Posts Tagged 'Presbyterian'

Synod, Kingdom Work, and the Trinity Psalter Hymnal

From heaven O praise the Lord,
On high the Lord O praise!
All angels, praise accord!
Let all his hosts give praise!
Praise him on high,
Sun, moon and star,
Sun, moon and star,
You heavens afar
And cloudy sky!

It took 21 years to move from the beginning of the URCNA’s Psalter Hymnal project to the final publication of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Twenty-one years—that’s long enough for a member of the Songbook Committee to bear, raise, and graduate a child.

tph1010As an interested URCNA member who followed the publication process for only eight of those 21 years, I have only a small portion of the sense of accomplishment and celebration that accompanies the new book. But it truly was a foretaste of heaven to be present for this year’s joint meeting of the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly from June 11 to 15 in Wheaton, Illinois, where the opening prayer service began with the singing of Psalm 148A from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. United Reformed and Orthodox Presbyterian brothers singing a setting from the Reformed Presbyterian tradition of psalmody—it was a moment of full hearts and sincere praise.

Since volunteering as organist at the URCNA’s Synod Nyack in 2012, I’d always hoped for the opportunity to attend another synod. I never expected that the chance would come through representing Geneva College in the display hall. This new role surprised me—just as much as it surprised a number of readers who expected to see me at the organ bench rather than at an exhibitor table. It was wonderful to be reunited with so many familiar faces.

As it turns out, the connection between Geneva College and the work of these Reformed church gatherings is more than coincidental. I’m grateful for the countless conversations with alumni, parents, and prospective students throughout the week that revealed Geneva’s role in providing Biblically faithful education to generations of Reformed believers. This college exemplifies the kind of kingdom work that we heard about in sessions describing the relationship of the URCNA and OPC: an established commitment to Reformed doctrine, a ministry focused on the central role of local churches, and a tangible effort to evangelize and disciple those under its care.

And at the heart of this ministry of education are the psalms—in chapel, in choir, in church services, in dorm rooms. To give just one example, I had to leave synod early to attend a wedding of two friends who graduated from Geneva. Neither of them hails from a Reformed or Presbyterian background. But they sang psalms during their ceremony—psalms they would have never learned to sing at another college. Geneva teaches its students to understand the psalms as songs of the spirit that instruct, convict and edify the saints. Its graduates carry that gift with them, not just into Reformed and Presbyterian churches, but into a wide variety of congregations and denominations. And they share that gift with new generations of believers.

The psalms are not only songs of the spirit; they are also battle cries for the church’s struggle against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. The 21st century witnesses increasing pressures upon the church, including societal changes that require careful statements like the URCNA’s new Affirmations Regarding Marriage. Even within our own walls there are disagreements, divisions and the pervasive presence of sin. The community of saints still suffers the effects of the Fall—and we need the psalms in order to cry out for God’s wisdom and mercy.

So we set ourselves to seek the welfare of Zion, as Psalm 122 teaches us. And we do so with a dual perspective: a local focus that commits us to living faithfully in particular congregations, and a kingdom perspective that lifts us above the landscape to see our gospel mission in grander scale. One of the particular joys of synod is getting a glimpse of that kingdom outlook—an outlook that includes special places like Geneva College and special events like the publication of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.

That dual perspective is an inspiration and a challenge in my own life. Having graduated from Geneva, I’m now halfway through a master’s degree in communication at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. In the coming months I’ll be deciding whether to pursue an academic career through a Ph.D. or to move on to a seminary track. A kingdom outlook reminds me that ministry can occur in front of chalkboards as well as behind pulpits. A local focus reminds me to pursue the primary vocation of a faithful servant in my day-to-day responsibilities. Meanwhile, I’ve transferred my membership to a local Reformed Presbyterian (RPCNA) congregation—not because I’ve become convinced of a cappella exclusive psalmody but because the nearest URCNA church is four hours away. My faith has already grown through my time among this godly group of saints.

