Psalmody And The Sexual Revolution: Or Yet Another Reason Why We Should Only Sing God’s Word

It was only a matter of time. There is a story on CNN about the the 2019 publication of a LGBTQ hymnal, Songs For The Holy Other: Hymns Affirming the LGBTQIA2S+ Community. This collection is published by the Hymn Society, which is a century old this year.

The story begins with an acknowledgement of the affective power of singing. The first interview is with a Lesbian who chafed at being “tolerated” in the church. She wanted her Lesbian sexuality be affirmed even as she wanted to retain her Christian faith. She sought to synthesize Christianity with feminism as she studied music and “fell in love” with her “now-wife.” She contributed two hymns to the collection.

The title is a play on words. Theologians often speak of God as “wholly other” as a way to characterize his transcendence. The title uses a homonym but applies it to homosexuals in the church. They are the “holy” other. According to CNN, the hymnal was compiled by people from “seven denominations and a wide range of sexualities and gender identities.”

The contributors are explicit about their aim: “It is important for churches to explicitly state who is welcome there. It is important for members of our community to hear their names spoken—and sung—in their houses of worship…”. One authority contacted for the piece identifies as “pansexual.” “Queer people,” she says, “are longing to be heard,” she says “The church was supposed to protect them and love them and teach them about God. It has made a lot of mistakes, and we have a lot to make up for.”


We are in the midst of the third phase of a great sexual revolution in the last century. The first, a century ago, was about the role of women in secular society and in that revolution women gained the freedom to drive and to vote. In the second phase, in the 1970s, women left the house for full-time careers, gained no-fault divorce, and abortion on demand. In the third, the very definition of marriage has been turned on its head and the heterosexual hegemony—grounded in nature since time immemorial—is being overturned in favor of queer, pan-sexual neo-paganism. It turns out that Pandora’s Box is pan-sexual chaos. It is so radical that even some third-wave feminists and advocates of homosexuality and homosexual marriage are complaining about being marginalized.

In the face of this revolution Christians have two choices, to try to co-opt the culture (or be co-opted by it) or to resist it. Of course, the mainline churches (e.g., the United Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church USA et al) will try to incorporate the radical new sexual ethos in a sad attempt to remain relevant, but after giving up the Scriptures as the un-normed norm, what else can the seven sisters do?

For our purposes, the question facing the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches is this: is there a rule of worship or not? It is the unquestioned assumption of this hymnal and its advocates that it is the function of the church and her hymns to affirm and to express the religious experience of the church. As the church changes, so must the hymnal.

The confessional P&R churches, however, do not begin with that assumption. They begin with the assumption that it is not the function of singing in worship for us to say whatever we want to God but to repeat God’s Word after him. The role of a song in worship is not for us to say to God what is on our hearts but for the congregation to say to God what is on his heart.

This is how the classical Reformed churches understood the function of singing. They understood worship to be a dialogue in which God speaks and his people respond but the Reformed all understood that God’s people are to respond with his Word. This is part of what they understood sola Scriptura to mean: God’s Word is sufficient for the Christian faith, the Christian life, and public worship.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, as religious subjectivism swept through the Modern church, first under the influence of Pietism, and then under the influence of the liberal children and grandchildren of the Pietists, God’s Word was gradually marginalized in favor of Watts’ paraphrases of the Psalms and then, finally, hymns. Eventually, in virtually every quarter of the church (and even in most P&R churches) the hymnal completely routed the Psalter.

The new Trinity Psalter-Hymnal is a promising but rearguard action that seems to be largely unknown beyond the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches that produced it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Psalms have become completely unknown in most P&R churches.

Yet it was not so for most of the history of the church. From the early second century until the middle of the 19th century, the Psalms were universally the songbook of the church. The early Christians sang them. The medieval monks memorized and chanted them. The Reformation translated them and set them to meter for use in public worship. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to find a Reformed church on the Christian Sabbath all one had to do was listen for the congregation that was singing the Psalms.

