Heidelminicast: A Call, A Letter, And Q&A On Exclusive Psalmody

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  1. Dr Clark, I’m basically with you on your view of only acapella inspired music in worship. The only hang up I’m having is that we say singing is done under the heading of prayer, but we have no problem praying, in corporate worship, uninspired prayers and even prayers from a prayer book. So my question is why can we not sing uninspired prayers (hymns, etc.) but can speak them?

    • Hi Jared,

      It depends upon who is the subject of the verb “we.” When Calvin used uninspired, written prayers (though closely modeled on Scripture, e.g., his confession of sin was a paraphrase of Daniel 9) it was the minister who prayed on behalf of the congregation. So, the liturgy looked something like this:

      (from 1545/Strasbourg)

      • Votum (invocation; Ps 124:8)
      • Confession of sin
      • Absolution
      • Decalogue
      • Prayer for illumination
      • Lord’s Prayer
      • Scripture
      • Sermon
      • Pastoral Prayer
      • Psalm
      • [Communion service as permitted]
      • Benediction

      As you can see, there was much less singing. The decalogue was sung. Gibson & Earngay include the Kyrie in this liturgy but omit the creed, which was used (and sung, I think) in Geneva. In this liturgy, the creed was used in the service of the Supper. There was another psalm in that service as well as the Nunc Dimitttis, which is a Scripture song.

      The congregation only sang the Psalms, the decalogue, and the nunc dimitis.

      So, I don’t think the congregation necessarily said uninspired prayers.

      The minister is called by Scripture to pray. Certainly his prayers ought to be Scriptural and the forms, e.g., by Calvin, are.

  2. Sorry for my late response, I hope you’ll see this. That’s fair enough, but what about things like congregational prayer? Such as private prayers of confession or even prayers in unison from a prayer book of confession, etc.?

    I’m thinking about some of the corporate prayers of confession like those found in the URCNA book of forms and prayers.

    • Hi Jared,

      The act of having the entire congregation recite a prayer was not part of the classical Reformed approach to worship. I’m ambivalent about it. To be consistent, it should be Scripture alone.

      As to private worship and private prayer, I’m content to leave that to one’s conscience. I have used written prayers in class. Public worship is a unique event. It is mandated by divine command. It’s obligatory. Anyone who willfully absents himself is subject to discipline. Therefore, it is important that the church respect the rule of worship since whatever is done there is imposed on others. That’s not true of private worship.

      I think the prayers in the URCNA book are edifying and I’ve used them when leading public worship but prayed them on behalf of the congregation.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for your reply. Just to be crystal clear, the congregation should not pray (whether spoken or sung) except that which is in Scripture? But the minister may pray his own prayers or prayers from a prayer book? Perhaps the the only spoken prayer for the congregation to recite would be the Lord’s prayer? Also, would you then also say in keeping with the RPW, there shouldn’t be times of silent prayer like a silent time of confession? Or maybe could there be a silent pause in the service and the congregation could choose if they wish to pray during those times? Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer some of my questions.

    • Jared,

      I favor the older (16th & 17th centuries) Reformed (& Presbyterian) understanding of the rule of worship, in which the minister led the worship. In our tradition, ministers used both free and written prayers. Calvin favored the latter. I agree with Calvin but in defense of free prayers, we expect the minister to preach free sermons, i.e., sermons he has written as distinct from sermons written for him. We understand the commands to “preach the Word” entail that the minister study, pray, prepare, and preach a free sermon. So, the prayers belong to the office of the minister. It’s part of what God has commanded him to do. We pray with him but it belongs to his office to speak to God on our behalf. In Geneva, e.g., they prayed or sang the Lord’s Prayer. Silent prayer in public worship is a newer practice and, at various times in the history of the church, controversial. I’m not opposed to it in the instance that you mention.


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