I hope this dual perspective will shape the future of URC Psalmody as well. A few months ago I entertained the notion of shutting down this blog, with its news feed inactive and much of its information out of date. But I was surprised and encouraged to hear from so many of you at synod that the existing content on this site continues to be a blessing. Sincere thanks to each one of you for reading, commenting and participating as we continue to seek God’s glory through the singing of his Word.

Most likely, the updates on URC Psalmody will continue to be sparse. But while there are still psalms to learn and kingdom work to be done, we press on!

In his service,



Unity in Indiana


Keynote speaker Rev. Barry York

Well, since last month I can now cross a significant item off my bucket list. Unexpectedly, I got to attend the 2016 Reformed Presbyterian International Conference (RPIC) in Marion, IN!

Held every four years, the RP International Conference is a longstanding favorite event within the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) and beyond. It’s when about 2,000 members of the RPCNA and its sister denominations around the world converge for a week on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University for preaching, singing, recreation, and fellowship. It’s a fantastic experience—and not just because I got to listen to thousands of people singing the psalms in harmony all week!

I say “unexpectedly” because I had no plans to attend RPIC, until the director of my college choir, Dr. David K. Smith, asked if I would be interested in accompanying him to the conference. As the choir’s PR director I could help him with recruiting and networking. Since Geneva College is the denominational school of the RPCNA and The Genevans choir plays an active part in keeping the tradition of a cappella psalmody alive, this seemed to be the perfect venue.

Initially we just planned to travel to Indiana for part of the week and run a table in the conference’s exhibition hall. After our initial plans were made, however, we were invited to present a workshop to the high schoolers at the conference on psalm-singing! Why the conference planners chose two non-RP’s to speak to Reformed Presbyterian youth about their own denominational distinctive is beyond me. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the opportunity to come in as observers and encourage a group of 30 or 40 youth toward a deeper appreciation of the musical tradition they grew up with. (I’ll post a summary of the workshop soon, Lord willing.)

In addition to serving in this “official” capacity, I had a lot of opportunities just to mingle with these Scottish brothers and sisters. I benefited greatly from Rev. Barry York’s keynote addresses on “The Sacrificing Church: Ministering Faithfully as Priests in the Local Congregation.” I got to sit in on several fascinating workshops, including sessions led by Rev. Michael LeFebvre and our own Rev. Danny Hyde! Above all, I enjoyed getting to meet hundreds of Reformed Presbyterians who loved to converse about the labors, joys and sacrifices of living in the body of Christ. I felt warmly welcomed into a different branch of the family of God of which we are all a part.

If there was one disappointing facet of the week, it was the blank stares I so often received when I mentioned the United Reformed Churches in North America. Most attendees, it seemed, had never even heard of our very like-minded denomination. One conventioneer even took pains to warn me about the increasing liberal trends in my federation, not realizing he had confused the United Reformed Churches with the United Church of Christ!

For denominations that share “Phase 2” ecumenical relations, I can’t help but find this a little embarrassing for both of us. Maybe sending a contingent of 500 URCNA members to the next international conference wouldn’t be helpful, but certainly there are plenty of ways on a local and regional level to affirm our unity. Have we pursued the option of a yearly NAPARC joint worship service, as is done in places like Pittsburgh? Do we invite each other’s congregations to fellowship events like game days or (in West Sayville’s case) lobster fests? Do we take advantage of the conservative, well-grounded Reformed liberal arts education a college like Geneva has to offer? (Yes, that was a shameless plug.) If not, perhaps these opportunities can help us map out a reasonable plan of action.

As Rev. York’s messages reminded me throughout the week, the world is pressing in on the church from all sides. In times like these, what a blessing and help it is to be united in the truth by building lasting relationships with fellow believers across denominational lines.


Check out Bryan Schneider’s video montage of the 2016 Reformed Presbyterian International Convention here.


Sing a New Song, Chapter 4: Wesley, Watts, and Worship Wars

Although it’s not entirely according to schedule, we return today to our ongoing study of Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm-Singing for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Joel Beeke and Anthony Selvaggio.  Today we discuss Chapter 4, by the well-known OPC scholar and historian D. G. Hart, entitled “Psalters, Hymnals, Worship Wars, and American Presbyterian Piety.”

