Deformation or Reformation?

Several people have forwarded various news stories from the UK regarding the possibility that the Free Church of Scotland may decide at GA this summer to permit the playing of musical instruments and the singing of uninspired, non-canonical songs in worship. It hasn’t happened yet. It may not happen. It’s very difficult to say ahead of time what a deliberative ecclesiastical body will do. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that the possibility of this move has attracted so much attention from the “secular” media (i.e., major newspapers and the BBC). A writer in the Guardian argues, on aesthetic grounds, that the Free Church should retain their historic practice. Coverage in The Times seems to lean toward the revisionist position.

In an interview with The Times, one prominent proponent of revision makes the sorts of arguments that have become familiar:

“The Church will always sing psalms, but the issue is should it sing psalms only?” he said. “We all love the psalms, including me, but some of us feel they don’t express the New Testament. We want to recognise that Christ lived among us, died and rose again.”


“The rest of the Christian world sings hymns as well as psalms, so I feel we are on the margins of Christianity and I don’t want to be on the margins.”

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that the reporter got the quotations right (a dodgy assumption, I know, but I don’t have time to re-interview people or rewrite the story), some responses are in order:

There is an alternative between exclusive psalmody and the use of non-canonical songs in worship. It is the position argued by John Murray in a minority report to the OPC. There’s a chapter on this in Recovering the Reformed Confession which I won’t repeat here except to say that I fail to understand the attraction to the facile argument that we need to sing non-canonical songs to sing about Christ.

Really? Do we really read God’s Word that way? I don’t. I don’t think we have historically read Scripture that way. We have historically read ALL of Scripture to testify to Christ. I worry about the basis of the argument as much as I worry about the consequences of accepting this argument. Holy Scripture testifies to Christ throughout, in typology and in fulfillment. This is the explicit teaching of John 8:56; 2 Cor. 1:20; and Luke 24 among other places. If we wish to sing the glories of our Savior we can do so rightly (1 Cor. 10) from any portion of Scripture. Yes, the typological revelation needs to be interpreted, but that’s why God gave us ministers of the Word.

If we accept the premise that God’s people may sing all of God’s Word, then what else do we need? If we can sing the NT songs and other passages that explicitly refer to Christ, then what else does one want? Doesn’t that address the stated need? Yes, and it does so without imposing on people, in worship, in the address to God in prayer, texts not inspired by God. If sola Scriptura norms our behavior in any place, it does so in public worship. If the freedom of the Christian is pertinent and imperative anywhere it is in public worship. Does a session or consistory have a God-given right to require of Christians that they pray (whether spoken or sung) to God in worship using uninspired words? Do they have the right to impose upon congregations typological worship practice (e.g., the use of instruments from to the typological period of redemptive history)?

Finally, the implicit appeal to catholicity in the second argument is as unhistorical as it is non-confessional. If we want to be truly catholic in our worship we should sing God’s Word! Nothing is more catholic than the Word of God. Nothing is more catholic than the singing of the psalms in public worship. Indeed, our age is the most psalm-less in the history of the church. The Scriptures teach us that our Lord himself saw himself in the Psalms (which he gave to the church!); he sang them with his disciples. We know the apostolic church sang the psalms. The patristic church sang the psalms (without instruments, which they regarded as pagan), the medieval church sang the psalms, the Reformation church sang the psalms. Our Reformed forefathers largely rid the church of non-canonical songs and of all musical instruments. They did so because they believed it was biblical and catholic practice.

When the revisionists tell us “Oh, we’ll continue to sing the psalms,” don’t you believe them. Why not? Because the history of the modern church tells us that it isn’t true. We traded in God’s Word for Watts’ paraphrases of the psalter. Then we traded in the paraphrases for hymns. Then we traded hymns for choruses. Today, anyone who advocates the historic, confessional approach to worship (sola scriptura + second commandment) is regarded as an oddball. From the perspective of the history of worship, it is hymn-singing, instrument-using Christians who are the odd ones, especially from the perspective of Reformed worship.

What is at issue is not only the possible decision by the Free Church to abandon the historic and confessional practice of the Reformed churches but the basis on which that decision will be taken. That basis will not be satisfied with the addition of hymns and instruments because the basis is a sort of leaven that will continue to grow within the church until it is fully developed. It may seem like a long step from “The Lord is My Shepherd” to “In the Garden,” but historically it has not been. That is why ministers and elders in the Free Church (and everywhere else) need to discern clearly the difference between Reformation according to the Word and deformation according to the world.


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  1. I could not agree more with you here Dr. Clark.

    I will never understand the “Can’t sing about Christ in the Psalms” argument or the the “Psalms are deficient for NT worship” argument.

    To me it belies an implicit Marcionism in the way people read the Old Testament.

  2. Once the door is opened it is close to impossible to close. Our brothers and sisters in the ARP wanted to add a few hymns in the 1940s- and now it is rare to find an ARP that is even majority psalms.

    Thank God that he gave us a song book- and may the Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ return to her roots and sing and allow the heart to be dwelled richly the Words of Christ.

  3. On the other hand, the OPC has never held to singing the Psalms only, and yet the OPC is working on a new Psalter-Hymnal, with a fellow faculty member doing all the translations. New, fresh metrical translations of the Psalms so the OPC can sing them.

    Now, what can you say about that?

    • Roy,

      It’s great that the OP is doing it but will anyone use it? I’ve been in a good number of OP congregations (and in other groups that use the Trinity Hymnal) without singing many psalms.

      I hope that having this resource will encourage people to use it but there been good, useful psalters for a long time and they’ve not been used. Is it the case that OP congregations will only use an OP psalter?

      The question is this: what is our principle of worship?

  4. The current position of the Free Church of Scotland is actually scripture only, not exclusive psalmody.

    When I was growing up on the in the 1970’s in the North West Higlands of Scotland we sang paraphrases routinely, but I don’t know of any FCoS that still sing them.

  5. Considering that so many contemporary praise songs are actually drawn from Scripture — the majority of Chris Tomlin’s or Matt Redman’s songs — the strict regulative principle seems hard to uphold. If the churches can use Scripture to discern which hymns (praise songs) are faithful renderings of Scripture, then the hymns should be allowed. Likewise, the use of public prayers (those not taken verbatim from Scripture) and the sermon itself are justified.

    • Kevin,

      Consider your logic.

      1. Because some songs are connected to Scripture


      2. Because we can exercise discernment Therefore

      3. We don’t have to follow God’s law

      What’s wrong with this argument?

      Well, the first premise is in doubt. It hasn’t been established. Taking one line from scripture and adding to it a number of other lines that may or may not have anything to do with Scripture doesn’t make a song God’s Word. I’ve read and sung a good number of contemporary choruses and precious few of them are strictly biblical. The same is true for many of the paraphrases of Scripture. They often begin with a line or a phrase from Scripture and depart into worlds unknown.

      The middle premise isn’t in doubt.

      The conclusion simply doesn’t follow. The question is this:

      What does God require of us in worship? We confess:

      But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

      Has God prescribed that we should respond to his Word with anything other than his Word?

      The system you suggest does not leave God’s Word (sola Scriptura) sovereign in worship but rather leaves us at the mercy of those who have to decide “how faithful is this song?” That judgment is inherently subjective.

      Again, does a session or a consistory have the authority to impose on a congregation anything that God has not prescribed?

      • I think we can establish the first premise. A song like “Holy is the Lord” (Chris Tomlin) or “Lord of Lords” (Brooke Fraser) is fairly easy to do, but I’ll admit that it gets difficult with some other songs. All the same, I don’t think the risks, of subjective faults, cancel out the gains, of the Church’s creative response to God’s Word through new songs.

        Sola Scriptura is the regulative principle for the preacher and his preaching, the theologian and his scholarly output, and the layman and his witness. This doesn’t require, for these tasks, a verbatim republication of passages from Scripture. Likewise, worship can be held entirely under the authority of Scripture without limiting the songs to verbatim passages from Scripture. Moreover, Scripture itself does not prescribe this limitation.

        • Kevin,

          1. Public worship is one thing, academic work is another. Failure to make a distinction between daily life and public worship has resulted in much confusion and in the corruption of public worship.

          2. Yes, the minister cannot contradict Scripture but his vocation in Scripture is to proclaim, announce, and exposit God’s Word. He cannot be limited to the words of Scripture and fulfill his call. The congregation is not called to do those things. We have to challenge the egalitarian, democratic assumptions that underlie the “every-member” model of ministry and which sees no clear distinction between the vocations of the minister and the congregation in public worship.

          • Thanks, Dr. Clark, for the response…and for the time it takes for you to do all of this responding. It is really appreciated. I still disagree, of course, but you’ve given me some good food for thought, especially your second point about “democratic assumptions.”

  6. >Nothing is more catholic than the singing of the psalms in public worship.

    Scott, you really missed the point here. Nobody is saying that the singing of Psalms is not Catholic; almost everyone is saying that it’s _the exclusion of hymns_ which is not catholic.
    I’ll try to make my basic point once more -with a slightly different take. God commanded His people to chant, i.e., sing, their prayers -that’s why the Psalms were given. The earliest Christians were Jewish. (As you doubtless know, Christianity was originally an in-house quarrel _within_ Judaism.) There is no New Testament evidence that the long-established Jewish practice of singing prayers in worship ceased. What is a sung prayer? A hymn! (“Fairest Lord Jesus”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Be Thou My Vision” and countless others,)
    Personally, I don’t adhere to the Regulative Principle. But if I did, I could make a good case that, in substituting the man-made convention of spoken prayers for the divinely sanctioned command to sing prayers, it’s the Exclusive Psalmody folk who are guilty of will-worship, offering up strange fire, etc.
    Sorry, but I just can’t understand why you don’t see this.

    • John,

      As a matter of history the imposition of non-canonical songs is not catholic. There is no evidence that the apostolic church sang anything but God’s Word. The evidence from the patristic period is that the church, in worship, sang God’s Word without accompaniment.

      Yes, worship became corrupted in the medieval church, as did theology and piety.

      That’s why we had a Reformation.

      Why should a Reformed church seek to go backwards?

  7. Martin Luther was no mean hymn writer.I cant understand the arguement for exclusive psalmody,and would ask those who insist it is the only proper mode for singing in public worship to be consistant, and not utter one single word in public worship only that which is inspired, ie only bible reading is permitted in worship

    • Thomas,

      There have been a lot of great hymn writers. That’s not in question. What is in question is this: what has God said?

      Can you imagine that a believer might object to being required by ecclesiastical authorities to do or say something he believed to be contrary to God’s Word? Do you remember what Luther said at Worms in 1521? Seems to me that he articulated the sola Scriptura principle there.

      If you’ll read some of the posts linked above you’ll see that the question of Christian liberty is one of the central problems which the Reformed Reformers addressed by articulating and confessing what has come to be called the RPW. This principle protects me from your opinion and it protects you from my opinion.

      The Reformed distinguished between the vocation of the congregation (to respond to God’s Word with God’s Word) and that of the minister (to read and preach God’s Word to the congregation). These distinct offices account for the different functions of minister and congregation in public worship.

      Remember, the skill involved in the production of hymns is not the central issue. After all the calves at Bethel, Dan, and Sinai were very carefully made. So was the cart that carried the Ark. Nevertheless, God was not pleased by and did not ordain the use of them. The cart, despite the skill with which it was made, cost poor Uzzah his life. We know what happened at Sinai. Gold doesn’t taste good and of course Bethel and Dan, well intentioned or not, were a disaster for the church.

      • Yes, the Lutherans like to wallow in the “adiaphora” of singing hymns. And look where they are as a result. The ELCA, the largest collection of them in the USA, is heretical enough to rank with the infamous Seven Sisters (and not just because of their size!). The LCMS is being split down the middle and is just around the corner from a convention where serious issues just might splinter them for good – and a great number of those issues center around Worship Wars.

        I once suggested to a more conservative Lutheran group that one way to solve the infighting over CW would be to throw away all of the hymnals and do as the confessional Reformed, singing only inspired passages from Scripture. That was met with slack-jawed, astonished looks and when they got over the initial shock of that suggestion, they retorted that there would still be argumentation over the melodies used. There’s no winning.

        As one of their own said best a couple of centuries ago…

        “…But the practical result of this principle [of the church tolerating within her bosom those who claim she is teaching error] is one on which there is no need of speculating; it works in one unvarying way. When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating, it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and poistion is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skilful in combating it…”

        Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.

        • Thanks George. To be clear, I doubt that very many congregations actually practice what I’m advocating,

          Krauth’s volume is one of the more interesting things I’ve read in recent years.

  8. In regard to the claim that “there is no evidence that the Apostolic church sang anything but God’s word”:

    This claim has not been demonstrated. By “no evidence,” you may mean perhaps, “no positive proof.” Granted. There are contested texts in the New Testament itself that many have argued had their origin as hymns, or were used as hymns based upon their presence in the New Testament. Songs such as the Benedictus and the Magnificat (Luke 1 & 2) are rather clearly presented as Holy-Spirit-inspired in their origin, and so are not part of my argument. But texts such as Ephesians 5:14, Philippians 2:6-11, the rhyming text in 1 Timothy 3:16, perhaps the canticles of the book of Revelation, and a few other NT texts may bear a different character. These texts, are, of course, Scripture. But some have argued through the years that some of these texts arose as hymns before they were incorporated into Scriptural passages. That’s “evidence,” albeit of a sort that is difficult to assess.

