A Few Brief Thoughts on Exclusive Psalmody

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Kaalvenist, Nov 26, 2005.

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  1. Kaalvenist

    Kaalvenist Puritan Board Sophomore

    1. Opposers of exclusive psalmody (EP) frequently ridicule the EP exegesis of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 as being redundant or tautological, since "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Greek: psalmoi kai humnoi kai odai pneumatikai) are identified as all referring to the Old Testament Psalter. But non-EP exegesis is generally guilty of the same redundancy, since no non-EP exegete has offered substantial argumentation to differentiate between "hymns" and "spiritual songs." It is, therefore, a case of the pot calling the kettle black when EP is accused of reading the phrase as "psalms and psalms and psalms;" since non-EP reads it as "psalms and uninspired songs and uninspired songs."

    2. Despite the non-EP argumentation that Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 warrant the use of uninspired songs in worship, I have met or heard of few non-EP advocates who believe that EP is sinful, or that uninspired songs are required in worship. The general position maintained is that uninspired songs are "permitted," but not required. But there is no ordinance of God which is merely "permitted," without being required, at least occasionally (like the sacraments). This shows that uninspired songs, not being required or commanded by God, are not permitted (according to the RPW).

    3. I have seen little, if any, non-EP argumentation for "spiritual songs" meaning something other than "inspired (pneumatikai) songs." If we understand "spiritual songs" as "inspired songs," this would be seriously detrimental to the non-EP reliance upon these texts, and serve to bolster the EP argument on these texts. But again, there is little argument or counter-argument concerning this phrase from non-EP sources.

    4. Many argue that the Gentile character of these churches determines how we should interpret "hymns" and "songs." The argument is then made that, because these words (in pagan Gentile literature) referred to uninspired compositions, they should be understood as such when they appear in these passages. I would briefly respond,

    (1.) We cannot assume that Paul would adopt such an interpretation of those words, as a concession to the Gentile Christians.

    (2.) The apostle's frequent usage of common words, which have been given special Christian meaning (as well as his frequent quotations of the Old Testament scriptures in the epistle to the Ephesians) argues that the Gentile Christians, by the time of these epistles, were already well established in the "Christian culture." They would have understood these words, not with their former Gentile understanding, but with a new, particularly Christian understanding.

    (3.) The singing of God's praise is a particularly specified element of worship, under both Old and New Testaments. It is highly doubtful that the pagan culture of the time would influence how this ordinance would be observed, any more than the pagan culture would influence the observance of any other ordinances of worship (preaching, prayer, reading of Scripture, baptism, the Lord's supper).

    (4.) The "hymns" and "songs" of pagan Gentiles, who did not have the Spirit of God at all, would of course have been uninspired; this does not mean that the "hymns" and "songs" of Christians would have been uninspired, any more than the "hymns" and "songs" of Christians would have been in praise of pagan gods.

    Joe Nesom writes of the word "hymns," "In classical Greek this word was used of a festive lyric written in praise of a god or hero. Therefore we understand a hymn to be a song that is of extra-biblical origin and employs us in the direct praise of the Most High." I note,

    (1.) This points us to "classical Greek," rather than attempting to determine how the Bible uses the word "hymn."

    (2.) It is "written in praise of a god or hero." He draws upon an obviously pagan usage to determine how a Christian ordinance is to be observed.

    (3.) The definition he gives from classical Greek makes no mention of its inspiration or lack thereof; yet he still draws the conclusion, "Therefore we understand a hymn to be a song that is of extra-biblical origin," etc.

    (4.) He himself makes a confusion between the words "hymn" and "song." "Therefore we understand a hymn to be a song," etc.

    5. Non-EP advocates will sometimes argue that, if we will insist on EP, we must also sing the Psalms in Hebrew. But this tends to argue against any part of Scripture being translated, and still being considered Scripture. Can a minister preach from a text of Scripture, and quote from several texts of Scripture, without having always to read the passage in the original Greek or Hebrew to his English-speaking congregation, and the passages still be considered the Word of God? Then we may also sing from metrical translations of the Psalms, and still consider them to be Psalms. As I have said before, this argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, would demand that advocates of Sola Scriptura never read translations of the Bible, or consider such translations to be Scripture.

    6. Non-EP theological (as distinguished from exegetical) argumentation seems to rely primarily on the idea that the expanded revelation of the New Testament demands songs other than the Psalms, which were written during a time of lesser light, under the former dispensation. Some have argued that the Psalms should in fact no longer be sung in worship, and should be entirely replaced by uninspired compositions of the New Testament period. Most non-EP arguments do not go this far anymore; it seems to have been more common from the late 1700's to the mid-1800's. It is a ridiculous position on the face of it, since (1.) Christ sang the Psalms at the institution of the "new testament" in his blood, Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26. Virtually all commentators are agreed that the "hymn" that was sung was a portion of the Hallel, Psalms 113-118. (2.) Paul explicitly commands the singing of Psalms to New Testament Christians, Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16. (3.) Many passages in the Psalms themselves speak of praising God through all generations, to eternity, etc., and seem to indicate the abiding place of the Psalms through all periods of the church.

