My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

19 February 2006

Book Review - Sing the Psalms!

It is absolutely impossible to deny that psalm singing is Biblical. David did it. Israel did it. The prophets did it. Christ & his disciples sang them. Paul and Silas sang them in prison. And Revelation leads us to believe we'll be singing Psalms in heaven. So what happened? What can explain the current state of psalmody in the church and what can remedy it?

In this simple and lucid book, John W. Keddie does a very good job answering these, and many more, questions. While it is often a dangerous thing to diagnose a problem in the church, his account of the rise of non-inspired hymnody is short, but accurate. Which describes well the whole book, Sing the Lord's Song: short and accurate.

In a scant 65 pages, Keddie answers many objections to exclusive psalmody, reveals the Biblical mandate for psalm-singing, reviews the regulative principle, surveys history and the current, temporary demise of psalmody, and finally encourages the use of psalms by reviewing a few of their many benefits. It seems to me that Keddie must have had many of the same conversations I've had - both as an opponent then as a proponent of exclusive psalm singing - because, while his book is by no means comprehensive, he gets to every objection I've ever heard leveled at those who believe God desires us to sing his psalms to him without addition or subtraction.

When promoting exclusive psalmody, I've found a few approaches to take, some better than others. One can simply expound the virtues of psalm singing (memorizing God's Word, having no doubts, whatsoever, about the material being sung, the unity of the church, etc.). Or one could start with the regulative principle and reveal through Scripture that God has never desired non-inspired hymns to be sung in his worship, thus only the psalms are appropriate. Or one could go in the back door and ask those who sing other songs in Scripture: "Where in the Bible does God allow us, commission us, or show us how to write songs to him?" Each three work, but some can be more hard-nosed than others. Keddie seems to do all three in his 65 pages.

The more I sing the songs of Christ, the more I read the Word of God, the more I am surprised and saddened that so many feel the need for something else in worship. Certainly good and doctrinally sound songs exist - but why do we need anything else in God's worship than God's songs? Even if you disagree - perhaps especially if you disagree - Keddie's book will challenge you with God's Word, rather than with man's reasoning.

13 comments:

Ellen Olivetti said...

Guess I better read it then.

Tamara said...

I agree. Psalms singing is by far the best worship. However, I doubt it is conservative. It is worship. Worship can't be political. I know what you mean though. I was at my Dad's church this Sunday and I wanted to be in Elkart. When you sing the songs of David/Christ you are enriched.

Ellen Olivetti said...

When I sing wonderful hymns of the faith, I am also enriched.

Alicia said...

That looks like a great book!

The more I sing the songs of Christ, the more I read the Word of God, the more I am surprised and saddened that so many feel the need for something else in worship.

I have been saddened by that as well.

Hope your flight home was smooth...Zach and I really appreciated the time we had with you, as short as it was.

Anonymous said...

Hey bro,

It's interesting to see you beating the drum of exclusive psalmody often in your blog -- I think it's something that means a lot to you and that you and your church treasure very much.

But it's hard not to feel affronted when approached this this sort of mindset that attacks -- kindly, and in Christian love, but still an attack -- other styles of worship that you've deemed "not the right one/not the perfect choice as God intended". I've seen this in many churches across many denominations, people that somehow figured out this perfect, rule-defined structure that they can conform to in worship without fear of ever offending God or somehow loving Him and expressing your love of Him in a wrong way. The smart churches that do this, as seems that yours does, goes to Scripture for their reasoning, but also seem to miss the spirit of the Bible in search for the letter of the law.

My issue with the concept of exclusive psalmody is this -- did God make me, Justin, to be a free and creative creature of His, or did He make me to be a robot? If we're so afraid of worshipping God and getting it wrong that we have to only use the Bible in all situations without any allowances for individual expressions of love, admiration and creativity, then what's the point of the diversity of the body of Christ? Why aren't we just sitting in churches listening to someone read a Bible for an hour and then silently leaving, afraid to put a fallible preacher on the stand to interpret the Word, afraid to pray and somehow botch up a prayer, afraid to say or do anything that might be outside of God's perfection?

