Question about Exclusive Psalmody

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Nick Muyres

Puritan Board Freshman
This is a question that I was asked by a friend who is not completely on board with EP, but I don't have an answer and am curious myself. So this may be more for those who have a conviction of the EP position, but wouldn't mind hearing from anyone who might have valid input. So my question is, when in the history of the church did the singing of Psalms stop being common? if EP is biblical, when did the church cease EP and how did it go largely unchallenged? If there is a book I could read, or a place I could go to learn more that would also be very helpful.

Thank you all very much!
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Quick answer: around the time of Isaac Watts it started to go downhill and became common later...but Randy has the more full answer (above).

Error comes into the Church in many ways, in this case through someone who was wise in their own sight and it made sense to a lot of ignorant Christians (including pastors/elders), and so they followed the idea and it infiltrated the Church just like a good many other errors we see in the Church today.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Summaries and links to the history throughout the church: https://reformedbooksonline.com/top...nging-of-praise/the-history-of-psalm-singing/

Another general overview for the Reformation era (and post-Reformation) church (that is linked in the above link):
http://calvinontap.blogspot.com/2012/03/rise-and-decline-of-exclusive-canonical.html

John Calvin in particular:
https://purelypresbyterian.com/2016/12/30/was-john-calvin-an-exclusive-psalmodist/

My understanding of the history is that exclusive inspired psalmody (as in 150 psalms of David plus other Scripture songs) is very well documented in the history of the church with uninspired hymnody first being introduced by heretics. Exclusive psalmody (as in the 150 psalms of David) is not as easy to document by the available evidence in the early church and early Reformation eras (so hard to draw a line when it ended) but is represented quite well too.
 
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Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I can't remember where I read it, but I remember that one distinction of the Montanists was the employment in their services of non-Scriptural songs. (Would anyone happen to have a source for this?) Tertullian, who joined the Montanist sect, says in his Apology (early 2nd century) that at their meetings some brought songs that they had written. (Although to me it is not clear whether he is speaking of this happening during the formal worship service or afterwards.)
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Exclusive psalmody (as in the 150 psalms of David) is not as easy to document by the available evidence in the early church and early Reformation eras (so hard to draw a line when it ended) but is represented quite well too.
Dr. Prutow does a very good job of relying upon primary sources in the two chapters I recommend above.

During the Great Awakening the Wesley's and others were writing music to propagate their doctrines so others may be swayed into their thought. That is an example of why it has been rejected so much in the past. This practice was rejected over and over for the first Centuries basically till Constantine if I am not mistaken.

Dr. Prutow's book is in Kindle format also. I have both the book and the Kindle edition. It is a very good read.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Here is what Dr. Prutow writes concerning Tertullian. This portion needs to be read in the context of the Chapter.

Moving from Alexandria west into Carthage, one finds Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 223). “A native and life-long resident of Carthage, he was the most powerful and original Christian author writing in Latin before Augustine.”21 Tertullian refers to corporate Psalmody and to a charismatic. “There is among us today a sister favored with gifts of revelation which she experiences through an ecstasy of the spirit during the Sunday liturgy … The material for her visions is supplied as the scriptures are read, psalms are sung, the homily delivered and prayers are offered.”22 J. A. Lamb adds, “In his Ad Uxorem ii, 8, he says that the psalms are sung alternately and even competitively by two cantors between the lessons and the sermon.”23 Note that the following quotation begins with an hendiadys. “Psalms and hymns sound between the two of them, and they challenge each other to see who sings better to the Lord. Seeing and hearing this, Christ rejoices.”24 Tertullian also makes the point that Psalms are read responsively. “The more exacting in their prayers are accustomed to add to their prayers an Alleluia and that sort of a psalm in which those present can respond with the closing verse …”25 Finally, Tertullian makes it clear that the Psalms of David are sung in sacred assembly. “The psalms come to our aid on this point … those of the most holy and illustrious prophet David. He sings among us of Christ, and through him Christ indeed sang of Himself.”26


22. De anima IX, 4; MCEL, 82.

23. John Alexander Lamb, The Psalms in Christian Worship (London: Faith Press, 1962), 27.

24. Ad Uxorem II, viii, 8-9; MECL, 80.

25. De oration XXXVII; MCEL, 78.

26. De carne Christi XX, 3; MCEL, 84.


Prutow, Dennis. Public Worship 101: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Worship, the Elements of Worship, Exclusive Psalmody, and A Cappella Psalmody . Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.
 