    Moving to the earliest post-apostolic generation . . .
    The oldest Christian hymnal, as far as I can tell, is the book known as the Odes of Solomon, a Syriac text that dates from ca 100 AD, and that is also extant in a third-century Greek version, and a fourth century Coptic version. The first large fragment of the original Syriac text was discovered in 1909. Syriac, as you know, is an Aramaic dialect used by many of the earliest Christian communities in Syro-Palestine. Most folk whom I have encountered in exclusive Psalmody debates know nothing of its existence. And so, one hears the claim that the ancient church had no hymnals except for the Psalter. Not true.

    Ignatius of Antioch (Syrian, martyred very early second century) probably knew this book; Lactantius quotes from it, in Latin. The Odes of Solomon are also referred to in ancient lists of apocryphal or non-canonical books.

    But even if one examines the Psalter used by the ancient Greek-speaking Christian communities, the Greek Psalter that is appealed to so often by advocates of exclusive Psalmody, even here the witness is not unmixed. Many, many of the ancient copies of the Greek Psalms are clearly marked with rubrics for liturgical use, and suffer the marks of frequent handling. So, it is clear that the ancient Greek church sang the Septuagintal Psalms. However, ancient copies of the Septuagintal Psalter frequently contained an appendix of “Odes.” These Odes routinely included such poetical texts as the apocryphal 151st Psalm (about David and Goliath), the Song of Moses (Deut 32), the Prayer of Hannah (1 Sam 2), the Prayer of Habakkuk (Hab 3), the Prayer of Azariah (from the apocryphal additions to Daniel; ApocrDan 3:26-45), the apocryphal Prayer of the Three Young Men (ApocrDan 3:52-88), other canonical but non-psalmodic poetical prayers, and a non-canonical “Morning Hymn” addressed to the Trinity.

    The most ancient textual evidence that we possess is that the church practiced a preponderant psalmody, but a psalmody peppered with other texts, some canonical, some non-canonical.

    In the interests of historical accuracy in the debate,

    • Byron,

      This is exactly the problem.

      Isn’t the burden of proof upon those who would impost on God’s people, in public assembly, anything other than God’s Word (as a text for responding to God’s Word), much higher than can be demonstrated from the archeological evidence?

      I don’t think that “may” and “might” meet those tests. What is needed, as you say, is positive evidence and I don’t think it exists.

      Even if there is evidence that, in some places things other than psalms or other portions of Scripture were sung, which I concede is entirely possible, it wouldn’t provide the necessary grounds for doing it now. That case has to be made from Scripture.

      My point is to point out to those who simply assume that worship has always been as it is today that their assumption is false.

    • Scott, in reply . . .
      My post had two purposes, neither of which was to argue for the hymnody position. My purpose was to address a narrower issue.

      First, I wanted to clear the air about the claim that hymnody had “no evidence” from the apostolic era of the Christian church. That claim is not true. There is *some* evidence in the New Testament; the interpretation of that evidence is contested.

      Second, I wanted to address the frequent claim that the ancient church used only the Psalter as its hymnal. That claim is not supported: we have the Odes of Solomon, written ca 100 AD, in three, possibly four languages, and we also have the Greek Odes appended to ancient copies of the Septuagintal Psalter.

      Arguments for exclusive psalmody based on ancient Christian practice have to deal with those two pieces of evidence.

      • Byron,

        No one disputes that hymns existed in the patristic. Hymns also existed in the Reformation but the question is to what use were they put? As far as I know that question is difficult (if not impossible) to answer.

        The evidence, as I know it, is too fragmentary to yield certain conclusions — although I’m quite confident about instruments. As I show in RRC, at least some of the arguments people make (e.g., that Pliny the Younger uses the word “hymn”) are non-starters since they assume what is in dispute.

    • Thanks for this information. Do you mind giving me a couple sources where I can check out this information? I am fairly new to the whole debate, and leanining very heavily towards Mr. Clark’s position, but am interesting in studying your sources. As far as some being non-canonical I am aware that the Council of Laodicea (364 I think) stated that “No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments.” So it is surprising that they would allow them to be sung. Perhaps that was other districts than Laodicea? Anyways if you wouldn’t mind shooting me a couple sources I would appreciate it. Thanks.

  9. Scott,

    The OPC would not expend the time, energy or treasure if we didn’t think we’d use a Psalter. Many of us were disappointed that the “new” Trinity Hymnal, with over 700 selections couldn’t find room for all 150 psalms.

    Brian can tell you more than I can about the work that has been done. We do not have a “it wasn’t done here” attitude, but rather a judgment that though much good has been done, the work deserves better.

    My point however, was to your point about no church ever moving back. Well, the catholic church reformed did, didn’t it? We in the OPC are not monlithic on this, but a large enough of a majority have thought that we should have the psalms in a good translation well rendered for singing. I think that says something.

    I do have another comment, but I’d prefer to not do it here.

    • My concern is that this is a “top-down” project rather than a response to a demand by the laity for the psalter. As Bob Godfrey always reminds us, if we want to know what the popular piety really is look at what is sung at funerals. My experience suggests that “In the Garden” is more reflective of lay piety in the NAPARC world than psalm 78.

      • Well, of course it’s “top down” We’re presbyterians. The ministers and elders lead, not the people in the pew.

        If they did, it’d be worse than “In the Garden.” It’d be “I did it my way.”

        • Roy, ruling from the top down is not Presbyterian government. Presybyterian government is where Christ rules His church through a plurality of lawfully ordained elders in a graded court system

          • Stephen, I agree with everything you said, except your first statment. In fact, I would thank you for proving my point. Christ, the King, is the top, and His church is ruled from the top down.

            • Roy,

              I understand that we’re not congregationalists. I was only commenting on the sociology of congregations and on the way things typically go. Let’s hope that the new psalter finds quickly deep roots in the OPC!

  10. Thanks for your reply Dr clarke
    Am swimming beyond my depth here ,but am willing to be more informed,
    I have come out of a bible believing church in Southern Ireland,there arent many,let alone reformed,that had so cut itself off from other churches because the pastor insisted on head covering ,kjv only,no Lords supper because he was not sure who could partake,deffinetly no wine,sabbaterian.Dont get me wrong he is a God loving sinceer christian and would be sinning against his conscience if he did other.I was all the above myself.
    My question is,is exclusive psalmody in public worship not another form of legalism which binds the conscience needlesly,and causes further needless division?

    • Thomas,

      I appreciate this.

      1. I’m not arguing for exclusive psalmody. In Recovering the Reformed Confession I argue that the entire canonical Scriptures may and should be sung in public worship.

      2. It is to preserve Christian freedom that I advocate the RPW. If we read the Westminster Confession we do not find anything about headcoverings. We do confess a principle of worship, however. We do confess a doctrine and practice of the sabbath.

      3. Legalism is a noun that has to be used very carefully. It has two senses: 1) requiring obedience to the law as a condition of justification; 2) imposing extra-biblical requirements for sanctification. The confession of faith helps us with both of these. We confess justification sola fide and we confess a doctrine of Christian liberty.

      Setting apart one day in seven is not inherently legalistic. After all, God set apart the 7th day in creation. The Lord claimed the first day by his resurrection.

      There’s a chapter on this in RRC. I can say that I’ve found the recovery of the confessional doctrine of the sabbath most liberating and joyous.

      Confessional Reformed Christianity isn’t legalistic. If some is a legalist (as defined above), he isn’t Reformed.

      • Dr. R. Scott Clark,
        I was hurt to hear this about the Free Church of Scotland (regardless of what the outcome may be). Thank you so much for this post. I look forward to reading RRC very soon! I enjoy reading your opinion on things (and your reply to comments).
        God bless, Jess

  11. Scott,

    I’m sorry to post this comment here, but I can’t find an email address. I know that you are a “big boy” and can take disagreement, but I’d prefer to do this one on one.

    I agree with the RPW. It is what the Word of God teaches. And I agree with the Westminster Standards teaching it because it is what the Word of God teaches.

    However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) There is a huge logical leap to say, “Therefore you must sing the Psalms (or only inspired songs.)

    I’m only on 266 of RRC. I have yet to see a convincing exegetical argument that I must only sing inspired hymns. Even your historical studies have “holes” (can you prove that subapostolic churches (or apostolic churches) did NOT sing uninspired hymns? In other words, can you prove that they ONLY sang inspired hymns? I didn’t see that in the book.

    I think you did a good job of showing that the reformed did sing only the psalms. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible requires me to do that.

    You see, I’m an Orthodox Presbyterian – show me from the Bible, and I’ll follow. I’ve yet to be convinced from the Word of God, so I have to conclude that the RPW does not require me to sing only inpsired hymns.

    Another hole – if the church singing is the church praying, and she must only pray the Scriptures, then why does that not apply to every other prayer uttered in the public worship services? I didn’t see that addressed either.

    Perhaps I’ve missed your arguments (reading several books at a time can do that, I’ll admit), but I haven’t seen these questions addressed, or not to my satisfaction.

    We all know that the Confessions are the Scripture, nor are the Reformers inerrant. I am open to being convinced, from the Bible. But it isn’t acurate to say that I don’t hold to the RPW. I just don’t agree with the detail that you think the NT gives it.

    Thanks for your time brother.

    • Roy,

      My email is at my school website.

      The volume was not intended to be an exhaustive case for all the doctrines and practices propounded. It was intended to push or draw the churches back to their confessions and thence to the Word.

      You say, “I’m an Orthodox Presbyterian” as if you are a biblicist. Check your ordination vow. I don’t think that OPs are biblicst by confession or subscription to the WCF. Where the churches have confessed an interpretation of Scripture, that interpretation is binding on us, isn’t it?

      When you were ordained you took a vow to uphold the WCF. Did you not read chapter 21? I understand that the OPC doesn’t hold the original DPW but there is little doubt about what the WCF meant originally and how it was originally adopted by the Scottish church.

      Keep reading. There are a lot of footnotes which I left as bread crumbs for further research.

      The point of the book is to provide a way to define the adjective “Reformed.” The next question, the subject for another book, is whether the Reformed were right about what they confessed.

      • Thanks Scott. I’ll check the footnotes out.

        My first ordination vow was: 1.Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

        My second was:2.Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?

        My third was: 3.Do you approve of the government, discipline, and worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

        The degree of adherence lowers as one moves from the Primary to the Secondary, to the Tertiary. I know of no reformed church that puts their confession on the level of the Word of God. Does that make us biblicists?

        • Except for “liberty” positions, I swore to submit to my brethren. That means that I submit to the Church’s positions in the Secondary and Tertiary standards. The OPC allows, in my opinion, at times, a bit too much liberty. But that is also the judgment of my brethern.

        • Roy,

          As you can read in RRC, we confess what we do because we believe it is biblical. If you find the confession to contradict or to be unfaithful to the Scripture you have an obligation to take that exception to your presbtyery and possibly to call for a change in the confession.

          Failing that, then the members have a right, don’t they, to assume that their ministers and elders agree with what is confessed in the standards, don’t they?

          The issue isn’t the priority of Scripture over the confession. The issue is whether every minister and elder is a confession unto himself.

          • And, on that point, at least, I agree with you.

            However, the arguments in your book and here are not the confession that I swore to. And the animis impotentis (having never had Latin I probably misspelled that) of the OPC does not hold me to the actual wording of the confession.

            So, if you wish to persuade me to adopt the position you hold (or that the Westminster Assembly held) then it will take an exegetical argument, not simply a citation of confessional documents.

            At anyrate there is much here to consider. Thanks for taking the time.

    • Roy,

      You wrote

      You see, I’m an Orthodox Presbyterian – show me from the Bible, and I’ll follow. I’ve yet to be convinced from the Word of God, so I have to conclude that the RPW does not require me to sing only inpsired hymns.

      You have that backwards, according the RPW you are the one that has to prove from Scripture that singing uninspired songs is required. God either commands or doesn’t. If he doesn’t command something for worship, the RPW says it is not be used. According to the RPW the burden of proof is on you not the EP or Inspired Only guys. Based on what you’ve said you really should bring me up on charges for violating the 2nd commandment by being Exclusive Psalmody. After all if you really do believe the RPW, and uninspired hymns are to be used, then the use of hymns isn’t a choice it is a requirement, and those who don’t are sinning. Same thing for the musical instruments. RPW doesn’t allow you to say may or may not, it asks what does God require. So if musical instruments may be used, then the RPW says they must be used because then you are saying we have the command of God for their use. If we have a command for their use, then hose like me that don’t use them are in violation of the 2nd Commandment. — or the RPW doesn’t mean what you think it means.

      • Well, there’s the problem Andrew. You assert that the RPW teaches something that I have never seen the Bible teach. Then you tell me that you have no burden to prove your faith and practice from the Bible, but I do, because a church council settled the issue for you.

        Furthermore, you are wrong in your assertment according to WCF I:VIII & X. The final judge is not a confession, but the Holy Spirit of God speaking in the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures.

        So, show me that the Holy Spirit of God has taught what you say He has taught. Prove it exegetically. Otherwise you are no different from Rome.

        • Okay Roy, let’s start again.

          We agree that WCF 21 is a faithful summary of the teaching of God’s Word which to which we have voluntarily bound ourselves before God and the church, right?

          So, the principle is not in question, is it?

          What is in question is the application of the principle?

          Are we together on these points?

  12. Dr. Clark,

    I have often had friends get impatient with me when I point out the sad neglect of the Psalter in the modern Reformed churches. One of the favorite arguments that defenders of the hymnals resort to is “we can pray prayers of our own composition (whether written or extempore)! Why not sing songs of own invention, as long they are based on Scripture?” I think you have already answered the problem of “making songs of our own invention.” However, I am curious how you would respond to the analogy drawn between prayers in worship (in Reformed churches usually offered from a liturgy or by a presiding minister extempore) on one hand and congregational singing on the other. Thanks.

