Exclusive Psalmody, Reformed doctrine and the PB rules

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by panta dokimazete, Nov 1, 2008.

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  1. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    My apologies if this violates the requirements of this sub-forum, but for the sake of clarity and preciseness, I would like to respectfully request some dialog around the inferences of this sub-forum description and what it means in terms of EP debate on the PB:

    If it is not deemed too contentious, I would request that a non-EP'er among the moderators also participate in the dialog.

    I use the word "dialog" purposefully, because I believe this discussion would serve the greater needs of the board in terms of acceptable parameters to approach this important subject, as well as a useful resource of reminder when the parameters have been violated.

    First a couple of thoughts:

    I personally consider the PB a "proving ground" of sort for a range of discussions that serve to refine and reform ideas, presuppositions and potential misconceptions within a pre-established framework - namely Reformed doctrine.

    That being said, I believe that this approach aligns with the principle of Semper Reformanda and am discouraged when it seems the board rules and moderator actions discourage discussion and frank debate around unresolved or non-binding issues.

    Let me qualify with this statement - I do believe that tone and approach matter and should certainly be moderated. As a passionate and direct person, I appreciate the character and intent of our moderators and have learned much in the way of modulating my words and implications to be more irenic when irenic is appropriate.

    I am also aligned with closing threads that have served their purpose - that is - each viewpoint has been presented, clarified and refined and the dialog has become repetitious or overly contentious in nature. I believe the nature of a discussion board is to extract bits and pieces of prior discussion and work them through, with an eye toward the law of diminishing returns.

    So, to the point:

    It is my impression that EP was not monolithic doctrine among the Confessionally Reformed ("Truely" and "Broadly"), otherwise one would have to take exception to all the accepted confessions in this area, so I am confused as to why EP seems to be presented as the "default" position for the PB as well as the implication that an EP'er is more scrupulous than a non-EP'er?

    Thanks in advance for allowing this clarifying discussion to occur.

    Your brother in Christ,

  2. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Second Query

    In relation to EP discussions, I too would like a clarification.

    The board rules state:

    Now I hold LBC and the LBC does not explicitly mandate unaccompanied psalm singing only in the churches, so I am not "unconfessional" by the rules of this board for not holding UPSO whatever the Westminster Standards say to the question. The last sentence of the board's confessional requirements either does or does not allow for attempted demonstrations that UPSO is unbiblical. Which is it?
  3. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    I'm not, strictly speaking, EP for many reasons but would not have qualms about attending a Church that is. This, I suppose, qualifies me for the explanation. I'm also the person who created the sub-fora after consultation with the other Mods.

    The purpose for the new sub-forum is for the very reason that Exclusive Psalmody is held (Confessionally) by thousands of Reformed believers but many more thousands take exceptions to this Confessional point and even many more thousands don't even know it's in the Confessions.

    What happens, far too often, in EP discussions is a broad charge of either Pharisaism on the part of those that are not EP or a broad charge of idolatry by those that are. Recently, one Brother left, charged the entire board with being un-Reformed, and the only way he considered the EP dialogues to be "fair" is if he were allowed to continually refer to EPers as Pharisees. I guess I'll have to live with his illusion that those who do not take an exception to the WCF on this point are non-Reformed. I think it's patently ridiculous to believe that, not only may we take an exception to the WCF on this point but we must - otherwise members are charged with Pharisaism.

    Honestly, the argument for the EP position is not terribly difficult to follow once you understand the basis for the RPW and then the basic building blocks about how they arrive at their conclusions. I engaged in some dialog early on in my participation and will occasionally weigh in but I normally don't believe there is much point in debating their view further.

    Why? Because they are convinced by the same arguments I'm not totally convinced by and I know precisely what the arguments are going to be.

    Now, here's where the trouble comes in with certain points of argumentation and they run afoul not just of EP but of the board in general. Whether we are EP or not there are certain foundational principles - among them are Covenant Theology and its continuities/discontinuities and, especially, the RPW. On the first point, Baptists actually have more discontinuities than Presbyterians and on the second point, both are committed (Confessionally) to essentially the same RPW - whatever God has not stricty commanded is forbidden as an element of worship.