    I have actually seen one argument set forth by a living non-EP proponent which, if taken to its logical conclusion, would forbid the singing of Psalms under the New Testament dispensation. Dr. Leonard Coppes, pastor of Providence OPC in Denver, has written a booklet entitled, "Exclusive psalmody and doing God's will as it is fulfilled in Christ." In the booklet, he argues that the singing of Psalms was a type, the fulfillment of which is found in the "heavenly worship" of Revelation (specifically, the songs of praise found in that book). If the singing of Psalms was typical worship, it logically follows that the singing of Psalms is forbidden under New Testament worship, as surely as the other types of the Old Testament are forbidden. However, at the conference when I got the booklet, the group there assembled sang from Psalm 32 at Dr. Coppes's direction; so that it seems he has not taken his thought in that booklet to its logical conclusion.

    But the argument that the New Testament calls for new songs is flawed on several grounds.

    (1.) There is nowhere that the Bible states that new revelation calls for new songs.

    (2.) It is a great stretch to argue that, because the inspired songs under the Old Testament were insufficient to continue as the only hymnbook of the church for New Testament times, therefore we must supply uninspired songs. If the inspired songs of the Old Testament were insufficient for New Testament worship, it would stand to reason that God Himself would supply inspired songs under the New Testament; especially since, in setting aside the ordinances and sacraments of the Old Testament, He Himself supplied the perceived want or deficiency in the New Testament church. But of course, the only "Book of Psalms" that we have in the Bible is in the Old Testament, not the New Testament.

    (3.) If the greater glory and light of the New Testament church demanded new songs, they would be, as stated above, inspired songs, not uninspired songs. If the Old Testament dispensation had only inspired songs, whereas the New Testament dispensation allows for uninspired songs, that would cause the New Testament church to have less light and glory, not greater.

    (4.) Could we not fulfill this requirement of singing songs with the greater light of the New Testament by singing the Old Testament Psalms with the greater understanding afforded to us by the New Testament? Why must the New Testament demand new songs of praise, and not the same old songs sung with new light and understanding?

    7. Non-EP argumentation tends to rest upon the idea, "We may form prayers and sermons with our own words; why not our own songs?" In answer to this question, observe,

    (1.) This tends to remove all differentiation from these elements of worship; whereas singing is an element of worship distinct from preaching and prayer. Only an ordained minister is authorized to preach or pray during public worship, while the entire congregation is to participate in singing of Psalms. If we remove the distinction between these elements (as is especially seen in Dr. Frame on this subject), then either everyone may preach or pray at once (since all Christians generally are commanded to sing praises to God), or only the minister is permitted to sing (since only the minister is permitted to preach or pray).

    (2.) God did not give a "Book of Prayers" or "Common Prayer-Book" to be used in His church, but He gave the Spirit to help us in our prayers. God did not give a "Book of Sermons" or "Book of Homilies," but he did provide for the office of pastors, and promised to supply that office with men according to His own heart, and continues to give the "Spirit of prophecy" to continue the prophetic (i.e., preaching) ministry in His church. But He gave us a "Book of Psalms," and has not provided for the office of songwriter, and has not promised to give songwriters to His church, and has not commanded that new songs be composed for His worship.

    (3.) Prayers and sermons have to be formed in accordance with the needs of the day. We must pray according to our own individual circumstances, and ministers must preach according to the specific needs of their own congregation, the errors that are prominent in their time or place, etc. But the singing of God's praise is as timeless as God Himself. There is no need for it to be changed according to individual circumstances, because the God who is praised and glorified in song is the same in every time and place, under the former and present dispensations.

    (4.) Public sermons and prayers are declared by the minister. The individual in the congregation, listening to the sermon or prayer, has the option to add or not add his "amen" to what is said, after considering it and comparing it with Scripture. But singing, by its very nature, eliminates that as a possibility. The singer may simply sing what is written, even if it involves him singing something false in praise to God. It requires an implicit trust that what is sung is acceptable to God. But the only thing that should be implicitly trusted is God's Word, which would therefore limit our song to inspired material. (Incidentally, I know of several individuals that came to exclusive psalmody only after they would show up early to church in order to look ahead at the songs being sung, to determine whether they were entirely in accordance with the Word of God, and therefore appropriate to be sung.)

    (5.) "If we can pray with our own words, why can't we sing with our own words?" is open to a special criticism. Any Christian, having the grace of God, can pray. But not every Christian can write songs of praise to God; and still fewer can write songs which even a non-EP advocate would say is worthy to be sung in public worship. I would ask, how are Christians "using their own words" in song when they sing the hymns of Watts, Wesley, and Toplady? They no more "use their own words" in such instances than when they sing the words of David and Asaph.

    (6.) I would argue that singing of God's praise (which in the Old Testament was limited to the Psalms) is parallel, not to prayer or preaching (which always involved uninspired material), but to the reading of Scripture (which always involved inspired material). We may not add our human compositions to God's infallible songbook, any more than we may add our human compositions to God's infallible Word as a whole.

