Exclusive Psalmody?

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Mr. Naples

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello, I have recently been looking into the doctrine of exclusive psalmody...I just finished listening to a sermon by Gavin Beers on the issue, and he has certainly got me thinking...I do have some initial questions though, most or all of which stem from my lack of knowledge of scripture, but they are the following, and I appreciate anyone who can shed some light on these:

- Why is singing a theologically correct, yet uninspired song or hymn any different than a prayer or praise that one might offer. prayers are obviously not inspired words, thus if I offer a prayer to God and it is acceptable, why is it, in this particular instance, if i were to "sing" that prayer it is not acceptable?

- This question stems from the first, though in a different environment, if one holds to a position of exclusive psalmody, when and where is it okay to sing anything but psalms? If I had a choice in my car to listen to John Denver, who isnt singing about the Lord, or The Gettys, who sing Christ centered music that is theologically sound, If i chose the latter and was meditating on the lyrics as I sung, which would be natural, would this not be a form of worship? and thus would it not be condemned by such a belief? Am I to choose to listen to something that is not Christ centered so I will not inadvertently be worshipping God in a way He does not desire?

I understand that taking any belief, however true and scriptural it may be, to an extreme is in error, it is not my intent here, I am simply trying to understand the biblical basis of this doctrine and also its application. I am not interested in debating and trying to prove that this practice is incorrect, rather I feel, at least practically that it IS correct, and thus I am compelled to the above questions, hoping their answers will begin a foundation of knowledge on the subject. For practically agreeing with something is to no avail, I need to agree and adhere to something based on principles and commands found in scripture. thanks
 

MLCOPE2

Puritan Board Junior
I'm confident others will answer more thoroughly, but here is my abridged version:

To answer your second question first I would like to say that the EP position has to do specifically with corporate worship. No EPer that I know would limit the use of other types of music, whether religious or secular (so long as they are appropriate), outside of the arena of corporate and public worship. Just as other things are good and appropriate outside of worship (recreation, hobbies, etc.) so is the enjoyment of other types of music.

To bring that back to your first question, the positive command of scripture, through both the old and the new testaments, is to sing the psalms (Ps. 95:3, 105:2, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) to God in our worship. Since there is no other command in scripture for what men are to sing, or for men to compose uninspired songs for use in the public worship of God, the command to sing the psalms stands as binding according to the Regulative Principle of Worship (Deut. 12:32). Unlike sermons or prayers, we have been given by God a book of psalms that we were commanded to sing. We were not given a book of prayers, instead we have a form of prayer (the Lord's prayer). We were also not given a book of sermons but an instruction to elders to "preach the word, in season and out of season... with patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2).

Therefore as there is a command to sing a specific set of inspired songs (the Psalter) in the public worship of God, and nothing else, we should seek to be obedient to such as often as we are able.

I hope that helps.
 
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Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
I would like to note that there are some Exclusive Psalmodists such as myself that would restrict the content of song to the Psalms in private, family, and public worship alike. Westminster Confession Article XXI (and the Bible) does not seem to allow for less than the regulative principle in private and family worship. I personally do listen to a great deal of music outside of the Psalter. I would say that my convictions have led me to be more wary of attempting to "worship" by means of popular Christian music. For instance, I would not sing a song such as "Here I Am to Worship" at any time. I might sing along while driving in the car to the Getty's performing "Before the Throne." The former can only be understood as a song intended for worship, whereas the latter can be treated simply as a musical performance with Christian content.

I feel that we need to be careful not to worship God in any other way than He has commanded in every sphere of worship, whether secret or public. While this does not mean that all enjoyment of music must be restricted to the Psalter, I do think this should cause us to re-examine our playlists. There is definitively some popular Christian music that should end up vanishing from an Exclusive Psalmodist's iPod.

It is possible for an artist to produce music which glorifies God and reflects Christian doctrine without creating songs for worship. This is what I enjoy and pursue in my listening.

(I also enjoy many musical works by unbelievers. I didn't mention them because I'm not really tempted to use them as songs for worship.)
 

