An Appreciation Of Messrs Murray And Young On The Rule Of Worship

When we think about John Murray we might think first of his defense of the biblical doctrine of The Imputation of Adam’s Sin or we might think of his judicious application of Scripture in Principles of Conduct. Others might think of Mr Murray as a covenant theologian or perhaps as the progenitor of certain aspects of the modern discussion of union with Christ. One aspect of Mr Murray’s work, however, that is little known (perhaps even within the OPC itself, a denomination he served for decades) was his dissent, written with Dr. William Young (1918–2015), from the majority report on worship to the Thirteenth General Assembly of the OPC.

For years it was tucked away in the minutes of the OPC General Assembly. I do not believe it was included in his collected works, perhaps because it was co-authored. It is a 5,000 word essay in defense of the old Reformed understanding of the “rule of worship” (or the regulative principle of worship) that only God’s word may be sung in public worship, in response to God’s Word.

As is typical for Mr Murray (and Mr Young) the Scriptures are handled with care. The first part surveys what can be fairly deduced from the New Testament evidence about what our Lord, the disciples, and later the Apostolic church sang in worship. Part 2 addresses (among other places) 2 Corinthians 14:15, 26. Part 3, the longest part of the minority report, challenges the assumptions on which the modern appeal to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 rest.

Pace the majority report, Murray and Young concluded,

This survey of the evidence derived from Scripture shows, in the judgment of the minority, that there is no evidence from Scripture that can be adduced to warrant the singing of uninspired human compositions in the public worship of God.

I certainly agree with Mr Murray and Dr Young here and I think we should all agree with them. This was the conclusion to which all the Reformed churches arrived in the 16th–18th centuries. That is not to say that I agree with all of the minority’s conclusions. E.g.,

We are not certain that other inspired songs were intended to be sung in the worship of God, even though the use of other inspired songs does not violate the fundamental principle on which Scripture authorization is explicit, namely, the use of inspired songs.

One wonders whether the authors of the minority report were in complete agreement with each other. Why else raise the possibility of singing texts of Scripture outside the Psalter? Whatever the case, I am with Theodore Beza (1519–1605) and the rest of the minority who argued that we ought to sing all of God’s Word, from the Psalter, from the Song of Moses (Ex 15), and from the New Testament. Wherever one falls out on this question or even if one concludes against the position adopted by Mr Murray and Dr Young, we ought to appreciate their careful work in the Scriptures on this point and their desire to preserve the historic understanding of the “rule of worship” in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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83 comments

  1. I am interested in what the NT church sang from Apostolic times onward. No doubt the Reformed held these views. I also find it interesting even the liturgical settings were only bible verses sung: The Gloria, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Kyrie, Psalter, etc. soon after the creeds like the Apostles and Nicene were added and chanted but the liturgy was inspired song by and large. When did uninspired song begin to take over?

    • The Te Deum isn’t bible verses, is it, and doesn’t the Benedicite come from the Apocrypha (not that I’m particularly in favour of singing them)? And I can’t remember a scripture verse with Christe Eleison in it. And are we sure that the entire Gloria is scripture verses.

    • PS, before the Guerilla comes out in force, an apology for inadvertently replacing the final question mark with a full stop.

    • Michial,

      The 2nd century picture is reasonably clear.

      1. The church sang relatively little.
      2. There’s no indisputable evidence that the church sang extra-canonical songs.
      3. It is certain beyond doubt that the church worshiped without the use of musical instruments.
      4. The service was simple, even plain.
      5. Know that there was preaching, singing, the reading of the law, and the use of two sacraments.
      6. The services began to become more ornate in the late 4th century, after Constantine. Pastors became to imitate civil authorities (e.g., dressing like them). There was controversy through the 5th century about what ought to be sung. At least one regional synod forbade congregations from singing anything other than Scripture but that was overturned.
      7. When the Reformed went back to a simple, dialogical service (The Lord speaks through his Word and sacrament, the people responded with the Word in song), they were returning to the spirit (and close to) the practice of the earliest post-canonical worship services.
      8. By the 7th century, the church had large numbers of uninspired songs (many produced under Gregory). It was a gradual process of re-instituting a version of OT worship.

  2. Aren’t there TWO Songs of Moses in the Old Testament, plus the Song of the Well. the Song of Deborah and Barak, the Song of Solomon, the Song of the Vineyard, and the Prayer of Habakkuk?

    • And if much of the New Testament is suitable for sung worship, how about the Old Testament Magnificat, with its affirmation of resurrection and it being the first application in the Bible of the terms King and Messiah to the promised Seed?