    Thus, a debate on EP really needs to proceed from the same foundation. There's not much point in allowing a Lutheran to participate in a debate with a Presbyterian because they're not standing on the same ground. You really need to have some common assumptions. If you don't agree with the RPW then there's really no point in debating EP or instruments. God has not forbidden Mega Death in worship so rock out! Same thing with Covenant Theology - it's not possible to have the same debate if ceremonial laws are still prescriptive.

    There is a tendency, in these debates, for some participants to "throw the kitchen sink" at the EP problem. In other words, some will jump into Lutheran ground or other types of ground and argue for a non-EP position. Some of the EP debate proponents may only be sticking to their arguments and not point this problem out. Others point that problem out but it is not always understood by the person doing it that they're really not being Reformed.

    At these points of friction we would ideally be able to de-construct where the underlying assumptions place the debaters on different ground and debate that point rather than wasting a lot of energy and causing a lot of frustration. Sometimes that happens, though, and the participants are accused of "straining out gnats" because they're trying to get the participant to see an error in logic or a departure from the RPW.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that many of these dialogues become completely fruitless and lead to rancor. I don't consider EP proponents to be blameless. One of my early forays into this discussion over 2 years ago was prompted by over-the-top "all non-EPers offer strange fire and all degeneration stems from this abandonment" kind of dialogue from the other side of the issue.

    I would prefer this discussion be handled more in the form of each party understanding the arguments for the position on the basis of common assumptions and then decide whether you are convinced on the basis of the RPW, etc. If not, then let's agree that God is our Judge. For my own part, I remember several years ago first learning that EP was in the WCF and thinking: "What nut would still do that and how could they possibly believe that?" I then read an article in Modern Reformation that convinced me that they had a really solid Biblical argument for the position and I repented of my disrespect for the position. These are men and women that love Christ and His Gospel and practice EP because they do.

    I've also seen some on this board who have claimed that the reason my EP brethren practice EP because they don't appreciate the "emotional component" of worship. Zwingli, for instance, was probably the most accomplished musician of the major Reformers. He knew quite well what his skill as a musician could evoke in himself and others. He was actually one of the most austere when it came to instruments and singing in worship. In fact, our EP brethren can help us have a healthy reminder about the dangers of music in manipulating hearts and stilting real maturity in hearts that are able to praise God without the aid of stirring music.

    Thus, I would like this forum to be a place where we can avoid the common pitfalls and make sure the parameters of debate are well defined especially with respect to either side throwing out bombs in their exasperation. I also want many to learn why the Confessions teach EP because it enriches their understanding of the RPW.

    On a side note, I think you need to keep in mind what Semper Reformanda means and what it doesn't. G.K. Chesterton noted that we used to be modest about ourselves but not modest about Truth. Today we think of modesty as being less than firm about our convictions of Truth and less modest about our own abilities to determine it. Semper Reformanda deals much more in the reformation of self to Truth rather than the idea that Truth itself is always negotiable and needs to be re-cast in the light of our evolving understanding. The Confessions are not irreformable but we need to remember that it is we who need reformation and, if the Confessions are true, then we ought not to be expecting their reformation.
  4. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    Rich - before (and if) I interact with your post, thank you for an informative and well-reasoned "non-EP with respect to EP" perspective.
  5. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    There are some threads which have been moved to this forum which are not about exclusive psalmody, but merely about how to sing the psalms or even examples of singing psalms. Is it possible to keep posting on those threads or are they considered closed indefinitely as well?

  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Those are fine Andrew. We're just trying to take a rest from debates right now because we're all a bit exhausted by the debates. The notice restricts debate and not "How to's" or "Examples of", etc.
  7. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Very good -- thanks, Rich. :up:
  8. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    Rich, again - thanks so much for your interaction on this issue - I'd like to continue our interaction briefly on a couple of your statements with a careful eye toward not debating EP itself, but hopefully leading to clarity for future discussions.

    I think this may be part of my confusion, although it may be perfectly clear to others.