MLCOPE2

Puritan Board Junior
It is possible for an artist to produce music which glorifies God and reflects Christian doctrine without creating songs for worship. This is what I enjoy and pursue in my listening.
You bring up some good and interesting points. However, I wonder at what point a song becomes a worship song vs. a song just "reflecting good christian doctrine"? Some would include the latter in the former or make no distinction between the two. How do you differentiate? And is this an arbitrary differentiation? And, to what extent does the RPW reach into the realm of private and family worship?

I'm not disagreeing, I'm just seeking clarification as this is an issue I have not put a whole lot of thought into. I must also say though, that during our family worship we only use the Psalms and have no intention of including hymns or other music. It is more of a practical issue as it helps us to learn the psalms better. I look forward to hearing some of your responses!

Blessings,
Michael
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
You bring up some good and interesting points. However, I wonder at what point a song becomes a worship song vs. a song just "reflecting good christian doctrine"? Some would include the latter in the former or make no distinction between the two. How do you differentiate? And is this an arbitrary differentiation? And, to what extent does the RPW reach into the realm of private and family worship?

I'm not disagreeing, I'm just seeking clarification as this is an issue I have not put a whole lot of thought into. I must also say though, that during our family worship we only use the Psalms and have no intention of including hymns or other music. It is more of a practical issue as it helps us to learn the psalms better. I look forward to hearing some of your responses!

Blessings,
Michael
I guess that I would say that songs whose lyrics are expressly directed to God could only be "worship songs." Either one is worshipping by such address or one is blaspheming. In regards to the RPW, I think it's as much an either/or in the private and family spheres as it is in public worship. Either you're holding to the RPW or you're allowing for worship which God has not commanded. Private and family worship may be less "solemn" (as WCF XXI describes them) but that does not mean that either is less regulated.

I haven't put too much thought into this subject before, so this is an interesting discussion for me as well.
 
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MLCOPE2

Puritan Board Junior
In an attempt to prevent from further sidetracking this thread I think I'll start another. Thanks for the input so far and I look forward to dialogueing about this more with you.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Mr. Naples said:
- This question stems from the first, though in a different environment, if one holds to a position of exclusive psalmody, when and where is it okay to sing anything but psalms? If I had a choice in my car to listen to John Denver, who isnt singing about the Lord, or The Gettys, who sing Christ centered music that is theologically sound, If i chose the latter and was meditating on the lyrics as I sung, which would be natural, would this not be a form of worship? and thus would it not be condemned by such a belief? Am I to choose to listen to something that is not Christ centered so I will not inadvertently be worshipping God in a way He does not desire?
Here's a previoius thread that discussed this (and also includes links to three other previous threads on this issue).
 

Presentist

Puritan Board Freshman
No EPer that I know would limit the use of other types of music, whether religious or secular (so long as they are appropriate)
I had a student from the Greenville Presbyterian Seminary who believed in Exclusive Psalmody approach me about courting my daughter. He would not listen to or sing any christian music other than the Psalms in private or public.

But, he was fine with listening to secular music in private. I asked him and he confirmed that he could and did listen to secular rock music in private but that he would not listen to a christian hymn.

Personally, I could not help but think he was focusing too much on the letter of the law and was missing the spirit of the law. (And of what law I was not sure.)
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Did he not wish to listen to Christian hymns on principle, or just because he found them distasteful? I ask because I can often find enjoyment in a piece of music that makes no spiritual reference. On the other hand, I often have difficulty in enjoying a non-inspired hymn because of what it represents: an intent that it be used in worship and theological content that is often faulty. If this is the case also with this young suitor, I might find that there was spirit as well as letter in his assessment and application of the law.
 

Presentist

Puritan Board Freshman
Did he not wish to listen to Christian hymns on principle, or just because he found them distasteful?
He came to believe that he could only sing psalms, I guess you would say on principle. When he attended churches that sang hymns, he would just stand there looking at the hymnal but not singing. But when he left church he could listen to secular music.