    • I’m not so sure about the by and large – There are a lot of words in the Te Deum and the Benedicite!

  3. Somewhat off topic, does anyone know where one can find “Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship” by Hughes Oliphant Old?

  4. Thanks Dr. Clark. You mentioned Constantine. Is there any merit to Hislop’s Two Babylons that the Emperor introduced a lot of extra biblical practices into the church and its worship?

  5. When did the church begin to use instruments and extra biblical songs and why? Was there anyone noteworthy on the OPC majority report? Lastly must inspired song be limited to the psalter or can we sing any scripture? Thank you.

  6. How much of an influence or factor should this play when one is deciding upon which church to join? Where I live I can pick an equally good OPC church a few minutes from my house or an RPCNA church 30 minutes away. Both are excellent, the only difference being one only sings psalms. Neither has instruments.

    • The one which doesn’t only sing psalms, what else does it sing? “Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light”, “In all things thou livest”, “Who can tell how great the jubilation When all the hearts of men with love are filled”, “Not for ever in green pastures do we ask our way to be”, “When the spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will dance as David danced”, “Room to deny ourselves, a road that daily leads us nearer God”?
      If that’s the case, I think you know the answer!

  7. I don’t know the answer. I’d like to read the majority report. I’m not sure using a Trinity Hymnal qualifies as strange fire. If it does then about 99% of the church is lost and the gates of Hell seem to have won. What is your take on it. We know the NAPARC church makes up a tiny fraction of global Christianity, and the exclusive psalmody churches a mere fraction of that. Are you saying all non exclusive psalmody churches are false churches and are an abomination to God? I’m not saying anyone here is but if this is strange fire then it’s strange fire and there’s no way to soft pedal it if it’s really as serious as it’s presented by many who hold it. So what is the judgment on the OPC and all other church bodies?

    • The key to that argument may be this line, “This argument is based on a certain application of the regulative principle of Scripture, in which the principle is taken to mean that only what is explicitly commanded in Scripture is permitted.”

      That principle unequivocally is that we may only worship God in the way he has commanded. This is what WCF 21.1 says: ” 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.”

      This was Calvin’s principle. It was Knox’s principle. It was the principle of the British, Dutch, the French, the Swiss, and the Germans.

      Geneva
      Calvin
      Owen
      Owen again
      Ursinus
      Perkins
      Calvin again
      Knox
      The Hungarian Reformed Churches
      Belgic Confession

      We’ll never make progress until we get the principle right. To reduce the “rule of worship” to “an application” is to miss the rule.

    • Michial,

      Letham’s article is irritating for a couple of reasons. One, he doesn’t state the argument for psalmody correctly – which is arguably also the Assembly’s, Needham’s special pleading notwithstanding. Two, he should know better.

      After all the Assembly produced a psalter as part of their official duty to attain uniformity in worship, which then became the Scottish Psalter 1650 after it was revised by – who else? – the Scots.

      IOW while one can appreciate the fact that Letham doesn’t agree with the position, there is responsibility on his part to present it fairly. The Assembly in their Minutes recognized that we are commanded in Scripture either explicitly or implicitly; the last as in good and necessary consequence or by approved example.

      And regardless the prevailing narrative, they also edited Rouse’s psalter and then repeatedly and explicitly recommended their revision over and above Barton’s psalter for exclusive use in the churches.

      Yet we keep hearing that the argument for psalmody is a fundamentalist and literal read of Scripture and not that of the Westminster divines.

      Not that the presence of a divine song book in Scripture is an implicit command to sing those songs, much more that nowhere else than in that very same songbook are we “explicitly” commanded to praise God in song, if not psalms.

      In short, Letham’s presentation of the facts and conclusion of his argument, despite his acknowledgement that the psalms should get the nod over the contemporary praise worship ditties, leave something to be desired.

    • But Scott,

      WCF says “good and necessary consequence” and doesn’t limit things to “explicitly commanded.” That’s Letham’s point. We’re not dispensationalists.

      • Robert,

        1. Your comment is a little cryptic. Perhaps you could explain?

        2.

        I think I disagree. He’s mischaracterizing the RPW and marginalizing it by reducing it to one inference among other equally valid inferences. A “good and necessary” consequence belongs to different order. We know how the Assembly understood the RPW, as has been noted. They published a Psalter. They produced a DPW.

        3.

        What hath Dispensationalism to do with the RPW?