    • Hi Brandon,

      it is to address this question that I keep saying that ministers and laity have two distinct vocations. The minister is called explicitly by God’s Word to exposit and proclaim God’s Word.

      The issue isn’t prayer (which is what a song is) but office and vocation. The congregation holds the general office of believer. The congregation is called to respond to God’s Word with God’s Word. The congregation is not called to “ministry” or to usurp the vocation and function of the minister.

    • If I may interject, the singing of praise is the same as prayer “argument” is really just a red herring, and those that use it either know that, or repeating those who do. If they really really did believe that singing of praise and prayer were the same element of worship, then all those hymns would have some from of “in the name of Jesus” before any amen. WLC 178 says “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of is mercies.” WLC 181 then asks “Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?”. Given what WLC 178 says what prayer is, do the songs in the hymnal really achieve that? They don’t all have what is required for prayer, and they don’t do so in the name of Christ. If the hymn writers were really writing prayers they would have included the bits of being in Christ’s name.

      That we are to pray of our own composition is taught in Eph 1:15,16, where Paul says he makes mention of the Ephesians in his prayers, which he could not do if the composition of prayer was to be from words of scripture only. Same for 1 Thess 1:2 and Philemon 1:4.

        • Ah, and that is an important point. The discussion is about the Public Worship of God.

          The old Trinity Hymnal had a section near the back “Hymns for Informal Occasions” – that catagory is gone in the “new” Trinity, and I do believe that some, at least, of those hymns are now scattered through the “new” book.

          Can hymns be used in personal, or family worship? The Westminster Assembly did produce a Directory for Family Worship, did they not?

          • FWIW, I’m only arguing for a Reformation of public worship on the grounds that the consistory/session compels me to attend public worship on pain of discipline. No one seeks to compel me, on pain of discipline, to worship privately, at least not in the same way. Thus, Christian liberty is at stake in the matter of public worship in a way that it is not in private worship.

  13. Dr. Clark,
    I have a few counter texts for exclusive scriptural content in our songs on the basis that non-elders in the New Testament church did the things in public worship you have indicated only elders are permitted to do:

    1 Corinthians 14:26- “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” “Everyone” seems to indicate that non-elders were presenting hymns, exhortations, prophecies, prayers, etc. during the public worship. The apostolic church was a period of extraordinary gifts because the Bible was in the process of being written and thus not circulating as a complete and closed canon, but, surely we would not say that the words, hymns, etc. Christians were bringing in this passage were okay in corporate public worship because “inspired” and the Word of God in the scriptural sense? It seems from this passage, that every member had opportunity to exposit and paraphrase the Word of God for the edification of all in the apostolic Church. This isn’t exclusively the province of the elders, it seems.

    Colossians 3:15-17 & Ephesians 5:18-20- seems Paul might be making a distinction between “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” psalms being Scripture and hymns and spiritual songs perhaps being man-made responses to Scripture. None of this is explicit, of course, but can be reasonably implied. Believers are also instructed to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. Would you limit these passages to speaking of living the Christian life on a day-to-day basis, or do these principles not also apply in corporate public worship?

    Musical unaccompaniment also doesn’t seem to hold up to rigorous biblical examination. I get that the use of musical instruments in the Old Testament is somehow typologically fulfilled in the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with the song of Christ in the New Testament, but surely singing in the New Testament is not to be decoupled from all external form. We are to use our voices, after all. Also, is not our public worship to be a foretaste and a pledge of eschatological worship, in which John indicates in Revelation (5:8, 15:2) harps are played in heaven. We do not have explicit command to use instruments in the New Testament, but surely their presence in heaven would justify their use in our worship meetings. Am I captivate here to too much biblical literalism, or will there be musical instruments in heaven? Would not biblical principles and reasonable inference be enough in this case to affirm musical accompaniment, when we similarly do not have an absolutely 100% rock-solid biblical warrant for baptizing infants but nevertheless do so on the basis of our covenantal hermeneutic and reasonable inference?

  14. Thanks dr clarke
    But I dont see ,and I suppose im moving from the point again,that the sabbath was a creation ordinance.As John Gill has stated,man was created on day 6,the sabbath day being of coursethe 7th day.problem here is that in order for a sabbath to be inscribed on the heart of man from creation as were all other 9 commandments romans 2 it would have had to be done before the 7th day

  15. 1. Although I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I would recommend McNaugher’s “Special Exegesis” of the passages in Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16 (, as well as Dr. Murray’s Minority Report (

    2. The “standing rule” for the use of musical instrumentation is that particular instruments be played by particular families of Levites, in the Temple, during the offering of the sacrifice. These elements having been abrogated, instruments are likewise abrogated with them.

      • Prof. John McNaugher would be quite depressed to see what has become of his former seminary (not to mention what takes place in the room named after him at my alma mater).

  16. Scott and Byron-

    Byron, as a musicologist I applaud your scholarship. And yet the basic answer to Exclusive Psalmody is so simple as to make such scholarship almost unnecessary:

    >There is no evidence that the apostolic church sang anything but God’s Word.

    Scott: If the apostolic church prayed -and being essentially Jewish, they chanted their prayers- then they sang texts (either prewritten or extemporaneous) which were not God’s Word. It’s that simple.
    Unless you’re prepared to claim that the apostolic church offered up only prayers which were themselves part of Scripture; i.e., all of their prayers were quotations of the Bible. Is this your claim?

    • John,

      So, you want to impose something other than God’s Word on me, in public worship, as I respond to God’s Word, on the basis of your reconstruction of what must have happened in the Synagogue?

      My appeal to the synagogue is only to show that there’s no evidence of instruments and the evidence is (please see RRC) that the apostolic church followed that basic pattern.

      As I’ve already said here, we’re not canonical actors. We’re not in the canonical period. We’re not apostles. We live after the canonical period. We are ONLY recipients of the canonical revelation. Period. Failure to get to grips with this fact is the fatal flaw in both the pentecost and Romanist approaches to revelation.

      Again, I’ve not argued for exclusive psalmody. I’ve argued for exclusive canonicity, it you will. We may and must sing the canonical Word in response to the preaching/announcement of God’s Word.

    • Thanks, John.

      Let me refer everyone to a Vern Poythress article from about 1979 in the _Westminster Theological Journal_, entitled “Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody.” The lengthy article was published in two parts. This was the article that thirty years ago dissuaded me from Scott’s position that only Scripture may lawfully be sung in corporate worship.

      Vern quite successfully argued that no firm cross-cultural socio-linguistic boundary can be drawn between the form of oral communication known among us as prayer, and the form of oral communication known among us as song. Consider, for example, chant and East Asian tonal languages such as Mandarin. Hence, Vern argued, the liturgical rules deducible from Scripture that apply to one must also apply to the other.

      • Byron,

        I read that essay. Behind it lies a more fundamental problem of a subjectivist theological method by which, like a wrestler slipping away from an apparently immanent pin, Poythress allows the worshiper to slip away from the normativity of the Scriptures in worship.

        Further, remember, I’m not arguing for exclusive psalmody but for exclusive canonicity.

        Have you read Mr Murray’s defense of this approach? You might take a look at RRC.

  17. Dr. Clark,

    Does the URCNA practice non-instrumental worship? If I am interested in joining a church that does this, what American denominations do you suggest (i.e. what American denominations practice exclusive Scripture and non-instrumental singing)?


  18. Dr. Clark,

    I’m curious if you’ve read one of the more recent new horizons on music:

    There is a lot of talk about music in there, especially about how it is like a language itself. No matter what position we take on whether the lyrics are scripture, psalms only, or non-canonical… how about the music with it?

    Since we have no inspired music, does it fall into the same categories and warnings you have above about uninspired lyrics?

    • Hi Eddie,

      I only glanced at it. I’ve got a pile of student papers on my desktop and time flies.

      The answer to this problem is to distinguish, as the WCF does, between elements and circumstances. The most basic elements of worship are Word and prayer. In the Word (whether preached, read, or made visible or confessed) comes to us. We respond in prayer (whether said or sung) with God’s Word.

      Circumstances refer to time, language, place and most probably to meter and tune. The time, language, place of music are determined by the light/laws of nature. The same is true of things such as meter or tunes. Morally the tunes are indifferent. We don’t have inspired tunes and that’s probably deliberate. We ought to sign them in a way that is appropriate to what is being sung. Singing ps 23 whilst banging one’s head on the wall in worship is inappropriate because it doesn’t fit the subject and, unless your in a wild emergent congregation, it probably doesn’t fit the setting. So tunes are wisdom issues. The tunes used by N. Europeans will probably differ from the tunes used by Africans (though I can say that our African Reformed students are shocked at the psalmless-ness of American Reformed folk).

      I’ve argued for the need for new tunes for the psalms. There’s nothing wrong with good, dignified, liturgically and culturally appropriate contemporary tunes by which or with which to sing God’s Word.

      This isn’t about old v new, it’s about “What God has commanded” v “what God hasn’t commanded.”

      • Dr. Clark,

        I knew you weren’t against music, don’t worry. ;^)

        Just curious what you thought about it!

  19. Scott-

    >So, you want to impose something other than God’s Word on me, in public worship, as I respond to God’s Word,

    If you are a minister and you offer up a prayer in a worship service, you _yourself_ are imposing something other than God’s Word upon the congregation. Unless: all prayers offered up in EP services are quotations from the Bible. Are they? This is what I need to know.

    • John,

      You keep omitting elements of my argument. God’s Word explicitly calls ministers to preach, proclaim and exposit the Word. The laity have not such implicit or explicit warrant in Scripture.

  20. Interesting development. Dr. Clark: You are correct in saying the singing of Holy Scripture is a catholic practice. Absolutely. The English Reformers advocated setting the Psalms and Canticles simply, so they could easily be sung and learned. Of course, they were chant settings, which allows for singing of the text. RE prayer: the Lord’s Prayer has been historically used. And the historic antiphons are direct quotes of Scripture. In that regard, it would be inappropriate to rule out praying the Bidding Prayer, Litany, and other responsive supplications.

    • Dr. Clark and Charles:

      This subject arose in earlier interactions between the three of us.

      1. Confirmed. Reformation Anglicans used exclusively canonical Scriptures (66 books) for almost 250 years for divine worship…Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany, Holy Communion and the other occasional services, e.g. ordination, baptism, confirmation. Monodical, metrical, and some polyphonic settings to the “Word of God” with the goal of congregational facility. A plethora of books of Psalms and other Scriptures were produced. The goal was worship according to God’s teaching and with His Majesty’s Words. What is the problem here?

      Injuriously, regrettably, and lamentably, the exclusive use of canonical Scriptures for congregational use does not characterize modern Anglicanism.

      2. Confirmed. Instrumental and non-instrumental Anglican congregations existed during the 1550-1660 period based on finances or principles (various). Cathedral churches never gave up their organs or polyphonic choral responses. I, for one, am thankful they were not rashly removed.

      3. In the above notes and in response to some, yes, there was/is a desire to pray “God’s Words” also. Hence, the good Prayer Book. Cranmer understood that this practice also would “get God’s Word” into the people. It worked/works too.

      #2 and #3 above confirmed after research and in consultation with the former Choirmaster of Chichester Cathedral, UK.

      D. Philip Veitch

      • >Reformation Anglicans used exclusively canonical Scriptures (66 books) for almost 250 years for divine worship…Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany, Holy Communion and the other occasional services, e.g. ordination, baptism, confirmation.

        As an Anglican, I must point out that neither the Te Deum, nor the Gloria, nor the Confession of Sin (“Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God..”), which are all part of Morning Prayer -none of these is found in the Bible.

        • As an Anglican also, add “almost” exclusively. The “Hymn Book” was Psalms and Canonical Scriptures.

          Te Deum, Gloria and other parts–as you noted–are not verbatim Scripture, but are Scriptural. We hope the sermons are as well. Ditto for the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. Ditto for our Reformed Confession, albeit it undeveloped. I believe one can argue that 80-85% of the old BCP is almost directly or allusively drawn from canonical Scriptures. Scriptural, but not verbatim Scripture.

          Concur with your correction with my adjustment to “almost” exclusively.

          OTOH, the hymn selections as previously indicated in my comment are/were as previously indicated in my comment. The hymn book was essentially Psalms and Canonical Scriptures. Matins, Evensong and HC had the prescribed Psalms during services. What I refer to is what we might call the “Hymn Book.”

          Today, one has the 1940 Hymnal (with it’s downgrade adjustments, e.g. omitted verses, generally dealing with sin or repentance) or the Ancient-Modern Hymn Book. Full of wonderful hymns.

          Yet, that was not Reformation England. Reformation England sang the Psalms and other Canonical Scriptures almost exclusively.

          D. Philip Veitch

  21. I haven’t read all the comments this time, but I still think this is a very interesting topic. As a musician and theologian, I desire to put Scripture to music for use in (& outside of) the assembly. While I don’t hold your no-instruments in worship viewpoint (but I will be reading RRC soon and am open to letting the Scriptures convince me otherwise), I do want to honor God in my songwriting and hopefully edify the church with moving melodies that do justice to the text of Scripture. So my question is what is a canonical “hymn”? How should one go about writing one? What freedoms does a songwriter have to make the text fit the music if any? Can he take select verses or must the passage be taken in its full context? I suppose I’m trying to figure out the practical implications of what you’re saying. The psalms are probably the easiest to put to music without doing violence to the text, but I think there are so many other passages that would build up the church if they were sung.

    • Hi Benjamin,

      We surely need new, good tunes with which the sing God’s Word.