In other words, if God enables me, His follower, to read and interpret the scriptures with His Spirit, if God enables me to pray or witness to others with His help, then why can't I express myself in worship through an original song, an original dance, any part of me that cries out in loving admiration of my Creator, who wants to make the most beautiful offering I can and hold it up, knowing that it's imperfect, but also knowing that He will love it as a father loves a child who brings home some sloppy artwork?

In my studies through the gospels and Jesus' life, what always strikes me is how unorthodox he is. He's not a rigid, rule-quoter who does everything by the book. Instead, without violating the laws he put into place, he shows his followers and us that there is so much more, a wider world to God, than we could ever expected. This is the Jesus who accepted the imperfect offering of a woman washing his feet with perfume, instead of being in a temple having his feet washed by a priest. This is the Jesus who again and again would point out to his disciples the people who were genuine followers and worshippers of God, and those just pretending. The genuine folk seemed to be doing things all wrong -- outside of what the religious leaders' rules defined, but they didn't care. They just loved God, they craved God, they followed Him.

Sure, maybe I don't understand your side perfectly, and I'd be up for the challenge of reading that book. I will say that I honestly do appreciate your passion on the psalms, outside of the exclusive must-sing-in-church aspect. You have challenged me to go back and more closely explore through them, and I certainly don't debate how wonderful, how expressive or majestic that they are. I don't even blame a church that chooses to worship with the psalms and the psalms only as a preference -- they certainly are worthy of that.

love ya bro. Best to the wife and munchkins. -Justin

Jared said...

Justin - thanks so much for your comments, really. It's good to hear from you and your thoughts were well-put and give me something to respond to, hopefully with humility and love.

I thought I'd respond in a couple different comments (because I need to go home soon).

I understand it does feel like an attack when I bring up a practice we hold that others don't - just as I feel attacked when you speak of creativity in worship and so on. Hopefully, you understand I'm not out to attack those who disagree, but I do believe in this strongly and I do believe it matters, so I am out to convince you/them.

If we are guilty of forsaking the spirit of the law in favor of the letter, then we are of all people most to be blamed. I would argue, though, that the spirit & letter of the law cannot be divorced. Just as God is not honored when I dot all my i's and cross all my t's in worship (knowledge without zeal), so he is not honored when we forsake the i's and t's all together (zeal without knowledge). I believe Christ's ideal is to combine both.

Sorry - gotta go. More later. Love you!

Jared said...

Justin - here are a few more thoughts in response to your comments.

The issue of creativity and worship is an important one. I definitely believe that God made you in His image, thus he made you a creative being (and you even more than most). There are myriads of opportunities for you to express that creativity to the glory of God - in your work and leisure and family and friends, etc. But worship has never been the place where people get to express creativity to God. Throughout Scritpure, God has always told us exactly what He wants in worship (thereby excluding the things not mentioned) - this doesn't negate or denigrate the gifts He gives, it just puts them in their proper place. By all means, use your talents to glorify God; but when you come into God's house for God's worship, do it God's way.

An illustration: let's say my creative gift was fitting pipes together, like a plumber. I can't sing or play an instrument or dance or write or preach or do puppets - I can fit pipes together like no one else. Well, a church hasn't been found yet that would let me exercise my creative talents in their worship. So...rather than being merely exclusive, this idea of God regulating worship is in fact the most inclusive approach to worship, because it places every member of the covenant community on the same plane before God.

Jesus as unorthodox is quite the thought - I wholeheartedly agree, if we are talking about Jesus' bucking the legalistic religion of the Pharisees. But in another, Bible-wide, sense, Jesus is by far the most orthodox. Orthodox, as far as I understand it, simply means adhering to the traditinoal faith. Problem with the Pharisees was that they were, ultimately, unorthodox by their legalism and nationalism. As far as how this applies to His followers, it is definitely striking that those who come after Jesus do so with all their hearts and with their imperfections glaring. They did do wrong - according to the Pharisees - but they didn't do wrong according to God. They brought to God the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, without with there is no proper worship.