        Are you suggesting that recognizing this continuity between Moses and the new covenant is dispensational

        4. The rejection of instruments and non-canonical hymns was a good and necessary consequence.

        5. The RPW means that Scripture governs our worship (or ought to) both by explicit command and good and necessary consequences.

  8. I don’t doubt those you reference held to it, but does scripture in fact teach it? If so is it strange fire or a Cain’s offering to attend worship elsewhere and would it not be a major sin at the very heart of worship and relating to God himself? If so how can one remain in a non exclusive psalmody OPC or URCNA?

    • Michial,

      The church in this world has never been perfect. I am influenced by Calvin’s approach, which I described here:

      Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69.

      URC church order art. 69 says:

      The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches. Hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity may be sung, provided they are approved by the Consistory.

      It does not require congregations to sing anything other than God’s Word. Until 1934 the churches in this tradition sang only God’s Word and usually without instruments (they were controversial into the 1920s and 30s). It has been a little over 80 years since we adopted the use of hymns in public worship. It will take time to become persuaded that was a mistake. The Presbyterians moved away from the historic understanding of the principal earlier and so it will take even longer for them. For its entire history the OP has been almost exclusively a hymn-singing denomination. Some have even questioned the legitimacy of singing the Psalms in public worship. The adoption of a Psalter-Hymnal is a good step forward. It will take a long time for the OPs to become familiar with the psalter again and to decide that Scripture is sufficient for public worship.

  9. Quote: ‘That principle unequivocally is that we may only worship God in the way he has commanded’
    – And He has commanded us to worship in Spirit and in Truth – and that gives us the liberty of an honest heart in which the fullness of Spirit inspires such as Mary knew when she created a new song, in her magnificat. Psalms 149:1 “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a NEW song, And His praise in the assembly of saints!”

    • amen, and joining with all who know – even the trees and mountains-singing for joy; clapping along with the rivers and the trees of the field before the LORD; for He is coming, He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness, saying “The LORD reigns” ;and with voices like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and like the sound of harpists playing harps, singing a new song.

    • Exactly: she was inspired by the Spirit. We know this because it’s in the Bible. We are not inspired to write new songs today. And to sing a new song is a spiritual, not a literal, response to being born again.

      And it wasn’t a song. The verse clearly says she spoke, not sang.

  10. The psalter itself mentions instruments. The examples of inspired praise in other scriptures, as well as scripture verses set to song itself dimes perfectly valid. The Agnus Dei etc etc

  11. Here’s a debate between Brian Schwertley and Benjamin Shaw on exclusive psalmody
    tinysa.com/sermon/69101027346

  12. All I’ll say in response to Letham’s article is that anyone who thinks the Psalms don’t portray the depth of salvation, the Trinity, the work of Christ, the person of Christ, the character of Christ, the psychology of Christ, the emotions of Christ, and the full breadth of Christian experience- just because they don’t contain the word “Jesus” (in its English form)- doesn’t understand them. Period.

    • This is the issue. I believe that unless people see the Trinity, particularly Christ in union with his Church in the Psalms, resistance to singing them in worship will continue. He himself says that it’s his inheritance as the ascended Son to tell of the Father and to sing his praises in the congregation (Psalm 22:22, Hebrews 2:12). Will Christ be among us singing our uninspired words? This is tough for us after centuries of uninspired hymnody. But the best hymn ever written can’t do in us what the word of God does.

  13. O where is our simplicity!? Where is the same Holy Ghost who gave new songs to the blessed of old? What kind of Christ do you have who dislikes & does not receive the heart-felt gratitude, spoken or sung, of the soul set free?! The Christ who will not receive the at once the tearful and joyful words; “Thankyou – thankyou Jesus!” What kind of sophisticated religion is this?! It’s not the simple worship which was given Him in His day among the poor & needy recipients of His mercy, as we also claim to be.

    • Allan,

      The rule of worship as followed by the early church and recovered by the Reformed churches in the 16th century was all about simplicity.

      Our commitment is to the Scripture alone as the final authority for Christian worship. God has revealed his will for public worship in his Word. We are not Pentecostals. We neither need nor expect continuing revelation. The Holy Spirit is where he has always been, working through his word in the hearts, minds, and lives of his people.

      Worship is to come from gratitude, from the heart and soul set free. But that worship is normed and governed by the Word, not by the subjective whims of human opinion, sentiment, nor claims to human opinion, sentiment, nor to additional revelation.

