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!"

20 March 2007

Peace hippies, part 1

This past weekend, Jerry O'Neill (president of RPTS) led our men's retreat in considering Scripture's teaching on worship, especially the "distinctives" of the RPCNA - exclusive psalmody without instruments. I thought I'd take a couple posts to explain an observation I made about ecclesiastical unity.

In the American church, it's common to hear of "worship wars", interchurch or multi-church arguments about what and how to sing to God in corporate worship. This leads to one of the great arguments for exclusive psalmody: the unity of the church. The church is unified in Christ and part of her mission is to manifest that unity more and more. This includes our worship; so, what will we sing? The psalter is the only truly ecumenical hymnbook, the only book of songs all Christians can agree to sing. Thus, in regards to the worship wars, exclusive psalm-singers are the peace hippies, sitting cross-legged in their bongo-less psalm circles, calling to the church, "Make worship, not war."

And then, lo and behold, this comment appeared on
Ref21's blog from Dr. Phil Ryken in regards to his recent Korea visit:
The hymn-singing was vibrant. I discovered that Korean Christians
typically have their hymnals bound with their Bibles, and that all of the
evangelical churches use the same hymnal (also the same Bible
translation). The advantages of this are immense. Having a hymnal
always ready to hand facilitates greater familiarity with the worship music of
the church. Also, having a Bible/hymnal that cuts across denominational
lines enables Korean Christians to have shared experiences of worship and a
common memory of biblical texts. I couldn't help but be a little

Imagine that! A hymnbook in the Bible - what will they think of next?? And a hymnbook that cuts across denominational lines - why didn't God think of this??

Infectious sarcasm aside, if you love the church (the whole thing and not only your slice of it), sing the psalms! Anything other hymnal you pick up, any other song you put on the overhead is a wedge dividing the people of God.


Kurt said...

Good point on psalm singing only during the gathering of the saints for the sake of unity, Jared!

Micah & Emily said...

Just this Sunday Jun told me that the hymnal bound-in really was what they did (not that I'm discounting Ryken). So why aren't we getting metrical psalters bound in ESV's?

James Faris said...

Excellent point; your only wording which is not totally accurate is when you write that the Psalter is "the only book of songs all Christians can agree to sing". Many will not agree to even "inclusively" sing these Bible songs and others refuse to sing at least a portion (think Psa 109). They will not agree to sing the Psalms because they do not understand biblical theology and the relation of OT and NT - which points us back to the wider hermeneutical "war" in which we are engaged.

Jared said...

James, you're absolutely right. Until we rid ourselves of theological ignorance and dispensationalism, the great ecumenical power of the Psaler won't take effect.

jmark said...

Great post - as I've sometimes said, "Psalming is the lowest common denominator"

Ellen Olivetti said...

Are the beautiful hymns of the faith "A wedge dividing the people of God" or a wonderful expression of the diversity of God's people?

Must all worship be cookie-cutter? Is there no room for personal expression of God's attributes, his mercy, his glory? If this is true, then I really think pastors should stop preaching and just read the Word of God for an hour. Also, they should only pray the prayers in the Bible. Why should we allow individual expression in those areas but not in singing? After all, if we have prayers that are God-inspired in the Bible, why should we be praying our own words? Let's stick to the prayers God gave us specifically. It's a lot safer that way.

A little bit of sarcasm here - for which I apologize - but "a wedge dividing the people of God?" I think that's going a bit too far. In fact, I think that attitude is actually driving the wedge.

Jared said...

Hi mom!

Hopefully my response will illuminate my "wedge" comment more.

Yes, all worship must be cookie-cutter (though that's an ugly way of saying it): all worship must conform to God's will for His worship, not our will for how we'd like to worship.

The difference between the material of our song and preaching is that we have both command and example to pray and preach God's Word in unique situations, applying God's Word relevantly, culturally, appropriately. So, to answer "why individual expression in prayer and preaching but not singing?" is that God told us to pray with all types of prayers and requests (Eph. 6:18) and to preach the Word in all situations (2 Tim. 4:2) but never has He told us to come up with new songs.

This is a great point in itself: would God give such abundant and clear instruction on prayer and preaching but not on singing, a huge part of the church's worship? How is it even thinkable that God would want the church to write new songs yet (1) never tell us to do so, and (2) never instruct us in how to do it?

I do think hymns are a wedge dividing the church - certainly, I don't accuse hymn-singers of wanting to divide or consciously dividing. But every time a hymn/praise song is chosen for use in worship, church leaders force the people of God to decide for themselves, "Is this appropriate? Does this song have solid content, Biblical prorportions, etc?" Yet when we sing psalms, no conscientious Christian could ever have a problem with that.

The Psalter is the only possible ecumenical hymnbook, the only gathering of songs that every Christian *should* be able to agree upon. Thus, sticking with uninspired songs is act of (unintentional) division, for whatever reason.