      I’m not a musician but as a preacher I try to find what are called pericopes, that is a unit of thought. For musical purposes they might be larger than I might use for preaching. There are, of course, song units (by most reckonings) in the NT, e.g., the Song of Simeon, Phil 2; the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimmitis et al. These have been put to music and sung in the church for centuries.

      I would look for natural units, a text or a passge with a beginning and end. It would take some literary sensitivity to discern where a passage begins and ends and what the literary quality or kind of the passage is but all those things need consideration. They will help determine the sort of tune that is to be used.

      Whatever tune is used it should be appropriate for corporate, public worship. One thing I’ve heard recently is that it’s difficult to write truly congregational music for contemporary “band” instruments. I also think that most people grossly undervalue the musical power of the naked human voice. It is such a relief when we can occasionally sing together without the clatter of instruments and actually hear one another praising God. In some ways I think of our use of instruments as a sort of addiction. We’re afraid to quit because we’re afraid of what will happen and like most addicts we’re shocked and surprised at how beautiful the world is without drugs.

  22. >You keep omitting elements of my argument. God’s Word explicitly calls ministers to preach, proclaim and exposit the Word.

    OK. I have no problem with that. My question is: As a minister, are you also called to pray as part of a worship service?

  23. We will have lost a great deal if hte Frees dump their current position on psalmody. At the moment their example is a useful counter balance to the contemps and relevants – for how much longer?

  24. 1. I am Reformed and a member of a confessional Church.
    2. I believe singing unspired music with music is ok as long as it is correct from a biblical/systematic theological approach.
    3. My posistion is that of my elders and synod.
    4. Thus, my posistion is Reformed and it is ok to sing unspiried songs because they are not scripture but they are still biblical.

      • Well, That’s why I wrote it because the more I read the other posts the more I realized that was their basic argument so I just thought it best to save time and summarive the other posistion. After reading RRC and the scriptures my posistion did change a bit on this subject and I am much closer to Dr. Clark than I was before. I just thought by using the example of Reformed Narcissism, it would be a good way to plug the book! LOL.

        But I think Reformed pastors ought not to just throw out the organ,piano, drums, guitar, viola, and hymnal, etc… right away. It will take time and wisdom and probably a good few decades before we can get the people of God off the crack that is pop music with Jesus lyrics. So, in thinking this out I have my plan if I become a pastor:
        1. Don’t do anything for 3 years and just preach the Bible
        2. start a series on the 10 commandments and emphesive the 1st, 2nd, and 4th commandment to lay a foundation.
        3. preach on levitus and psalms.
        4. start to introduce older more theologically rich hymns to the service still using instruments and killing off crappy stuff. Keep some newer stuff there too.
        5. Either begin to write my own stuff using a variety of NT passages and OT passages (if there is not anything written yet from a good reformed/musical perspective) and including maybe 1 a service specifically after the sermon.
        6. After sometime make these scriptural songs the majority of songs
        7. Make the services over a monthly period mostly inspired lyrics (maybe slightly changed for singing reasons) with one or two rich hymns (both old and new) every now and then.
        8. Continue like that for a few years.
        9. Continue to allow for 1 instrument at time (simple as possible) but write the services with no man made hymns though feel free to quote them in sermons and encourage people to use them privately
        10. start songs with a simple instrument to help the congregation but at the last verse or stanza kill it and make it just congregational voices (will provide good emotional experience)
        11. Kill off the instruments as soon as you can… but bide your time well. This will take much of your capital. Don’t use your pastoral capital on stuff like staff, colours of rooms, kinds of food served, etc… save it up for this.
        12. Voilà, Church Reform.

        Just some thoughts I put together while worshiping at Capital Hill Baptist Church where Mark Dever Preaches.

  25. Dr. Clark,

    My understanding of the situation here in Scotland is that one of the main reasons that the Free Church is considering this move is because of the situation in the Church of Scotland. My understanding is that as the Church of Scotland moves to the left, and begins to ordain homosexual ministers, many ‘conservatives’ are eager to leave and find another church. Apparently these ‘conservatives,’ however, have refrained from joining the Free Church due to its stance on non-canonical songs. Allowing non-canonical songs would supposedly make traditionalists from the Church of Scotland welcome in the Free Church.

    I bring this up only to bring some context to the issue with the Free Church, as well as to note that sadly, other issues are at play than simply a discussion of what is biblically permissible.

    An article on this issue can be read here:


    • Christopher,

      I understand. Check out the post that Carl Trueman wrote for the HB on the Scottish Church situation. It’s linked below the main post. There was quite a discussion following! In the discussion it began to emerge that such a proposal (to make the Free Church more like the evangelical mainstream) might be forthcoming, so I’m not surprised.

      What I hope my Free Church brothers and sisters will appreciate is that if they begin to look and sound like everyone else, what have they to offer? What has happened in the States is that the groups who’ve given up their distinctiveness in order to conform or to become more popular or accessible have actually lost ground numerically. Why attend a congregation attempting (and failing) to do exactly what the corner “evangelical” church is doing much more skillfully? It’s the same problem faced by the mainliners for the last 40 years. Why go to church to hear the minister offer amateur social analysis when I can get professional social analysis on the telly for free?

      We with Reformed backgrounds (and foregrounds!) cannot do what the Pentecostals do as well as they do it. We just can’t. Dutchmen can’t and shouldn’t sing choruses and neither should Scots Presbyterians. It’s embarrassing to see self-conscious, rebellious baby-boomers trying to imitate the Pentecostals.

      The one liturgical thing we confessional Reformed folk have to offer the world is the RPW as its been historically understood.

      The question is not what the market demands but what God has demanded.

      • I agree completely. Worship is non-negotiable, yet it seems that we so easily try to make it in our image rather than seeking to follow the Lord’s commandments.

  26. Joseph: Your syllogism raises several questions:
    Is your first premise true:
    Is a church which sings non-inspired songs truly confessional? See WCF XXI.5.
    Ditto for second premise:
    Isn’t the most biblical approach to song one which sings biblical, Scriptural songs?
    Third premise:
    Do elders and synods ever err? See WCF XXXI.4.
    Thus, while your argument may be valid, it’s not true. Definitions!!

  27. That is the thing Joseph. I can pick up the red Trinity Hymnal right now and pick out dozens of hymns that are at best poor theological and at worst contain serious error.

    With all do respects as well your syllogism is full of logical fallacies.

    • to be technical there were no logical fallacies because it was so insane to begin with. It was circular logic apart from the Bible. I replied to Dr. Clark showing my true intentions there. It was to make a point about other arguments and plug his book Recovering the Reformed Confession: available at:

  28. Let’s suppose for a moment that man-made hymns may be sung, and that God in fact does not require canonical-only singing. Why is this not a case of the strong needing to show love to weaker brothers? In this case, the “strong” would be those who recognize their freedom in Christ to sing man-made hymns, and the “weak” would be those who think God’s law requires, say, psalms only. So why despise the weak? Why push for and even insist on man-made hymns in church? “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1).

    • Louis,

      I don’t really want to be the weaker brother, but if I must be to bring Reformation to public worship and to free the consciences of God’s people from oppression, I’ll do it.

      • I don’t want to be the weaker brother either, just trying to approach it from their perspective. If you believe that we are allowed to sing man-made hymns, why insist on this freedom at the expense of your brother’s conscience?

    • This is sometimes called the “stumbling block” principle. As a principle, it’s quite sound. The trouble is, it’s ordinarily applied to things like drinking wine, playing cards, dancing, etc. Things which are inherently innocent -but which no one would consider inherently edifying. On the other hand millions of Christians claim to be edified by the singing of hymns in worship; some would even point to the singing of a particular hymn as the occasion (I don’t say the “cause”) of their conversion. I don’t know what EP adherents make of these claims (that’s a subject for a whole other discussion). But in any case, hymn singing is therefore in a separate category from the other issues involved in weaker-vs.-stronger brother scenarios.
      Also, it doesn’t seem likely that the conflict you’ve depicted would ever really occur. If a Christian believed that singing hymns in worship is displeasing to God and hence sinful, surely he would not join a church which actually sang hymns in worship -any more than he would join a church which taught false doctrine.

      • >If a Christian believed that singing hymns in worship is displeasing to God and hence sinful, surely he would not join a church which actually sang hymns in worship -any more than he would join a church which taught false doctrine.

        What about those who come to the conviction after they’ve joined a church?

        We’ve left churches after finding that they were teaching false doctrine …
        We feel that we cannot leave over hymns because there’s NOWHERE to go (or so it seems) because nobody we know of sings ONLY canonical songs in worship except EP (and we’re not EP).

        • I’m sorry to hear that you are frustrated about the situation. But before leaving your church,would you give prayerful consideration to a point which I’ve been long trying to make? Most prayers are man-made. There’s no New Testament command to offer up man-made, uninspired prayers in worship. Therefore, these prayers constitute will-worship, the offering up of strange fire, perhaps even idolatry. Yet EP churches continue to have them as part of worship. Either these churches are sinning in doing so -or there’s something wrong with the Regulative Principle.
          (Remember – a hymn is just a sung prayer.)

          • (Remember – a hymn is just a sung prayer.)

            Repeating that doesn’t make that true. That men are to make up their prayers is taught in scripture. The fact that the Apostle Paul repeatedly identifies people for whom he is praying saying making mention of you in my prayers, is more than proof enough that prayers are to be of our own words, although they should follow the pattern that the Lord himself gave us.
            So Mr. Harutunian, go ahead, keep teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, but don’t wonder why it is vain that you worship. What you are suggesting has never been and never will be Reformed.
            For those who unequivocally, and truly ex amino subscribe to the WCF it is really a settled matter. WCF 21 distinguishes the elements of worship, and identifies the singing of the Psalms as a particular element of worship. Your equivocations do not get to frame the issue.

            To Mr. Jacobson, exactly what do you really lose out on if you worship in an EP church? While I would caution to you to consider carefully before transferring your church membership, but if you can find a church that does sing only canonical songs, albeit one that limits itself to the book of songs in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit collected together for songs of worship, are you really harmed in that Lamentations is read only, and not sung?

            • >The fact that the Apostle Paul repeatedly identifies people for whom he is praying saying making mention of you in my prayers, is more than proof enough that prayers are to be of our own words,

              Andrew, would you agree that St.Paul was Jewish? If he was, he chanted those
              prayers, as God had commanded His people to do when He gave the Psalms.
              There is no New Testament warrant for replacing chanted prayers with spoken
              ones. And a chanted prayer is a hymn.

      • Hi John,

        FYI …

        1. I’m a Christian who believes that singing hymns in worship is displeasing to God.

        2. I belong to a (OPC) church where hymns are sung in worship.

        3. It is very difficult to find a solid confessionally Reformed church–the one I am at is the closest thing to that within a 100 mile radius. I think this is the best option for me (though I have considered checking into the possibility of an RP church plant).

        4. This is a conscience issue for me–I would be sinning to offer worship that I do not believe God has commanded.

        5. My solution (albeit imperfect) is to bring my psalter to church on Sunday morning and sing along (quietly) with the rest of the congregation using psalms that have the same tune (or at least the same meter) as the hymn selections for that morning.

        • Hi, David-

          You are obviously a person with a strong commitment to truth. I hope that the same commitment will cause you to think over my position (which I’ve never seen refuted). It runs as follows.
          Under the Old Covenant, [Jewish] believers chanted their prayers. Chanting is a form of singing. The New Testament never commands believers to stop the practice of singing prayers.
          What is a sung prayer? A hymn!
          Don’t you think this is simple? Please let me know why you have a problem with it. Thanks!

          God has commanded us to pray when we gather for worship. Under the Old Covenant, prayer was expressed through song. There’s no biblical evidence that this has changed under the New Covenant. What is a sung prayer? A hymn.

          • John,

            Thanks for the interaction. What I have a strong commitment to is the principle of sola scriptura applied not just to doctrine but also to worship, i.e., the regulative principle. So I hold to the standard Reformed view that scripture prescribes our worship. Hence you and I are working from differing assumptions.

            • David-
              Thanks for your post. Before I even respond to it, let me just say that you, like almost everyone else, haven’t dealt with my point. But OK -I’ll deal with yours as best as I can.
              I don’t think we’re working from different assumptions at all. I, too, hold to sola scriptura: the Bible _alone_ is our final and infallible authority for faith and practice -including worship. It’s our logic, not our assumptions, which takes us in different directions. Since a.)non-canonical prayers are part of worship, and b.)the early Christians, being Jewish, chanted (i.e.,sang) these prayers, and c.)a sung prayer is a hymn -therefore d.)hymns are to be a part of worship.
              Point out your problem with my logic, and we’ll take it from there

            • John,

              (I’m responding to you here since wordpress isn’t giving me a reply button for your last response.) Do you believe that the Bible is also a *sufficient* guide for faith and practice? If so, then isn’t your premise “b” irrelevant for determining the substance of *biblical* worship (since the Bible itself nowhere prescribes the singing of non-canonical prayers)?

            • (Looks like wordpress doesn’t like me either.)

              “Do you believe that the Bible is also a *sufficient* guide for faith and practice?”

              This is tricky. In an absolute sense, it is. But if it’s sufficient in every sense of the word, we wouldn’t be reading the writings of Reformed theologians (or any other theologia
              “If so, then isn’t your premise “b” irrelevant for determining the substance of *biblical* worship?”
              No. Because a prayer must be either a.)chanted or b.)spoken. (You seem to be presupposing that it is spoken unless we’re told otherwise.) We are forced to make a decision in this respect. And knowing that the apostolic church (being largely
              Jewish) opted for chanting helps us to make the right decision.

