In response to the video of LCMS Pastor Chris Jackson reading the lyrics of a popular praise song one HB reader wrote to object to the implied criticism of the song. The argument is this:
- Scripture uses the expression “new song” nine times, several of which exhort believers to sing a new song
- Praise songs (and presumably other songs) are “new songs,”
- Therefore they have biblical warrant.
The first (major) premise of the argument is not in doubt. The middle (minor) premise is in doubt, however, and therefore the conclusion is in doubt.
Old Testament believers, who worshiped the Lord through types and shadows, were certainly exhorted to “sing a new song.” The New Testament itself teaches us to read the Old Testament (OT) or the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures this way. E.g., in Romans 5:14 Paul says, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type (τύπος) of the one who was to come.” In this use a type is “a person or event in the Old Testament taken as a foreshadowing of someone or something in the New Testament” (s.v., “type,” Oxford American Dictionary). Adam was an intentional foreshadowing, a pointer to one to come. That one was Jesus, God the Son incarnate, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45). The word “type” occurs 15 times in the New Testament. Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle according to the “type” he had been showed on the mountain (Acts 7:44). The tabernacle was a pointer to something other than itself. The salvation of the OT church through the Red Sea, the manna, and the quail together were a “type” of the coming salvation in Christ (1 Cor 10:6). Hebrews 8:5 explicitly teaches us to read the OT scriptures this way: “They serve a copy (ὑπόδειγμα) and shadow (σκιᾷ) of the heavenly things.” It continues by quoting Exodus 25:40 (as Luke had) to the same effect. The OT religious and civil institutions were copies of the heavenly realities. They foreshadowed coming the reality in Christ.
We must read the injunctions to “sing a new song” in light of what the New Testament teaches us about types, (fore)shadows, and copies. The first of “new song” instance occurs in Psalm 33:2–3:
Give thanks to Yahweh with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
We can see straight away, in the immediate context, the typological context of the exhortation. Believers were commanded to make melody to him with harps and strings. These were part of the types and shadows of the OT religious system. The use of musical instruments was inextricably bound up with the types and shadows of Levitical, priestly, sacrificial worship. We see this plainly in 2 Chronicles 29:20–36.
King Hezekiah gathered the officials (so this is a civil, political act and not just a religious act) and they went up to the “house of Yahweh.” We see right away that this is also a religious act. They brought seven bulls, seven rams, lambs, and male goats “to offer them on the altar of the Lord.” The priests, the sons of Aaron are to do this. Blood is thrown against the altar. The sin offering is made. At the same time we read:
And he stationed the Levites in the house of Yahweh with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from Yahweh through his prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offering be offered on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song to Yahweh began also, and the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished. When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped (2 Chron 29:25–29).
Notice that these civil and religious acts were done by the authority of the Lord revealed to David, to his seer Gad, and Nathan the prophet. They were done by royal authority. The very same office that offered the bloody sacrifices, which were designed to point the Israelites upward to heaven and forward in time to the coming fulfillment in Christ were also playing musical instruments. They were also pointing upward and forward.
When the Psalmist commanded the Israelite priests to sing a new song, it was a command to renew their celebration of the history of salvation heretofore. It was to celebrate what God had done in the Exodus, in the formation of the national people, in the consolidation of the people in Israel, and the establishment of the king etc. It was also a call to look forward to coming reality in Christ.
In Psalm 40 David celebrated the Lord’s grace and mercy to him (“he drew me up from the pit of destruction…”) and rejoices that the Lord “put a new song in my mouth” (v. 3). That “new song,” as in Psalm 33, is a celebration of salvation. It is a “song of praise to our God,” which will cause “many” to “see and fear” and to “put their trust in Yahweh.”