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Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Watts and the Wesleys, and the propagation of their songs by ministers such as Whitefield, provided an impetus that made so many of the evangelical churches fall like dominoes away from the Psalms. Up until then the allure of uninspired hymnody had been mostly resisted, but hearts were revealed to have been lukewarm in the resisting.
 

Nick Muyres

Puritan Board Freshman

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
This is a question that I was asked by a friend who is not completely on board with EP, but I don't have an answer and am curious myself. So this may be more for those who have a conviction of the EP position, but wouldn't mind hearing from anyone who might have valid input. So my question is, when in the history of the church did the singing of Psalms stop being common? if EP is biblical, when did the church cease EP and how did it go largely unchallenged? If there is a book I could read, or a place I could go to learn more that would also be very helpful.

Thank you all very much!
1700s. They were popularized during the Methodist revivals and Great Awakening. At the same time, you have men such as Isaac Watts and John Newton writing their hymns.

Many more hymns came out of the Oxford Movement and out of the Second Great Awakening in the 1800s.
 

smalltown_puritan

Puritan Board Freshman
I cannot recall for certain, but I think Michael Bushell also addresses this in his book, ‘Songs of Zion’.

Unfortunately, most reformed baptists also did not follow our Presbyterian and Independent brethren in placing a proper weight on Psalmody, but John Gill did right a pamphlet (‘Of Singing Psalms as a Part of Public Worship’) on the phrase, ‘Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs’ advocating for psalmody.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
I cannot recall for certain, but I think Michael Bushell also addresses this in his book, ‘Songs of Zion’.

Unfortunately, most reformed baptists also did not follow our Presbyterian and Independent brethren in placing a proper weight on Psalmody, but John Gill did right a pamphlet (‘Of Singing Psalms as a Part of Public Worship’) on the phrase, ‘Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs’ advocating for psalmody.
I almost mentioned the Baptists my post. Hymn singing was promoted early on in English Baptist history by such a figure as Benjamin Keach.
 

Nick Muyres

Puritan Board Freshman
1700s. They were popularized during the Methodist revivals and Great Awakening. At the same time, you have men such as Isaac Watts and John Newton writing their hymns.

Many more hymns came out of the Oxford Movement and out of the Second Great Awakening in the 1800s.
So, is there evidence of psalmody being widely sung before this time period? So would the Westminster divines, Calvin, or Luther, and other reformers have believed in EP?
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
So, is there evidence of psalmody being widely sung before this time period? So would the Westminster divines, Calvin, or Luther, and other reformers have believed in EP?
The Westminster Assembly put a Psalter together (no hymns). Calvin had a Psalter together. Luther didn't hold to the RPW, so he retained hymnody, altars, incense, etc., from Rome.
 

smalltown_puritan

Puritan Board Freshman
I almost mentioned the Baptists my post. Hymn singing was promoted early on in English Baptist history by such a figure as Benjamin Keach.
Most Baptists, including Spurgeon as seen in his hymnal for the Metropolitan Tabernacle, did grow to prefer Watts’s ‘Imitations’. By the time of Benjamin Beddome’s (1717-1795) ministry, it was commonplace for Baptists to promote the regular writing on non-canonical hymns. As a Baptist who holds to the view of exclusive Psalmody, I think this is unfortunate, but an unavoidable part of Baptist history.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
So, is there evidence of psalmody being widely sung before this time period? So would the Westminster divines, Calvin, or Luther, and other reformers have believed in EP?
Besides Luther, there is some evidence of hymn singing in the early Reformed churches (e.g. The Constance Hymn Book of 1540). As far as Calvin is concerned, he at the very least heavily favoured the use of Psalms but I think a fair assessment, as far as can be determined, was that he was of the belief that only the Psalms should be sung in worship or nearing that conclusion. See here & here.
 
