To begin singing God’s Word again. That’s what Kevin says. As thankful as I am for his encouragement on this front his post raises some questions.
First, let me express how thankful I am for this post. The re-introduction of psalmody to Christian worship has been a concern of mine (and of Bob Godfrey’s long before I caught on) for some time. I’ve written here about how to re-introduce the singing of Psalms to our worship. I’ve argued that, in order to facilitate such a re-introduction, we need new tunes for the psalms and I’ve talked about how to pick a psalm for worship. God bless Kevin for taking a positive step here and I look forward to his new series.
Nevertheless, as much as I appreciate his taking on of our “high places,” one cannot help but notice that even as Kevin gently encourages us to re-consider our “avoidance of the Psalms” in worship he has to proactively defend himself from criticism by pointing out that he’s not a “Psalms only” guy. He writes:
…I love old hymns, new hymns, Sovereign Grace music, Townend and Getty, even a good Spanish chorus or two. We have drums and guitars (and an organ) in our church. I’m not pining away for a straight-up Genevan liturgy with robes, an unchangeable order of worship, and unsingable metrical tunes.
I love old hymns too. I love Luther’s paraphrase of Ps 46 (A Mighty Fortress) but that’s beside the point isn’t it? Isn’t the very point of the Reformed Principle of Worship to free us all from what I love or what Kevin loves or what the music director loves? One of the great benefits of the RPW was to give us an objective standard by which to measure what we do in worship.
Heidelberg Catechism Q. 96, to which Kevin and I both subscribe says:
96. What does God require in the second Commandment?
That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.
When that language was adopted by the Palatinate Church in 1563 and by the Dutch Reformed Churches (in which family of churches Kevin and I both minister) HC 96 was understood to restrict congregational singing in divine services only to God’s Word. Further, it was understood to mean that God’s Word was sung without musical accompaniment. One of the first things the Reformed did was to remove musical instruments from the churches.
Since the 18th century, however, Reformed worship has become increasingly unfaithful to the old understanding of God’s Word as expressed in the HC. On this see RRC.
Thus, it’s very encouraging to see Kevin challenging us all to re-consider our practice of worship. In light of the original understanding of HC 96, one wonders why the RPW (and implicitly HC 96) should be reduced to a caricature (“straight-up Genevan liturgy….”)? Maybe he’s read some of the responses to this post?
As has been shown in this very space, however, the RPW isn’t necessarily stiff or stuffy. Perhaps it might seem that way if one has never seen it in action. I don’t know what Kevin’s experience is but is are today a vast army of Christians who’ve never seen a historic Reformed service. We use Genevan robes in Oceanside not as a matter of principle but because we minister in a truly casual culture. We minister on the beach and we needed a strong visual signal that OURC is not Calvary Chapel, it’s not playtime, that we’re engaged in a most serious business: worship of the Almighty God. What is interesting is that those response to our approach to worship has broken down along generational lines. The boomers don’t like it but those who are older than the boomers and those who are younger than the boomers mostly do like it. My theory is that the boomers who don’t like, reject it because it’s not narcissistic. If you’re looking for an endorphin high in worship, you won’t find it at OURC. Those young people, however, who’ve grown tired of “Shine Jesus Shine” and happy-clappy worship have found a refuge with us.
We try to conduct worship with joy in the knowledge that God is pleased to accommodate himself to our weakness, to meet with us, to speak to us in his law and gospel, to hear our prayers, and to receive our praise and thanksgiving for the sake of Christ. We love to come to the table every Lord’s Day, we love to hear the gospel preached, we love to sing God’s Word. We hope our worship is marked by joyful solemnity.
It is interesting, however, that, in order to even suggest the possibility that we should sing re-introduce the singing of Psalms in Reformed worship, Kevin has to protect himself rhetorically from the wrath to come from those who will brook no challenges to the modern revisions of Reformed worship. He has to set fire rhetorically to the RPW by letting folk know that he has no intention of fundamentally challenging the modern revisions.
In the spirit of taking down the “high places,” may I say that the effect of his language to say, “You’re autonomy is safe here.” Isn’t the point of taking down high places to say, “You’re autonomy is not safe. God’s honor and glory comes first, even if it proves uncomfortable for us”?
As much as I appreciate Kevin’s positive step, the fact that he has to protect himself rhetorically, to anticipate the wrath of hymn singers, thus suggests another, unspoken “high place” that needs to be taken down.