    • Wouldn’t the argument be that we are free to use our own heartfelt words in our individual worship, but when it comes to the words we sing as an assembly, we must not be asked to sing words that have not come from the Word of God?
      I must say I am puzzled as to why this should apply to what is sung, and that only, whereas extempore prayer and preaching is encouraged, i.e., if we say it in the assembly that’s fine, but if we sing it, woe, woe, woe unto us.

      • There is a difference between what the minister is commanded to do and what the people are commanded to do. The minister has one office, the people have another.

    • I’ve never been to a RPW meeting in which extempore prayer was restricted to the minister (By extempore, I don’t mean free for all).

      • John,

        Perhaps we’re talking past each other? Ordinarily, in a well-ordered service, the ministers (or, perhaps, elders) conduct the service. The people participate by responding to the Word. I’m not suggesting that the minister’s prayers can’t be ex tempore. I’m not sure where, in an orderly service, the laity would offer extemporaneous prayer.

    • In the public prayer meeting of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, communicant members of the congregation are invited by the presiding elder to engage (i.e., lead) in prayer.

      • Ok, we’re talking about two different meetings. I’ve no problem with free, congregational prayer in that setting but what is before us specifically is what may be done or what ought to be done in a stated, public Lord’s Day/Sabbath day worship service.

    • It’s not “Open Prayer” – The leader normally says something like “Fred Bloggs, will you engage in prayer” and Dr Bloggs then leads in prayer. Or he’ll say “Joe Smith, will you sing?”, and Sir Joseph Smith then precents.
      And yes, some of the prayer meetings happen on the Lord’s Day (normally, during a communion season, following the evening service), and no suggestion is made that anybody should leave. Weekday prayer meetings also include the preaching of the word. These prayer meetings are fully public.

  14. I use to attend a NAPARC church which sang uninspired hymns. Almost 6 years ago we left (for many reasons) and now are members of a church which only sings God’s Word and without instruments. I sympathize with those who find this to be very odd and even a culture shock, for most Protestants instruments are a 3rd Sacrament they are held in that high regard. However upon deeper study I see the good wisdom of this stricter RPW and indeed Christian history is on that side of things.

    From a practical gut level, I would say to those opposed to this stricter RPW that I can assure you I have never left our church Worship service saying…”Darn, I really really wish we would have sung more man written songs/Lyrics today!” Never happens. But now whenever we visit a church which does not practice this (or our old PCA church for that matter) we always walk away with at least 1-2 songs that disrupted our Christian conscience as they were filled with awful theology.

  15. I’m with you on that. It seems to me preaching is far more serious than the few songs we sing. The preaching of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Shouldn’t we just read it? I think the preaching is the most important,prayer second and praise third. Why extempore on all but praise. Seems a stretch.

  16. The Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus must never be imprisoned by regulations designed to prevent error. Church history is littered with atrocities against the true, in the name of truth, even Paul once being the ignorant perpetrator. I too am appalled at the God-demeaning, truth-opposing sentimental rubbish sung in the churches today, and I have publicly pointed out such examples from the pulpit, but the putting up of a fences to prohibit error, led to Jewish leaders’ terrible confidence in naming the Son of God a blasphemer. Let us be careful we are not like them, adding man’s traditions to God’s Word, and quenching the Holy Spirit.

    • Allan,

      Human beings are intrinsically corrupt. We are idolaters by nature. That reality requires norms and we find them in God’s holy law. It was violation of that law that cost Uzzah his life. He meant well but he still died. He was not authorized to touch God’s holy ark.

      That moral law is also our charter of liberty. It prevents well-intentioned Christians from imposing their desires, practices, or opinions on others.

      The 2nd commandment isn’t some mere regulation or rule. There are man-made rules. The Roman cultus was man-made and we invoked sola scriptura against those rules, practices, and ceremonies.

  17. I am not persuaded by the biblical arguments, though the historical has been argued well. I would argue as long as corporate prayer and preaching on the Lords Day are only held to be scriptural, in accord with the word of God, and not inspired themselves, then the corporate singing isn’t held to a higher, inspired standard solely from a portion of Gods word. The corporate singing is not commanded explicitly or implicitely to have a higher standard than the preaching and prayers of the Sabbath worship. If that can be shown I will gladly submit but after hearing a few debates and reading on the subject I remain unconvinced. I’m glad the OPC we are going to visit sings 50% psalms and other elder approved hymns usually based and in accord with the preaching texts of that Lords Day.