The whole of Psalm 96 is a call to sing “a new song” to Yahweh for his gracious, sovereign salvation. It is a celebration of his attributes, his transcendence over all the idols of this world. It is a call that anticipates the day, the new covenant day, when all the nations will gather at the feet of the Lord to worship him “in the beauty of holiness” (v. 9). We see the same language in Psalm 98. Psalm 144:9 re-states the same themes we saw in Psalm 33. Psalm 149:1 is a call to praise Yahweh for his salvation. It is a convocation of the assembled worshiping people. It is a call to worship. The last OT use of “new song” occurs in Isaiah 42:10, which comes one of the “servant songs” of the book. Whenever Isaiah says, “behold, my servant…” we know to interpret this language according to the pattern given to us in Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, “about whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (v. 34). Philip taught him that song pointed forward to Christ. So it is in Isaiah 42. The “new song” which Isaiah calls the people to sing is a song about the coming suffering, crucified, risen, and ascended Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The call anticipates Pentecost and after when the elect of all the nations shall stream to Jerusalem, as it were, to worship the Lord.
Finally, we need not speculate as to the content of the “new song,” since its words are recorded for us in holy Scripture.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:8–10; ESV).
Jesus, the crucified, risen, and reigning is he who is worthy to open the seals. When the Spirit inspired the Apostle John to write this, when he showed him the vision of heaven, the gospel was beginning to go to all the nations. It had gone to Asia Minor (Turkey). It had gone to Rome. It would not be long before it would go to pagan Europe and to North Africa and it is still going to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The Apostle intentionally invokes the OT imagery. The instruments that the Levitical priests played are reflected in heaven (Rev 14:2) but we know that this is figurative language. There are not literally 144,000 in heaven (v. 3). There is not a literal throne. Jesus is not literally a lamb (v.3) anymore than the redeemed are literally “firstfruits” (v. 4). 14:3 however does show us again who is at the center of the “new song.” It is Jesus, the fulfillment, the “yes and amen” of all the promises (2 Cor 1:20).
From this survey and from even a brief reflection on the original context and intent of the phrase “sing a new song” and from the movement of redemptive history we can see that the injunction to sing a new song was never intended to serve as warrant for non-canonical songs generally and thus not for contemporary praise songs. The phrase was intended to point us to Christ. We are instructed implicitly and explicitly to see Christ as the fulfillment of the new song. Our “new song” is that Christ has come. It is substantially the same song as was suggested by the types and shadows but we are not called to “sing a new song” now in the same sense as the believers who lived under types and shadows. Theirs was a song of anticipation. Ours is a song of fulfillment. When we sing God’s Word in light of their fulfillment in Christ, we are singing the new song of which the Psalmists and Isaiah spoke. God has delivered us from a slippery place and the mire of sin and death. The Savior has come. He has obeyed. He has triumphed and we have gladly received him and all his benefits by grace alone, through faith alone.
To invoke “a new song” now to justify new praise songs (with accompanying instruments) is unintentionally to take the church back to types and shadows when the intent of the types and shadows was always to lead us to Christ.
If Believers Are Playing Instruments In Heaven, Why May We Not? (1)
If Believers Are Playing Instruments In Heaven, Why May We Not? (2)
RSC – would it be a stretch to conclude that when Paul says in 1Cor.13:1, “…If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become ‘a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal’…” he is making an indirect reference to the expired OT practices involving sacrificial worship? In other words, is he in effect comparing the arrogance of speaking in tongues without being charitable to one’s fellow brethren (therefore interpreting for them) to those old (therefore useless) forms of OT worship that no longer have any meaning? Just wondering.
It is an interesting thought that bears further investigation.
—G. Vos, Eschatology of the Psalter
Thank you Charles.
If the purpose of our worship is to honor and worship God, and not ourselves, it makes so much sense sing back the songs of Scripture and restrict our practice to include only what God commands in His Word.
If we believe Sola Scriptura, then the songs of Scripture should be enough….and I include Hymns which are Scripture based.
Any song that extols God (from Christian rap to songs produced by Sovereign Grace) should be welcomed by Christ’s church.
I don’t see how one can argue for psalms AND also allow for man-made, non-inspired hymns, while rejecting the rest of worship songs that are doctrinally sound.
A better and more consistent case can be made for either exclusive psalmody or, on the other hand, to allow for any song that is scripturally sound; but to only allow for psalms and scripture-based songs found in the hymnals is a much harder case to make biblically than the two aforementioned positions (exclusive psalmody vs. any song that’s scripturally sound).
Love to hear your (and other’s) thoughts.
Blessings in Christ,
Take a look at the relevant chapters in Recovering the Reformed Confession where I layout the historic Reformed view of worship.