              “(since the Bible itself nowhere prescribes the singing of non-canonical prayers)?”
              Ah, but this has been one of my main points all along: neither does it prescribe the _speaking_ of non-canonical prayers!

            • John,

              But Reformed theologians are in the business of interpreting scripture; not adding to it, so I don’t see how reading theologians is a compromise of the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture.

              I’m no Bible scholar but I’m pretty sure that when we read that Moses prayed (e.g., Exodus 8:30), Daniel prayed (e.g., Daniel 6:10) or Peter prayed (e.g., Acts 9:40) we can assume they were speaking, not singing in those instances

              Whereas when scripture wants to indicate singing praise, it does so easily enough (e.g., 2 Chronicles 5:13; 29:28-30; James 5:13).

              So that’s why I think your logic is problematic.

            • “But Reformed theologians are in the business of interpreting scripture; not adding to it, so I don’t see how reading theologians is a compromise of the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture.”

              OK. But what about the writings of the Church Fathers, Pilgrim’s Progress, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, C.S. Lewis -all of which can be read with much spiritual profit? Which is
              why I say that the concept of the “sufficiency” of Scripture is tricky, and must be
              qualified. Its purpose is to make a positive statement about Scripture, not to
              imply that extrabiblical writings aren’t valuable.
              Re: your Biblical citations, notice that your examples of spoken prayers all involve
              one single individual, while both of the references to sung prayer in Chronicles involve the whole congregation.
              Here are a couple of other critical perspectives on the issue:
              1.)The Bible contains 150 prayers which we know were sung (the Psalms). On what grounds does one infer that all other prayers in worship were spoken? They
              may or may not have been.
              2.)What the Exclusive Psalmody position ultimately comes down to is:
              In the worship of the church, spoken prayers may be non-canonical; but sung
              prayers must be canonical. Surely this demands hard Biblical evidence. And I don’t
              see how one would come to this conclusion via “Scripture alone” -that is,
              without exposure to the viewpoint of the Reformed tradition.

            • John,

              “Which is why I say that the concept of the “sufficiency” of Scripture is tricky, and must be qualified. Its purpose is to make a positive statement about Scripture, not to imply that extrabiblical writings aren’t valuable.”

              No one ever said extra biblical writings aren’t valuable.

              “Re: your Biblical citations, notice that your examples of spoken prayers all involve one single individual, while both of the references to sung prayer in Chronicles involve the whole congregation.”

              I could have easily cited scriptural references to corporate spoken prayer.

              John, try as I might, I can see no BIBLICAL command that non-inspired songs be sung in worship, and therefore my conscience constrains me to refrain from singing them. But my original purpose in posting was simply to respond to your denial that liberty of conscience is at stake here. You had said,

              “Also, it doesn’t seem likely that the conflict you’ve depicted would ever really occur. If a Christian believed that singing hymns in worship is displeasing to God and hence sinful, surely he would not join a church which actually sang hymns in worship -any more than he would join a church which taught false doctrine.”

              I had simply wanted to say that I personally am such a Christian.


  29. Andrew-

    >God either commands or doesn’t.


    >That we are to pray of our own composition is taught in Eph 1:15,16, where Paul says he makes mention of the Ephesians in his prayers, which he could not do if the composition of prayer was to be from words of scripture only. Same for 1 Thess 1:2 and Philemon 1:4.

    You’re absolutely right.

    >[if] singing of praise and prayer were the same element of worship, then all those hymns would have some from of “in the name of Jesus” before any amen

    Wrong. The Bible indeed teaches that we must recognize that we approach God only through Jesus Christ. It nowhere teaches that every prayer must conclude with the verbal formula “in Jesus’ Name”. As a matter of fact, no prayer recorded in the Bible actually does that!
    If a particular hymn teaches that we’re justified by works, or that we may approach God in a way other than through the grace of Christ, then by all means avoid it. But there’s no shortage of hymns that set forth Christ as being the way of salvation.

    • Citations of complete prayers in the NT after the resurrection would be helpful. FWIW Acts 4:24-30 is a record of praying in Jesus Name, at least as I read it.

      On another note, if you can pray in Jesus name without saying it, can you baptise in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without mentioning them?

      You should also let the Christian US military chaplains know its OK to skip invoking the name of Christ when praying, as some are staking their positions on such a foolish notion. It would be such a waste to see them cause trouble over something scripture doesn’t require.

      See the WLC on prayer.

      What I think is a shame is that you are willing to jettison praying in Christ’s name in order to justify your choice of song.

      Whether or not a hymn is says orthodox things or not, is besides the point. The point is where did God command them? Your argument plays like Saul talking to Samuel with regard to the spoil of the Amalekites. Why do you think God is more likely to accept that now?

      • >Acts 4:24-30 is a record of praying in Jesus Name, at least as I read it.

        No. There is no concluding “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” I checked half a dozen translations -none of them have “in” Jesus’ name. It’s either “by” or “through” or “by the authority of”. And Matthew Henry’s classic commentary informs us that “It is the honor of Christ that they aim at in this request, that the wonders might be done by the name of Jesus…” So “In Jesus’ Name” is not a concluding formula to the prayer.
        On the other hand, nearly all churches recognize “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as a formula to be articulated when baptizing.

        >You should also let the Christian US military chaplains know its OK to skip invoking the name of Christ when praying

        It’s not OK at all. It should be in the prayer, just as it should be in hymns. It just doesn’t have to come at the end, as a concluding formula -either in a prayer or in a hymn.

        >What I think is a shame is that you are willing to jettison praying in Christ’s name in order to justify your choice of song.

        But hey -when we pray a Psalm we don’t pray in Christ’s name! The Psalms don’t even _mention_ Christ’s name. It’s hymns which do that.

    • David-

      First, thanks for clarifying. I had entirely forgotten the original purpose of your postings.
      I do feel that a couple of points are in order.

      “I could have easily cited scriptural references to corporate spoken prayer.”

      That may well be. My point was simply that the sung prayers in 2 Chronicles, since they were congregational, are more relevant to corporate worship under the New Covenant than the prayers of Moses, Daniel or Peter (which were of course offered up by single individuals).

      “John, try as I might, I can see no BIBLICAL command that non-inspired songs be sung in worship, and therefore my conscience constrains me to refrain from singing them.”

      I hope you don’t see me as overly intrusive -but it seems that your conscience has put you in an awkward position re: your fellow woshipers. Hence it would seem natural to examine the logical implication of your view. Which would be: there is no Biblical command that non-inspired _prayers_ be offered up in worship; therefore these also are displeasing to God.
      Unless: you presuppose that all of the prayers offered up in worship by the New Testament Church were spoken rather than chanted. And since the NT church was largely Jewish, this seems very unlikely.
      Meanwhile -thanks for your reminder of your original purpose, as well as your blessings. If you’d like to end our dialogue at this point, I would of course respect your right to do so.


      • Hey John,

        “My point was simply that the sung prayers in 2 Chronicles, since they were congregational, are more relevant to corporate worship under the New Covenant …”

        Okay but those “sung prayers” were inspired so I’m not sure how this helps you … am I missing something?

        “I hope you don’t see me as overly intrusive -but it seems that your conscience has put you in an awkward position re: your fellow woshipers. ”

        Not at all. Yes, I’m certainly in an awkward position.

        “Hence it would seem natural to examine the logical implication of your view. Which would be: there is no Biblical command that non-inspired _prayers_ be offered up in worship; therefore these also are displeasing to God.
        Unless: you presuppose that all of the prayers offered up in worship by the New Testament Church were spoken rather than chanted. And since the NT church was largely Jewish, this seems very unlikely.”

        Yes, I do think it’s clear that the OT as well as the NT distinguishes between spoken petitions and sung praise.

        • David-

          “Okay but those “sung prayers” [in 2 Chronicles] were inspired so I’m not sure how this helps you … am I missing something?”
          -Good point.
          “Yes, I do think it’s clear that the OT as well as the NT distinguishes between spoken petitions and sung praise.”
          -I really think there’s a problem here. First, praise can be spoken as well as sung (on that we agree, surely?). Second, I assume that by “sung praise” you mean (perhaps among other things) the Psalms. But take a look at Psalms 38 and 51. Both are sung petitions! (Specifically, petitions for forgiveness.) Hence, prayer -i.e., addressing God- is what’s basically operative in both cases.
          Which isn’t saying that there’s no _distinction_ between “spoken petitions and sung praise” in the OT as well as the NT. Just that the two are not separate _categories_ to which different rules apply.
          If you can find any Biblical evidence that they are indeed separate categories and are regulated differently, by all means let me know. Thanks.


          • John,

            Yes, I admit of course that there is overlap—as you say, praise can be spoken and some psalms are petitions. Yet as you admit, there IS a distinction. Part of that distinction is that corporate singing requires a text whereas prayer does not. So the question is: which text shall we sing from? Well, Scripture clearly commands the singing of inspired texts, but (I believe) is completely silent regarding the singing of uninspired ones. That is the primary reason why we ought to only sing from inspired texts (though there are other reasons that could be given, such as: (1) the psalms are sufficient so why add to them, (2) inspired texts are more edifying, (3) once non-inspired songs are allowed they tend to replace the inspired ones, (4) lots of very bad hymns are being sung—not to mention “praise choruses,” etc.)

            Does that help?

            • (5) the psalms promote unity within the Church Universal…

              Regardless of theological intellect (or lack thereof)
              Regardless of denomination or sect
              Regardless of the language or tribe

              The Psalms are inspired
              The Psalms are canonical
              The Psalms titles contain hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs

              If each local manifestion of the holy catholic Church made an effort to sing every verse of the 150 Psalms at least once every year, they wouldn’t have time to sing uninspired, non-canonical songs (be it hymns from as early as the 2nd Century or the contempory praise choruses of the last however many years)

            • Jess,

              Yes, very true … and those local manifestations of the holy Catholic Church that base their practice on their principle that uninspired songs may be sung IN ADDITION to inspired ones almost invariably seem to end up singing uninspired songs INSTEAD of the inspired ones.

            • David-

              Yes, it’s helpful in that you make some valid observations. But you didn’t deal with my main point: you need to show from Scripture that spoken prayer and sung praise are separate _categories_ to which different rules apply. I see no Biblical support for this; indeed, in view of Psalm 72 :20 (“The _prayers_ of David the son of Jesse are ended.”) it seems to actively contradict Scripture.

              Some additional points:
              “(2) inspired texts are more edifying”
              I can’t say that I find, for example, Psalm 13 more edifying than Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Ris’n Today”. Do you?

              David, consider these three propositions:
              a.)God desires that His people offer up both prayers and hymns in worship. Since He has regenerated their hearts and illumined their minds through the Holy Spirit, both of these may be non-canonical. This is my position.

              b.)God forbids the offering up of non-canonical prayers and non-canonical hymns in worship, since His regenerated people nevertheless retain their old sinful nature. Both you and I disagree with this -but I can see the logic of it.

              c.)God forbids the use of sung non-canonical prayers in worship -but He permits the use of spoken non-canonical prayers. There’s no logic here.

              Consider this also: As is often pointed out, the Levitical priesthood came to an end with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. But bear in mind that the Levitical priests were musicians who led God’s people in the singing of prayers. Bear in mind also that Christianity originally represented an in-house quarrel within Judaism (I think the Reformed tradition is especially aware of this). The idea that under the New Covenant such singing of prayers should now cease -this is something which would seem to require pretty explicit New Testament teaching. And even thought I’ve been a lifelong Christian, I’m entirely unaware of such teaching.

              ” the psalms are sufficient so why add to them” At one level -the same reason that we add to canonical prayers. But there’s a deeper reason (hang onto your hat; it gets into some heavy stuff):
              If someone were to ask you how many books are in the Bible, you’d say 66. But of course not all Christians agree -many would add the Apocryphal books. And, of course, the problem is: Although Bible includes numerous lists (the 10 Commandments, the 12 disciples, etc.), it doesn’t include a list of the 66 books which comprise it. Your answer implies that you have access to extrabiblical religious truth.
              I don’t mean to shake your faith. I believe that there is such a thing as sola scriptura. But, as I said a couple of blogs ago, the sufficiency of Scripture (considered in whole or in part) is a “tricky” concept.

            • John,

              “Yes, it’s helpful in that you make some valid observations.”

              But you didn’t respond to my observation about the need for a previously existing text for congregational singing, which obviously isn’t needed for spoken prayer led by a minister.

              “But you didn’t deal with my main point: you need to show from Scripture that spoken prayer and sung praise are separate _categories_ to which different rules apply. I see no Biblical support for this …”

              I would say that they are by their very nature separate categories if for no other reason than what I’ve just said above. And Scripture does regulate them differently, for example it commands us to frame our prayers in accordance with our circumstances when it says to “let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6) and “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1Timothy 2:1). But this would be difficult to do in congregational singing!

              I’ll leave it at this for now. I hope this is somewhat clear … I’m a bit tired at the end of the week …

            • David-

              I don’t even know if my response to you got through (what’s with wordpress, anyway?)!
              Sorry to have overlooked your first point. You’re right about the need for a previously existing text for congregational singing. But, in view of denominational hymnal committees, boards of elders, worship committees, etc. I don’t see that the risk of doctrinal error in a hymn is greater than it would be in a prayer. And of course, the minister is _leading_ the congregation in prayer -to which the congregation responds Amen. With both hymns and prayers, something non-canonical is being imposed, to which the congregation is expected to submit.
              I don’t see that either Philippians 4 :6 or I Timothy 2 :1 necessarily make reference to the gathered Sunday worship of the church. But even if they do, the prayers involved could easily be chanted by the minister (as the Psalms were chanted under the Old Covenant) -with the congregation adding its Amen.
              Again, the basic question seems to be: Where is the New Testament evidence that the chanting of prayers ceased?
              -John Harutunian

            • John,

              “Again, the basic question seems to be: Where is the New Testament evidence that the chanting of prayers ceased?”