    • Michial,

      Do we agree as to exactly what is the rule of worship? Do we agree that the principle is that we may do in worship only what God has commanded? That is the principle. Given that, some questions arise:

      Ministers are explicitly commanded in Scripture to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). Where is the congregation commanded to sing anything to God other than his Word?

      Why isn’t Scripture (sola Scriptura) sufficient for public worship? Surely, if the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture means anything, it means that it provides for us all we need in public worship?

      Where have we a single example in the NT (or the old) of God’s people singing anything other than his Word?

      Then there are practical questions:

      What do non-canonical songs add to our worship that cannot be found in Scripture?

      What about those whose consciences don’t permit them to sing non-canonical songs?

      Why did the Reformed churches sing nothing but God’s Word for 250 years? What have we learned from Scripture that none of them saw?

    • By “classical” I didn’t just mean the classical period beginning with CPEB and finishing with Beethoven and Schubert. I was using it in the sense of “serious” music from Palestrina onwards. Am I wrong? Did Palestrina’s and Monteverdi’s masses contain heretical stuff? Didn’t they all use the ordinary of the mass, which comprises Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Hosanna-Benedictus (not the words of Zechariah in /scripture), and Agnus Dei?

  18. I see nothing I the bible prescribing or restricting corporate singing to the psalter. Nothing implicitely or explicitly. While I respect you and those who have differed I find the arguments unbiblical with all due respect.

    • Michial,

      You’re using the wrong test. Your test says: it’s not forbidden, therefore we may do it.

      Would you think about the questions I asked? I’m not asking for answers on all of them but I wish people would consider them and especially this one: how is that that Rule of Worship meant that we sang Scripture (mostly Psalms) without instruments but now it means that, in a large majority of Reformed and Presbyterian congregations, that we sing mostly non-canonical, uninspired hymns and we do so with instruments? How did the Reformed churches get things so wrong for so long? Why are we right now and they were wrong?

    • Dr. Clark,
      If you don’t mind, I’ll take a shot at your second question (“how is that…”): It may have been an overreaction to the showy excesses of the medieval Roman church. Zwingli eventually forbade all music in church, which I suppose everyone here agrees was not appropriate. Whether the Protestant church has overreacted to this overreaction, i.e., moving too far from Psalm-singing, I won’t argue against, but I think that’s a separate issue.

      • Don,

        1. It’s not true that Zwingli banned all singing in the church. This is often claimed but eminent Zwingli scholars have been disputing it for years. See the footnotes in RRC.
        2. The entire Reformed church in France, Switzerland (e.g., Geneva and Zürich), the Netherlands, the British Isles, Hungary, the German Duchies etc, all over-reacted? That seems unlikely. Why would that be a more likely explanation than the evident history that, through the course of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the Reformed lost track of their rule of worship? E.g., in the late 17th century, J H Heidegger, in his little dogmatics, defends essentially a Lutheran approach to worship. He is remarkable in that because he stands out. As I argued in RRC, noted and have illustrated here, the evidence is that wanted to do what we saw our neighbors doing. In the 18th century, the proponents of revival saw hymns and instruments as useful for promoting the right sort of religious feeling. That was certainly true in the 19th-century revivals.
        3. Notice the rationale adopted by the CRC in 1928, as a prelude to the addition of hymns to the psalter.
        4. Further, the medieval monks sang more Psalms than many of our churches. Further, the use of instruments actually increased in the 16h century (under the Lutherans).
        5. The 2nd and 3rd-century churches sang Psalms without instruments and they weren’t reacting to Roman excesses. To be sure, the picture (for me anyway) isn’t entirely clear about exactly what was sung in the 2nd century. It seems as if it was mostly Scripture. It is sure beyond doubt that they did so without instruments.
        6. The rationale the Reformed gave wasn’t any more reactionary than their rationale for the other reforms, which we’ve preserved.
        7. We don’t really have to guess about what happened, how we lost the psalms and added instruments. The process unfolded before our eyes in the Free Church of Scotland. When that move was challenged here the response gave evidence that there was no longer a clear understanding of what the Rule of Worship is or how it has been historically applied or why
    • I’m aware that Zwingli did not ban all music at first, just instruments. But it’s my understanding that vocal music was eventually banned too, but restored fairly quickly after his untimely death.

      My source is Jackson, who may or may not be entirely current:

      The most radical change which Zwingli made in the Church service at Zurich was to do away with both instrumental and vocal music. …
      His motive was twofold; first, because all this music was inseparably connected with the Roman Church worship and he desired to remove as far as possible the Reformed congregations from all association with the past; and second, because the words of the music were in Latin and therefore unintelligible to the people and he desired to have every part of the Reformed worship in the vernacular.