Our principle is clear: we may do in worship only what is commanded. What is commended relative to our response to God’s Word is to respond with God’s Word. If Scripture is sufficient for anything (and it is!), it is sufficient for public worship. This was at the heart of what the Reformed meant by sola Scriptura.
The historic Reformed view, the view held by virtually all the churches, when the Reformed confessions were written was that God’s people are authorized by God to respond to his Word with his Word.
The minority view in the period was that God has commanded the church to sing from all of his Word (the Psalms and the NT songs). This view was adopted by the Synod of Dort in their church order. The majority view was that we should sing only psalms but both sides agreed on the sufficiency of Scripture. For more on how we came to sing hymns (and presently almost entirely hymns), see RRC.
On the “rule of worship” or the regulative principle see these resources
Style is highly subjective and cultural conditioned. Let’s set that aside for the moment. What is in question is what God’s Word commands.
If we talk about the means of grace: word (read, preached, sung, prayed) and sacrament, I think we have to admit that preaching is word-based but is not scripture. Would we place the same restrictions on prayers? I hate modern “praise songs” and won’t sing them with our congregation but I think the case foe exclusive a capella psalmnody is a difficult one to make.
I addressed this argument here.
Thank you for the detailed response and link to additional resources.
I’m just not convinced that a proper application of the regulative principle requires exclusive psalmody (including the other songs only found in Scripture).
Robert Letham posted an article at 9marks entitled, “Does the Regulative Principle Demand Exclusive Psalmody?” which basically sums up my position much more eloquently than I could. It’s a brief read and helpful to see why others (even within the Reformed (I’m a member of an ARP church that isn’t exclusive psalmody) don’t come to the same conclusion in regards to the rightful application of the regulative principle for worship songs.
I’m enjoying the dialogue and points made by other commenters. Thanks for your service.
[Also, is providing links to other sites against policy, or simply subject to your discretion? I only ask because I see that a link I provided in my earlier comment was edited out of the post. Just want to know what the policy is for future reference.]
Dr. Clark: It appears that the foundation of arguments for exclusive psalmnody are primarily based on tradition. I like tradition. I find it comforting. But when it comes to binding the conscience of Christians in a matter like this, there must be a strong and clear scriptural case made. Under the theonomy, Israel was given instruction for the worship of God to the nth degree of detail. In the epistles I don’t find scriptural support for a liturgical element like exclusive psalmnody which would be applicable to the post-apostolic, post-canonical period. Inferences? Maybe. Suggestions? Maybe. But clear and unmistakable commands upon which to build a binding doctrine? I don’t see it.
You’ve misjudged the argument entirely. It is difficult to see how you could have read these resources and come to such a conclusion. Please read Recovering the Reformed Confession There you will see that I am not arguing for exclusive psalmody. I am arguing, however, for the sufficiency of Scripture.
It is interesting that you raise the issue of binding consciences. The first article on the resource page is about sola scriptura and the liberty of conscience. I do appeal to the history of the Reformed churches for precisely this reason, to alert us to the historical fact that originally we sang God’s Word alone precisely to protect the consciences of believers. We all profess the Word of God to be the sole, ruling authority for the Christian faith and the Christian life. By singing God’s Word only we can hardly be binding anyone’s conscience! Quite the opposite. When we add to God’s Word, that’s when we run the risk of binding consciences. This is what we confess in Belgic Confession art. 7:
Notice how the churches connect sola scriptura to worship.
We sang only God’s Word precisely to address your concern.
History matters. We should not assume that what we do now is what we have always done. That simply is not the case. When the Reformed churches wrote and confessed these words they were emerging from hundreds of years of corruption of worship. The medieval church had added 5 sacraments because she thought that it made worship more meaningful. By the 7th century, she had begun to add hundreds of man-man songs and to replace God’s Word in worship. Prior to that time there were very few uninspired songs used in worship. In the centuries just preceding, there is evidence that the introduction of non-inspired hymns was highly controversial. At least one synod told the churches to stop it.
Indeed, there is little evidence that the Christians used non-inspired songs in worship in the 2nd century.