    1. EP is indeed held confessionally by many thousands, but I think that at least the WCF and LBCF were careful to not explicitly call out the 150 Psalms precisely so subscription by EP'ers and non-EP'ers alike would be possible. That is - when you say "take exception to this Confessional point", I believe that implies the EP'er defined take on the WCF point is the most accurate, when EP is not clearly established across all confessions or the required interpretation of WCF 21.5.

    2. "Unreformed" has been an appelation applied to defenders of non-EP and while this may be true of some, the truth is, non-EP is a well established position/practice of many of the great Reformers. (note: however, Psalmody is a well established position/practice!)

    The point being, great care should be taken before EP'ers AND non-EP'ers alike call out one another as being unconfessional or non-reformed.

    As far as Pharaseism and idolatry is concerned, I imagine there is plenty of both still in the human heart, EP and non-EP, may God continue to refine us!

    No argument here - with the understanding that logical conclusions are not always accurate conclusions.

    Not trying to be contentious, but even so, others, seeking to be scrupulous and precise, may present new arguments pro and con that should be examined for their merits, so I, at least, have to be careful not to say "I've heard it all". :) As you are probably aware (;)), I am a convinced non-EP'er, but since this, to me, is not a strict matter of Reformed orthodoxy, you never know...

    Concur, with the understanding that continuity/discontinuity is not inherently a weak/strong, true/false indicator.

    Concur. With the understanding that agreeing with the RPW and Covenant Theology does not necessarily lead to EP.

    Again, concur - with the understanding that, while the RPW is indeed a well established Reformed principle, that does not necessarily mean proper understanding of the RPW requires subscription to EP.

    I am probably too close to this one to objectively reply :), but I will say that pointing out errors in formal logic form is not the same as defeating the underlying reasoning or overall conclusion.

    Amen - I can say without a doubt that the EP'ers I have debated and dialoged with are very concerned with aligning themselves to God's will and pleasure. I will say, however, that there is indeed a propensity for both sides to "call out" one another as the debate heats up. I will take a personal action to be mindful of this and avoid it.

    Now this would make an excellent discussion/debate topic! I would contend that the spoken word can stir up equal or greater emotion than music. That is - I'd contend that no one has gone to war because of a song or surely without some stirring preliminary and contemporary rhetoric to validate/enhance it , so... :)

    Concur - with a note that I'd say "may teach EP", since not all explicitly do. I do agree that they ALL teach Psalmody, however. :)

    I can only concur with this as it is my understanding of Semper Reformanda, as well. With the understanding that the confessions are not Scripture and thus fall under the 1 Thess 5:21 principle.

    Rich, you may certainly have additional input, but thanks, once more, for this enlightening discussion, may it serve to guide irenic yet passionate discussion among this motley fellowship and glorify God with our commitment to His Word and worship.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2008
  9. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I just got around to answering this.

    In answer to your question: "Which is it?" It is neither because you didn't present the actual option for what the intent of that sentence is.

    If you notice, the sentence falls at the end of Membership requirements. The requirements for membership state what members must adhere to in order to participate on the board. It specifically is added because we permit some exceptions but, generally speaking, board participation is on the basis that we have to have some things that we're just not going to spend a bunch of time debating.

    Imagine if that clause was an across the board "get out of jail free" card for every issue and an Arminian got under the radar and joined our board. We'd have to continually debate certain issues because we'd have to give him the opportunity to make a Scriptural case.

    I'm not stating that your departure from the Confessions on the continuity of some ceremonial aspects is of the same nature but it's simply to point out that it goes to your membership status and not to whether or not a moderator must allow a discussion to continue or not. Don't misinterpret that as a threat but simply as an explanation. I believe your presence here is helpful and respectful in the main but where you depart from the Confessions this clause does not grant standing to convince the board to abandon the Confessions.


  10. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    I don't have a problem with your response in the main but, in the interest of accuracy, I need to clear this up.
    This is simply not true and goes to the issue of original intent. It might be fashionable in America to view our Constitutional document as "living" but there are some who are still Constructionists and read the Federalist Papers or the minutes from the Constitutional Congress in order to define terms (i.e. what does it mean to bear arms?)

    In its historical context, it is undeniable that non-instrumental EP is in view in WCF 21.5. Ministers understand this and take an exception to it and don't pretend like the WCF is just open to interpretation on this point.