              We disagree about the basic question. I believe it is: Where is the biblical evidence that we ought to be singing uninspired songs in worship?

  30. “Nothing is more catholic than the singing of the psalms in public worship. ”

    That may be truer than you were thinking. The Church in the Patristic period carried on the same debate. “Hymns of human composure” were vehicles for promoting Arianism and other heresies. The Mass of the Western Rite, usually conservative, used the Psalms exclusively for the four “hymns” of the Mass, the Introit, Gradual, Offertorium and Communio. That remained the practice until Vatican II alloowed ditzy little songs to be used as the “Entrance hymn” or whatever they call it now.

    One point which eludes you, however, is that Scrpture knows no distinction between “psalms”and “prayers.” Retaining exclusive psalmody but using man-made prayers is surely inconcistent. In facgt, I can find no Biblical warrant for spontaneous prayers, of the sort Protestants are wont to indukge in. Those long rambling man-made effusions
    are hardly consistent with the RPW.

    • >The Mass of the Western Rite, usually conservative, used the Psalms exclusively for the four “hymns” of the Mass, the Introit, Gradual, Offertorium and Communio. That remained the practice until Vatican II

      But of course you’re leaving out the Ordinary of the Mass, e.g. the Gloria “was a prose hymn of the early Christian Church and is found in the Apostolic Constitutions (ca380)” (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).

      > “Hymns of human composure” were vehicles for promoting Arianism and other heresies.

      Some of them were. But not the ones written by men like St. Ambrose (again, that takes us back to the 4th century).

      • David-
        Sorry to have overlooked your first point. It’s a valid one -but I’m not convinced. The reason is that the role of the minister is to _lead_ the congregation in prayer. Now, a minister is no less fallible than a hymn writer. And, presumably, the congregation is to give assent to the content of the prayer through an “Amen” (either spoken or added silently). And, just as there are ways of insuring that a minister is doctrinally orthodox (such as an interview with a board of elders), there are ways of insuring that a hymnal is doctrinally orthodox. This is where denominational hymnal committees enter the picture, as do worship committees and other individuals/groups -including of course the minister himself.
        Neither Philippians 4 :6 nor 1 Timothy 2 :1 makes reference to the gathered worship of the church. Even if they did, the “praying” involved could have been chanted (bear in mind Psalm 72 :20) by the worship leader as had been done under the Old Covenant – with the congregation adding a concluding Amen.

        • Looks like wordpress is going to confuse all of us -Presbyterians and Anglicans alike- as to who wrote what! The blog beginning “David- Sorry to have overlooked…” is mine.
          -John Harutunian

  31. Full disclosure, I am not EP.

    I am in favor of RSC’s RRC proposal that we sing “canonically”. Although, unless they are deliberate paraphrases (and even if they are, for some objectors this idea is still anathema) that is not much different from “singing theology” (which is the attempt of the TrinHym). So, for now I will sing “Ein Feste Burg” (in English) in worship, which is NOT Ps46, but was apparently designed to TEACH the theology of Ps46. And of course, I will sing Ps46 (metrically and otherwise).

    I think the point of the lesson is that (for the Reformed) “A Mighty Fortress” is a great song, and appropriate everywhere–EXCEPT the worship service, if the standard is going to be “words” not “theology”.

    But for Reformed folk, a few minutes of singing should NOT be the primary teacher of theology. Singing SHOULD be putting God’s literal Words into our hearts, which song is a superb vehicle for accomplishing. We do not need to spend our limited singing time in Spirit-driven-worship for mentally imprinting non-inspired text. We can do that on our own, if we desire.

    On the other hand, I do think that congregational creedal reading/recitation is appropriate. It is simply an expansion on the corporate “Amen”, and in faith is an oath (a recognized element of worship). Whether it is the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed, I see it the same way–the assembled army of the Kingdom is still drilling (vocalizing) in unison.

    The most difficult thing about getting our OPChurches to take up the new Psalter-Hymnal will be the common problem of getting any church to adopt a new service-book. Hard to do, especially when you have several generations who “know” the songs/tunes in the “old book.”

    I hope it takes off, especially because I would like one book that I could use that has all the Psalms. I have plenty of frustration when I want a particular Psalm, or verse from a Psalm, and the TrinHym doesn’t have it. The Pst-Hym1959CRC is my present alternative.

    BTW, if you like Psalms, I know a place you can get some recent creations, both in audio and printed music format…

  32. If we do not distinguish between the duties of the special office of minister and the general office of believer – I doubt that it is possible to understand the argument. Many posts above seem to ignore this distinction. Other posts seems to respect the distinction and provide food for thought.

    Respecting the distinction, the main problem I see with the exclusive psalmody position (even though I have held this historic Reformed view for the past 20 years) is that it places the elements in worship at par with the articles of faith or as a fundamental point of faith.

    Such a theology drives people from true churches thinking they must hold the historic Reformed position to remain faithful. Matters of worship are to be held in assembly neccessitae praecepti not necessatie medii. What is and what ought to be are very different.

    • Mr Barrow,

      No, EP does not place the elements of worship as fundamental point of faith. While some do go to such an extreme, that has never been the teaching of the Reformed churches. It has been my experience that those who do are running a theological ponzi scheme, in order to pose as believers and harm the churches of Christ. This is more than evidenced by those who also in addition to making EP a fundamental point of faith, add in extra-biblical terms of communion, oaths and covenants, and how they bite and devour one another, in a quest for being more “Reformed” and “Covenanter” than everybody else.

      • Yes Andrew, EP is rightly considered circa fundamental in my opionion and is not an article of faith or a fundamental point of faith. It is about matters of faith. Thank you for your comment.

  33. I’ve always found it ironic that “traditionalists” who want to argue for the singing of uninspired songs, such as hymns will often be the first ones to rail against the use of contemporary praise music in public worship. What they don’t seem to realize is that logically, if you allow for uninspired hymns, you must allow for contemporary praise, even if it takes the form of heavy metal or hip hop. After all, what would be the argument for allowing hymns and not contemporary songs since neither are taken directly from Scripture, but are only at best restatements of Biblical teaching? One could say that traditional hymns are aesthetically more appropriate for public worship, but someone else could argue that is merely a matter of personal taste since there is no scriptural warrant for preferring Bach over Petra.

    This actually leads to a second reason for eschewing uninspired songs. If as Reformed believers, we affirm the total depravity of man even among the converted, we should assume that anytime we allow justified but sinful men to choose what is appropriate for worship, without relying on explicit warrant from Scripture, there will be a strong likelihood of errors in the choices made. In other words, given the option, believers are more likely to choose erecting the golden calf instead of the temple of God. The RPW wisely calls for believers to follow the commands of Scripture in order to rein in sinful tendencies as we choose how we should worship our God.

    • >what would be the argument for allowing hymns and not contemporary songs since neither are taken directly from Scripture,

      But neither are most prayers! If you offer up non-canonical, uninspired prayers in worship -which I assume you do- then why not do so as the [Jewish] Christians in the Book of Acts did and chant them? This practice is otherwise known as “singing hymns!”
      Can any adherent to Exclusive Psalmody explain this inconsistency to me?

  34. Thanks for the update, Dr. Clark. You state my position well, though I’m not comfortable with your statement of the RPW in some ways. No time to deliniate that. But, practically speaking – if one holds to the Inspired Praise position (which I do as *optimal* not required, hence you see my softness on the RPW) where do you go to practice it?
    Now an ARP and a former RP, I personally do not feel I have gained much from the Trinity Hymnal, though the hymns are edifying. Actually the Scripture songs in our Praise and Worship books are more why I became an ARP – the songs of Revelation and Luke, Deuteronomy… Inspired Praise.
    However, I think it is a proper matter which church order may proscribe. Elders have to choose which songs to sing. The collective elders may say – Don’t sing more than these. See Dordt 1619, eh?

  35. Thank you for mentioning elders. In Reformed churches, it is elders who supervise corporate worship — not individual members, and not ministers. If my elders demanded something of me which Scripture does not require, I would have the right to appeal — but not the right to protest. Incidentally, I have yet to hear of a member of a Reformed church being disciplined for failure to sing (psalms or hymns).

    There are many facets of corporate worship that cannot be so neatly labelled “prescribed by Scripture” as we might like. Are collections prescribed as a discrete element of corporate worship? Are budget envelopes prescribed for all communicant members? Who may attend the Lord’s Supper? Is grape juice prescribed? Leavened bread? How often is the Lord’s Supper celebrated? Must a “token” be presented to gain admittance to the table? How soon must infant baptism occur after birth? Is corporate recitation (or singing) of the Apostles’ (or Nicene) Creed prescribed? Must we meet in a building? Must it be a “church” building? Must the building have furnishings? Am I obligated to help pay for the building and furnishings? Who determines what the furnishings look like? Must we catechize youth? Must it be the Heidelberg Catechism? Must we meet at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M.? Must we meet twice? On Sunday? . . . .

    All these things — and many more — are determined by the elders who (ostensibly) are using God’s Word for guidance. I may find their decisions inconvenient; unnecessary; oppressive, even. But I live under the lawful authority of those whom God has set over me, as peaceably as possible — so that I might not be burdensome to them in their difficult task — content in the knowledge that God has ordained to use even their sin-stained judgement for my eternal benefit.

    I am thankful that my elders have prescribed singing the 150 Psalms, the Song of Moses, the Song of Mary, the Song of Zacharias, the Song of Simeon, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. — all set to weighty, majestic, reverent Genevan (or Genevan-like) tunes. With or without instrumental accompaniment, they are well-suited to the praise of the Most High.

  36. If we remove formalism from the worship argument (matters of worship) and deal with the material manner of worship, that is, preparation of our hearts in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; God will accept our worship that is made in the name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance.

    The above attributes of heart are the essence of material worship. It should be noted that the above comes from WCF Chap. 21:3

    Prayer is one special part of worship that is mentioned separately from the ordinary parts of worship; reading of scripture, preaching the word, hearing the word, singing of psalms, and the administration of the sacraments WCF Chap. 21:5

    The essence of idolatry is in the mind and if persisted may become the works of men’s hands. If the work is adored then it becomes essential idolatry. Uninspired hymns are the works of men’s hands and though not all hymns are erroneous or idolatrous they are nevertheless the works of men’s hands for religious worship.

    Though I recognize a small amount of “wiggle room” and grant a philosophic allowance forbearing with uninspired hymns, on condition, it meets with the material essence of worship as prayer/praise in Spirit and in Truth; I see why, however, that the first eleven centuries stayed clear of uninspired hymns and why the historic Reformed church avoided them also, for the most part.

    The Westminster Assembly supplied a curious scripture proof in WCF Chap. 21:3 “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” referencing the material essence of prayer/praise not the psalms formally, though the reference was from a psalm; it does not say “sing ye praises with psalms” a verse they could have picked elsewhere but sounds more like a positive allowance to “sing ye praises with prayers” according to the understanding – according to the material essence.

    Furthermore, we know in light of WCF LC Q. 185 & 186 is given the rule for our direction in the duty of prayer and in (I Cor. 14:15) we are to pray and sing with the spirit and with the understanding.

    However, according to the DPW before the WCF was written – only psalms are mentioned to be sung. It was probably a wise choice amongst Divines even if they could have written their own. It’s somewhat of a daunting thought to think that the works of our hands might meet the essence of the Psalms.

  37. >Uninspired hymns are the works of men’s hands

    Everything -other than the Bible- is the work of men’s hands. This includes sermons, prayers, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Calvin’s Institutes, the Regulative Principle, -and the assertion which you just made!
    God has indeed commanded both the preaching of the Word and prayer in worship. And in the early church prayers were chanted, i.e., sung. (Ever since God gave the Psalms, He had sanctioned the singing of prayers in worship.) The results were hymns -whether or not one calls them that.

  38. >Everything -other than the Bible- is the work of men’s hands.

    John, I think we are discussing the works of men’s hands in the context worship. Not “Everything”.

    In your exclamative litany above, there are two missing worship distinctions in your argument. 1) The distinction between the call/response dialogue in worship 2) The distinction between the special/general offices in worship.

    However, when God allows for the prayer/praise response from those of the general office in public worship, in the context as written above, he does so, not as prayer-chant- hymns (or whatever you want to call them) that are tainted with error, self love and vain repetition for public consumption.

    If you can produce a hymn for public worship without breeding idolatry and error, then you have met the terms of the sanction – materially. Not many prayer-chant-hymns are appropriate for public worship nor have met the material standard required in public worship. I do understand that the Synod of Dort 1619 did allow for one. Maybe 150:1 might be a good ratio as a principle-in-kind.

  39. As an Anglican, I’d be the last person to blur the distinction between the special/general offices in worship. And I agree that many artistic expressions used in worship today are indeed tainted with “error, self love and vain repetition for public consumption”. I would point out, however, that most of these are not hymns -they’re praise songs.