As to Scripture, there is no evidence that the Christians sang anything but God’s Word. That is the bedrock of the argument. God’s Word is sufficient. God’s Word is the rule. That’s the thing to which I’m calling us to pay attention: God’s Word. If you will read the resources you will see that I’ve provided extensive documentation for my claims that the apostolic church sang only God’s Word.
Dr. Clark: You say you are not arguing for exclusive psalmnody. Then you say only God’s word should be sung. I’m having trouble grasping your distinction.
See the resources. See RRC.
We should sing all of God’s Word.
The song of Mary, Moses and Zechariah are 3 that come to mind. When I say Psalms, I refer to the 150. There are other Hymns which are found in Scripture. Rap, Rock, etc, define a culture. Both genres are identified with rebellion, and as such, have no place in Christ’s Church. I go to Church to hear God’s Word preached, not to be entertained by bands or pop-culture type music. As such, for me personally, a Church that embraces that style of “worship” or contemporary, will not see me darken the doorways.
Looks like I misunderstood your first comment, my apologies.
Dr. Clark’s response led me to believe I misunderstood you; but now, after reading this comment, I’m certain that I have.
Sadly that is just what much of modern worship has become, a form of entertainment where people come to have an emotional “experience with the risen Lord.” That is the measure of what they consider a good service, how it makes them feel. It is a very self centered and man pleasing legacy of Pietism. The goal is not worship as God would be worshipped, but about the quest for a spiritual high. As a recent HB post explained, Pietism has a history of abandoning the Protestant, confessional faith in favor of the Christ of personal experience. Pietism is the root of Liberalism. True piety is founded on the Word of God and the sacraments, the means of grace ordained by God. As our worship is done in obedience to what God commands, we can be sure that it pleases Him. For our singing, how could we improve on the songs God himself has written. Is it not an insult to Him when we ignore them in favor
of human compositions because they are more pleasing to us?
“And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:3
“‘And He has put a new song in my mouth’. What new song is this? ‘Even a hymn unto our God’ Psalm 39:3. Perhaps you used to sing hymns to strange gods; old hymns, because they were uttered by the ‘old man,’ not by the ‘new man;’ let the new man” be formed, and let him sing a ‘new song;’ being himself made new, let him love those new things by which he is himself made new. For what is more Ancient than God, who is before all things, and is without end and without beginning? He becomes ‘new’ to you, when you return to Him; because it was by departing from Him, that you had become old; and had said, ‘I have waxed old because of all mine enemies.’ We therefore utter ‘a hymn unto our God;’ and the hymn itself sets us free. ‘For I will call upon the Lord to praise Him, and I will be safe from all mine enemies.’ For a hymn is a song of praise. Call on God to ‘praise’ Him, not to find fault with Him….”
— Augustine, comments on Psalm 40:3.
I understand you to be saying that God’s own songs become our new songs when we are new through regeneration, which gives us a hungering and thirsting for God’s Word. To that, I say amen.!
Interesting thank you all for your insight and concerns. Thank you God I can sing songs from my to his, new songs I never sang in my dark days…
Why is there so much more discussion about this than about the martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in Nigeria?
So we’ve got scripture for our inspired lyrics, is the music adiaphora?
It’s a circumstance, determined by the light of nature. We must have a time, a place, a language, and a tune.
So, it’s a matter of wisdom.
Scripture has a great deal to say about wisdom.
RSC – how do you account for Psalms that encourage the use instruments in worship? When Paul tells us to sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs, would that not mean following the directive of the psalm and playing with stringed instruments, lyre, etc.? Would love to hear your thoughts.
On “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” see the chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession. See also this (free) article. There were four categories of Psalms in the Greek translation, which influenced the New Testament church. The Apostles regularly quote Greek translations of the OT. Those four categories were: psalms, hymns, songs, and wisdom. Paul invokes those categories. It’s a formula in the way “Law and the prophets” is a formula. When our Lord says, “on the these two commandments (the first and second table of the moral law) hand all the law and the prophets” he was using that formula. He wasn’t excluding the wisdom literature. They were assumed. “Sabbaths and new moons” is a formula that Paul uses in Colossians.
In short, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” doesn’t mean (as I once heard in a sermon), “the 150 psalms, 18th and 19th-century hymns, and contemporary praise choruses.” We know that our Lord and his disciples and the the NT church sang the Psalter. We have no positive evidence that they sang anything else.