JDO: Darryl Hart’s chapter is fairly technical, tracing the change from exclusive psalmody to mixed psalms and hymns in Presbyterian churches. He focuses heavily on two hymn-writers, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, and shows that their hymns were a major influence in the change in Presbyterian, and by extension our own Dutch Reformed, tradition.  Our own blue Psalter Hymnal includes eight selections by Charles Wesley and seven by Isaac Watts, which is substantive proof that this is a conversation not just for Presbyterians, but for us in the URCNA.

MRK: Hart begins with the question, “What is the appropriate psalm to sing for a Christmas Eve service?” This question drives right to the center of the conflict in Reformed worship.  Churches that sing the Psalter usually don’t observe the liturgical calendar.  Churches that observe the liturgical calendar don’t usually sing the Psalms.  Hart uses this thought-provoking example to make the case that “Reformed worship has traditionally been a tapestry of mutually reinforcing convictions and practices” (p. 61).

JDO: What Hart is getting at, and what he unpacks in the rest of the chapter, is that our worship styles and our systems of doctrine must be linked in order to make sense.  This isn’t necessarily a judgment on exclusive psalmody or Christian holidays, but Hart’s main point rings true: If you’re going to be biblically-based in one area, carry it through.

And so Hart begins the discussion, as any discussion of worship should begin, with the regulative principle of worship.  He says, “The gravity of worship and the fear of blasphemy made Presbyterians cautious about all elements of worship” (p. 63).  This idea is consistent with Presbyterian and Continental Reformed doctrine, and is echoed in our own Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 96).

MRK: Hart describes two different philosophies of worship music during the Reformation.  One view was held by Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger, who outright forbade music in the church because of its “destructive power” and because they found no scriptural warrant for it.

JDO: That might strike us as outrageous, but you have to realize the context in which they lived.  Music was associated with the inaccessible and overly complicated mass, sung exclusively by trained choirs in a language and style that was not understandable by the congregation.  In addition, Zwingli and Bullinger realized the truth behind the old adage, “Heretics sing hymns.”  The singing of hymns was commonly practiced by heretics in the early church as a method of teaching false doctrine to the common folk.  The singing of non-biblical hymns was associated with false doctrine, and hence would be too dangerous to risk.  In a period where hymnody was oft-misused, it would be easy for them, in their desire for restructure and reformation, to toss out the baby with the bathwater.  While I don’t agree with their conclusions, I can at least respect their reasoning.

MRK: Calvin, however, seems to have reached a better (and more Biblical) balance.  As Hart puts it, “Believers should really sing, both with voice and heart” (p. 64).

JDO: Yes.  Calvin (like Augustine before him) understood congregational singing to be a form of corporate prayer, an easy way to facilitate corporate praying.  His solution to the problem of heretical hymnody was to look to the psalms as a source for music—which makes sense, because the Reformation’s return to the Bible should naturally be accompanied by a return to Biblical music.  Like Hart said, doctrine and practice and worship all should logically fit together.

MRK: While Calvin’s general pattern of worship continued for centuries in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, exclusive psalmody as the hallmark of Reformed worship did not last long.  In America hymns were first introduced in 1729, in the form of a songbook published by Benjamin Franklin. Its title: The Psalms of David Imitated by Isaac Watts.

JDO: I have that book sitting right in front of me now.  And looking through it, it’s easy to see how hymns subtly infiltrated worship.

MRK: With a name as innocent-sounding as The Psalms of David Imitated, what was so revolutionary about Watts’s work? And why is he widely credited (for good or no) with the introduction of extra-Biblical hymns into worship?

JDO: The most familiar example would be Psalm 72.  There are two versions here.  The first is a fairly accurate paraphrase; some liberties were taken for rhyming and meter, but it’s as good as, or better than, many selections in our Psalter Hymnal.  The second version of Psalm 72, on the other hand, takes significant liberties with the psalm text in order to make its Christological applications more explicit.  This version is the familiar song “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun.”

MRK: Yes—Psalms 72 (“Jesus Shall Reign”) and 90 (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”) probably exemplify some of Watts’s most dramatic alterations to the Biblical texts.  For the record, both are in our Psalter Hymnal.