Again, our desire ought not to be either zeal or knowledge, but both. We ought to strive to give God the worship He wants with the heart He wants. The one is clear in Scripture (I think), and the other is the work of the Spirit. To settle for one or the other, zeal or knowledge, would be, well, settling. Who wants to settle?

Hope this helps clarify my thinking. Talk to you soon.

Ellen Olivetti said...

Jared:

I know we disagree about exclusive psalmody, and, since you are convicted in this regard, I do believe you should only sing the Psalms. And I admire your conviction -truly - because I know it comes from a sincere desire to worship God as He wishes to be worshipped. I, too, have that SAME desire. But, don't feel too "saddened" for those of us who sing hymns. I could feel "saddened" for those who feel bound to sing only Psalms. I'm sure you would bristle at that last sentence, as I bristle at this one:

" The more I sing the songs of Christ, the more I read the Word of God, the more I am surprised and saddened that so many feel the need for something else in worship."

These are the words of the hymns we sang today. Read them - don't just skim over them - read them again anew.

"My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found. Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.

AND

"You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all. Seeking you as a precious jewel, Lord to give up. I'd be a fool, You are my all in all.

Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is your name! Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is your name.

AND

Holy, Holy are You God Almighty. Worthy is the Lamb, Worthy is the Lamb. For you are holy, holy are you Lord God Almighty. Worthy is the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb. Amen.

Singing these hymns, I am transported to worship God in spirit and in truth. I am singing the words the saints are singing in glory around His throne, "Worthy is the Lamb."

And this, I believe, is true worship.

The bottom line is whether or not you believe God requires us to ONLY sing the Psalms (I enjoy singing Psalms but do not feel bound to sing them only in worship). If I believed that, I would do only that - as you do.

But, I am not convinced of that and I do believe hymns are acceptable and a true and acceptable form of praise.

So, don't feel too saddened for those of us who truly believe and are convicted that exclusive psalmody is not accurate. We are worshipping with glorious songs of the faith, in addition to the wonderful Psalms, which I also love.

I love you, and I admire you. You know that. I hope we can agree to disagree on this and keep the dialogue open. But, whichever side you come down on, I believe we both would be wrong to look down on our Christian brothers and sisters worshipping on the other side of the fence.

Love you.
Mom

Jared said...

Mom, thanks for your very thoughtful note. I'm sorry if my comments about my sadness come across as looking down at others who disagree on worship. I have no position or standing from which to look down at others regarding worship (or anything else). My only hope in giving God acceptable worship is the same as yours: that Christ would cover my imperfect, sinful worship with His blood every Sunday. If Christ does that, then all worship that falls into the bounds of truly "Christian" is pleasing to the Father and need not ultimately separate us.

But my sadness remains for the church's loss of the songs of Christ. While understanding that "my sadness" can cause others to bristle or be offended, I scratch my head to find any other way to say it. I really believe that the church has lost so very, very much in giving up the songs of our Savior and replacing them with man's song (no matter how wonderful they be - and they often are - they can not, they can never, match the perfection and depth of the Word of God. To put it another way, we have guarantees about the Spirit's power accompanying His Word - we have no such guarantees about the words of men). That you and others feel the need for something else other than the Psalms in worship both confuses me and saddens me.

God has given a great gift to His church by giving us a complete book of praise. By subjecting ourselves to men's words in song (again, no matter how precise, poetic, or powerful they be), we have forsaken a feast in favor of a sandwich. We have distanced ourselves from the vast majority of the church militant/earthly and, I believe, from the church triumphant/heavenly as well. And, saddest of all, we are bringing to God something He has never asked us for.