But, surely there must be some hymns that do not contain fautly content. Don't you think?
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
There are plenty of hymns that don't contain erroneous material, but the exclusive psalmists believes that the use of any non-inspired in public worship has no biblical warrant. The absolute inerrancy of the psalms is primarily a positive reason to sing psalms, and only secondarily a negative argument against hymnody.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Did he not wish to listen to Christian hymns on principle, or just because he found them distasteful?
He came to believe that he could only sing psalms, I guess you would say on principle. When he attended churches that sang hymns, he would just stand there looking at the hymnal but not singing. But when he left church he could listen to secular music.
Yes, of course - because when he left church, he was no longer worshipping. When I attend a church that practices non-inspired hymns, I just stand there as well. That is what someone does who believes in EP. Unless I am missing something, it sounds like this young man was behaving quite consistently with his stated position.
 

Presentist

Puritan Board Freshman
There are plenty of hymns that don't contain erroneous material, but the exclusive psalmists believes that the use of any non-inspired in public worship has no biblical warrant. The absolute inerrancy of the psalms is primarily a positive reason to sing psalms, and only secondarily a negative argument against hymnody.
Is it okay to sing "metrical" psalms which have been modified by "non-inspired" humans? I ask because the exclusive psalmist church that the young man attended sang metrical psalms.
 

John Lanier

Puritan Board Junior
Is it okay to sing "metrical" psalms which have been modified by "non-inspired" humans? I ask because the exclusive psalmist church that the young man attended sang metrical psalms.
A metrical psalter is a translation of the psalms from the original language. Word order may be changed and synonyms may be chosen in order to aid with meter but it is still a translation of the original language. It does not consist of people changing the meaning of the text and using whatever words they want.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Is it okay to sing "metrical" psalms which have been modified by "non-inspired" humans? I ask because the exclusive psalmist church that the young man attended sang metrical psalms.
Yes. This is pretty much the same as an English translation of the Bible that has been produced by a "non-inspired" scholar. The vast majority of psalms that are sung in worship are in meter because that is the common form of poetry in Western cultures.
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
Is it okay to sing "metrical" psalms which have been modified by "non-inspired" humans? I ask because the exclusive psalmist church that the young man attended sang metrical psalms.
Since the psalms were designed to be sung and since we don't know the original tunes then yes we should translate them in poetic musical arrangements. Hebrew poetry is great for this because we can add English meter without loosing much Hebrew poetic quality which often comes from words, phrases and parallelism and not rhyme.
 

J. Dean

Puritan Board Junior
There is definitively some popular Christian music that should end up vanishing from an Exclusive Psalmodist's iPod.
There is definitively some popular "Christian" music that should end up vanishing from ANY Christian's Ipod, EP or otherwise! To be honest, I have a hard time listening to Christian music stations at all. A good amount of what is put out is "Jesus-is-my-girlfriend" sentiment with simplistic chordal structure and melody, and virtually no more theology than Neil Diamond or Jason Mraz. Quite Embarrassing.

All of that being said, we need to be fair and realize that not every song or hymn outside of psalmody is necessarily full of rotten theology. There IS some good Christian music out there, even if you don't agree that it should be sung in church.

But back on topic, the OP is one of the reasons that I struggle with EP to a point, although the clarification about the Psalms being rewritten for the purpose of suitably fitting the words to the rhythm of music does give some clarification to the doctrine of EP. I'd like to see some of those compositions and see how they've been approached, as it would make for an interesting study.

As for secular music, I listen to Allan Holdsworth, John Petrucci, or Eddie Van Halen and I see the work of God in their skill, not becaue they are actively using it to the glory of God, but because I recognize that their talent comes from God, even if they are not using it for His glory.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
For whatever it may be worth to those considering this issue, the turning point for me in my thinking on EP was when I realized I was placing the burden of proof in the wrong place. I realized that if I accept the RPW, then EPists do not have to prove to me that God only wants the Church to sing psalms in worship. Rather, I have to provide Scriptural warrant for the introduction of uninspired songs in worship -- something that is never mentioned in either Testament. The burden of proof was on me.

