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!"

21 March 2007

Peace hippies, part 2

When you begin peeking under the church's rug for the dust bunnies of worship controversy, the floodgates seem to open (and your metaphors begin to mix, apparently). It seems a mini-controversy has come about regarding John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Dr. Piper invited a Christian rapper, Curtis "Voice" Allen, to rap at some of their worship services and in another part of their building after service. This, apparently, rankled some fundamentalists concerned about the impropriety of rap for worship. (By the way, Curtis Allen loves and raps about the doctrines of grace, so we're on his side, at least theologically.)

The controversy is instructive for how (and how not) to speak in the blogosphere. Allen has acquited himself quite graciously and humbly, deciding not to stoop to his attackers' ridiculous vitriole and anti-intellectualism.

But there remains another voice to be heard: the peace hippies (!!). I don't pretend that singing without instruments gets rid of all questions about music styles and preferences, but it sure does answer any questions about instruments, and, de facto, some about style. Anyone who's ever been involved with instrumental worship knows the problems that sprout up like weeds, and the silliness that comes when folks try to answer those problems. Some only want a piano. Others want the whole band (the bigger, the better). Others think wisdom would lead us somewhere to the middle.

But unless you come sit in the peace hippie circle and decide to forego instruments in worship (like the apostles...and Jesus...), you will find a great lack of any "line" to draw. That is, why piano and no guitar? What spiritual principle are we applying there? What theological or Scriptural argument informs whether we have one drum set or three ("this Sunday in worship, the Allman brothers!")? Why a little bit of drums and no thump in the trunk? Why is "Amazing Grace" okay and Allen's "Unstoppable" so damnable?

I believe it comes down to this: by surrendering her Scriptural and historical testimony on the purity of worship, the majority of the church has become enslaved to the cult of preference and personality in worship decisions. Preference because no line of right and wrong can be drawn. Personality because the strongest personality in each debate will take home the trophy (only to realize said trophy is plastic and covered with lead paint).

The days are coming when their guitars and pianos and synthesizers and bass machines will be hung on the wall of the local Applebee's and the entire church will worship in the light of Christ's face, without the shadows of the old covenant confusing us. Come, join the peace hippies; make worship, not war.

p.s. I should say that I really like instruments and don't really want them smelted down or hung on a wall. But, for the sake of unity and purity, I would prefer them outside of God's worship.


Apples of Gold said...

When Rick and I joined the RP church over a decade ago, we thought the exclusive Psalm singing would be the most difficult change for us. We were pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings. We grew up with fancy "worship" bands, and many times we felt like we were in the midst of a concert. What a pleasure it was last Sunday to watch one of my daughters singing a Psalm from memory, never once relying on her Psalter for the words. I'd much rather that the Word of God be ingrained in her memory from singing Pslams for the last 12 years than memorizing shallow songs with man's distorted theology. Because of Psalm singing, we can recall Scripture during times of need, which is much more comforting than humming a tune like Shine Jesus Shine.

Peter Leithart said...

Jesus didn't use instruments? Whither and Wheretofore?

Jared said...

Re: Jesus and instruments - my comment was a reference to Jesus' participation in, and apparent approval of, synagogue worship, which was sans instruments.

That said, Jesus did go to the temple in Jerusalem more than once (Mt. 21:12; Mark 12:35); what's missing in my knowledge is whether insruments were used in temple worship at this time.

But, given the early church's adherence to synagogue worship, Jesus' participation in synagogue worship without instruments is significant.

Alicia said...

I had a mini version of Jerry O'Neill's material from the retreat since he came to talk to us women at Titus 2 this week. It was a great refresher and while not much was new for me, some things were expanded from my previous understanding, and thus appreciated. What many fail to realize is in the whole of church history, instruments and non-Psalms are new to Christian worship. The fact that the RP Church sang Psalms wasn't something that made the RP church unique many years ago as most churches sang Psalms exclusivly. It's a distincive now, of course.

Micah & Emily said...

