This is the first question in a series here on the EP website. At some point in the near future, we will ask EP pastors to give their input and respond to other questions offered on the site.
Question #1: Can you give some advice for EPers who must (for some reason) attend non-EP churches?
Always be mindful of the leadership of your Elders. If you believe they are wrong in their approach to the RPW, write out your concerns and meet with them in private. Let them know that you cannot in good conscience sing uninspired hymns in worship. They need to know the burden you are feeling, even if they do not agree with you. This may bring an opportunity for the leadership of your church to study an issue they have not studied before.
Do not go to others with your concerns in an attempt to gather opposition against the leadership of your church. Make an effort to keep your concerns private, primarily because the issues surrounding the RPW are divisive and cause tempers to flare rather easily. We should not desire to disrupt the church of Christ. Of course if there are opportunities to discuss openly issues regarding worship (with the knowledge and permission of the elders), use tactful and constructive language. Be very careful of the words you choose. Be wise. Some churches will not afford you the ability to speak openly on these issues. Do not go further than you should.
Do not make a show of the fact that you are not singing certain songs in the corporate worship of the church. It is unwise to assume a threatening posture during songs that displease you. Do not stand sternly at attention, cross your arms or draw attention to yourself. This will not help the situation you find yourself in. Hold open the hymnal, turn to a Psalm in the back and read along while others sing. If you work a little, you can learn which Psalms will fit with the meter of the hymn and sing a Psalm quietly to yourself. Keep your focus on a Psalm and the song will pass more quickly than you might think.
As crazy as it sounds, consider moving if there is no church for you to worship at within a few hours of driving. Seriously. To violate one’s conscience is an unpleasant and unwise venture. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Remember we are also teaching our children when we allow them to participate in practices we do not support. We also teach them when we murmur or complain about the worship services. Our love for the Psalms may prove to be a hindrance to their understanding of worship. They likely did not go through the battles that you went through in coming to EP, so their skin is not as tough as yours.
Consider how much your moving will contribute to your children’s spiritual well-being. Remember, we will not likely win the day when it comes to returning the church to the singing of the Psalms. We can win the hearts of our children and the next generation if we teach them properly and show them how wonderful worship can truly be. The hassle of moving is a small price to pay to strengthen the church of our grandchildren.
Hi, I’m glad to have found your website. My position may be closer to “Scripture-only” than EP, but in terms of practice it basically works out to EP. My situation is what you describe here, and I think the solution I’ve come to is similar to what you suggest. I’ve been a member of an OP church for the past few years. I made known my convictions to my pastor and elders from the beginning. At first I remained silent during the hymns, but I got the idea from somewhere to bring my psalter along to church on Sunday. I spend a few minutes before the worship service with the worship bulletin, matching the hymn selections for the day by tune (or at least by meter) with psalm selections from my psalter. Then during the service, I can sing psalms (quietly) from the psalter when everyone else is singing hymns. It’s not a perfect solution but I prefer it by far to remaining silent. Thankfully, my pastor generally includes some psalms from the Trinity hymnal, which I sing along with. Anyway, thanks for the website, I look forward to perusing it.
Be patient when you are in this situation. It was difficult for us when we went though this, but God was still gracious to provide a place for our family to worship. It seems easy to dwell on our dissatisfaction with particulars in worship. This is not beneficial to ours or our family’s spiritual well being. Be thankful for God’s provision.
Pray for your elders. Though you are in disagreement, you are still entrusted to their care. If God has not provided another place for you to worship, submit to the authority that God has placed over you. Let God deal with those whom you believe are out of accord with the historical understanding of Reformed worship.
Any comments from those who travel frequently?It is always a struggle when vacation comes around. We have found a few churches in our vacation spots that we have attended on a regular basis. These churches are not EP. Many of the above suggestions are helpful, though we are not under the authority of the churches we visit.