    • Don, that does make sense: The Lutherans allowed those parts of the mass that weren’t contrary to Scripture (which is practically all that was set in Classical Music masses – Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” is separate from his masses, and similarly the “Ave Maria”s by various composers) to be sung in Latin, and possibly the Psalms as well. Calvin solved the problem by restricting sung worship to Psalms in the vernacular, which were, by then, available.

  19. John Rokos,

    Prayer Meetings are not conducted from the pulpit; only male members pray; the minister or elder conducting the meeting still leads the meeting: there is still order. What happens in the PM has Biblical sanction but they are not the same thing as the full worship service, even when held on the Sabbath (hence the ministers coming down from the pulpit).

    The reason we don’t sing our own words in worship is because we are commanded to sing the psalms. Ministers preach and pray their “own” words because that, too, is commanded. The RPW says we can only do in worship what is commanded and what is commanded is: the preaching of the Word, prayer (both of which, by their very nature, require ex tempore words), singing the psalms, &c. The fundamental principle of the RPW is doing only what is commanded; not, don’t speak your own words.

    • 1. I can’t work out which Alexander you are!

      2. I shall observe where the minister stands to preach next time I attend a FP midweek prayer meeting – I didn’t notice him not being in the pulpit.

      3. It’s not certain that “preach” means in Scripture what we have taken it to mean today. It simply means “proclaim”. The arguments for restricting preaching to mere recitation of Scripture may be as strong as those for restricting sung worship to the words of Scripture.

      • John,

        I doubt that it is helpful to blur the line between the stated service on the Lord’s day and A midweek prayer service. These are two very distinct gatherings. In Reformed polity, one would not likely be disciplined for absenting himself from the midweek prayer gathering. One who absent of himself from Lord’s Day services regularly and impenitently would certainly find himself under discipline in a well ordered Reformed congregation

    • In the UK Reformed churches have two services on the Lord’s Day (Most Grace Baptist churches being an exception). Nobody, as far as I know, would be disciplined for not attending both morning and evening on a regular basis. Doesn’t that mean, by your logic, that it’s fine for one of these services to be conducted as though it were a midweek prayer meeting?

      • In the Dutch Reformed Church order members are expected to attend both Lord’s Day services. See Recovering the Reformed Confession. When are you going to read the book?

        Wednesday is not the Lord’s Day.

  20. My reasoning wasn’t that it wasn’t forbidden and therefore ok. I said I don’t see any command explicitly or implicitly by good and necessary inference. How is that an incorrect test. If I used church history as a standard I’d be Orthodox or Tractarian Anglican as they did get it wrong for so long, long before the Reformed existed. I’m trying to follow WCF Ch 1. But where is it commanded we sing only psalms explicitely or implicitely?

    • Michial,

      1. I’m not arguing for exclusively Psalmody. I’m arguing that we are commanded and therefore authorized only to reply to God’s Word with his Word.
      2. All the information we have from Scripture is that the only thing with which God’s people praised him was his inspired Word.
      3. There were no other words, when Scripture was being given, with which to praise God.
      4. Therefore, every exhortation to praise God, particularly in public worship, are commands to praise him with his Word.
      5. That being the case, where do we find the authority to sing something other than God’s Word?
      6. E.g., I argued in Recovering the Reformed Confession that there is no grounds in Paul’s expression “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” for the singing of non-canonical songs.
      7. Here is research I’ve done since the book was published:

        In the LXX
        In the Latin Bibles
        Latin Bibles pt 2
        Gavin Beers on the phrase
        Considering the Context

      8. My argument is not, therefore, fundamentally from church history but from Scripture. Nevertheless, your response is evasive. When we framed our confessions and adopted them our practice was relatively uniform. When we articulated the rule of worship our doctrine was uniform. Clearly we have departed from the earlier practice. On what grounds? Where is the argumentation to show that the original understanding of Scripture was wrong? As I showed in RRC, the evidence is lacking. The history is that we simply drifted, beginning in the 18th century. We turned away from Psalms and added instruments not because we were compelled by new and brilliant biblical exegesis but because we liked what the other traditions (e.g., the Lutherans) were doing.

        In the case of the case of the CRC, the move to adopt hymns was purely pragmatic.