On instruments see these resources. I also address this question at length in RRC. Yes, the psalms exhorted believers to use instruments. They also exhorted us to go to war against the Canaanites. When we brought the instruments back into worship (they were gone for most of 800 years and didn’t appear as they do now until well after the Reformation) we did so after the church had also mistakenly brought back aspects of the Mosaic civil polity (Constantine became the new “King David”). Why do you think we cast the crusades as “holy wars”? We lost track of the distinctive role of Israel in redemptive history. This is how we came quite mistakenly to speak of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial, propitiatory (wrath-turning) sacrifice to the Lord. Pastors had become priests.
Take a look at the history and other materials in the resource page.
Ludwig Lavater’s “Short Work on the Rites and Regulations of the Zurich Church” (1559) describes the pastor and deacons singing the hymn “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, p. 243). Obviously there are biblical phrases and biblical ideas permeating that hymn, but that hymn itself is not entirely found in Scripture. Likewise, Martin Bucer’s “Psalter with All Church Practices” (1539) prescribes the singing of “Gott sei gelobt”, which, from all I can tell is a hymn written by Luther, during the Lord’s Supper (Reformation Worship, p. 295). Do Zurich and Strassburg fall afoul of the RPW rightly understood?
These (though usually it’s just Bucer) are the outliers to which defenders of hymns appeal to argue that they fall with the RPW.
Most of the rest of the churches did not follow them. They didn’t set the norm.
The main discussion was whether to sing only Psalms or to sing NT songs too. Though, Geneva sang the decalogue and sang or said the creed as a summary of the Word.
Remember both were quite early. Things changed, matured. Oecolampadius waited a decade to reform his service. Also, Zürich also didn’t follow the presbyterial model re polity either. In other words, I’m hesitant to conclude too much from these examples until I know more.
Would it be unfair to say that this discussion of music used in the worship service is an excursion into QIRC?
From a Reformed perspective it should not be a quest for illegitimate religious certainty since the Scripture is very clear on what we are commanded to do in worship. That is what we have spelled out in the Regulative Principle of Worship. In Calvin’s words, God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly instituted by His Word.” Since the NT tells us that the true Temple is Christ and His people, the OT practices of the earthly temple, including the use of musical instruments have become obsolete, and since praise songs are not the inspired Word of God, they are to be excluded from worship in the Church.
With Calvin’s high view of Scripture, I find it very interesting that he favored and authorized the use of metrical psalms in congregational worship, instead of sticking to the text verbatim.
He obviously felt that it benefited the church by having the psalms altered and arranged for poetic, rhyming, and melodic purposes (cf. The Genevan Psalter).
Thus, it appears that Calvin, while far from promoting the NPW, is certainly a deviation from what most proponents of the RPW advocate.
Love to hear what you (and others) make of Calvin’s use of metrical psalms in relation to the RPW.
Blessings in Christ,
We don’t know the biblical tunes. They (tunes), like time, place, & language are a function of nature. We call them accidents as distinct from elements (Word & prayer).
Using meter, like using a translation, doesn’t mean that we’re not singing God’s Word. The Apostles used (and made) Greek translations of Scripture. That hardly creates license to sing something other than Scripture.
Angela and Dr. Clark,
Thank you both for your replies.
I see that you both are making the point that the metrical psalms (musically and lyrically) are more a matter of translation and circumstance (necessary contextualization) than a deviation from a strict observance of the RPW. The point is well taken.
However, I’ve heard proponents of the RPW, like James B. Jordan, take digs at the use of metrical psalms while favoring the singing (chanting) of a literal translation of the text. I’m guessing this view is a minority among those who likewise believe the RPW is limited to only scripture/psalm singing.
Thanks again for the replies,
James Jordan is (or has been) a reconstructionist/theonomist, is a Federal Visionist (which is a gross error condemned by the orthodox Reformed churches), and an allegorizer of Scripture. He’s not a sound guide to anything.
It seems to me that scanning and meter are unavoidable. Someone must make a judgment about how to relate the text to the time of the music. If a congregation wants to sing God’s Word without using the metrical psalms, go for it! There is a discussion in RRC about some of the difficulties the churches faced with “lining” a Psalm, where the leader (the precenter) would sing a line and the congregation would then echo that line) but, as I say, time/tempo/tune are matters of nature and circumstance (wisdom) not moral principle.