I gave UH a fair shake. I approached the subject prayerfully and as objectively as I could. I was hoping to come out in favor of singing uninspired hymns as well as psalms, but I was willing to be convinced wrong if that is what the Scriptures required. I turned to Reformed critiques of EP. I was hoping to find a Scriptural case for uninspired hymnody so that I could continue to sing my favorite hymns. I was disappointed to find that the prominent Reformed defenses of UH were actually just attacks on a few details of modern EP practice. "If we can't sing hymns, why can you put the psalms in meter?" OK, that question might be worth something. But it is not a Scriptural warrant for UH; it is just a somewhat tough question for a modern English EPist -- and only somewhat. It has been answered well here. In defense of those Reformed critiques of EP that I read, it was unreasonable of me to expect them to provide Biblical warrant for UH, because that is asking the impossible. The Bible simply doesn't mention uninspired worship song anywhere.

---------- Post added at 11:49 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:30 AM ----------

For instance, I would not sing a song such as "Here I Am to Worship" at any time. I might sing along while driving in the car to the Getty's performing "Before the Throne." The former can only be understood as a song intended for worship, whereas the latter can be treated simply as a musical performance with Christian content.
I agree with this. There are plenty of good songs about the Christian life or some aspect of Christian experience. They can even address God. Songs can contain prayers or the lyrics could even be completely a prayer. This does not make them suitable as set forms for the whole congregation in stated worship.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
J. Dean said:
But back on topic, the OP is one of the reasons that I struggle with EP to a point, although the clarification about the Psalms being rewritten for the purpose of suitably fitting the words to the rhythm of music does give some clarification to the doctrine of EP. I'd like to see some of those compositions and see how they've been approached, as it would make for an interesting study.
Someone else can probably find you more and better resources (or just answer your question directly), but here are a few I've come across, although I don't think they answer the question in the detail one may want.

There's this previous thread (which you may be aware of) that discussed a couple of translation issues, along with including a link to something that discussed the issues in more detail. You're probably also already aware of Mr. Bacon's article that answers the charge that EPers are singing paraphrases rather than a translation meant for singing.

There's also this section of the True Psalmody which might address some of these issues (though I don't know for sure) in its 5th chapter.

But perhaps the most detailed and direct answer to how such translations are made that I can find (with my layman's level of knowledge) is the preface to the Bay Psalter. The first part is basically a defense of EP, but the second part not only briefly defends the use of metrical translations but also briefly explains how they went about translating the Psalms in English so that they could be sung.

As for examples of Psalms translated to be sung, the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter can be found here (which includes John Brown of Haddington's notes). It can also be found here without notes but perhaps in an easier to navigate form.

You might also be able to find some answers to these questions in one of the (many) resources here.


Edit:
J. Dean said:
There is definitively some popular "Christian" music that should end up vanishing from ANY Christian's Ipod, EP or otherwise! To be honest, I have a hard time listening to Christian music stations at all. A good amount of what is put out is "Jesus-is-my-girlfriend" sentiment with simplistic chordal structure and melody, and virtually no more theology than Neil Diamond or Jason Mraz. Quite Embarrassing.

All of that being said, we need to be fair and realize that not every song or hymn outside of psalmody is necessarily full of rotten theology. There IS some good Christian music out there, even if you don't agree that it should be sung in church.
I agree!


Edit2:
austinww said:
I gave UH a fair shake. I approached the subject prayerfully and as objectively as I could. I was hoping to come out in favor of singing uninspired hymns as well as psalms, but I was willing to be convinced wrong if that is what the Scriptures required. I turned to Reformed critiques of EP. I was hoping to find a Scriptural case for uninspired hymnody so that I could continue to sing my favorite hymns.
Same here!
 
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Rook

Puritan Board Freshman
Some questions to think about...

1) What examples do we see in Scripture of God's people singing in public worship?

2) Do the songs sung in public worship derive from the Holy Spirit or do they derive from random people who had talent with some theological knowledge?

3) Do we see public singing of anything on than inspired compositions?