Would you suggest calling ahead or speaking to the pastor before you attend? This might be a good idea since it is possible that our not singing could be disruptive in certain settings. It might be that we cause more disruption by making our views known. I usually solve this problem by sitting on the back row and blending in so I really don’t know how beneficial it would be to announce your arrival beforehand.
Any thoughts on this?
I have great appreciation for the “Scripture only” position. I would feel quite comfortable in a church that practiced this.
I am curious to know if you ever experienced any reaction to your singing out of the Psalter while others were singing from a hymnal? In the churches we have been a part of this would immediately be noticed by others. Great advice, though. Thank you for the helpful words.
I agree with much which has been said, except that I would find someone singing entirely different words to be much more distracting than someone not singing at all. My wife is pretty much convinced of exclusive psalmody, but can’t bring herself to not sing at churches. The fact that, when we attend such churches, I will actually hold the hymnal for her so that she could sing while I abstained from singing, has helped her to see that one can hold such views in a gracious way.
Also, one cannot simply lump together all non-EP churches in the question. Some churches sing at least as many Psalms as hymns; some will occasionally but infrequently sing Psalms; some sing no Psalms whatsoever. If one is in a church that fits into the last two categories, it would obviously be a dramatic improvement if the church were merely to sing more Psalms. In addressing your conscience to the elders, you might point out that, even on a non-EP reading of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, they are still supposed to be singing Psalms; and perhaps be able to recommend a good Psalter to supplement their current singing.
Thank you for the efforts in preparing this website. It is proving very valuable to me. I am a member of a church that has tried to develop a compromise position between EPers and Non-EPers. Psalms are sung between the “Call to Worship” and the “Benediction”, with before and after being a mix of Psalms and Hymns. This compromise has not always been an easy one as 80% of the church is non-EP, and EPers and Non-Epers have been distrustful of each other. I have been an EPer for about 6 years, but was willing to compromise on my belief for “love of my neighbor” and a desire to not be schismatic. For the past 2 years, however, I struggled to reconcile my duty before God, and my fear of schism. In our church, refraining from singing a hymn could be confronted by hostility and anger, and I did not want to rustle any feathers. After much prayer and study God drove me to the point where it was unbearable to sing an uninspired composition in His worship. Recently, I met with the Pastor and Elders and asked their permission to be exempted from singing non-Psalms. God truly was merciful, and they told me that I should not be singing the hymns. We began to stand quietly with the hymnal open and pray. God has also protected me and my family from any antagonism over this issue. Praise God that He has seen fit to show Himself strong in my weakness! It can be uncomfortable not to sing when everyone else is, but how much greater was my discomfort at offering “strange fire” before the Lord? My prayer today is that I can stand for truth, in a way that does not dishonor God. The real key to this, I believe, is honoring the God-ordained authority in our Church. If I had threatened, or accused, or lectured the elders in public or private, the atmosphere would be entirely different. In God’s providence, he has placed these men in authority over me. Who knows but that God may use even these events to change their hearts?
Thank you for sharing your story. Our prayers are certainly with you. You are to be commended for the respect you show for the elders of your church. I agree fully that we cannot hope to honor God and preserve the church by trampling on the authority structure that God has given us. I have been frequently conflicted in the past by attempting to keep a balance between my children seeing me worship properly and my children seeing me submit to authority. These are both so important as we long for the reformation of the church.
Of course we cannot deny the importance of actually practicing right worship, and again, allowing our children seeing us worshiping God rightly. For many who are faced with this struggle I wish that we could help them know the right time to leave a church. Sometimes it won’t get any better and we must move on. I don’t know when that time is. If we stay in certain situations we can hope for God’s blessings as we learn patience and submission. If we leave we can hope for a more pure form of worship and sometimes actually see it come to pass. There are advantages to both. One thing I know for sure, we won’t turn the tide in favor of Psalmody by always retreating to the back row. If we don’t find a place to worship, our children will never learn how. They will see it at home, but we cannot sacrifice for a generation the vibrant corporate worship of our holy God.