What is a matter of principle is the sufficiency of Scripture for public worship.
Thanks for the reply.
I didn’t know much about James Jordan; I stumbled across a video where he, Doug Wilson, and others spoke about psalm singing at conference. I also share your concerns with FV, so thanks for pointing out the concerns!
I just have never perceived the New Testament writers as giving many commandments about how worship in the church should be performed beyond things being done in an orderly manner and instructions about the Lord’s Supper. I see none of the specificity talked about here in the scripture or even in the WCF. I appreciate the RPW as a concept but don’t see a lot of solid scriptural support for it. The specifics seem to be derived more from secondary writings of the reformers which some people seem to put on a par with scripture. I just don’t see many scriptural references in these discussions. I feel most the time like the experts in the Reformed faith delight in breaking stone tablets over the heads of the great unwashed in reformed churches over the slightest ecclesiastical infraction. Is that austerity bringing about a recovery of the Reformed confession. I don’t see it happening if it is.
Is sola Scriptura a biblical doctrine? Is Christian liberty a biblical doctrine?
Brandon, it seems to me that any time we translate from the original language, we are making changes in the words being used, since the words in the original language would be foreign, and other incidentals. What is important is that we preserve the precise meaning of the original message. I believe that is what Calvin was doing, translating the Word into metrical form to make it easier to repeat and remember while still preserving the substance, the original meaning. So I don’t see how Calvin was doing anything not consistent with the RP.
I find it interesting that an appeal to commands in Scripture is lacking on the part of those advocating for the use of uninspired hymns in worship services. God accepts our imperfect works and worship when it is done in obedience to His commands. When we act without obedience to His commands, leaning on our own understanding, that is an entirely different matter. In all your ways submit to Him. Proverbs 3:5-6
“I find it interesting that an appeal to commands in Scripture is lacking on the part of those advocating for the use of uninspired hymns in worship services.”
The thing is – on the scale of worldwide church history and across all denominations, the exclusive psalmody viewpoint is a very minority viewpoint. For most believers, there are ample scriptural reasons to sing hymns. Reformed theologians have interpreted the scriptural material available in such a way, that it means precisely the opposite. Going over these scriptural locations is of little use; we all know them and we all know how each side interprets them.
To me, any theology that arrives at a conclusion where using the proper name of our Lord Jesus Christ in a hymn would be a sin, cannot be right. It just doesn’t make sense. If the Psalms suffice to sing about Jesus, we might as well argue that Isaiah 52 suffices to speak about Jesus.
I am reformed and always have been, but on this issue I think we’ve gone wrong, historically.
1. I’m not defending exclusive psalmody but the sufficiency of all of Scripture for public worship.
2. As a matter of history, I’ve been studying this issue for a number of years and so far as I know non-canonical hymnody was controversial in the courts of the church before the late 7th century, when the Gregorian chants were published in large numbers. There is very little solid evidence of in the earliest years of the use of non-canonical songs in public worship. I understand that claims are made to this effect, that the early church sang this song or that and that more often people assume the antiquity of this song or that but, when we begin to look for solid, clear evidence it is difficult to find.
3. The psalms were the songbook of the church in the apostolic era. We know that the apostles sang the psalms (and perhaps other Spirit-inspired songs, some of which may be recorded for us in the NT) but we have not a single shred of evidence in the NT or on the 2nd century that the church sang uninspired songs. E.g., 1 Cor 14:26
Our Lord and the disciples sang the Psalms of ascent before the Lord’s Supper.
In the 4th or 5th century (if memory serves) there was a Spanish synod which rejected non-canonical songs. That was overturned but it illustrates that the introduction of non-canonical songs was controversial.
Until quite recently, the Psalms were the universal songbook of the church. The monks sang the Psalms. They memorized the Psalms.
This test, that a song must use the proper name of Christ is failed by just about all the NT songs. It’s an artificial test.
Again, I’m in favor of singing all of God’s Word but we cannot erect a test that Scripture itself does not and does not meet. The word for that is rationalism or perhaps sentimentality. We have set up an extra-biblical test and then used it to leverage Scripture out of its place as the rule for the Christian faith and the Christian practice of worship.