God’s Word is a bulwark, a stout defense against trendiness. Were the P&R churches devoted to learning and singing God’s Word, how much better off would we be and how much less susceptible to the sort of decline that leads to a gay-affirming hymnal? If the rule of worship is that we do (including singing) in worship only what God has commanded, where has he commanded us to sing anything other than his Word? Before you answer, check your sources carefully. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says “each one has a psalm.” Read in context, Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 are most certainly not referring to the 150 Psalms, nineteenth-century hymns, and contemporary praise music (as I heard one preacher argue). They are referring to different kinds of psalms. Indeed, when the use of non-canonical songs began to grow in the fourth century AD it became controversial. Synodical opinions were divided but the psalms remained the principal source of songs for public worship even after Gregory’s chants (seventh century) mounted an onslaught against the Psalter.

Were we to sing only God’s Word (the Psalms and other portions) in response to God’s Word, we might have other worries but we will not find ourselves singing songs affirming Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Two-Spirit identities. The others are flatly contrary to God’s Word but the last, “two-spirit” is flat paganism.

Instead, we will find ourselves singing about God’s good creation, his marvelous and gracious redemption of his people, his covenant faithfulness to us, his constant and gracious provision, and his care for his church in all ages. In other words, the center of our singing would not be ourselves but our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and especially of God’s grace to us sinners in Christ.

The LGBTQ etc. hymnal is religious but it is the songbook of the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:38–40). It is not God’s songbook. We are called by God to love our LGBTQ neighbors but we are not called to affirm them and much less are we called to synthesize their religion with the Christian religion. Paul faced this problem in Corinth. He spoke plainly:

“No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Cor. 10:20-22; NASB95).

In the spirit of Paul we confess, “For since the entire manner of worship which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one–even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says–ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us” (Belgic Confession art. 7).

The LGBTQ movement is telling us who they are and what they demand: complete submission, fealty, and worship. Justice Kennedy and the rest of the majority in Obergefell thought that they could sue for peace with their middle-class homosexual neighbors. They were naive and ignorant of the movement they (and the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations) have unleashed on the country. They thought that Obergefell would license nice middle-class homosexuals guys to get insurance. They should have listened to Camille Paglia, who mocked the very notion on which Justice Kennedy relied in Obergefell. If I may, I warned about this in 2013:

Masha Gessen makes explicit what’s been known underground in the homosexual community for a long time: Homosexual marriage is not about civil rights. It never has been. Camille Paglia exposed that story in the early 90s in her essay, “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex.” She said the whole point of homosexuality is to break convention. Homosexuality is enticing because it is illicit and she mocked the mainline Presbyterians (i.e., the PCUSA) for vainly trying to domesticate what was always going to be a wild animal, as it were (i.e., homosexual activity).

Gessen says, “fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do when we get gay marriage.”

Indeed. The point of redefining marriage is to redefine marriage. This is not really, ultimately, about homosexual marriage. It is about nature. It is about limits. It is about givens. It is about creation and it is about God. Yes, I will even invoke Sodom and Gomorrah. Those episodes were about defying divinely established limits revealed in creation (Rom. 1). To the degree that Christians talk about homosexual marriage as if it were about “civil rights,” they’ve accepted a false premise. It’s about gaining civil sanction for defying creational limits. The state (magistrate, legislature) can no more redefine marriage than it can redefine gravity. As they say in sports, it is what it is.

The majority in Dobbs may not want to revisit Obergefell but this nation cannot wait fifty years to reverse the state-sanction of the third-phase of sexual revolution. Today it is gay, child-molesting strippers dancing in front of school children (if this shocks you then you are not paying attention); it is not decent even to contemplate what is next. The Old Testament is coming alive before our eyes. Suddenly Sodom and Gomorrah seem more real, do they not?

Nothing will subvert the new sexual order more than singing joyfully the Songs of Zion in the midst of the nations raging against the King (Ps. 2).