    >If you can produce a hymn for public worship without breeding idolatry and error, then you have met the terms of the sanction – materially

    I don’t understand why the risk of idolatry and error should be greater in a hymn than in a prayer offered up by the minister. The risk is indeed there (as it is with anything that’s not canonical Scripture), but there are safeguards against it: hymnal-selection committees, worship committees, perhaps a board of elders -and of course the minister himself.
    The earliest surviving hymns expressing orthodox, Biblical faith were written by St.Ambrose. That takes us back to the 4th century. In the 1600 years which have passed since then, don’t you think that a good many more sound hymns have been written?
    And again: I see no New Testament evidence that the long-established practice of chanting prayers in worship ceased. If you do, by all means point it out to me.

    • Dear John H.,

      You write, “The earliest surviving hymns expressing orthodox, Biblical faith were written by St.Ambrose. That takes us back to the 4th century.”

      Do you then consider the Syriac Christian text called “the Odes of Solomon” (ca 100 AD) to be heretical?


  40. Not at all -I just consider you to be more knowledgeable concerning early hymnody than I!

    But of course this strengthens the basic point which I’ve been making all along, doesn’t it?

  41. I do not think that the great Synod of Dort 1619 was the only synod to leave us with a principle-in-kind for praise but also the Westminster Assembly.

    Although Westminster did not allow for one hymn explicitly, as a principle-in-kind to show us the dangers inherent in hymns by excluding all others, Westminster nevertheless did omit some key opportunities to place the singing of psalms in some key areas without omitting the material essence and duty of praise.

    For example, all the ordinary duties of worship are listed in WCF Ch 21:5 which include psalm singing. The only duty not listed here is prayer, which is a special duty that encompasses praise and precedes the ordinary duties as outlined by the Confession.

    Curiously, when we turn to WCF LC Q.108 they list the duties required of us in the second commandment. Peculiarly, they do not mention singing or psalm singing but everything else is restated. Most EP’s would have this one on the top of their list but WCF LC Q. 108 omits psalm singing – here. Why did Westminster not restate the formal singing of psalms within the duties required in the second commandment yet mention all other parts of worship?

    The same omission of psalm singing happens again between LC Q. 160 and LC Q. 161. It is noteworthy, that all the parts of worship, special or ordinary- in the Catechism, have some sort of catechetical direction attached to them in the form of “what” or “how” except for the singing in worship.
    • Q. 157 How is the word of God to be read?
    • Q. 159 How is the word of God to be preached…?
    • Q.160 What is required of those that hear…?
    • Q. 161 How do the sacraments become effectual…?
    • Q 186 What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?

    I would think that somewhere within the set of catechetical questions they would have asked “What rule has God given for our direction in singing”.

    John asked > I don’t understand why the risk of idolatry and error should be greater in a hymn than in a prayer offered up by the minister.

    The risk of overturning the foundation is a matter of degrees. The Reformed church separated from Rome because they overturned the foundation with their inventions. Consider first, that the risk is nil when you use inspired songs or psalms. The only risk resides in the supplicant if one’s mind be not employed with understanding (I Cor. 14:15).

    I think it is clear why the early church employed the psalms extensively or practically exclusively for singing and why the historic reformed adopted the formal matter of the Psalms into their Confession’s also. I think you will find similar reasoning in Calvin’s commentaries on (I Corinthians 14:15).

    I am not a diehard EP, for I too will not place the formal singing of psalms only within the duties required in the second commandment. On the other hand, I would not run hard and fast with the liberty to praise unadvisedly.

  42. Kevin, you’re obviously familiar with the details of Reformed worship in a way in which I’m not. But I think that my basic point still needs to be addressed.

    “Consider first, that the risk is nil when you use inspired songs or psalms. ”

    Agreed. But likewise the risk is nil when you use only inspired, i.e.,canonical, prayers. And (correct me if I’m wrong): not even the most stringently Reformed church does that.
    Once again, here is my basic argument. A fundamental element in corporate worship is addressing the Most High. Under the Old Covenant, the mode of corporate address was chant (a form of singing). And there’s no New Testament evidence that God has changed that mode to speech under the provisions of the New Covenant.
    The one remaining question is: Is the _content_ of the address always to be canonical Scripture as such? If not, then what are we left with? Hymns!
    This really does seem quite simple to me.

  43. John, we have direction in LC Q. 186 that the whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but that special rule of direction is that form of prayer … The Lord’s Prayer.

    We are not regulated to the form.

    As to what content, degree or mode you want to use to “hymn” I would say again, I would not run hard and fast with the liberty to praise unadvisedly. Quoting Calvin on I Corinthians 14:15, making use of a particular instance, instead of a general statement – concerning I will sing…. “In our supplications, we either ask something from God or we acknowledge some blessing that has been conferred upon us.”

    This is ordinarily done by singing Psalms in the public worship as the subject matter of our praise, being the most appropriate way to praise him.

  44. Kevin, I’m in the dark as to how your observations relate to my basic point.

    “the whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but that special rule of direction is that form of prayer … The Lord’s Prayer. ”

    Fine. I have no problem with this. If you could just explain to me the precise role which prayer assumes in strict Reformed worship (pre-written or extemporaneous? exclusively canonical or noncanonical? pastoral or congregational? corporate or individual?), then perhaps our minds will meet. And we’ll take it from there.

  45. Ah! Thanks for clarifying, Rick! Now we’re getting somewhere.
    It’s been my point all along that with the Psalms the two were inseparably intertwined. And -barring New Testament evidence to the contrary- they continued to be intertwined in the worship of the apostolic church.
    The Exclusive Psalmody position seems to imply that at some point, God commanded that they now be separate. And try as I might, I just can’t figure out where that point was.

    Thanks again!

  46. 1 Corinthians 14:15 (King James Version)

    15What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

    They are separate modes of worship.
    They always have been.

    • Rick-

      “1 Corinthians 14:15 (King James Version)

      15What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

      They are separate modes of worship.
      They always have been.”

      This verse may be a parallelism: two different ways of saying essentially the same thing. But even if it isn’t, I don’t see Paul saying that the two are _separate_. “Praying” and “singing” are indeed distinct concepts with different definitions. But they are inseparable. Not in the sense that a prayer _cannot_ be spoken, but in the sense that the two ordinarily went hand in hand ever since the Psalms were given. Biblical proof is found in Psalm 72, which concludes with the words, “The _prayers_ of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Obviously, Psalms 1-72 are here being referred to as prayers; it’s a fair inference that the same applies to Psalms 73-150.

      • John,
        Singing isn’t a concept. It is an action. It requires a written text for the congregation to engage in this action. Prayer on the other hand does not require a written text for all to engage in public prayer. All however are required to give their Amen if they are in agreement. Prayer is not a concept it is an action. It is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.
        Good point about the Psalms being prayers but why did David write them down and give them to the Chief musician?
        Let all things be done decently and in order.

        • Rick,
          I agree that singing and prayer are both actions. The early church, being mostly Jewish, chanted its prayers -again, there’s no Biblical evidence that the practice ceased under the New Covenant. Assuming that some of these prayers were non-canonical, the person leading the worship would have chanted (i.e., sung) a prayer and the congregation (as you point out) would have responded “Amen.” My point is that what the worship leader sang was both an extemporaneous prayer and an improvised hymn.
          Assuming that the leader could carry a tune and sing on pitch, this in no way rules out decency and order.

  47. Given the discussion, one interest has arisen here as a Calvinistic Anglican (I’ll avoid the adjective and noun “Reformed” since that too gets a workout here).

    The old 1662 BCP prescribed Morning Prayer, Litany, and Holy Communion weekly. A workout for sure. Then, Evening Prayer weekly. The 1662 BCP is never done as such, except in some English parishes. Forget the U.S of A.

    Here’s my point. I am getting sensitive to the “number” of Psalms (said or sung) in an appropriate and truly Anglican service. I’m going to start thinking about the “numbers,” to wit, the abundance of Psalms on a given Sunday.

    Exclusive or non-exclusive Psalmody or not, the old services were–indeed–Psalmified in a very, very major way.

    I never really paid “compulsive” attention to this. I just used Morning and Evening Prayer with “all the Psalms” as prescribed.

    Given this continuuing discussion, that over time will be rectified. Henceforth, will be a “numbers runners.”

    No one can possibly say that a genuinely Anglican service is “not” heavily Psalmified…heavily so. Most thankfully so.

    The above discussion and RRC compels this minor compulsion.

    Here endeth the point.

  48. Just one day alone, today, 27 May, Thursday in Whit-Sunday, Morning and Evening Prayer, directs “eleven” (11) said or sung Psalms–if the count was right.

    If replicated on the Lord’s Day, a congregation–as a matter of routine–would have sung eleven (11) Psalms that day. Let that be done for a generation. It’s a very different piety that develops. It ain’t “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

    This excludes the other Psalms that are “within” both services. Add 3-4 more atop the 11.

    Austere, work, focus–it’s not for the faint, indolent, or those wanting another focus.


    Too hard and too demanding.


    1) Six days shalt thou work. The seventh is a rest, but also an holy “work.”
    2) Ever study for a college exam?
    3) Ever play football or hockey?
    4) Ever sit through a 2-hour movie?
    5) Whether Reformed (exclusive Psalmody) or the above perspective, “What are we talkin’ about here, huh?”

    It is difficult for an old Marine to endure whining, but that’s me.

    Best regards to all.

  49. “If replicated on the Lord’s Day, a congregation–as a matter of routine–would have sung eleven (11) Psalms that day. Let that be done for a generation. It’s a very different piety that develops. It ain’t “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

    Has anybody else noticed that virtually all of the criticisms of non-canonical worship expressions that have been made on this blog have been directed against contemporary praise music? The sole exception is “I Come to the Garden Alone” (written 1912). This number isn’t one of my favorites any more than it is Scott’s. But: its sentimentality, its use of the first person singular, its subjectivism and its use of a refrain all mark it as a Gospel Song. A different genre from a hymn

    • It has been said that those who pervert Scripture to have Watts, Toplady, and Newton will end up with Rome, Canterbury, or Vegas. Contemporary praise music aside, there are Christians of all shapes and colors who can sing ‘uninspire hymns’ with there eyes closed that would struggle to sing even a handful of the 150 ‘Spirit-inspired’ Psalms (let alone other canonical songs). So, please help me understand your point… show me a divine prescription for the use of ‘uninspired’ songs in Scripture; provide a biblical warrant for the use of ‘uninspired’ songs from Scripture… that would help!

      • Jes,

        “show me a divine prescription for the use of ‘uninspired’ songs in Scripture; provide a biblical warrant for the use of ‘uninspired’ songs from Scripture… that would help!”

        OK. Here’s what I’ve been saying all along:
        God has commanded us to pray when we gather for worship. Under the Old Covenant, prayer was expressed through song. There’s no biblical evidence that this has changed under the New Covenant. What is a sung prayer? A hymn.
        Jes, do you see what you are implying? You’re implying that we’re forbidden to pray in worship, unless our prayer consists of a quotation from the Bible. If it doesn’t, it’s an uninspired prayer, isn’t it? Which would be forbidden.
        Jes, do you really believe this?
        Hope this clarifies things.

  50. Jess,
    The infamous “they” can say anything, and that means nothing. It certainly doesn’t mean that singing uninspired hymns means that one will end up being a heretic.
    Clearly you have a postion that you hold to tightly, so tightly that you slander others: prove from Scripture that Watts, et al “pervert” Scripture, before you make such statements.
    No doubt it is true that “there are Christians … who can sing “uninspire (sic) hymns” with there (sic) eyes closed” but all that proves is that they have known them for years.
    So, please, show me a divine prescription for the use of only inspired songs in Scripture. Citing a Reformed confession or practice is NOT proof that the Word of God requires such an activity. Show me sound exegesis for only inspired hymns, please.

    • You can stick with Watts…

      As for me, I’ll stick with The Word of God (read, taught, and sung), The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and my OPC brother John Murray (Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God)

      “The Scripture Evidence”

  51. This link may be helpful. It regards WCF LC Q. 154 “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation” Here Thomas Ridgley thinks through the implications of praise music in worship on his Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism. He does reason through the issue much in the same way I have tried to produce it above – just in a much more succinct way.

  52. Kevin,

    I just read the link, as you suggested. Ridgley actually accepts “hymns of human composure” as long as a)they don’t displace the Psalms, and b)their content is “agreeable to Scripture” (i.e., doctrinally sound).
    I’m not a big fan of praise music either, but remember: it was preceded by nearly 2000 years of great hymnody in the life of the Church.

  53. I am an exclusive psalmist materially, not formally. I was an exclusive psalmist formally for many many years. Material consequences differ from formal consequences and are a common distinction of note prior to the seventeenth century. Formal logic has pretty much taken over ever since. When the Synod of Dort 1619 allowed for one hymn I thought they were in error. I see it now as more of a principle-in-kind materially.

    I see also that Westminster does not catechize on psalm singing (omitting instruction on singing altogether but adopting it into their own order of worship, the DPW exclusively) though confesses that psalms are to be sung with grace in the heart WCF 21:5.

    I see they allow for singing praise as a prayer element in WCF 21:3 with the understanding – as Ridgley teaches on the subject.

    Ridgley does allow for hymns of human composure and the exclusive psalmody position is correct – materially. Formal exclusive psalmody is too narrow (in my opinion and I could be wrong) but may be adopted exclusively within a church order then should be adhered – all things done decently and in order.

    Samuel Rutherford wrote, “Formalists ignorantly divide matters of Gods worship into matters of faith (though he himself discerns matters of faith of three types and is here speaking of only the first two-KB) or points fundamental, and things indifferent, as if many scriptural truths were not to be found in God’s Word…”

    Note also, that things indifferent are applied here into two categories and Rutherford is not talking of “time and place” issues in worship which are truly indifferent – only that nothing revealed in God’s Word is indifferent like the histories, miracles, chronologies….or that Paul left his cloak in Troas.