      9. Since, when our confessions were framed, our doctrine was completely unified and our practice was largely unified, why isn’t the burden of proof on those who changed the practice?
  21. Michial,

    I can empathize with what you are working through. The question posed earlier to you is very valid. Are we (modern Protestants) really more wise on this topic than virtually all of the Reformers? No Christian could ever claim their conscience bothered by singing God’s Word only , but can you see where a church may in fact be putting fellow brothers and sisters in an awkward spot by singing “will worship” / man written lyrics?

    I would encourage you to read these books.

    Sing The Lord’s Song by John Keddie

    The Singing Of Psalms in Worship by G.I. Williamson

    Old Light on New Worship by John Price

    Also here is a good link.
    http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php

  22. I’m not trying to be evasive, and I don’t appreciate the assumption I am when I declared my disagreement was based on not seeing a command to only sing scripture or psalms, imp or exp.

  23. I’ll read them. I hold the Reformers and Puritans in high respect. They brought me this far by the grace of God into a fuller understanding of His most holy word. I don’t see their arguments on this though backed by and implied or explicit command. I’ll read though and remain open.

    • It is a tough yet worthy topic to work through. For the record I don’t agree with every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession. Although I agree with the vast majority as sound representation of Biblical truth, for example I do believe they (divines) were more strict than God Himself about Sabbath do’s and don’ts. But that is a whole other kettle of fish. 🙂

      My encouragements to you brother, our wise and faithful God will no doubt guide as you work through it all.

  24. Me too. I hold to all the WCF but the recreation , pleasure clause of the Sabbath. I’m open but I believe the Isa 58:13 plea for it is a Mosaic addendum, not part of the creation ordinance. I see no sin in recreation or pleasure in the sabbath. But that’s an aside. I Will always place the great men above me and value the work of the Spirit guiding the church above my limitations. But I try to do that via the scriptures with an open teachable heart. But as far as these two divergences from the Divines, I’m happy to change if I can be persuaded by scriptural arguments. If not God have mercy on me if I’m in error.

  25. How uniform ate these liturgical histories. I remember reading some Lutheran and Anglican scholars who went back to Justin Martyr and some other early sources showing the development of their liturgics. Confusing.

  26. The times I attended Morning Prayer and Holy Communion using Cranmer’s BCP in the Anglican Church they were replete with scripture, both read and sung, more than any other service I’ve been to.

    • Benedicite? In the midst of the fiery furnace, in the physical presence of the Son of God, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were exhorting all the children of men (including the damned in hell) to praise and magnify the Lord for ever? all the animals, that weren’t even going to be around in the new heavens and earth, to praise and magnify the Lord for ever? There is a difference between what’s Apocrypha and what’s Scripture!

    • However, the Anglican version of the Psalms is better than the Metrical versions (Gems like “Both good Thou art and good Thou dost” are counterbalanced by distortions that destroy the true meaning and application, e.g. “The brook that runneth in the way shall him with drink supply” completely destroys the verse’s real reference to Christ’s humiliation. And “They cried for help, but there was none that could or would them save” uses the wrong Boolean operator.

    • Michial,

      That’s great. I appreciate the BCP too. The confession of sin in morning prayer is one of the best pieces of liturgical writing ever done, in the history of the church. As the Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) noted, we appreciate the BCP but there are aspects to which object (e.g., the “black rubric“). We objected particularly to the way the BCP was used and and to the principle by which the Anglicans order their public worship services.

      On this see “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69.

      See also George Gillespie, English Popish Ceremonies (Chris Coldwell has published a marvelous new edition), where he refutes the Anglican principle and practice extensively. I understand that it’s not the 17th century and Anglicans are not trying to impose the BCP (and alleged adiaphora) on us but we can still learn quite a bit from him about how the Reformed understood sola Scriptura, the Second Commandment, and Christian liberty. You might also be surprised to see to what degree practices and justifications that were once Anglican have been introduced into the Reformed churches. After that, see William Ames, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies, which is a bit harder to find and to read—there is no modern edition—but there you will see one of the sources of both English-speaking and Dutch-speaking Reformed theology, piety, and practice defend the rule of worship and refute the Anglican principle and practice.

      Here is the syllabus for my course on the history of worship. It gives leads for further study.

  27. Dear Dr. Clark:

    Thanks for your post which has generated all of this good discussion. I agree with you that the Murray-Young minority report needs to be better known. As one of the co-editors of Worship in the Presence of God, a 1992 publication that has since been reprinted, let me note that we did include this essay in our book–a volume which was, we believe, the first one in the twentieth century which advocated the historic Presbyterian view of worship as a whole, including, with respect to the content of worship song.