Because worship is something so close to the hearts of those who love Jesus, I suppose there's really no way for me to voice my conviction (which conviction is, to be specific: not just that I should sing the psalms, but that all Christians everywhere should rejoice in singing only the songs of Christ in worship), without offending others. Indeed, it would be odd for hymn-singers to not be offended by these posts. I hope, then, that my offensiveness comes from a clear statement of my conviction rather than the phrases or words I use to express them. If I have offended, please forgive me; if the truth I am advocating has offended, I can think of no other recourse.

I'm certain because of your generosity that our discussions can continue in love.

Love,
Jared

Ellen Olivetti said...

I just love you. I understand your position, and you understand mine. I agree that it would be odd for me not to bristle at your position, since it calls into question the purity of my worship.

It would be odd for you not to bristle at mine, since I believe singing hymns and other Scripture is perfectly acceptable.

In a way, and I am not saying this to make you mad, it saddens me that you can never sing these words in worship, "Worthy is the lamb that was slain" or name the name of Jesus in your singing. But I understand you do this out of conviction. Still, I believe you have limited yourself to a partial blessing.

I know that makes you bristle, and I don't mean to. I admire your conviction and your dedication, and I could easily worship in any RPCNA church. I love the Psalms, too, you do not have a lock on that. I read them often and go to them for guidance and comfort.

I love to sing other Scripture, too, and believe there is nothing at all wrong with using God's Word to sing His praise. In fact, I really cannot understand why other Scripture set to music would offend you in worship. I love to sing the name of my Saviour.

In the Old Testament, they did not know the name of Christ Jesus. They had partial revelation and now we know more fully. So, while I enjoy singing the Psalms and I know they point to Christ, I would miss singing the name of my Savior in worshipping Him.

To me, it is like saying you can only use the prayers found in Scripture and can never pray your own prayer in worship. And, if only God's Word has a place in worship, why not do away with the foolishness of preaching and just read the Word for an hour?

I have also heard people who do not adhere to exclusive psalmody ask why you do not sing the Psalms in their original language, if you feel you should only be singing the very words of the Psalms.

Anyway, lots to think about, I suppose, on both ends of the discussion. I hope I do not offend you by stating my thoughts.

You know how much I love and admire you and can't think of much of anything else I disagree with you on, so I would say we have much more in common than not.

And, as I told my dad once when I was convicted about something he was not, "I wouldn't be your daughter if I didn't follow my convictions." So, I am so glad that you are following yours and that both of our convictions lead us to worship the one and only God.

Love,
Mom

Anonymous said...

Hey, I love feeling challenged on things, and this has provided a good morning's reading on various websites that have posted arguments, new and old, on this topic.

I read two, one pro and one con, that were reasonable and balanced in their approaches:

A Brief (not-so-brief) Examination of Exclusive Psalmody:
http://www.reformed.com/pub/psalms.htm

Thoughts on Exclusive Psalmody:
http://www.the-highway.com/psalmody_Irons.html

I'm impressed that I actually understood many of the words in these articles, even the 15-syllable seminarian ones. Good reading.

It's a challenging issue because I really do agree with many of the points that you bring up, Jared. That there is freedom within limitations in worship, and that it's important not to approach this issue with a knee-jerk human reaction of "Oh yeah? You're not the boss of me!" but to really dig deep into the scriptures to reveal the real truth, and not just the truth we wish would be. But as one who does not live under the law of the Westminister Confessions of Faith, but the Bible alone, I remain unconvinced that the scriptures, taken as a whole, promote this exclusively. But as mom said, if it's your conviction, go with it, and even continue to try to convince me and others. I'd be a petty and weak-souled man if I couldn't stand to be challenged, examined and confronted with things I assume or hold to be true.

-Justin

Jeff Kessler said...

Justin:

The Westminster Conf. of Faith is not put on the same level as Scripture at the RPCNA or any other reformed denomination. I'm not sure that is what you were implying, but it seemed like it.

Jeff Kessler
Elder at Laf. RP

Anonymous said...

I was just baiting Jared :) Although, I have talked to some people in the past who certainly seem to revere it (or at least reference it) more than scripture.

- Justin