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. “Queer people…are longing to be heard”, eh? As has been noted here and myriad other online conservative venues, the LGBTQ2+ — which I now refer to as the Gender Alphabet Society (GAS) — is *constantly* seen and heard from! This collective, scant 5% minority literally and figuratively screams from the rooftops that which was once only whispered in one’s ears. This minority rules the day…every day!

    But let the GAS seek “affirmation” in the outside secular world. As you stated, Dr. Clark, “God’s Word is a bulwark, a stout defense against trendiness.” Hence we affirm and praise Him alone when we sing in church; it’s blasphemous when these “Holy Others” say they want THEIR names spoken and sung in the House of God. Come worship with us, GAS folks, but remember that it isn’t about (the collective) you.

  2. Excellent.
    I would add that the antidote to this cultural wave is a Spirit-empowered church which comes from singing Psalms.
    Ephesians 5:18 commands us to “be filled with the Spirit.” Paul follows this command with five participial phrases “speaking . . . singing and making melody . . . giving thanks . . . submitting . . .” These are adverbial phrases which tell us how to be filled with the Spirit. Our instruments and man-composed songs insult the Spirit and thus the church is weak and/or over-run with Baal worship.

  3. “It is important for churches to explicitly state who is welcome there.”

    Our church is pretty clear that any and all sinners who want to repent and follow Jesus are welcome.

  4. “All welcome. No exceptions”. That is the title of an earlier HB article. It concludes with a condition. “We must also, however articulate and model the second part of his message: ‘Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’” As the Belgic Confession makes clear, deviant morals or false gospels are not to be tolerated, but are to be disciplined in the true Church.

  5. Thank you for speaking so forthrightly. I appreciate your reference to Psalm 2 at the end. Man’s rebellion is certainly futile and Romans 1 certainly describes the accelerating moral decline in this country, e.g., inventors of evil; although we must not forget Paul was showing we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    Regarding the Psalter-Hymnal, I am aware of two churches in the PCA Great Lakes Presbytery who have replaced the Trinity Hymnal with the Psalter-Hymnal; hopefully, there are more! As you know, in the RP they use only the Psalter.

  6. Singing God’s Word exclusively does not imply singing Psalms exclusively. May I point out that there are other parts of the Bible equally worthy of being set to music (and many which have been with great success – Isaiah 40 comes to mind). Also, not everything the Bible says is explicitly mentioned in the Psalms. I have long found Job more comforting to those suffering, 1 Corinthians more relevant to being single and childless in the church, etc. Exclusive psalmody not only tends to pride …but also to a lack of recognition of the new covenant, in which a godly life does not always look like one would expect from the Psalms. There is no reason to condemn the singing of hymns that express Biblical teachings. These newfangled woke hymns don’t, and that is their problem.

    • Alicia,

      To be clear, I’m not arguing for exclusive psalmody.

      As to pride, I’ve seen a lot of pride expressed in hymns and hymn-singing congregations. It’s a universal condition.

      As to the singing of hymns with biblical content, why isn’t Scripture sufficient. Your statement raises the same objection as I have for the Pentecostals/charismatics: if it agrees with Scripture, it’s superfluous (in public, stated worship) and if it contradicts Scripture it’s false. Why exactly do we need non-canonical hymns and where has God ordained them? If the rule of worship that we do, in worship, only what God commands when where has he ordained/commanded them? Why not simply respond to God’s Word with his Word?

    • I am for Psalmody only, unless you can point to scripture that tells us to sing something else besides the Psalm. I’m also for no musical instrument inside corporate worship, again God must reestablish musical instruments in the New Testament church, there is not one verse in New Testament scripture where they are brought back into worship. The church I go to fails to get rid of the Organ and stick to Psalmody. I’m from the URCNA in Ripon Ca.

  7. Regarding a command for singing new covenant hymns in worship, I look to the Psalms themselves. Throughout the Psalter, we find commands to praise God for all of His mighty works, deeds, and so on. This, I think, requires us to compose and sing hymns.

