Letter to an Elder about Singing the Psalms 'Inclusively'

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NaphtaliPress

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That I understand. Like church ladies in charge of the piano.
My guess--and I think it is more than a guess--is that the Trinity Psalter offer (which in no way was to replace the Trinity Hymnal) had to be accepted by our ultra-professional music director/organist/pianist/quire leader and an etc. or two. He is a traditionalist and has a kind of de facto seniority in all things musical. Most likely he didn't approve the idea. As to one Psalm per week, I assume the preference of the same man was that we should not. Besides we would have to buy something better than the Trinity Hymnal's barely unrecognizable paraphrases. O, I almost forgot. Someone already offered to pay for a Psalter, but even for free the offer was turned down.

'mystifies' was a good word. Here are some adjectives that come to mind:

incomprehensible, unexplainable, unintelligible, unaccountable, strange, puzzling, perplexing, baffling, bewildering, mysterious, insoluble, enigmatic, weird, unfathomable, incredible, unbelievable

It appears that we are EP after all 'Exclusion of Psalmody'
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
@Pergamum

Dear Ben,
I know I already responded to one part of your post, but I thought I should add yet another response. I think you misread me again or perhaps I miss communicated my thoughts. There is not any friction that's between the pastor and me. I love him and pray for him and I often send him notes of thanks for his sermons signing them with the words, "your biggest fan." Both the pastor and the elder I mentioned attend the same small group that I'm involved with and we three take turns leading it. Our relationship couldn't be more amicable. And on rare occasions when I do bring up some polemical topics, they seem to be received very well based on the responses that I get. We three are good friends and hang out together. I seek the peace and purity of church above all things and am very patient hoping and praying for change. I'm now an older man that the Lord has, I trust, humbled quite a bit, and to my knowledge, there's not a cynical holier-than-thou attitude in me. I know that the church belongs to Christ and he rules it as he sees fit.

Perhaps the tone of my letter sounded like a problem makers letter. But it is the kind of open communication that we three share with each other all the time. The pastor sure isn't shy to give me a piece of his mind when he thinks I'm off base on something.

Now I got to get back to singing Psalm 60.
I'm glad to know that I misread you. The extra context you've provided does help to fill out the picture for me. I hope my comment didn't come across as a judgment or a criticism on an older (and wiser) brother than I. Would you forgive me if it did?
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
I'm glad to know that I misread you. The extra context you've provided does help to fill out the picture for me. I hope my comment didn't come across as a judgment or a criticism on an older (and wiser) brother than I. Would you forgive me if it did?
Nothing to forgive. I wasn't hurt in the least. I should have mentioned the relationship between the three of us in the intro. I am sure you understand why I didn't put it in the original letter or walk softer than I did. We three already know that stuff about our relationship.

Thanks for writing,

Ed
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
A few years ago, some people in my congregation - who are not EP themselves - asked me to write to the powers that be and request that more psalms be sung in public worship. For several reasons, I refused to have anything to do with it. While there is a historical precedent in the CofI for psalm-singing that there is not in many denominations, the idea of an ex-RP turning up somewhere else (especially somewhere that was a port in a storm) and then demanding that everyone start dancing to my tune did not seem in the least bit appropriate. While we should do all that we can to encourage psalm-singing, it needs to be within the bounds of propriety.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Naturally. Do you think a letter such as the one shared above exceeds those bounds?
I do not see anything wrong with the tone of the letter as such, but, given that the PCA is not a denomination that has ever been big on psalm-singing, I am not convinced that writing a letter to a pastor in that denomination telling him that he needs to sing more psalms is going to promote the intended outcome. No matter how well the letter is written, it is probably going to come across as a parishioner making demands. Perhaps just mentioning the subject in the context of a pastoral meeting would be better?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I do not see anything wrong with the tone of the letter as such, but, given that the PCA is not a denomination that has ever been big on psalm-singing, I am not convinced that writing a letter to a pastor in that denomination telling him that he needs to sing more psalms is going to promote the intended outcome. No matter how well the letter is written, it is probably going to come across as a parishioner making demands. Perhaps just mentioning the subject in the context of a pastoral meeting would be better?
Whatever the prospects of change, I think they should not deter us from speaking. Whether this is to be done in person or with a letter depends on personalities and circumstances and other such things. The point is that we ought to say something. When the right worship of God is neglected, what Christian would remain silent? My own conscience would not permit it.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Whatever the prospects of change, I think they should not deter us from speaking.
Too many people in our circles like to tell themselves "Duties are our's, results are God's." And, yes, there is an element of truth to this saying. But all too often, such sentiments are used as an excuse for their own imprudence. More often than not, the biggest obstacle to exclusive psalmody has been its proponents.