Of course, this is what has happened. Today virtually no one sings God’s Word in worship anymore. Even the homely little Scripture choruses from the 70s are gone, swept away by “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Like a Sloppy Wet Kiss” or “How Great Thou Art.”
It’s not the singing of our Lord’s name that it is the problem—no one here has called it sin have they?—but the use of that standard to remove Scripture from its place as the sufficient source for public worship.
Why isn’t Scripture enough?
Exactly, why isn’t Scripture enough? When we open the door to uninspired hymns and songs in worship, no matter how wonderful they may seem to us, we are going beyond the Word of God. Where does it stop? The criteria for what is and what is not acceptable becomes subjective opinion, and that allows for human opinion to be expressed in our worship, rather than the objective Word of God. I would suggest the the use of uninspired music in worship has much to do with the downgrade of sound doctrine in our churches. Just because the name of Jesus is mentioned in the song, that is no guarantee that it is being used properly, but in the context of Scripture it is always honouring to Him. The many names of God always refer to Him! This is not only to argue for exclusive psalmodic, but the singing of the whole Word of God.
Bob, you are quite right when you say there are not a lot of instructions for how we are to worship because it is very simple, as Jesus discussed with the woman at the well, under the new covenant we are to worship in spirit and in truth. That means worship is to be inspired and according to the truth: the written Word of God is the substance of our worship. The old temple practices have become obsolete since the one the were pointing to has come. Our new worship centres on Him, revealed by the regeneration of the Spirit, and the truth about Him is the written Word. That is the substance of our worship, God’s written, Spirit inspired Word.
When I see expositions on Reformed piety and practice here on Heidelblog, all I’m hearing is Law. The yoke that is proposed to be able to stay within the strict bounds of Reformed piety and practice is not easy and the burden is not light. All this has caused me to retreat to the arms of Christ because I am unable to keep track of all these “laws” let alone keep them. With this I bid adieu.
Bob, the Word is clear, both in the OT and the NT, we are to worship God in obedience to the moral law. That means only as God commands. When we worship according to our own ideas of what we think is pleasing to God, that is will worship. Some notable examples are Cain’s offering of the fruits of the field rather than blood offerings, as God instituted when He covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Then there are the golden calves of Jeroboam and Aaron. Although these gross examples were well meant as means of worship of God, God was most displeased with innovations He had not commanded. We are not free to please ourselves in worship. The purpose of worship is to please God through obedience to His revealed commands, not to earn acceptance with God, but to show our reverence and gratitude. To obey is better than sacrifice.
Angela & Bob,
Angela, I agree with much of what you wrote. We should be worshipping God according to the prescriptions given to us in Scripture.
Bob and Angela, if God only approves/instructs us to sing Scripture in our worship through song–something I’m not convinced of, nor do I think a proper application of the RPW requires–the real question, I think, becomes: How does God view our sincere attempts to praise Him by singing non-Scripture songs that are doctrinally sound (e.g. “A Might Fortress Is Our God”)? Does He regard them like Cain’s sacrifice and the strange fire Nadab and Abihu offered, or as pleasing, imperfect worship perfected through Christ?
I think the case can be made that the answer is indeed the latter, as the WCF would seem to support:
“Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (16.6).
However, I get the feeling that most proponents of exclusive Scripture singing believe that such worship (singing songs not found in Scripture) is regarded by God more like the unauthorized examples seen in His dealings with Cain, and Nadab and Abihu.
Love to hear what you (and others) think about my assessment.
Blessings in Christ,
The Westminster Divines addressed your question in the Directory for Publick Worship (1644), on which they agreed quite early in their deliberations. This is remarkable because they were Anglican, Congregational, and Presbyterian in polity but they all agreed on the Rule of Worship, that we may do only what God has commanded. They agreed that God has commanded us to sing to him, to respond to his Word, with is Word. They agreed that his Word is sufficient for the needs of public worship. The only songs they sang or understood that God has commanded us to sing were Psalms.
You can read the Directory here:
This language is typical:
We should not speculate about what God may or may not think. We should concern ourselves with what he has commanded (Deut 29:29). What we know is that he has given us his Word and commanded us to praise him with his Word. His Word is sufficient.