    Yes, the Psalms point to Jesus, and yes, Jesus is in the Psalms, but there is a difference between a type and an explicit reference to a particular aspect of Jesus’ work. For example, it would be very difficult to explicitly praise God for the substitutionary atonement using only a canonical Psalm. But that is something we can do with a new covenant hymn. In fact, some of the greatest hymns (at least in my estimation) are new covenant meditations of particular Psalms. Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun, for example. Such hymns make it easier for us to obey God’s command to praise Him for all of his mighty works by making explicit the specific ways in which Jesus has fulfilled those particular Psalms.

    Also, while I certainly agree with the rule of worship as you expressed it, it seems problematic to me to apply this rule in this particular way for song in worship, but not for other elements of worship, such as prayer. Jesus himself gave us the Lord’s Prayer. It’s impossible for any man to write a prayer better than the one Jesus himself gave us. So if we already have a perfect prayer, why do we even need human-written prayers in worship?

    • Ben,

      The 16th & 17th century Reformed didn’t have a problem with it. As I keep asking (since Recovering the Reformed Confession: what have we learned that they didn’t know? I’ve yet to see it.

      What I see is people saying, “Yes, I agree with the rule of worship” but when I ask, “why do you do x?” The answer is invariably, “because it’s not forbidden.” I should like to see how God commands us to sing non-canonical songs. Where?

      What do the Psalms themselves mean by “sing a new song”?

      Does “Sing To Him A New Song” Justify Praise Songs?

      The NT church sang the psalms. There’s no evidence they sang non-canonical songs.

      You can’t find substitutionary atonement in the Psalter? Really? Have you looked?

  8. We certainly can find substitutionary atonement in the Psalter, in addition to many other texts in the OT, in shadow form. But we can’t find substitutionary atonement fully revealed in those places. The type/shadow of something is not the same as the thing fully revealed.

    As I said, when God commands us in the Psalter to sing of all of his mighty deeds, I understand that command to apply to congregational song (among other things). I also look to the example of the glorified saints, gathered before the Lord singing “new” songs that are clearly not canonical Psalms. While this may not be a strict command, our worship is patterned after our future eternal, heavenly worship, so it seems odd to worship in a way that is so disunited from our eschatological worship.

    • Ben,

      According to the Revelation, the songs being sung around the throne are materially identical to the Psalms. They aren’t much more explicit than the Psalms themselves.

      This is really, it seems to me, about how we’re going to read the Psalms. We ought to read them the way the NT church did. We ought to read them Christologically and probably more completely so than we sometimes do.

      I’m not arguing, however, for exclusive psalmody. I’m arguing that Scripture is sufficient. I’m happy to sing the Song of Moses and the Song of Miriam and the stray Psalm of Moses and the songs in the NT and any other canonical passage. Surely we can find enough in Scripture to sing that we don’t need non-canonical songs?

  9. I heard this one speaker at a Reformation Conference once call Isaac Watts hymns “the opiate of the masses”. That’s stuck with me even though that ruffled my feathers. But the more and more I lean into the Psalter, the more I see the blessedness of it. Our congregation is now singing at least one Psalm every Lord’s Day, it would be marvelous to bump those rookie numbers up!

    As always Dr. Clark, thanks for all you are doing.

    • Didn’t Rome sing psalms in their masses long before they sang anything by Isaac Watts?

      • John,

        “Rome” as a church, strictly speaking, doesn’t exist until the Council of Trent. I point to their rejection of the gospel in Session 6, 1547 as the decisive moment. Thus, I don’t speak of the medieval and patristic church as “Rome,” per se.

        The patristic church sang Psalms predominantly until the the 4th century, when more hymns were sung and especially until the 7th century and the creation of the Gregorian chants, which displaced the Psalms to a significant degree. The monks preserved psalmody in the monasteries and, of course, increasingly through the middle ages, the mass was conducted in Latin so that the illiterate wouldn’t know necessarily whether it was a hymn or psalm being sung by the monastic choir (not by the congregation).

        Psalms did continue to be sung in the mass.