4) What Scriptural basis is there for uninspired songs in worship?

5) Are prayer, preaching, and singing all to be lumped together in the same category when discussing worship?

Mr. Naples,

Is there biblical warrant that allows you to preach in stated public worship? No. Are you able to preach Christ to your friends, family, and neighbors? Yes.

Is there biblical warrant that calls for singing uninspired hymns in public worship? No. Are you allowed to sing uninspired hymns while shoveling the drive after a snow storm and in other situations? Yes.

Today Christians do not have any distinction between public stated times of congregational / family worship, and what we would call living all of life as worship. For example, you can worship God by drinking a glass of water unto His glory. Or maybe you play the guitar and you have written some great music and you thank God. The former examples are not normative for stated public worship gatherings (Prayer, Preaching, Sacraments, Singing).

You should find many threads on here that discuss this topic.

Here are some resources I recommend:

1) Songs of Zion - Michael Bushell
2) Sing a New Song - Joel Beeke
3) Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms - Michael LeFebvre
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Today Christians do not have any distinction between public stated times of congregational / family worship, and what we would call living all of life as worship.
Correct. This is helpful. We need to do a good job of distinguishing from these different kinds of worship, and communicate why there is a difference.

Although, as an afterthought, it is interesting that James has an exhortation that appears to be referring to everyday life and not stated times of corporate worship:

Jas 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
 

Presentist

Puritan Board Freshman
Are you allowed to sing uninspired hymns while shoveling the drive after a snow storm and in other situations? Yes.
The people I know who hold to exclusive psalmody would say "No." They will not sing "uninspired" hymns at any time.
 

Somerset

Puritan Board Junior
I see the latest edition of "The Presbyterian Standard", produced by the James Begg Society, consists of a reprint of Thomas Ford's "Singing of psalms" first published in 1659. This looks very helpful.
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
There may be some EPers who do not listen or sing hymns anytime, but they would be going beyond the Confession -and I think beyond the Scriptures- if they actually tried pressing to others that they may not ever listen to or sing any hymns without exception at any time ever. I'm not sure what EPers you know, but I know my whole church, as well as those outside of my church who practice Exclusive Psalmody that do not maintain such a thing. Our difference in experience serves to demonstrate the lack of value in anecdotal support/evidence against a position. The Confession is clear, pertaining to the position of singing the Psalms and the regulative principle, that it is within the context of Worship. This doesn't relate to what one may or may not listen to for their own recreation and leisure. Outside of worship, what one listens to is not regulated by what God requires in His Worship, but, rather, the content of what's being sung, enjoyed, listened to relating to matters of morality.
Josh (and other EP singers), I'd be interested to know what you think about the idea I put forth above concerning direct address to God in song. It would seem to me that it would be a violation of the regulative principle to sing certain hymns/choruses which purport to directly address God in worship (such as "Here I Am to Worship") in any context. This would not exclude Christian songs with accurate doctrinal content which does not directly address God.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I see the latest edition of "The Presbyterian Standard", produced by the James Begg Society, consists of a reprint of Thomas Ford's "Singing of psalms" first published in 1659. This looks very helpful.
I can highly recommend it and also commend the work of the Society in general.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Dearly Bought said:
Josh (and other EP singers), I'd be interested to know what you think about the idea I put forth above concerning direct address to God in song. It would seem to me that it would be a violation of the regulative principle to sing certain hymns/choruses which purport to directly address God in worship (such as "Here I Am to Worship") in any context. This would not exclude Christian songs with accurate doctrinal content which does not directly address God.
That's a tough one. On the one hand, isn't it possible to sing a song without lifting up in worship to God? But on the other hand, would it be violating the Third Commandment to do such with a song that is inherently a worship song and addresses God directly as such? Do the lyrics of the song in this case take priority over the intention of the singer? I guess I would have to agree with you in this case, though I'm not sure how the category of "meditation song" might or might not fit with this, nor whether it is directly a violation of the regulative principle or if it's primarily a violation of the Third Commandment. Just my small thoughts for now. :2cents:
 
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