JDO: So you can see that as songs like these easily began to sneak into psalters, the door opened to including hymns not even remotely inspired by the psalms.  Now as I said last week, I have a love-hate relationship with Watts.  His work is commendable.  Recognizing the continuing value of the Old Testament, he brought out its relevance and Christ-centered significance.  But the effect of his psalm-hymns on the psalm-singing tradition is regrettable.

MRK: Now that brings me to a more immanent matter.  In the forthcoming URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal, should paraphrases like “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” be kept in the psalm section, or should they be moved to the hymn section?  Or, if they detract from true psalm-singing, should they be omitted entirely?

JDO: I’ve thought about that a bit, but every answer I come up with is overly complicated.  Most of these psalm paraphrases are still good and biblically helpful to sing, but they can’t in all fairnes be called psalm settings.  What if we marked “looser” psalm settings as 72-HYMN, for example, or printed them in a different color?  Or what if we stuck a psalm-hymn cyborg area between the existing psalm and hymn sections?

MRK: Right.  Presenting the Psalter Psalm-Hymn Hymnal.  Seriously, though, I’m sure there are many ways to approach the problem, and I’m sure it will be handled wisely by the Songbook Committee.  But I think the take-home message would be that we need to prioritize good, literal psalm settings, even if they’re not as familiar as some of these paraphrases.  If we have a good base of psalmody in our worship, hymns and “imitations” like the work of Isaac Watts will fall into their proper place.

JDO: Now in Watts’s wake, hymns from many different perspectives began to creep into the repertoires of the Church.  Among them were the works of Charles Wesley.

MRK: And whatever Wesley may have been, he was certainly prolific—writing over 6000 hymns, compared to Watts’s 700.

JDO: But now we return to what we’ve mentioned before: the importance of matching practice with theology.  Hart points out that for Presbyterian and (by extension) Reformed churches to sing Wesleyan hymns is “a theological and liturgical oddity that has not generated sufficient comment” (p. 71).  Seriously, hasn’t this ever struck anyone as odd before?

MRK: Perhaps it’s just something we don’t think about too often.  Many people, including me, couldn’t tell you who wrote “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” off the top of their head.  We tend to accept familiar hymns as familiar, without giving any thought to their authors—and that’s a very detrimental oversight, in my humble opinion.  While we don’t want this to become an exposé of Charles Wesley, we do have to admit that his beliefs were not in line with orthodox Reformed theology.

JDO: Yes.  Hart describes the combination of Presbyterian doctrine and Wesleyan piety as an “unstable compound” (p. 72).  As we’ve pointed out before, what you sing affects what (and how) you think—and the easiest way to spread change (good or bad) is to get people to sing it.

MRK: Exactly.  The first alarm should be going off in our minds as soon as we realize that Wesley’s hymns were designed primarily to evangelize the unchurched and unsaved.  Thus, Wesleyan hymnody was created to appeal to the general public, with emotional and fairly shallow content.  Upon further thought, it occurs to me that this very same mentality has shaped the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement: “Win them with the music, and then they’ll turn to Christ.”

JDO: That’s completely backwards.  Paul’s injunctions to sing are to the end of glorifying God, “making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  The Psalms speak the same way.  Songs are not meant to draw people in, like some third key of the Kingdom.  While the Holy Spirit is entirely free and able to use a variety of means, the preaching of the gospel is his modus operandi (Romans 10:14-17).  So to purposely create songs to function as means of salvation seems to go against the Scripture’s very basis for singing.

MRK: Not only are Wesleyan hymns “me-focused,” but they’re often so individualistic that they simply can’t apply to the whole body of Christ.  The alarming part is that, as Hart says, “Presbyterians in America had no intrinsic objections of principle to the evangelistic purposes or experiential piety involved in Wesley’s hymns” (p. 73).  Their songs became inconsistent with their doctrine, and they didn’t seem to mind one bit.

JDO: I do want to point out that not all Wesleyan hymns are, well, blatantly Wesleyan.  For instance, I love “And Can it Be” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  I think these songs are appropriate and beneficial for corporate worship.