I once knew of an EP minister who was asked to come to a non-EP church and speak on the subject. In terms of arguments, it was one of the best presentations for exclusive psalmody that I have ever heard. However, the original audience was completely put off by the harsh and over the top tone of the speaker. Sadly, any hope that they would change to EP went out the window. The speaker in that case won the arguments, but he did not win the people.

The point is that we ought to say something. When the right worship of God is neglected, what Christian would remain silent?
True, but one biblical duty must be held alongside others, such as maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, not being contentious, submission to those that have the rule over us, and so on. Also, there is a difference in how we should approach things if we are in a church that is EP but is seeking moving away from the practice and a church that sings next to no psalms at all. I would be much more forceful in the former scenario than in the latter.

We should also keep in mind that the worship of God is about a lot more than psalm-singing. I have seen both EP and non-EP people fall into the mistake of emphasis it too much. For instance, how many times have you heard people say, "That was a great service, the singing was amazing!" Well, maybe it was. But what about the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayers?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Too many people in our circles like to tell themselves "Duties are our's, results are God's." And, yes, there is an element of truth to this saying. But all too often, such sentiments are used as an excuse for their own imprudence. More often than not, the biggest obstacle to exclusive psalmody has been its proponents.

I once knew of an EP minister who was asked to come to a non-EP church and speak on the subject. In terms of arguments, it was one of the best presentations for exclusive psalmody that I have ever heard. However, the original audience was completely put off by the harsh and over the top tone of the speaker. Sadly, any hope that they would change to EP went out the window. The speaker in that case won the arguments, but he did not win the people.



True, but one biblical duty must be held alongside others, such as maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, not being contentious, submission to those that have the rule over us, and so on. Also, there is a difference in how we should approach things if we are in a church that is EP but is seeking moving away from the practice and a church that sings next to no psalms at all. I would be much more forceful in the former scenario than in the latter.

We should also keep in mind that the worship of God is about a lot more than psalm-singing. I have seen both EP and non-EP people fall into the mistake of emphasis it too much. For instance, how many times have you heard people say, "That was a great service, the singing was amazing!" Well, maybe it was. But what about the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayers?
I agree for the most part, except that I would say that the hindrance to psalmody is not the proponents so much as men's hearts.

Let's face it: a lot of Reformed doctrine is unattractive to people. Sugar-coat it any way you want and most will still spit it out.

I would add that sometimes a stern rebuke is what is needed.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I agree for the most part, except that I would say that the hindrance to psalmody is not the proponents so much as men's hearts.

Let's face it: a lot of Reformed doctrine is unattractive to people. Sugar-coat it any way you want and most will still spit it out.

I would add that sometimes a stern rebuke is what is needed.
For boldened part, I don't know any EP'er who is guilty of neglect here, so I haven't lost sleep over this.

A true weakness is that for all the talk about Christ in the Psalms, there's so little experiential talk about the Christ of the Psalms.

So I don't blame (to some degree) non-EP'ers for thinking that our practice is out of accord with the New Covenant times.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Sounds more like encouragement, not a command. The psalms also encourage us to sing "new" songs, too.
God regulates his worship by prescription. If he hasn't prescribed singing, we ought not to be doing it.

If God has prescribed singing, he has certainly prescribed the singing of Psalms.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
Songs written by Christians acknowledging the New Testament canon.
You think that's what Psalms 96 and 98 are referring to? Doubt that's how they would have been received when they were written. They would have been received as the new songs - I.e. the "new song" part is self-referential.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
Songs written by Christians acknowledging the New Testament canon.
It seems to me that most of the references to "sing a new song" have more to do with a call to rejoice anew in what God has done, and not a command or exhortation to literally compose a new musical piece. Although I admit that that is what David often does. See what you think.

Psalms 96:1 (KJV)
O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

Psalms 149:1 (KJV)
Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

Psalms 98:1 (KJV)
O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.

Psalms 40:3 (KJV)
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.

Isaiah 42:10 (KJV)
Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.