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Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This is a question that I was asked by a friend who is not completely on board with EP, but I don't have an answer and am curious myself. So this may be more for those who have a conviction of the EP position, but wouldn't mind hearing from anyone who might have valid input. So my question is, when in the history of the church did the singing of Psalms stop being common? if EP is biblical, when did the church cease EP and how did it go largely unchallenged? If there is a book I could read, or a place I could go to learn more that would also be very helpful.

Thank you all very much!
I chronicle some of the downgrade here. The resources I cite would be helpful, in particular Terry Johnson's article, "The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church" as it would answer many of your questions.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
if EP is biblical, when did the church cease EP and how did it go largely unchallenged?
The introduction of uninspired hymns into the likes of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Free Church of Scotland, and various American denominations in the mid- to late-nineteenth-century certainly did not go unchallenged at the time. Although one could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion nowadays, as psalm-singing (not EP, just singing psalms at all) is almost becoming extinct in otherwise conservative circles.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
For what it's worth, a quick perusal of the Trinity Hymnal finds an uninspired hymn ascribed to one Clement of Alexandria, circa year 200. Not saying it proves the entire universal church was non-ep at that time, just that there's a record of uninspired hymnody from then.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
For what it's worth, a quick perusal of the Trinity Hymnal finds an uninspired hymn ascribed to one Clement of Alexandria, circa year 200. Not saying it proves the entire universal church was non-ep at that time, just that there's a record of uninspired hymnody from then.
That Clement and others wrote poems or songs does not prove that such were employed in public worship.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
That Clement and others wrote poems or songs does not prove that such were employed in public worship.
Fair. But this whole matter of insisting that hymns are a modern invention in public worship seems to have very little evidence, given the vast stretch of time and the multitudes of local churches whom we know nothing about. Whatever the arguments for or against EP, I think an appeal to history, given the paucity of documentation, is weak for either side.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Junior
I think to answer this question, you have to answer when the left by the early church and then when it was left within the Reformed tradition.

With regards to the early church, there seemed to be the use of non-inspired song pretty early on, though different histories disagree. As @Ben Zartman mentioned, we have hymn like songs from early church fathers; some even try to say the Apostles themselves quote "hymns" in their letters (though I would believe these fragments to be inspired regardless). Louis DeBoer in his book Hymns, Heretics, and History claims that there is a pattern throughout the church, including early on, of heretics writing songs to propagate their doctrine and the orthodox sometimes wrote their own to counter them. I think the overall point can be made that the early church was predominant psalmody, starting with exclusive psalmody, but exclusive psalmody was not held as a consistent position by many early on and in some cases hymnody crowded out psalmody. Another interesting anecdote is that the Eastern Orthodox church predominately (but not exclusively) uses chanted Scripture in their worship, based on a liturgy they claim dates back to John Chrysostom (4th century).

Then at the Reformation, the Reformed tradition saw a revival of psalmody. Even in Calvin's day, where Calvin tirelessly worked to promote Psalm singing, he was not able to get full buy in to his ideas everywhere he preached. For example, the liturgy at Strasbourg where he preached for many years included hymns sometimes. However, it was uniquely the Scottish Presbyterians and some Puritans who adopted a consistent position of using the Psalms exclusively.

Most of the particular Baptists never adopted an exclusive psalmist position, though this has continued to be a minority position among them.

Most of the continental Reformed used a few non-Psalm songs as well and more quickly went to a broad range of hymnody. Many of the more conservative Dutch Reformed groups have held on to the Church Order of Dordt which permits the singing thusly: "In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the 12 Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon shall be sung. It is left to the option of the churches whether to use or omit the song, O God, who art our Father." It's my understanding that this last song is a non-inspired hymn and at the time, the Apostle's Creed was understood to be written by the Apostles and inspired by God. I believe this general position is held by groups like the HRCNA, PRCA, and FRCNA today as well as many churches in the Netherlands (e.g., HHK). The German, Hungarian, and other Continental Reformed churches did not take as strong of a position on psalmody.