        What Watt’s opiate did was to provide a substitute for the psalms in the Reformed churches, first by way of paraphrases and then by hymns. That’s the tragedy. We had recovered the Psalms and then lost them again and for no particularly good reason.

  10. It should stand to reason, if not revelation, that if Christ is the Word of God become flesh (Jn.1:14), the Word ought to have the priority in worship; as in the reading, preaching – and singing of the Word – never mind that the Psalter is the songbook of the covenant for all the lip service to the same among the P&R churches. (Likewise it was Calvin’s songbook.)

    Of course, one objection is, if the good and necessary consequences of the Word of God are the Word in substance (WCF 1:6), though not formally, then doctrinally sound songs are lawful praise in worship. This, though we have yet to see at least presbyterians set the Confession to meter, but I have been told that it has been done for at least Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg. Yet what is commanded in the 2nd is the real question.

    Regardless, it is still encouraging to see this being discussed in the URCs, though I left the same for the FCoSCont in part because of this issue.

    As for the close:

    (N)othing will subvert the new sexual order more than singing joyfully the Songs of Zion in the midst of the nations raging against the King (Ps. 2).”

    Not only do we read, sing and preach God’s word, we pray in accord with it: “That thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

    But that would be to open a can of R2K worms, no?

    Thank you.

    • Bob,

      1. When the Assembly drafted the Confession etc they were Psalm singers. Their intent was to sing God’s Word without instruments. We know this because, e.g., they ordered the destruction of the organ in St Paul’s.

      2. I don’t know a single advocate of 2K who denies Ps 2, Christ’s Lordship over all things, or the Lord’s Prayer. The question is what they entail and how we should read Ps 2. There is a tradition among some to read Ps 2 in insolation from the NT. Most of us prefer to read Ps 2 in light in the New Testament.

    • Dr Clark, didn’t Christ-rejecting Judaism ban musical instruments from synagogue worship, following the destruction of Jerusalem? And didn’t Jews exiled in Babylon abandon musical instruments on the grounds of “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”? Yet Thomas says it would be the church’s USE of them that might Judaize!

  11. Mr Clark,

    I haven’t been able to find a defence for the practice of singing psalms metrically, by someone who holds to the RPW, “strictly” (a.k.a consistently). Would you care to show me why it isn’t inconsistent?

    • Jonty,

      Your question assumes the conflation of two categories: Elements and circumstances (i.e., those things imposed by logical or physical necessity, e.g., time, place, or language). Meter is a circumstance under language. We have to sing or chant, which is what singing was for a very long time) in some rhythm. What is of the essence of worship is dialogue in worship in which God speaks to his people in his Word read, preached, and made visible in the sacraments) and the response by the people using his Word (which is sufficient for public worship).

      So, your question is akin to asking for a defense for meeting at 10:30 AM as opposed to 10:00. Morally, no one cares. What matters is that we meet at an agreed time.

  12. Dr Clark

    Our Church (Presbyterian Church in Ireland) used to sing only psalms and paraphrases.
    They have both largely fallen out of favour. I’m doing my bit to reintroduce psalmody.

    My question is about paraphrases. You say above about only wanting to sing scripture and list a few non-psalms that you would sing and “any other canonical passage”. I’m surprised then that you seem to see paraphrases as not qualifying.

    Assuming I’m reading you right can you explain your thinking? I would have thought paraphrases which I see as a metrical form of the non-psalter parts of scripture as qualifying as singing scripture!

    • Hi Richie,

      I’ve not said much about paraphrases except to note that Watts’ paraphrases were something of a starter drug for non-canonical hymnody. In the old (1959), blue CRC Psalter-Hymnal, the Psalms were mostly paraphrases. I sang those because those were the only versions of the Psalms to sing. There are still some paraphrases in the new Psalter-Hymnal as well as paraphrases of some NT passages. We sang Watts’ paraphrase of some of the Beatitudes last Lord’s Day.

      I’m not enthusiastic about paraphrases but I don’t remember writing against them.