  2. ReformedWretch

    ReformedWretch Puritan Board Doctor

    Just a few huh?:p
  3. BrianBowman

    BrianBowman Posting Priviledges Revoked

    ... brief thoughts? ;)
  4. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Here we go again?:lol:
  5. wsw201

    wsw201 Puritan Board Senior

    Been here, done this, not going to do it again. :um:
  6. Arch2k

    Arch2k Puritan Board Graduate

    Good post Sean! :up:
  7. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

  8. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Well, Sean, I think you did a good job of it, in recognizing and analyzing all these things. Its too bad that people aren't interested in following up on these.

    I too must pass on them, as much as I'd like to get into some of these summary statements. I hope you understand.
  9. Peter

    Peter Puritan Board Junior

    :ditto: I'd like to take the time to carefully digest it and add my thoughts eventually.
  10. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

  11. Jie-Huli

    Jie-Huli Puritan Board Freshman

    I have not yet adopted the "Exclusive Psalmnody" position, but I am considering the issue, and I think your post raises a number of very good points. I will continue pondering these things. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  12. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    Just an observation, if I may. It seems that you did not always avoid using "uninspired" in a pejorative way; are there replacement terms that you could use so as to be clear on your different meanings of it? It would help greatly.
  13. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Great post. I certainly have always respected those who hold to the EP position after I understood why they did.

    Just one thought though:

    Before I was Reformed by the Grace of God, I used to attend charismatic Churches and I have lots of friends who attend Calvary Chapel so my question is:

    What about those songs where somebody says "God laid this song on my heart..."? Are you trying to tell me that the metric and lyrical beauty of "Our God is an Awesome God" was not inspired?! ;)
  14. Kaalvenist

    Kaalvenist Puritan Board Sophomore


    I don't use (or intend to use) "uninspired" in a pejorative way. I'm just using it as a technical term, to distinguish certain songs or writings from "inspired" (i.e., inscripturated) songs or writings. I do not mean anything offensive whatsoever. Personally, I really like several of the old hymns; when I was becoming Reformed in my theology, I came across a few by Toplady and Newton in the old CRC Psalter Hymnal that I especially liked. But everyone realizes that those songs are not "inspired" the way the Psalms are "inspired;" which makes them "uninspired."

    Rich (or "Sir," if you prefer; that's the Army SPC in me),

    No. It's not inspired. It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for Calvary Chapel. :p
  15. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Perhaps you're not aware of the use of the term. It is much like the term "pessimistic" in reference to the millennial views: it involves the person addressed into a judgment ( or a pre-judgment ) that may not be legitimate with every use. If you're going to use the term, use instead "non-inscripturated", for example. This keeps it clear from the pejoriative use of the term that would tend to argue, just with the use of the term, that only the Psalms are songs of praise. The difference you are pointing to is those within Scripture as opposed to those not within Scripture, not as those accepted by God and those not accepted by God. If it were the latter it would be countered that you're arguing in a circle, predicating your conclusion in the premise.

    It also must be clear of the charges it is itself suggesting upon others. There is a lot of work yet to be done.

    As you can see, I'm not arguing any of your points, but just critiquing the presentation.
  16. Kaalvenist

    Kaalvenist Puritan Board Sophomore


    I'm aware of the use of the term; I've been an exclusive psalmodist since I was 17. Admittedly, I'm only 22 now, but still...

    If something is said or written today, and it is not a statement or writing that has already been inscripturated, that statement or writing is uninspired (showing my strict cessationist colors, I know). When I make a contrast between "Psalms" or "inspired songs" on the one hand, and "uninspired hymns" on the other, I don't think that my words are offering themselves to misinterpretation. Given my usage of the term, how would it not be legitimate with every use?

    Perhaps it would be better to use "inscripturated songs" vs. "uninscripturated songs" (at least, in the case of the other terms being misunderstood or misinterpreted). However, characterizing the question as "inspired songs" vs. "uninspired songs" does have a long and glorious history; and the introduction of "inscripturated vs. uninscripturated" could be viewed as a needless introduction of new terms into an old discussion.

    Again, I'm not using the term "inspired" as meaning "acceptable to God," and the term "uninspired" as meaning "unacceptable to God." I don't see how that would logically follow from my use of the terms. I do argue that uninspired songs are not acceptable to God; but I do not actually equate the term "uninspired" with the term "unacceptable." Really, I see the question as being whether or not uninspired, or uninscripturated, songs are acceptable songs with which to praise God. If that proposition can be legitimately defended and proven from Scripture, then I would admit that uninspired songs are acceptable to God -- and I would not, in such a case, view that as an inherent contradiction.

  17. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    Very good. We'll leave it at that for now. The reason I say this is because the discussion has been quite one-sided on this Board, in that the EP position has been put forward and defended. The reasons for the inclusion of hymns has not yet reached a level that it is put forward for defence, insisting so far to stand on the basis of the disestablisment of the EP position, being the default position if EP cannot be proven. And most are comfortable with that. So you do not really have the basis upon which to ascertain my objection, though you do show that you have that understanding from the EP side.

    Defending hymnody is not my interest in this, but rather in trying to find out what is meant by the RPW.
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