Within Scottish Presbyterianism, as has been mentioned the single biggest culprit for the introduction of hymnody has been Isaac Watts, who wrote an imitation Psalter; essentially a book which claimed to be a Psalter, but many of the selections were made in such a way that they no longer were the Psalms of Scripture in any meaningful way. You can see his Psalter on-line here. This opened the doors to his other hymns and finally to other songs in worship. The American Presbyterians (mainline) were no longer exclusive psalmody by the time they established themselves as a unique body in the US, but the descendants of the Seceders and the Covenanters maintained their exclusive psalmody position for much longer, including the RPCNA to this day.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Something I wrote for Facebook four years back.

It is true that the argument for the exclusive singing of only the 150 Psalms developed more fully over time as controversies erupted as uninspired hymns were introduced, but it is not true that the Exclusive Psalmody position was early on only a preference expressed to one degree or another that the psalms be preferred in the public worship of the church.​

It was recognized from the time of one of the earliest hymnals that some maintained that only the Psalms should be sung in public worship or only scripture (thus the three views of inspired praise, exclusive psalmody, and inclusive hymnody date from the earliest days of the Reformation). Indeed one of the side headings under objections is “Exclusive Psalmody.” “Many affirm this truth—that one may sing and it is not against God—but they have other objections, such as that one should sing nothing but Psalms or whatever else is spelled out in the Bible.” In Translatiōne, “The Preface to the Constance Hymnbook by Joannem Zwick,” The Confessional Presbyterian 7 (2011), 227.​

From the earliest days of Puritanism it is clear they thought Psalm singing a duty of public and private worship (not mentioning hymns); for instance see Nicholas Bownd’s exhortations in his Sabbathum Veteris Et Novi Testamenti: or, The True Doctrine of the Sabbath (1595/1606; critical edition, Naphtali Press, 2015).​

At the time of the Westminster Assembly Robert Baillie noted with disapproval those separatists that would sing a song composed of their own brain in public worship rather than the psalms (Dissuasive, 1645, p. 81; cf. 29), and indeed the work of the WA was to purge any non-psalm material from the matter to be sung in public worship in the Psalter they produced as part of the uniformity of worship called for by the Solemn League and Covenant signed between England and Scotland.​

After the WA, Samuel Rutherford’s contemporary and student, John Brown of Wamphray, took the exclusive psalmody position in his mammoth Latin work on the fourth commandment. “But he says nothing of the invention and composition of new songs; and neither are those who are intoxicated with wine wont to devise and compose new songs, obscene and carnal; but to sing those committed to memory previously. 2. We do not deny that a private individual, filled with the spirit, is able to compose new hymns, for his own edification and that of others; but it does not follow that a song of this sort ought to be sung in the public assemblies of the Church.” In Translatiōne, “Part II: John Brown of Wamphray Singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in the Public Worship of God, From De Causa Dei contra Antisabbatarios,” The Confessional Presbyterian 5 (2010) 299.

The argument for singing only the 150 psalms of David would develop over the subsequent centuries as worship practices changed with perhaps the “The True Psalmody” penned by Reformed and United Presbyterian ministers setting some of the now standard argumentation one finds amongst the Presbyterian communions that still practice singing only the 150 Psalms of David in public worship services.​
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Fair. But this whole matter of insisting that hymns are a modern invention in public worship seems to have very little evidence, given the vast stretch of time and the multitudes of local churches whom we know nothing about. Whatever the arguments for or against EP, I think an appeal to history, given the paucity of documentation, is weak for either side.
I would tend to agree. While modern hymnody is clearly novel, the early church is a trickier thing. (By comparison, the historical witness against musical instruments, from the writings of early Christian authors, is much clearer.)
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I would tend to agree. While modern hymnody is clearly novel, the early church is a trickier thing. (By comparison, the historical witness against musical instruments, from the writings of early Christian authors, is much clearer.)
The Eastern Orthodox church is a good example. They do not utilize musical instruments in their worship. However, a liturgy like Chrysostom's goes back to the 5th century - and is not EP.
 
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