      Paraphrases aren’t exactly metrical psalms, are they?

  13. “The Committee has made every effort to collect and prepare versions of
    Scripture passages which comply with the above criteria within the constraints
    of metre and rhyme, using well-known metres. These songs differ from most
    other Scripture paraphrases and from Scripture-based hymns in that they
    attempt to represent the meaning of the selected Scripture portions as fully
    and accurately as possible without undue expansion or omission. Where
    expansion has been necessary for reasons of rhyme or metre, Scriptural truth
    from the context or from similar passages has been expressed. Some
    omissions were necessary for lyrical reasons, without distorting the overall
    meaning of the passage.The length of the songs has been determined largely by the natural structure and length of the Scripture passages rendered. Convenient sections for singing
    are indicated at the foot of the longer songs. Appropriate tunes are recommended at the head of each song.
    Following the pattern of the Psalms, the passages selected contain not only words of direct prayer to and praise of God, but also teaching about God’s character, his dealings with us in providence and grace and our response to him. In singing these songs we show forth and extol the wonders of God’s sovereign salvation in Christ by the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to him and instruction, comfort and assurance to his people.
    To help in singing certain words where two syllables or two words should be sung in the time of one, the two syllables are underlined (e. trial in 61, stanza 5; In the in 32, stanza 2). Where there may be uncertainty as to how some words should be sung, elisions are marked with an apostrophe (e. cov’nant and Isr’elIsr’el in 9,9, stanza 1).1). Where a vowel which is normally silent silent has to be pronounced, pronounced, it is marked with a grave accent (e.g. blessèd in 54, stanza 2).

    This edition adds 23 new Scripture songs to the collection. An appendix has also been added containing two newly composed hymns about the covenant and baptism.

    The Committee is grateful to those who have originated these and previous songs, which were then revised and edited by the Committee. thanks are also due to those who have reviewed the songs and sent in helpful comments and suggestions.

    Our prayer is that these portions of Scripture in verse will enrich our understanding of God’s grace in Christ and will be used by God for his own glory.

    Donald MacDonald
    Free Church of Scotland,Scotland,
    This is from the intro to the Free Church of Scotland’ sing scripture’ came out with their new psalter in 2015.

    Also, coincidently today I came across this footnote I had taken a picture of a long time ago.

    “The Scottish Church envisaged the book of psalms as norm for Christian praise extensively revising the Westminster Assemblies Psalter and ordering its sole use for public and private worship from 1 May 1650. However, other songs were not automatically excluded from consideration. The word ‘psalms might therefore better rendered by a term such as ‘Bible-based songs’. Thus, the day after adopted the Confession the Scottish Church recommended Zachary Boyd ‘to translate the other Scriptural songs into metre; that after their examination thereof, they might send the same to the presbyteries to be there considered until the next assembly’ (Session 25 August 1647). There were many delays and the eventual result was that 45 paraphrases of various scripture passages (not just songs) were approved for private use in 1751. A revised edition of 67 paraphrases, with five hymns appended for some reason unknown, was published in 1781 and attained considerable public use. “

  14. Here’s a sample one.


    11 11 11 11 11

    Christ’s second coming

    315 Datchet, 319 Walther

    About times and seasons, we know this is right:
    The Lord will return like a thief in the night;
    While people are saying, We ’re safe and at peace.”
    Destruction will come and their lives then will cease.
    But you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
    Are not in the dark to be greatly surprised,
    For we are the children of day and of light,
    We do not belong to the dark or the night.
    So do n ’t be like those who through sleep are inert;
    Instead let us be self controlled and alert.
    The slothful and drunken may sleep through the night,
    But we who are sober belong to the light.
    So put on the breastplate of faith and of love,
    The hope o f salvation your helmet above;
    For God did not call us to suffer his wrath,
    But saved us through Jesus to walk in his path.
    Christ Jesus has died in our place for our sin,
    That, waking or sleeping, we may live with him;
    So then, be encouraged by looking above
    And build up each other in faith and in love.

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