Why isn’t that enough?
Again, it really comes down to what is the rule? Is it, “we may do whatever is not forbidden” or “we may do only what God has commanded”? The Reformed churches confess the latter.
Thanks for adding some historical context to the discussion.
I agree with you on the sufficiency of Scripture, especially for matters of public worship.
I disagree with you that the Reformed must/should hold to the exclusive singing of Scripture.
As I’m sure you know, there were reformers like Luther who didn’t hold to the exclusive singing of Scripture, just as there are plenty of P&R denominations that don’t hold to the exclusive singing of Scripture (PCA, ARP, OPC, URCNA, etc.), today.
I’d gladly hold to the exclusive singing of Scripture if I believed that Scripture clearly prescribed it; but since I don’t believe Scripture does, I, like you, still cherish the utter sufficiency of Scripture, but also sing praise songs to God with a clear conscience that I’m not violating the clear prescriptions found in the Word.
I see this more as an in-house debate among the Reformed on rightful public worship, not a debate over Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture.
I know you’ll disagree, but I hope that at least clarifies what I’m trying to say.
I’ve enjoyed the dialog with you and others thus far.
Blessings in Christ,
Christ said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because He has provided the perfect obedience that makes us righteous before God and suffered the wrath of God that we deserved for our covenant breaking. He has obeyed the law perfectly and suffered for our sins, not so that we could ignore the law, but so that we might strive to obey the law out of love. God calls out a people who seek to obey Him out of gratitude for the perfect righteousness they have in Christ. Worship calls for willing obedience to God’s commands, from a desire to please Him, according to His will.
We can theologise until we ‘only weigh an ounce’ to use a Dutch expression, but I cannot see the justification for the limited view of many reformed people on the singing of ‘new songs’. The result is that we are a church that dares not sing out loud the Name of our Saviour, as that name is never part of the Psalms. We can only sing about Him implicitly..? How is that not ‘returning to types and shadows’?
There is a good case to be made that Philippians 2:5-11 is the text of a hymn sung in the early church. There are textual witnesses that Christians sung ‘hymns to Christ as to a God’. Obviously those can be debated and historically, reformed people have done so in order to keep ‘hymns sung to Christ as to a God’ out of our churches. But to me these efforts seem misguided, at best.
Personally, I loathe much of what passes for ‘worship’ music these days and any church that ignores the Psalms is definitely on the wrong track. But the categorical rejection of Christ focused hymns in the reformed world is just misguided and frankly baffling.
I made my argument from Scripture. Why, from Scripture, is it wrong?
Properly understood, when we sing the Psalms, when we praise Yahweh/the Lord, we ARE using Jesus’ name. He is the Adon in Ps 110—according to the NT interpretation.
I have argued for singing the NT songs, e.g., Phil 2. So did the Synod of Dort.
This article doesn’t intend to cover all the related issues but they are addressed in the linked resources.
RD: Lutherans and Psalmody…
The LCMS podcast Table Talk Radio has asserted that the traditional liturgy shouldn’t be changed, because it is quotes from Holy Scripture, and it’s impossible to improve on quotes from Holy Scripture.
I asked them by email how then do they sing uninspired hymns? Doesn’t the same argument apply? They never responded. (to be fair, the never respond to a lot of stuff)
Your quote sums up beautifully, the reason we should only sing Scripture, “…, because it is quotes from Holy Scripture, and it’s impossible to improve on quotes from Holy Scripture.”
To be clear, I’m not an exclusivist myself, I’m just saying these particular Lutherans are using a similar argument for their Liturgy
If he means that we should include new covenant scripture in our singing, I would say, amen to that.
No, they’re not talking about singing at all, just the traditional Lutheran liturgy. That was my point, that they applied this logic to their liturgy, but would never think of applying it to their hymnody.
It is interesting that even though these Lutherans, who usually teach that we may do in worship what is not expressly forbidden, argue that quoting Scripture is the right thing to do in their liturgy because we can not improve on it, and then they seem lost for words when asked why they don’t consistently apply the same standard to singing songs in worship. Seems like the unspoken reason for including uninspired songs comes down to WE like them better.