MRK: Yes—one should be careful, Zwingli in mind, not to throw the hymnological baby out with the bathwater.

JDO: But I guess the lesson to learn is that we mustn’t be afraid to question the hymns we sing.  It’s so easy just to let songs slip into our worship without thinking about their implications.  Take, for instance, Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”  I hope I don’t get into trouble here, but notice how the words are so personal, so autobiographical, so specific to me.  I’m not necessarily saying that we need to throw that song out of the Psalter Hymnal, but I would definitely recommend caution.  Let’s always make sure to balance songs like that with songs that focus on God and His glory.  For every “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” it’d be wise to sing a decent handful of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”s.

MRK: And, of course, a bunch of psalms.

JDO: Absolutely.  With the psalms, you’re guaranteed to get the balance right.  They are, after all, inspired.  And even when the psalms sing of personal experience, it’s to the end of glorifying God.

MRK: Back in Sing a New Song, Hart mentions one other extremely influential hymn writer: Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), who’s been called “the greatest of Scottish hymnwriters” (p. 74).  Bonar’s four selections in the Psalter Hymnal are “O Love of God, How Strong and True” (329), “Not What My Hands Have Done” (389), “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (413), and “Fill Thou My Life” (449).  Now I do love many of Bonar’s hymns, including “Not What My Hands Have Done” and “Fill Thou My Life.”  But the same Wesleyan emphasis on personal experience can be traced through many of Bonar’s works.

JDO: There’s no doubt that our churches today are still reeling from the effects of experience-based, me-focused, results-oriented forms of Christianity.  And those ways of thinking creep in through music.  Catchy, memorable, beautiful songs are the quickest way to spread ideas.  That’s precisely why we at URC Psalmody, like Hart, are so passionate about a return to psalm-singing (if not exclusively, at least primarily).  More importantly, we need to love the psalms.  Wouldn’t it be great if a love for the psalms could spread in the same way as a love for Wesley’s experiential hymnody?

MRK: After his detailed hymnological study, Hart spends the last three pages of his chapter reflecting on the importance of psalm-singing.  Again and again he brings out the need for Presbyterian and Reformed Christians “to be discerning about the common idiom of American culture” (p. 76).

JDO: Sadly, I often see people who are bored by psalm-singing, but flock to shallow revivalistic gospel songs or flimsy repetitive choruses.  Now Hart is careful to point out that psalm-singing is not a “cure-all” that will fix everything in our churches.  But it is an important step toward a God-centered, Christ-glorifying worship practice.  In other words, it’s a way to make sure that our practice matches our theology.  Hart concludes his chapter with a profound evaluation:

Presbyterians and Reformed Protestants may have a valuable remedy for resisting the novelty, emotional excess, and disorder that characterizes so much worship in the contemporary church—a return to the Psalter.  It is certainly not a magic cure-all that will suddenly cause teenagers to be attentive and put an end to worship committees’ desire to experiment with new forms of worship.  But…if Presbyterians are jealous for singing the right songs in worship, debates over the regulative principle, questions about spontaneity, and worries about bored children and confused visitors may actually fall into their proper place.

Next time: Chapter 5, by Rowland S. Ward, on “Psalm Singing and Scripture.”

Until then,


Wednesday Update

Detail of some of the stops on the West Point Chapel Organ.

You are looking at a few of the stops on the largest pipe organ in a house of worship anywhere in the world.  This historic Möller organ, constructed in 1910 and added onto many times thereafter, is located in the main chapel of the historic West Point Military Academy, on the bank of the Hudson River in upstate New York.  More than 27,000 pipes encircle the perimeter of the chapel, from the 32-foot ranks laid horizontally beneath the rest of the organ to the en chamade trumpets over the entrance doors.  A group of non-delegate synodical attendees had the immense opportunity to enjoy a day trip to this spectacular location.

Our tour guide was Chaplain Paul Berghaus, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary.  Not only did we receive a tour of the chapel and organ, but Chaplain Berghaus also guided us around most of the campus.  All in all it was an excellent day, leaving me extremely thankful to the coordinators of the field trip and humbled to enjoy this privilege.  My only regret is that the synodical delegates weren’t able to join us.  Sincere thanks go to Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Kuiken of Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church for arranging this outing!