Revelation 14:3 (KJV)
And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.​

BTW - I am partial "For All the Saints" - It will be sung at my funeral along with Psalm 90
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Which new songs would you suppose they are referring to?
New songs are songs that reflect God's new acts in redemptive history. When God acts in new ways, his people respond with new praise, explicitly acknowledging those new redemptive acts. Hence the explicitly Christocentric new songs of Revelation, celebrating the fulfillment of what the Old Testament psalms implicitly always looked forward to: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Freshman
New songs are songs that reflect God's new acts in redemptive history. When God acts in new ways, his people respond with new praise, explicitly acknowledging those new redemptive acts. Hence the explicitly Christocentric new songs of Revelation, celebrating the fulfillment of what the Old Testament psalms implicitly always looked forward to: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
That is a very good argument.
I have a question, wouldn’t this description of ‘new songs’ also apply to modern contemporary worship? Where is the line between this old hymn is acceptable, but this new song by Bethel is not?
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
New songs are songs that reflect God's new acts in redemptive history. When God acts in new ways, his people respond with new praise, explicitly acknowledging those new redemptive acts. Hence the explicitly Christocentric new songs of Revelation, celebrating the fulfillment of what the Old Testament psalms implicitly always looked forward to: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
Dr. Duguid,
What new act of redemptive history was Psalm 91 written in response to? The only act of redemptive history mentioned in it is a future act.

I'd ask the same thing about Psalm 149.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
That is a very good argument.
I have a question, wouldn’t this description of ‘new songs’ also apply to modern contemporary worship? Where is the line between this old hymn is acceptable, but this new song by Bethel is not?
The problem with the Bethel songs are not that they are new. All songs were new once, even inspired ones. The problem with some of the Bethel/Hillsong songs are with the lyrics. That's why it is unwise to leave the choice of song to a theologically untrained music leader. In the churches I pastored, I retained control over our list of acceptable songs (which included vetoing a number in the Red Trinity hymnal, many of which were much older). Musicians certainly could and did recommend songs, which were almost invariably unproblematic because we were blessed with theologically attuned musicians. But it was on me (and more broadly the session) to assure the orthodoxy of the songs we sang, just as was the case for the prayers we prayed and the sermons that were preached.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Dr. Duguid,
What new act of redemptive history was Psalm 91 written in response to? The only act of redemptive history mentioned in it is a future act.

I'd ask the same thing about Psalm 149.
Do you mean Psalm 96:1?
We can start with the straightforward and move on to the more difficult.

1) As a matter of Biblical record, when God delivers his people they often utter a new song that references explicitly God's recent act of deliverance. See Exodus 15; Judges 5; ; Rev. 5:9; 14:3. We could also add the song-like prayers in
1 Samuel 2; Jonah 2 and Luke 1.

2) This is clearly the context in Psalm 40:3; 98:1; 144:9; Isa 42:10. The :Lord has provided deliverance and his people are singing a new song.

3) Psalm 96 - 98 are bound closely together as a unit; it seems that Psalm 96 is anticipating the victory and Psalm 98 celebrating the victory accomplished by the Lord's enthronement as king.

4) Psalms 33:3 and 149:1 seem to have a similarly prospective character to them: the psalmist is looking forward to the Lord's intervention to rescue his people, after which he will sing the new song that goes along with that new deliverance.

5) Remember that psalms (like hymns) may not only an original historical context but also a liturgical context. That is, psalms don't merely describe a particular response to a particular person's troubles but reflect on them in a way that can be taken up by other people and used in their different circumstances. So even though a psalm is written as a response to a particular deliverance, it can also be used by other people who may or may not have seen a similar deliverance. They can be praising God for being the kind of God who delivers his people in such a way. So new songs do not become obsolete just because the specific deliverance that inspired them is a long time in the past.

I don't think this understanding of the meaning of "new song" is particularly controversial, nor does it automatically exclude an EP position. In fact, it can be helpful to respond to the facile argument in favor of contemporary music "But the Lord tells us to sing new songs". I find the Revelation component somewhat challenging for EP, but of course there is the standard EP argument that the worship of the Book of Revelation is in no way normative for the present people of God. I don't agree with that argument, but many people do.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
New songs are songs that reflect God's new acts in redemptive history. When God acts in new ways, his people respond with new praise, explicitly acknowledging those new redemptive acts. Hence the explicitly Christocentric new songs of Revelation, celebrating the fulfillment of what the Old Testament psalms implicitly always looked forward to: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
Except that all the new songs (including those written by David) are inspired. Hence in Psalm 40:3 David says "put a new song in my mouth." There is no comparison between a song that God has given and that men have written. Indeed, that is why only the redeemed could learn the new song (Revelation 14:3). A simple comparison of these songs with those written by uninspired men would demonstrate that they are nothing like the songs of our modern hymn writers.