When is the right time to leave? I don’t know. Sometimes we can’t. Any other suggestions on this topic?
For the most part, I don’t think I’m noticed much, though it’s hard to say for sure. I sit near the front of the church, which is somewhat sparsely populated so that might be a factor (though it makes it easier for my pastor to notice). When I first started doing this, the elder came up to me after the service because he had noticed that I was now singing. However, he didn’t realize that I wasn’t singing from the Trinity Hymnal until I told him. A number of people know that I only sing psalms, but I doubt I get much notice. Once in awhile someone asks about it and I explain but those times are rare.
Thanks for this discussion. I have started exploring this topic and have a lot of questions. At first, EP seems to be extreme. But if this is something which glorifies God most in Worship, I would like to submit to him.
Can you suggest some good books which are available in print?
There are a few short defenses that are still in print. You can get several of these works from the RPCNA bookstore and a few from the James Begg Society website. It would be well worth your time to find The Songs of Zion by Michael Bushell, out of print but there are likely copies at abe.com or amazon.com. It is a well written contemporary work and a used copy could probably be found. I believe there is a new edition planned by Naphtali Press, but I haven’t heard any news on that lately. This work anwers almost every question that comes up on EP. Two other works that you can find used are The Psalms in Worship by John McNaugher and The True Psalmody by Cooke, Edgar and Houston.
Also, some of the shorter books and articles available on this website can be printed on your home printer fairly inexpensively. Many of these you will not find in print anywhere.
It is such a joy to hear that you are exploring the topic of Biblical worship. If you have any questions or needs you can always submit questions to be posted on the website. This gives many the opportunity to look through some of the older books for answers that may be helpful to you and your family.
.I will definitely let you know my questions. Thanks for the thoughtful questions that you have already put up. I am reading them one per day.
Please pray that God leads me to his light on this issue.
There are differences of opinion in the more traditional Scottish Reformed circles on what to do in an non EP enviroment and I think personally it is best left up to the individual conscience whether or not to participate in hymn singing. Some refuse point blank to sing anything but a metrical psalm. Others will sing a hymn so long as it seems sound. There are others who won’t attend non EP congregations.
Certainly, if one were thinking of settling in a non EP fellowship because no EP church was within reasonable distance then I do think the matter would need to be raised and attempts made at Reform. However one would have to be ultra sensitive and prepared not only to be patient but possibly unsuccessful. It would surely however not be too much to ask a pastor or Session to provide at least one metrical psalm per service!
Walking the tightrope between the command to assemble with a local body (that isn’t EP) or to rightly worship is very hard and spiritually exhausting. I have been in the Army for several years and haven’t had access to an EP church since 2003. Our last church made a point of singing a Psalm or two every sunday. Our current church (PCA) has a baptist worship leader and a praise team that have only done the 23rd Psalm maybe 10 times in three years and only upon directly being told “do a psalm this sunday”.
I fundamentally consider non-EP to be idolatrous and neither true worship nor in accordance with the RPW.
As such we long ago made our family position known; we stand and listen (there are no books only a powerpoint of song lyrics). Further for half of the service we are not only not worshiping but taking part or at least willfully observing the idolatry and the profaning of the right worship of God.
My conscience is heavily burdened. We have seven children who on Sabbath do not get to corporately sing worship to the Lord.
I recently raised our objections again to the elders in private. Being honest in saying I think its profane and Idolatry and its the worship of a contrived God rather than that of the commanded worship of the true God, the Pastor said I should bring up the church on charges of idolatry then. (which being in a PCA I know is laughable; it’d be like bringing the PCUSA up on charges of liberalism).
We are novel and too old school to reach the populace apparently.
So, the junction I’ve come to is this: We sin by engaging/observing/taking part in false worship, and we sin by not attending worship. Which sin is greater? To not assemble and thereby not tacitly approve of false worship, or to assemble and tacitly approve of false worship?
We love the people there but we are never going to be able to rightly sing as commanded by God with his people at this church.
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