    • “I am an exclusive psalmist materially, not formally.”

      I _think_ I see what you’re saying. That the subject “matter” of a hymn should be the same as, or in agreement with, that of the Psalms? I wouldn’t put it that way. For example, if a hymn contradicts the Virgin Birth, I wouldn’t use it. But the Virgin Birth -as far as I know- is not taught in any of the Psalms. The hymn would be in contradiction with Matthew 1 and Luke 1. So I’d say that it has to be “materially” in agreement with all of Scripture.
      Would you agree? If so, then our positions may be closer than either of us had thought.

  54. John – Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs considered extraordinarily – formally make up the Psalter. The ordinance of singing encompasses all of these.

    I agree with Paul Baynes commentary on Ephesians 5:19 concerning the ordinary or material use of these. I would not quibble over your suggestion but merely use the formal-material distinction within the Psalms to show the continuity of the whole for singing prasie with the understanding WCF 21:3.

    Paul Baynes was that “radical Puritan” contemporary with William Ames. Ames quoted Baynes: “Beware of a strong head and a cold heart”. He was and student and successor to William Perkins as lecturer at the church of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge; they were considered the town’s leading Puritan preachers.

    He was quoted by Samuel Rutherford often and died around 1618.

    Here is his commentary on Ephesians 5:19 concerning the ordinance of singing.

  55. Kevin, I’m not sufficiently familiar with Reformed worship to fully understand your point.
    Could you explain “considered extraordinarily” in your first sentence?
    I’ve also thought it might be helpful to cite a couple of examples as to why those of us outside the Reformed tradition find it problematic to sing all of the Psalms.

    1.) As you doubtless know, Psalm 22 opens with “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is of course a cry from the heart of David (rather than a propositional-truth statement). But more important, it’s a prophecy which was fulfilled when Christ uttered the same cry on the cross. And in view of His substitutionary atonement, it will never need to be our cry; Christ suffered God-forsakenness in our place. I don’t see that it’s appropriate for Christians -standing on this side of Calvary, in the light of God’s full revelation in Christ- to sing these words.

    2.) Psalm 75:3 records God as saying “The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah.” This is God speaking, not man. Are we to sing this in worship?

    • All the Gospels use Psalm 22 to portray Jesus as the innocent sufferer par excellence. We would not have (the blessings of) Psalm 23 without Psalm 22! The portrayal of Jesus in light of Psalm 22 allows Christ’s followers as well to expect some kind of vindication. In Hebrews, the resurrected Messiah, his suffering completed, calls his brothers to join with him in worship using the words of Psalm 22! I do not find it problematic to sing 22 because my resurrected Savior sang it after, on, and before he bore my sins on the cross. That’s something to sing about!

      • Jes-

        Regarding your post on Psalm 22, I agree with your first three sentences. BUT: you’re going to have to show me exactly where in Hebrews (or anywhere else in Scripture) Christ commands His followers to either sing or say that God has forsaken them! That was my point.
        Regarding your view of Psalm 75, I agree with it overall. But: since you and I are not God, we don’t “bear up the pillars of the earth” (verse 2). That’s why I can’t honestly sing that verse.
        >”Non-canonical’ songs lead away from God’s Word toward praise choruses before long! ”
        I’m personally not a fan of praise choruses. But I can’t agree with this. First, the earliest hymns (the Odes of Solomon, as Byron Curtis informed us) date from around 100AD; praise choruses didn’t show up until around 30 years ago. I’d call that a long time! So I don’t think that one necessarily leads to the other. Second, there are praise choruses which consist entirely of Scripture. They’re not my style, but they are Biblical.

    • Psalm 75 is a hymn of praise, thanking God for the wondrous deeds he has done for Israel, and celebrating the fact that he is the judge of all the earth and will, in his own time, put down the wicked and lift up the faithful. What’s not to sing about?

    • Are you saying that those who sing ‘uninspired’ hymns of men “find it problematic to sing all of the Psalms?”

      Hymns of men (non-canonical songs in worship) displace the songs of praise that God gave us in His Word! Non-canonical’ songs lead away from God’s Word toward praise choruses before long! Isn’t that the point of R. Scott Clark’s blog entry (Deformation or Reformation) you have posted so many comments on?

      • Jess, you said “Non-canonical’ songs lead away from God’s Word toward praise choruses before long!”

        How do you know this? Is this some kind of magnetic force, these non-canonical songs?

        • Bruce,

          It’s not magnetism but history. That’s what happened: paraphrases to hymns and hymns to choruses. If we reckon that revival songs were the precursors to today’s praise choruses (and they were) then it took about a century in the USA.

          In more recent years I think of the transformation of a quite average, fairly solid, generally well-taught, E-Free congregation from a hymn-singing congregation of about 200 to a chorus-singing congregation about about 10 times that in about 25 years. They are actually a snapshot of what has happened virtually across the board in American Protestantism since the early 80s.

          • Thanks Scott. So the word “lead” here has the meaning of “subsequently occurred”. That helps, a little. It’s good to know that non-canonical hymns are not some sneaky marijuana like gateway drug that draws us into the heroin of praise choruses. I think the weird thing about this argument is that somehow non-canonical praise choruses are deemed worse than non-canonical hymns and that it matters. It shouldn’t matter how much better a given hymn is than a given praise chorus. And a hymn’s observable faithfulness to orthodoxy shouldn’t make it any more redeemable than the worst praise chorus, or so it would seem according to this argument.

          • I guess you might say that revival songs “led to” praise choruses a century later. But it’s another thing to say that the hymns which were first written around 100AD (as Byron Curtis has informed us) led to the revival songs/Gospel songs which appeared on
            the scene 1800 years later.
            And don’t you think there’s a qualitative difference between an heretical hymn and an orthodox one?

            • And I really think we should stay away from the “addictive-drug-getting high” talk.
              Questions of civility aside, if hymns/revivalist songs/praise choruses really have
              this effect, it would surely be sinful to sing them under any circumstances.
              Hymn sings would be verboten. Even listening to, perhaps even reading, hymn
              texts would be a questionable activity for Christians.

        • I don’t se your issue with the words AWAY FROM and TOWARD!
          Mr. Harutunian’s argument seems to promote the use of non-canonical songs that he deems acceptable (the hymns of men or chanted prayers as he refers to them) while arguing that it doesn’t lead to the singing of non-canonical songs that he appears to deem unacceptable (Psalm texts that John finds problematic, contemporary praise music, and choruses).

          • Jes, both you and I would deem some non-canonical prayers (those prayed by an orthodox,
            Bible-believing minister) to be acceptable. But we would deem other non-canonical
            prayers -such as a prayer that opened with “Our Mother in heaven…” to be unacceptable.
            Because they’re unbiblical. The same principle applies to sung prayers (hymns)

            “Psalm texts that John finds problematic…”

            There’s nothing problematic about God bearing up the pillars of the earth (Psalm 75:3).What’s problematic for me is that God does that -not me. So I can’t honestly sing it. Reading it during my devotional time, or hearing it preached upon, would be something else.
            Also, if you’re really Reformed, you’ll agree that God does not forsake His elect children..
            So when David cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1), he was expressing a feeling of his heart -not stating a theological fact.
            Sometimes if we, as Christians, experience depression, we may feel that way, too. But Christ never commanded us to have such a feeling -much less to sing those words in

  56. What I’m finding fascinating is the argument that A leads to B leads to C — as though the elements of worship have a life of their own. Songs have no inherent ability to determine that they be used in worship; elders decide what is used in worship.

    Where bad songs are present in worship you have only to look around and see a Consistory dominated (if you can use that word in this context) by what the Dutch refer to as “ja-knickers” (sp?) — aka “yes-men” — who are a. yielding to a high-pressure music committee; b. wringing their hands over “how we gonna keep our kids in church if we don’t have a praise team”? c. gullible enough to believe the preacher who tells them the reason for empty pews is not enough pizazz in the liturgy; d. all of the above.

  57. How dogmatic should we be on the music issue?

    Here is a snippet of Dr. Roland Ward’s article below…

    “There was no consensus among the Reformed as to the precise meaning of the term ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

    a. Some make no special comment on the terms so far as whether they were inspired songs or not (eg. John Davenant (Colossians, Latin 1627, 1630, 1639, English 1831); John Diodati (Annotations, 1642, 1643 etc.) and John Trapp (Epistles, 1647).

    b. Some considered the three-fold term referred to material agreeable to Scripture teaching but not necessarily songs embedded in the text of Scripture. Those who thus allowed for new songs included the Englishmen Thomas Cartwright (On Colossians, 1612), Paul Bayne [d. 1617] (On Ephesians 1643, 5th ed. 1658), and Edward Elton (On Colossians 1612, repr. 1620, 1637). We could add the learned Scot, Robert Boyd [d. 1627] (Ephesians, Latin 1652); and the English Baptist hymnwriter, Benjamin Keach (The Breach Repaired, 1691, 2nd ed. 1700).

    c. Some regarded the terms as referring to inspired material only (inclusive of the Psalter). These included Nicolas Byfield (Commentary on Colossians, 1615, repr. 1617, 1627, 1628, 1649); Jean Daille (On Colossians, French 1643, English trans. 1672); John Cotton of New England (1647, repr. 1650) and the Scottish Commentator, James Fergusson (Colossians, 1656; Ephesians, 1659). Fergusson seems to restrict the meaning to Old Testament songs.

    d. Others regarded the three-fold expression as referring to the Psalter alone. Thomas Ford (1598-1674), a member of the Westminster Assembly, is of this mind. Likewise Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-54), Presbyterian minister at Newcastle, advances this view in his 48 page tract on what he terms one of ‘the two grand practical controversies of these times’ (the other was infant baptism). To the same effect is the Biblical scholar Francis Roberts (1609-75) in his Clavis Bibliorum, 3rd ed. 1665.

    This mixed tradition of interpretation is a further confirmation that the statement in the Westminster Confession, a consensus document, was not designed to bind the conscience as to the precise extent of the material of praise in the worship service.”

    For the whole article, see here,

    • This is very helpful Kevin.

      We should distinguish, however, between the private opinions of various writers and ecclesiastical policy and practice in the classical period.

    • “Calvin wrote in the preface of his 1542 service book:
      ‘ As for public prayers, there are two kinds: the one consists simply of speech, the other of song'”

      On what Biblical grounds did Calvin separate these two? (Since the apostles were mostly Jewish and chanted their prayers, they wouldn’t have envisioned such a separation.)

      “Now, what Augustine says is true, namely, that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from him.”

      This sounds very spiritual. The trouble is, it would also rule out all use of uninspired (i.e., not-received-from-God) prayers in worship.
      (As an aside, note also that the original tunes of the Psalms were not preserved. So, whatever tunes are used are likewise “not received from God”.)

      • Further, since Augustine presumably knew that God is giver of _every_ good and perfect gift (James 1:17), there’s no particular reason to believe that he intended his statement to apply exclusively to canonical Scripture.

  58. I’m curious if anyone has done a study on the correlation of (recent) ecclesiastical deformation and the (practical, anyway) rejection of Paul’s prescription for headcoverings on women in the worship services. Just wondering, as it seems to be a more consistent correlation than that between deformation and use of hymns. Also seems to match up with the timing a bit better — at least in the CRC.

    Given the arguments put forward for EP/IP singing in the worship services, I’d be interested in knowing others’ views on the need (or not) for women’s headcoverings (hats).

  59. I recently bought and read Brian Schwertley’s Exclusive Psalmody. Sadly, he what he has accomplished in my own mind it to undermine the position he wishes to argue for.

    However, I am still puzzled by so many of us who hold that hymnals are permissible. Why is it that some many who share this position never, or almost never sing psalms? Certainly, at the least, they are permissible. Certainly, at the least, it would be good to sing psalms.

    My policy is to strive to have at least one psalm in the morning worship service. Yes, there are times when there are none, but there are also times when all of the songs are psalms.

    I am not persuaded that we must sing only the psalms, but I cannot fathom never singing them.

  60. For John Haruntunian:

    1. Give it up, man.

    2. Regrettably, Anglicans have lost their old Reformed Prayer Book of 1662. England included. Forget the Americans. It’s a fact. We are “Exiles in Babylon.”

    3. If practiced, John, just give it up. We, as Prayer Book men, are “Psalmified” more by day and night, by month and by year, than any Confessionally Reformed Churchman. We drip with the Psalms by day, night, month and year. It’s inarguable. So, just let the Reformed men argue for the Psalms. If you are true to your roots, you shall be singing the Psalms once per month. Whose doctrine, worship and piety passes that muster? So, John, get your 1662 BCP out and start dealing with it rather than arguing here.



  61. David-

    “We disagree about the basic question. I believe it is: Where is the biblical evidence that we ought to be singing uninspired songs in worship?”

    But surely this question is still more basic: Are uninspired songs _appropriate_ for worship? Or, MAY we sing uninspired songs in worship? You would say no, because they’re not commanded. I would say yes, because a.)prayers are commanded (on this we agree) and b.)what you call uninspired songs (and I call hymns!) may be legitimately regarded as sung prayers. In support of _b_ I cite Hebrew practice in general (that is, the practice of chanting prayers) and Psalm 72 :20 (where the sung Psalms are referred to as prayers) in particular.
    If this seems weak to you, consider the issue from this perspective: May we presuppose that all New Testament references to prayer involve _spoken_ rather than _sung_ prayers? It looks to me like this is an assumption which you’re bringing to (rather than deriving from) the New Testament.
    But of course, correct me if I’m wrong.

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