I’ll end this post with a few pictures from the West Point trip, including a more complete picture of the organ console.  Meanwhile, here are three of the most important points of synodical news so far:

  • Classis Southern Ontario has been split into two new classes: Classis Southwestern Ontario and Classis Ontario-East.
  • The synod of the URCNA has accepted the invitation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to work together toward the publication of a songbook to be used by both federations.
  • Synod has moved that the URCNA enter into Phase 2 relations with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), to be ratified January 1st, 2013.

On URC Psalmody we have special cause to rejoice over the second decision in this list.  Praise God for bringing these two denominations together, and pray that he will continue to grant them increased unity in the future.  For more news and information, don’t wander far from Glenda Mathes’s regular updates.



Exclusive or Inclusive? (Part 1)

From the very beginning of this blog, there’s been a pesky issue in the back of my mind.  It’s the kind of discussion I’m reluctant to bring up, yet I couldn’t treat the topic of psalm-singing fairly without addressing it at some point.  And so, beginning today, I’m going to attempt (however clumsily) to summarize a debate that has divided Reformed churches for centuries.

By far, Christians in nearly all Reformed denominations agree that the 150 biblical psalms should be sung in worship.  But though there is a consensus among Reformed believers on this point, disagreement arises with respect to singing other songs.  While there are many views on this issue, I can identify three general categories of beliefs:

  1. The 150 divinely inspired biblical psalms are the only acceptable songs for worship.
  2. Only biblical songs may be sung in church, but selections outside the psalms, such as the songs of Zacharias, Simeon, and Mary, may be used.
  3. The use of biblical psalms and songs is encouraged, but non-inspired hymns are also appropriate for worship.

The first position is commonly called “exclusive psalmody” or “EP”; the third position is unofficially known as “inclusive psalmody” or “inclusive hymnody.”  As far as I know, the second position has no official designation, but it falls mostly within the lines of exclusive psalmody.  Since there’s a lot to summarize, I’m going to look at each viewpoint separately.  We’ll start with exclusive psalmody.

To provide some context, here is a list of denominations that adhere to exclusive psalmody, singing only the psalms in congregational worship.

The following denominations include some congregations that practice exclusive psalmody.

–from Exclusive Psalmody Churches

So what exactly do these congregations believe?  Exclusive psalmodists derive their arguments from the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4), the Westminster Confession (chapter XXI), and the biblical command to “sing Psalms” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).  From the information I’ve collected, the argument for singing only the psalms goes something like this:

God has commanded us not to worship him in any other way than he has directed in his Word.  The book of Psalms is a songbook directly from God, and in Scripture we are commanded to sing from it.  Therefore, the divinely inspired psalms are the only acceptable songs for congregational worship.

I say “from the information I’ve collected” because it’s hard to find a similarly clear and succinct explanation from the exclusive psalmodists themselves.   (If you know of any helpful resources on exclusive psalmody, be sure to let me know.)  Nevertheless, here are some excerpts from the few articles I was able to find online.  Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States pastor Brian Schwertley writes:

There are a number of important doctrines in the Bible which are deduced from many parts of Scripture and cannot be conclusively proven from one or two verses.  Exclusive Psalm singing is one such doctrine.  Exclusive Psalmody flows directly from the overall teaching of Scripture regarding the worship of Jehovah.  The Bible teaches that ‘the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in holy scripture’ [note that this quotation is actually from chapter XXI of the Westminster Confession].  When it comes to the elements of worship and the content of praise, we must have a warrant from God’s word.  God sets the parameters on what is permissible in worship, not man.  In other words, anything that the church does in worship must be proved from the Bible.…The biblical teaching regarding worship is crystal clear. The church’s job is not to innovate and create new worship forms or ordinances, but simply to see what God has declared in His word and obey it.…The regulative principle of worship is crucial in understanding exclusive Psalmody, for while there is abundant biblical evidence that Psalms were used for praise in both the Old and New Testament eras, there is no evidence in the Bible that God’s people ever used uninspired human compositions in public worship.  Churches which use uninspired hymns in public worship must prove that such a practice has biblical warrant from either a command, historical example or by deduction.