    Also, for those who wish to explore other writings on the regulative principle, let me direct them to The Confessional Presbyterian. Several of the volumes contain significant material on the doctrine of worship; and indeed, a critique of the worship views of John Frame and R.J. Gore, authored by my co-editor (Dr. David C. Lachman) and myself, may be read in its entirety online. To access that article, use this link.

    For Christ’s crown and covenant,
    Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D.
    President, Tyndale International University, Los Angeles, California
    History Faculty, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia
    Minister, Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship (RPCNA), Atlanta, Georgia

  28. Thanks for the syllabus and references. I agree about the excesses and unscriptural, popish aspects. I wish the reformed could not knee jerk to the opposite extreme of four white walls and a lecture mentality for what is pure worship. I own a Reformed book of worship from the 1880s from the RCA. It’s just like the BCP but even longer and more intense with written prayers etc. it’s excellent. I found it in an antique store.

    • Michial,

      It’s not historically accurate or fair to describe or assume that the Reformed response was “knee-jerk.”

      My research tells me that the Reformed were thoughtful about their critique of the past and about their appropriation of the past. As far as we know, the apostolic services and the certainly the 2nd-century services were very simple. The Reformed were well read in the Fathers (many of them were humanists who studying the sources in their original languages) and they consciously sought to restore Christian worship to its earliest state.

      It’s quite likely that Synagogue worship services were conducted within four white walls. It is certain that they sang only Psalms and that they did so a cappella. It is virtually certain that was the pattern of apostolic and early Christian worship. If what we want is to worship God, why do we need more than four white walls and God’s Word sung a cappella? When I say that it was good enough for the Apostles and it should be enough for us, I’m being entirely serious.

    • We know what synagogue worship was subsequent to AD70. What evidence is there that synagogue practice before AD70, and even more so synagogue practice before the Babylonian captivity were the same? Psalm 137 suggests profound differences between synagogue practice in their own land, when they had the Temple, and synagogue practice in exile. Actually, what evidence is there that synagogue practice was regulated in the same way that Temple worship was? I wondered about this when I read Girardeau (Lovey Christian man of God and missionary though he was).
      On a holiday in Poreč, I saw mosaics from times of persecution. No images, of course, but not four white walls either.

  29. I stand corrected. Thank you. It’s just when I see typological worship in the OT, and then heavenly worship in Rev 4-5, they both seem very different. Yet in the middle of the two in the flow and progress of redemptive history we have nothing of either of the typological or consummate aspects. I’m fine with white walls though. I don’t want to be disorient to our Lord’s injunction to worship in Spirit and truth.

    • Michial,

      Typological worship was very different, because it was typological of Christ’s once-for-all and final fulfillment of the types and shadows. The Revelation makes use of typological imagery to describe heaven because, well, that’s what the Revelation does. It is a highly symbolic book but we don’t want to say read that imagery in a way that it is not intended to be taken nor should we conclude that it’s there as a guide to NT worship. It isn’t.

      E.g., Our Lord is not literally a lamb (Rev 14:1). He’s figuratively or metaphorically a lamb. Thus, when we see 144,000 singing, we understand that too is a figurative number. Ergo, the harps are figurative. The sea of glass in Rev 15 and the harps there are also figurative. There are all images to try to help us think about the glorification of Christ but they’re not intended to be taken as patterns for our worship. That would require us to back to Moses, from which we’ve been delivered. See the entire book of Hebrews.

  30. Good points. I stand corrected. We left the PCA which seems to have no historical or theological grounding to its Reformed roots up here in this Presbytery. I’ve been in talks with a sound OPC church and will be visiting next Lord’s Day. I look forward to the simplistic and biblical worship.

  31. I’m going to read it too. There are other Patristics and. Liturgics scholars who interpret history and worship differently who also have a high view of sola scriptura right?
    Are there other resources too that are staples to read?
    Shape of the Liturgy by Dix is supposed to be good

    • I’ve read a good bit of the secondary lit on the history of worship. Most of it is written by Romanists or Anglo-Catholics, who rather baldly read the past anachronistically. The same is true of the literature produced by mainliners (e.g., PCUSA). Claims are repeated but without sources. The secondary literature is frustrating in that regard. Source collections, e.g., Thompson, Liturgies (1961) and White, Documents (1992) are helpful.

      Reading sources, carefully, in context, is the only real way to sort this out. A lot of what is claimed or assumed to be ancient isn’t.

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