Okay okay. Just so everybody knows, Dr. Leithart did not actually pen the above statements. However, I learned that method from watching them anyhow, fake quotes from Augustine and whatnot, so I take no responsibility.

David Hanson said...

Some of the issues regarding style of music become much clearer when we exclusively use congregational singing in worship as opposed to special music. Then the goal becomes finding tunes which are accessible to most people as opposed to highlighting one person's talents. I suppose there could be such a thing as congregational rap, but have you ever seen it tried??

Reminds me of Karen Carr's story about asking Roy Blackwood if RP's are allowed to dance, and he replied, "Have you ever seen one try?"

Just so everyone is clear, this is the real David Hanson, not some cheap imitation, although I understand there are many out there trying!

Tamara said...

Again I have to chime in. Jared how can you sing about new songs and not sing them? How can you sing about the lyre and not use it? How can you ignore revelation songs? AND MOST IMPORTANTLY......Not sing the name of Jesus at all in worship. Is the lamb not worthy?? But I do not discount psalm without insturments. It is still my favorite style of worship secretly. But, I will say I do not think Jesus is a rap fan. But, He hasn't given me apostleship to say He isn't. Ha

jmark said...

"Sing a new song to the Lord"

It always strikes me that the Jews sang that quite happily for centuries and never thought that it meant "add to the 150", and it strikes me as odd that when people look at it now they think that's what it has to mean.

From teh New International Dictionary of OT Theology and Exegesis

"Reference is made to "new songs" in Ps 33:3; 40:3 (4); 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa 42:10; cf. Rev 5:9; 14:3.

"New" here has the meaning of fresh, adapted to the occasion. It does not mean that the "old songs" are being replaced by the "new ones" "

Tamara said...

jmark thanks for the insight. I didn't know that. I will study further.

Ellen Olivetti said...


Saying that because it is sometimes difficult to find the balance of music in worship, we should adhere to exclusive psalmody is like saying that because it is sometimes difficult to balance Christian freedoms, we should forego them all. It's safer that way, I guess, but we miss the blessings of those freedoms.

The real issue is not whether or not it is easier or safer, the real question is whether or not it is what the Scriptures teach.

Let's not take the easy way, let's take the Biblical way. And, for me, that argument has not yet been made in favor of exclusive psalmody. I think God does want us to struggle with some of these issues. Maybe worship music sounds different for different congregations but is all beautiful music to the Lord.

Why does the Bible tell us to sing psalms and spiritual songs? I think you have told me before that these two words are the same. But, then wouldn't the verse be basically saying "Sing psalms and psalms?" Why would it be repeated if it means the same thing?

Just because people struggle with these issues does not mean they are wrong or prove exclusive psalmody. I know many people who won't drink alcohol just to be on the "safe side." I think that is the argument you are making for exclusive psalmody - it's safer, we know we're not offemding God. After all, he wrote the Psalms.

Of course, singing the psalms is beautiful and we should all do it more, but I wouldn't want to miss the blessings of singing spiritual hymns and songs also. Naming the name of my Lord Jesus in song is one of the blessings of worship for me.

I see your point, that it is hard if not impossible to know where to draw the line. I think that's where God looks in the heart. Is it possible to proclaim purity in worship, sing only psalms and still be unpleasing to the Lord? Most definitely, if your heart is not right. Is it possible to sing rap (does one "sing" rap?) with a heart full of love and humility before the Lord and have that be pleasing to him? I believe it is.

jmark said...

Ellen - just to answer one of your questions and to respond to one of your points

RE Psalms Hymns, Songs

The general answer is that Psalms actually only refers to seventy or so of the 150 chapters in the Book of Psalms. SOme are called Hymns, and others are called Songs, some are called by two or even three of the titles. If Paul had said "Sing Psalms" people would have wondered "what about the others?". In using all three he signifies the whole book effectively.

Another way of answering it is to say - Paul's words cant mean today what it didnt mean when he wrote them. It was 1500 years or so until the church started using human composition in worship. Whatever else he is saying Paul he certainly wasnt thinking of human compositions.