The songs in Revelation are no more Christocentric than the Psalms since they are basically the Psalms re-written or rearranged. Furthermore, none of these songs in Revelation even use the names Jesus or Christ.

Finally, the Old Testament Psalms are not merely implicit. The consistent use of Psalms in Hebrews 1-10 to prove the supremacy of Christ demonstrates that. Psalm 22, 110 etc.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Do you mean Psalm 96:1?
We can start with the straightforward and move on to the more difficult.

1) As a matter of Biblical record, when God delivers his people they often utter a new song that references explicitly God's recent act of deliverance. See Exodus 15; Judges 5; ; Rev. 5:9; 14:3. We could also add the song-like prayers in
1 Samuel 2; Jonah 2 and Luke 1.

2) This is clearly the context in Psalm 40:3; 98:1; 144:9; Isa 42:10. The :Lord has provided deliverance and his people are singing a new song.

3) Psalm 96 - 98 are bound closely together as a unit; it seems that Psalm 96 is anticipating the victory and Psalm 98 celebrating the victory accomplished by the Lord's enthronement as king.

4) Psalms 33:3 and 149:1 seem to have a similarly prospective character to them: the psalmist is looking forward to the Lord's intervention to rescue his people, after which he will sing the new song that goes along with that new deliverance.

5) Remember that psalms (like hymns) may not only an original historical context but also a liturgical context. That is, psalms don't merely describe a particular response to a particular person's troubles but reflect on them in a way that can be taken up by other people and used in their different circumstances. So even though a psalm is written as a response to a particular deliverance, it can also be used by other people who may or may not have seen a similar deliverance. They can be praising God for being the kind of God who delivers his people in such a way. So new songs do not become obsolete just because the specific deliverance that inspired them is a long time in the past.

I don't think this understanding of the meaning of "new song" is particularly controversial, nor does it automatically exclude an EP position. In fact, it can be helpful to respond to the facile argument in favor of contemporary music "But the Lord tells us to sing new songs". I find the Revelation component somewhat challenging for EP, but of course there is the standard EP argument that the worship of the Book of Revelation is in no way normative for the present people of God. I don't agree with that argument, but many people do.
Dr. Duguid,
Thank you for your excellent response--and yes, I meant Ps 96:1. I am in general agreement with what you've said here. Your earlier comment seemed to imply that a "new song" is always composed with a definite, prior, redemptive-historical act as a referent. I agree that the "new song" motif has reference to acts of redemption.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
New songs are songs that reflect God's new acts in redemptive history. When God acts in new ways, his people respond with new praise, explicitly acknowledging those new redemptive acts. Hence the explicitly Christocentric new songs of Revelation, celebrating the fulfillment of what the Old Testament psalms implicitly always looked forward to: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
What he said. And he said it better than I did. (Probably why he gets the big money.)
 

Reformed Roman

Puritan Board Freshman
Ed, I will tell you that, as a man I don't question your character.

I am rarely on the forums, but I remember coming here, as a 16 something know it all, very prideful and arrogant, and you were always very kind to me.

I also remember as I got older and was preparing more for ministry in my life, you showed great generosity with a gift towards me that really helped me significantly as I had no form of a library and was starting from scratch.

So in many regards, I look up to you as a brother and a kind brother.

Knowing the context you provided, with the strong friendship you have with the Pastor, I understand the letter in more context, and like Perg, I understand now why you would say what you say.

I will say, like he said, as a Pastor people complain about many things, and it can get very burdensome. A simply short plea, from your heart, in person, telling him your heart to hear more scripture in service. And explaining that you heard him say that he is Psalm inclusive but you haven't heard many, and explaining your heart to hear more scripture, and more Psalms in worship, that typically, even with friends, comes across better in person than through a letter, email, or message. And if it is through message, a shorter passionate plea regarding your love for the Psalms would probably be more effective than a longer letter.

I think, since this is your friend, this advice honestly applies less to you, and more to other brothers and sisters here! But just something to consider when you consider sharing issues with your Pastors!
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I was born in a generation of history that lacked a lot of historical understanding. I left the RPCNA for a few decades because I had some issues with a parachurch organization IBLP and this one. We used R. C. Sproul's discussion on this topic which I found historically inaccurate and assumption based upon believing some scripture was sang in worship over the Psalms that I couldn't prove.

Dr. Bacon does a good job historically understanding St. Paul in a Pod Cast that convinced me years ago.

 
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