–from “A Brief Examination of Exclusive Psalmody” (

A little more pugnaciously, an 1888 report from the Reformed Presbyterian Synod’s Committee on Psalmody presents these arguments for exclusive psalmody:

We are surrounded by those who are hostile to the exclusive use of the Book of Psalms as the praise book of the church; many temptations are thrown in the way of some members of our church to use hymns of human composition in divine service, and some say we are very narrow-minded and bigoted because we confine ourselves to the hundred and fifty Psalms of the Bible.  We need as a church to explain to our members from time to time, as well as to exhibit to the churches around us, why we adhere to the exclusive use of the Psalms in the worship of God.  We need to do this because of the natural inclination of man to substitute the human for the divine, and to consult his own feelings, even in matters of worship, rather than the revealed will of God.  The question in all such matters is not what is most pleasing to human sense, but what does God require.…

No one will deny that there is warrant for the use of the inspired book of Psalms.  It will not be denied that God gave these Psalms to the Jews as their book of praise.  All scholars admit that the ‘hymn’ which Jesus sang just after the institution of the sacrament of the supper was selected from this book; and it is capable of demonstration that when Paul, by the Spirit, enjoined on the Ephesian and Colossian Churches the singing of ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,’ he meant no other than the inspired songs of the Bible.  We are frequently commanded to praise God, but never to make a hymn to be sung in his praise.  To use hymns of human composition in religious worship without divine warrant is daring presumption; it is to say that ‘God’s Spirit acted niggardly in doling out an insufficient supply of praise songs;’ and it is to profess that we are wiser than God.  Let us beware of charging God foolishly.

Since we cannot consistently and conscientiously sing anything except the Psalms of the Bible in divine worship we ought not to seem to countenance the use of other songs in such service.  It is damaging to the conscientious convictions of our members to frequent even houses of worship where such corruptions of worship prevail.  To do so is to enter on a course which is almost certain to end in defection.

–from The Old Light Covenanter

Below is a collection of links I discovered while researching this topic.  If you’d like to learn more about the case for exclusive psalmody, I’d especially recommend reading all of Brian Schwertley’s article quoted above.

  • Exclusive Psalmody Churches — A connection point for exclusive psalmody congregations across the world.
  • — A blog supporting exclusive psalmody, overseen by a church in the RPCGA (Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly).
  • Sabbath & Psalms — Another blog presenting the views of an RPCGA member.
  • Covenanter Psalmody — A collection of articles offered by the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanted).

To be objective, I’ve also included an equal number of articles that attempt to refute the position of the exclusive psalmodists.

  • “Exclusive Psalmody” by W. Gary Crampton — An article countering the exclusive-psalmody interpretation of the Westminster Confession chapter XXI, from
  • “Exclusive Psalmody or New Covenant Hymnody?” by Lee Irons — A thorough response to the argument for exclusive psalmody, from
  • “The Argument against Exclusive Psalmody” (Parts 1 & 2) on the Two-Edged Sword blog — An argument against exclusive psalmody from a logical and historical perspective.
  • “David Dickson and Exclusive Psalmody” by Seth Stark on The Aquila Report blog — Another response to exclusive psalmody, focusing on the music in Revelation.

I must admit that I haven’t had the time to read all of these articles thoroughly, as I hope to do someday, yet on a quick scan, all of them seemed fairly clear and well-written.  Still, I can’t attest to the accuracy or soundness of the reasoning of these authors, so I’d recommend reading their opinions with a grain of salt.

Since this has been a long and rather rambling post, I won’t belabor the issue with my own viewpoint at the moment.  I’d simply like to point out that whether or not you agree with the doctrine of exclusive psalmody, it’s always helpful to learn more about other perspectives on Reformed worship.  And as we continue to consider this topic, let’s always remember what a blessing we enjoy: that we can sing God’s Word in worship.


URC Psalmody on YouTube

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