To respond to your general point about just because there are problems doesnt mean that exclsive psalmody is right. That is true, but if exclusive psalmody is right, it certainly underlines the wisdom of God's plan, in that it saves us from all these problems.

In Christ


Jared said...

Hi mom!

In answer to your questions, I would second Mark's comments.

Also, you're right to point out that peace and unity can't be the only argument for exclusive psalmody & a capella singing. I should have made it more clear, but I would consider this a "second-order" argument: one that doesn't prove the case, but greatly strengthens it.

A couple other responses:

1. "Spiritual hymns and songs" - when Paul calls certain songs spiritual, he is invoking a different definition than you and most others would use for "spiritual." For Paul, "spiritual" means something (in this case, songs) having their source and origin in the Holy Spirit. We believe the adjective "spiritual" in Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 greatly emphasize the need to sing Spirit-inspired songs in worship.

2. Re: Naming Christ - Psalm-singers hear this a lot and our only response is to call the church to a deeper understanding of the Psalter. In the psalms, we sing about God with us/Immanuel (Ps. 46), about God's anointed/Christ (Ps. 84), about God's salvation/Jeshua/Jesus (Ps. 13:7)...So I hope the church will someday see that we do in fact name Christ and name Him often when we sing His psalms.

But even greater than naming Him is joining with Him. This has become, for me, the greatest part of psalmody. When I sing hymns, I may get to mention Christ's name, but when I sing the psalms, I am joining my voice to the Savior's. The Psalms are Christ's songs into which the church is invited to place her voice. When I sing Psalm 22, I may not mention Jesus' name, but I am - in a very real, spiritual way - joining my voice to my Savior's! What could be better than that?

3. Re: the easy way. Yes, I do think a capella singing and EP are the easy way (in a manner of speaking; these days, EP and non-instrumental singing can be kind of rough, too). But easiness shouldn't be our determining factor, as you point out. However, I really disagree that God wants us to struggle with what to sing in worship. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God ever calling His people to exercise their wisdom and insight into developing songs and bands for worship. When He wants a song, He inspires it. When He wants instruments, He commands them. Without that inspiration and command, we have no warrant whatsoever to exercise freedom and wisdom regarding worship.

4. Argument for EP - It's important, in my mind, to realize the burden of proof is not upon those wishing to sing Psalms exclusively, but those wishing to introduce uninspired songs into worship. Many would say, "You haven't convinced me yet." But I don't have to. All I need to do is show you the Scriptures tell us to sing psalms (Col. 3:16) and then ask you to prove that God calls His people to write new songs and sing in the manner of old covenant worship (with instruments). That is, if we stand on the Regulative Principle, then we assume EP until a case is made for singing of other songs. This isn't to cut off discussion or debate, but I'd like to see those holding to EP realize the burden of proof is not ours to carry.

I hope Mark's comments and my comments are helpful, gracious and honoring to God.


jmark said...

Sorry Jared for answering so much on this thread - one more thing though

I find for me one of most humbling, emotive experiences of worship to sing the psalms understanding that Jesus sang them about himself.

Too often preachers talk about "here is Christ in this Psalm" and point to a verse - first and foremost he is the singer of the psalm. To sing them with this understanding, and to imagine him singing them as he looks to the cross, or past the cross, or to his return in triumph is wonderful.

Ellen Olivetti said...

You and Mark both present your thoughts graciously and with clarity. Thanks for giving me even more to consider.

jmark said...

Mrs Olivetti,

Thank you for your kindness, and happy considering


Karen (Scotland) said...

This is one of the most gracious and kind discussions I've ever read or listened to on singing Psalms. Both those who had suggestions or opinions, and those who responded to them, have done so with grace and humility.

I've listened to too many which have frustrated me more than I can communicate. Thanks to each of you above who are examples of people who evidence a desire to honour Christ in your singing, in your lives. For it is all about Him, who He is, what He wants.