Trueman: Marcion And Opposition To Singing God’s Word

Then, in our church practice, we need to take the Old Testament more seriously. It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today.

Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be.

Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, ‘These are mine.’ Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion as a patristic thinker and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned. It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart.

Carl Trueman, The Marcions Have Landed.

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  1. I know the parallel universe of which Trueman speaks. These opponents of the Psalter come from a parallel universe in which the individual, creativity, and the opportunity to profit mightily from one’s labor are always uppermost. There was also the 19th century’s Golden Age of Sentimentality (also an age, of which we should’ve been wary, when all men spoke well of us–cf. Lk. 6:26). This is not to say that I’m against creativity, individuals, warm feelings, or a fair return on one’s labor; but it is to note that there are a number of subtle idols we have set up in our supposedly Evangelical churches.

    I am not an advocate for exclusive psalmody at this point, but I have at least a sympathetic understanding of the position and think that the Psalter should be used waaaaaaay more than it is. Concerning the 19th century Golden Age, one might also note that the Psalms also run the gamut of emotions without ever becoming trite, silly, or merely sentimental.

    Thanks for hearing the bleating of one of the sheep.

  2. Wow! Great article! Trueman’s combination of humor and historical consciousness makes a potent case!

    • Hi David,

      I’m familiar with this work and with the state of the question. There is no question that hymns proliferated in the 4th century and again in the 7th century but the Psalms were the dominant songbook for most of that period, indeed, for much of Christian history.

      There is little concrete, clear, unequivocal evidence for non-canonical hymns in the 2nd century. People regularly make vague claims about “ancient” Christian hymns but the actual evidence is very sparse.

  3. Question. Logistically, how do you coordinate the congregation to sing the lengthy Psalms in harmony, unity? We are missing the music/ rhythm. These are not quick little chorus that all can memorize the rhythm. I like the idea though.

    • The Reformed Presbyterian church are exclusive Psalmists and worship in this fashion. We use a precentor. This person gives the starting pitch and conducts the congregation. For congregations new to Psalm singing or learning a new tune, this person may teach the congregation the tune via call and response or some other method. More in depth teaching of tunes is often held off for time outside of worship. I hope this helps with the potential logistics. If you are interested in “seeing” this in action, go out to youtube and type in Reformed Presbyterian Psalm Singing. It should give you some idea.

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