    The Directory for Public Worship has more on the singing of Psalms.
  11. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    Hi, Rich - again - seeking to avoid contention, but for my edification and for additional clarity - can you point to some external source that validates this?

    I have been reading the OPC's Report to 13th G.A., Report to 14th G.A. & Minority Report and I may have missed something, but I don't get that impression that the OPC would support that position, other than the minority may think so. I am fairly sure the PCA would not support that assertion.

    Seeking to understand.
  12. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member


    I think historically it is the case that the WCF is an EP document. Therefore I have taken an exception in every Presbytery that I have been involved, since I do not believe that the Scriptures are EP (hence the exception).

    The problem/tension comes in at the point in which church bodies (GAs, Presbyteries, Sessions) functionally choose to view the WCF as a non-EP document. I would personally prefer that teh WCF be amended at that point (and it is undoubted that there are the votes to do so), but it is my impression that teh PCA/OPC (for example) have consciously chosen not to amend the WCF so as not to unduly offend EP brethren, and "force" them by conscience to leave the denomination. So instead, you have instances where, for example, I have offered up an non-EP exception, and the Presbytery has refused to accept it, saying that it is not an exception.

    This tension between reality (overwhelmingly non-EP in denominations) and formality (the clear EP language of the WCF) has been preferred to a clarity (aligning the Confession with practice) in an attempt to avoid division. Whether that is a good thing, I won't say here. But it is the reason for some confusion.
  13. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    The Westminster Standards are at least EP from a practical standpoint. See here. Matthew Winzer attempts to show considerably more than that in his review of Nick Needham's work in the forthcoming Confessional Presbyterian (subscribe to get the issue due in December). As to the A capella part; that was the position of the church at the time; it is not addressed in the standards themselves because they had no need to do so. But you will find public comment about it in letters to the Scottish GA from the Scottish Commissioners at the Assembly regarding the work to tear out the organs from the cathedrals in London. I don't think you could press that as a subscription issue to the original documents, but would have been a defacto application of the Assembly's doctrine at the time. You will note they give no instructions as to the use of musical instruments in the directory for worship. But the original intent on psalmody is clear. They authorized only the singing of psalms for the public worship in England, Ireland, and Scotland, meaning the 150 Psalms of David. I provided a key quote to Matthew from Dr. Van Dixhoorn's transcription of Lightfoot (not in the published edtion of his works) that seems to me to clinch it. So, Needham's attempt notwithstanding, EP really is the position of the Westminster Standards, practically and perhaps more so, but at least practically.:2cents:

  14. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    Fred, thanks for the clarification - I will adjust my understanding and conditionally retract my earlier statement based on a secondary trustworthy (Rich being the primary) source on WCF 21.5.

    This does not mean that additional evidence won't modify my stance :)
  15. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Not necessarily the OPC or PCA's fault; this goes back to 1789 when the PCUSA chose, for the same reason I would hazard a guess though could not prove, to amend the practice in their directory rather than the words in the WCF. So if it is unwise, it has long standing at least! At the same time I think PCUSA derived continuing faithful churches can point to that action; the problem there being of course failing to bring over the original directory (at least in the PCA; don't know about the OPC history). It is because of the PCUSA intent that I would say an exception is not a moral responsibility. It is murky.:2cents:

  16. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    I think Fred is correct and his position is very well stated. In the mid 1600s everyone understood the Presbyterian position to be EP, over against the Anglican position that was Psalms + Biblical Canticles.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2008
  17. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

  18. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    One last post and hopefully conclude my participation on this thread - thanks again for the dialog, all - it is has been an excellent discussion. :)

    Thomas Manton - chosen to represent the assembly of divines who authored the Westminster Confession of Faith, and wrote the epistle to the reader placed at the beginning. The below is his commentary on: “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” James 5:13

    from a quote from my blog

    If it has a rebuttal/correction, I will let it stand...for now :)

    Blessings, all!
  19. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    There is a conclusion to this quotation which has not been quoted, but should be quoted in the interests of properly representing Dr. Manton's position, because he goes on to state that Psalms are best to be sung.
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