a musician and member of the URC Psalter Hymnal Committee, shared his reaction to exclusive psalmody on his own blog a few years ago:

I continue to wonder why the Psalms are not used more often in corporate worship. They cover the entire spectrum of human emotion in worship; they rehearse Christ’s saving work, death, resurrection, and glorification; they contain themes of repentance, forgiveness, joy, praise, and awe; and they are songs which are inspired by God written for our use! Why wouldn’t we want to sing them more often?…

I’m not an exclusive psalmist (yet?), but when we have 150 Holy Spirit-inspired texts to use in worship, why wouldn’t the church at least sing mostly Psalms? Instead of singing man-written hymns and songs with an occasional Psalm thrown in, I think a more biblical ratio should be mostly Psalms with an occasional man-written hymn or song thrown in. When I hear/sing many of the “positive, encouraging” contemporary praise choruses or even some of the overly-individual/emotional/experiential revival hymns of the 1800s, they just seem so radically inferior to the Psalms. This isn’t snobbery, because shouldn’t the inspired Scripture trump man-written texts? When we’ve been given a rich hymnbook in the book of Psalms and are commanded to sing them, why settle for less?

–from Token Lines

Mr. Pearce’s view is extremely similar to mine.  Even if we cannot concur on the virtue of uninspired hymns, certainly all Reformed Christians should be able to agree that the psalms must play a significant role in our worship.

To the exclusive psalmody churches, I pose this question: Do you hold to your tradition of singing only the psalms merely for the sake of tradition, or do you hold to it with firm belief that it is in accordance with God’s Word?  As is the case in many human settings, “accepted practice” can slyly sneak into a place of authority even higher than God’s Word.  No, this is not a condemnation of exclusive psalmists; rather, it is a call for them to re-examine their hearts and motives.

In conclusion, I can see truth and wisdom on both sides of the debate.  But here is my challenge to all: Whichever criterion for worship we choose—exclusive psalmody or inclusive hymnody—let us hold to it not just because we want to follow our forefathers, but because we desire to worship our God faithfully.

–MRK


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