Be Adventurous: Sing Psalms

Do you sing psalms in your church? I guess that in most Bible-teaching churches today the answer is “no,” or “not very often,” or perhaps “sometimes in a metrical version,” or “some of our songs are based on or inspired by psalms.” Perhaps we associate psalm-singing with rather formal or old-fashioned churches, or with performances of choral evensong by a trained choir.

And yet, the Bible rather suggests that we ought to sing psalms as a regular part of our Christian meetings. In Ephesians 5:18–19 Paul says that one of the marks of a Spirit-filled church is addressing one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” He says something similar in Colossians 3:16: the word of Christ will richly indwell the people of Christ as they sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

The words translated “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs” all refer primarily to the biblical psalms. There isn’t space here to give the overwhelming evidence for this, but they are three ways of speaking of the same thing. If you want to be a church filled with the Holy Spirit and richly indwelt by the message of Christ you will sing psalms, and then more psalms, and then lots more psalms. How extraordinary that seems to us!

Christopher Ash,Be Adventurous. Sing Psalms.”


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  1. Overwhelming evidence that “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” refers to the Psalter and too little time? Why not look at the headings of the Psalms in the LXX, and see where one is a “Psalmos” and another an “Hode”?

    • Peter,

      For other readers, Ash is correct.

      The headings of the Greek translation of the Psalms are: psalms, hymns, odes (songs), and wisdom. In Col and Ephesians (taken together) Paul mentions each of the categories.

      See the linked essay above on the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). When Paul used those categories, he was using existing, known categories. Just because we’ve forgotten them doesn’t mean that they were unknown to Paul or to the first-century audiences to whom he wrote and spoke.

  2. Dr. Clark, as a former OPC member who found himself attending an RPCNA church upon moving to New England, we’ve seen the beauty in Psalm singing with A Cappela voices during the worship service. Do I hold to the same conviction that my fellow congregants do about exclusive Psalmnity is “Regulative Principle” bound? I certainly don’t, but Ash is correct in his assessment.

  3. We love the Psalms and sing them regularly in our [URCNA] church. Interestingly, we’ve heard from folks who argued (some still might) that the Church Order demands priority be given to songs from the [CRC] Psalter Hymnal, usually Blue.

    • Gary,

      The URC Church Order says:

      Article 39 – Psalms and Hymns
      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.

      I’ve researched the background to some of this language, since it varies from the Dort Church Order but I can’t imagine how some could infer from it that we may only use the Blue Psalter hymnal.

      Priority is to be given to the psalms, certainly. That is the plain sense of “principal place,” but the consistory determines what is to be sung and they are not bound to the blue psalter or to any other as far as I know.

  4. I would love too and are aiming too, introduce more of them in my congregation.
    However the resistance I have encountered from folk in my congregations and around is the same resistance I find in myself, namely that I dont really enjoy the sound of them all that much (in fact id go as far as saying much of what ive come across sounds turgid) and I find the metrical ones clunky especially the older psalters. I am aware of the highly subjective nature of my complaint, and yet it can’t be denied that metrically written psalms and the tunes we are most used too are themselves of a style, you may like that style but that is your own preference. Its not mine and apparently not many of my congregations’ either!
    This is not a deal breaker for me. I just wish we had more new psalters that were not tied to the metrical system and especially new tunes. Lets go church!

    • I think the issue about tunes is one that needs to be discussed more. Asking for new tunes is not the same as asking for for uninspired songs or as asking for instrumentation, but that is what some people hear when the issue comes up. I am not a good singer, and essentially cannot sing in the register that most of our metrical Psalm tunes are written (even though I’ll try and just hope no one can hear). Some of the appeal in much modern praise music is how singable the melodies are, even if they are not musically elegant. It seems like we could do something to help those of us who need a lower standard of singability to be able to participate well in Psalm singing. I actually have found that many people who hold thoughtfully to exclusive psalmody object to revising the tunes. That’s anecdotal though.

    • That could easily be. I’ve been pretty limited to the Sing Psalms and Scottish Psalter, as the editions used in the Free Church.

  5. I’ve been working my way through the newly released ones. The syntax/clunky English issue is fixed by those from what I have seen. But I think the tunes problem is, though better, still an issue. And my suspicion is that the problem is the metrical system itself. As I understand it, all songs strictly speaking have a metre in that its possible to count the syllables of each line and equal that to its meter. However the issue is that metrical psalms force a very repetitive and tight formula onto a song that is they use CM LM SM which most modern writers dont use and it restricts them. Again I’m aware of the subjective nature of what I have said but it’s increasingly looking to me that what is needed is simply to have each psalm written -using the words of scripture and not paraphrasing- as a standalone but singable way ! Easy-peasy right?!

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