Monthly Archives: November 2010

Free Church of Scotland votes to allow hymns and musical instruments in worship

Well, by now the news has gotten around that the Free Church of Scotland has voted to allow for the use of hymns and musical instruments in their churches. For the cause of Biblical worship, this is certainly a disappointing decision. I cannot comment on the state of the Free Church itself, though I don’t have a favorable impression that they’ve been a strong church in recent years. I could be wrong.

For those who haven’t heard, this is the statement from their website:

Worship Statement (Updated)

November 20, 2010

Free Church of Scotland Decides to Allow for the Singing of Hymns and the Use of Musical Instruments in its Congregations

The Free Church of Scotland, at a special Plenary Assembly, which took place on 18th and 19th November, decided to give liberty to its congregations to sing hymns and use instruments, if individual Kirk Sessions so choose. The special Assembly, which consisted of all its ministers with an equal number of elders, met in Edinburgh and debated over whether to overturn the 100 year old prohibition, which has identified the Free Church as a psalm-singing church.

The debate over its form of worship has lasted for the last five years, since the Moderator at that time, Rev. Donald Smith questioned the prohibition of musical instruments in its services. 

The main motion which came from the Church’s Board of Trustees sought to retain the “status quo”, which is the ”avoidance of uninspired materials of praise and musical instruments”, but give more flexibility in understanding as to what is meant by that. But this motion was opposed by Rev. Alex MacDonald, who proposed that the Free Church give liberty to individual congregations to sing scriptural hymns, as well as psalms, if their elders so chose.

The debate, which lasted Thursday evening and most of Friday, was harmonious throughout. Rev. MacDonald’s motion carried by a majority of 98 to 84.

A statement intended for Free Church congregations regarding its decision (including the exact finding of Assembly) on sung praise can be found by clicking this link:
FC_Statement.pdf

We’ve seen this type of decision many times in the recent history of the church. The end result of allowing hymns usually ends up with the exclusion of the Psalms altogether. It also means an openness to other questionable practices into the worship of the church.

What are your thoughts on this recent decision?

Question #11: Is it a sin to sing uninspired hymns in worship?

Plastic commandments

Question #11: Is it a sin to sing uninspired hymns in worship?

Question #10: Why do you put so much emphasis on exclusive Psalmody and create such a storm over a small issue? What’s all the fuss about?

Hurricane Charley over my house in Lakeland in 2004. Now THAT was a storm.

Question #10: Why do you put so much emphasis on exclusive Psalmody and create such a storm over a small issue? What’s all the fuss about?

Rankin, Adam (1755-1827)

Ebenezer ARP Church was organized by Rev. Adam Rankin around the year 1793. This photograph is from 1898.

Adam Rankin was a controversial figure in his day. He authored the first book published in the state of Kentucky in 1793 entitled A Process in the Transylvania Presbytery. This work was a defense against charges brought against him by his Presbytery, which included a defense of his views on Psalmody. Apparently Rankin stirred up quite a bit of controversy concerning the use of the Psalms in worship.  It seems that he believed God spoke to him in dreams, at least according to the charges against him. While we may not agree with all of the actions of Rev. Rankin, his work on Psalmody is historically significant as one of the first American defenses of exclusive Psalmody.

The following is from the Ebenezer ARP website. It should be noted that the website contains some inaccurate information on Psalmody. They also speak very critically of Rev. Rankin.

“Born: Near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1755
Died: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 25, 1827

“There can be no question that Mr. Rankin was ‘encompassed with infirmities,’ that he was sensitive, a little jealous, impulsive and strong of will, so that he soon put himself on the defensive, and always with his face to the foe, and he had the misfortune of living at a time when ecclesiastical things did not always run smoothly. On the other hand, it is just as certain that he was loyal to the truth and valorous in its defense, however faulty in his methods. He was of unquestioned piety, and commanded the full confidence of those among whom he lived. He possessed unusual eloquence and power in the pulpit, and often moved a whole congregation to tears.”

…from the Manual of the United Presbyterian Church in North America by William Glasgow.

The Reverend Adam Rankin was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland. His parents steered him in the way of the ministry from his birth.

He was received as a candidate for the ministry at the Stone Meeting House in Augusta County, Virginia, in November 1781. He was enrolled at Bethel Church, May 18 1784, and about this time he married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta County, Virginia.

Built in 1784 for Rev. Adam Rankin, 317 South Mill Street, Lexington, KY

In 1784 he was in Kentucky and founded the churches of Pisgah in Woodford County, and Mt. Zion which is Lexington, Kentucky’s pioneer church. It is likely that he was the first minister to settle in Lexington. He attended a conference of Presbyterians at Cane Run Church, Tuesday, July 12, 1785, and sowed the seeds of discord about Psalmody.”

Rankin’s principle opponent in the Psalmody debate was the Rev. Robert Bishop.

Question #9: Paul mentions ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Isn’t this proof that we should sing more than the Biblical Psalms in worship?

Question #9: Paul mentions ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Isn’t this proof that we should sing more than the Biblical Psalms in worship?

Gordon, Alexander (1789-1845)

Guinston United Presbyterian Church, built in 1773. This was one of the pastorates of Rev. Gordon Alexander. Originally ARP, then UPC, the church is now PCUSA.

“At a meeting of Presbytery, May 7th, 1828, a call was presented to the Rev. Alexander Gordon. He accepted, and was installed on the 2d of July. He resigned August 3d, 1842. He was born in Montrose, Scotland, in 1789; was educated at Edinburgh University; studied theology with Professor Paxton; was licensed June 25, 1817, and sailed four weeks afterward, in company with the Rev. Peter Bullions, for this country; was ordained, August 20, 1818, and installed in Guinston, York county, Pennsylvania. He resigned this charge October 20th, 1825. After leaving Putnam he became pastor at Johnstown, where he died from an attack of cholera morbus, August 20th, 1845. He was a fair preacher, and rather a superior writer. He was of a melancholy temperament, and while at Guinston had a sunstroke,from the effects of which his nervous system never wholly recovered. He thus described the consequences: “Now, all my boldness left me, and a continual fear of losing my recollection, and of falling through my discourse, succeeded it. If I had to stand in a high pulpit, my giddiness and fear of falling into confusion increased. My distress in this way has, hundreds of times, been indescribable, and as often, upon mere human principles, insupportable. When the hour for commencing public worship was announced, it would make me quake from head to foot. I have often ascended the pulpit like one going to execution, and often could not hold up the Psalm book for trepidation; a strange face in the audience would fill me with confusion.” ”

Gordon was the author of The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms, published in 1822

In reading his biography he seems to have been a man with a troubled spirit. Coming from a difficult childhood, he describes his early years and then some of the troubles he had while a minister. This is from his biography…

“Mr. Gordon was born in Montrose, Scotland, in the year 1789. He says: “My parents and grandparents on both sides were poor. My mother, Helen Hampton, was of a weakly constitution. My father was lame— from which, at times, he suffered great pain, and was frequently unfit for labour. His earnings, which would not exceed, but often fell below fifteen shillings sterling per week, were all the means of our support, and there were eleven of us, of whom seven died in childhood Being the oldest who lived, as soon as I was capable of giving any assistance it was both needed and required. At the age of four years, I began to follow my father to his employment, which was that of a thread miller, at which I continued to labour, as I could, for eight years. My earnings, till my twentieth year, went wholly to my father; consequently I had not the means of a common education in my youth.

“But my parents and grandparents were, I trust, religious, and continued constant in the duties of their scriptural profession, which was that of the Secession church, and of the antiBurgher side. And I was carefully instructed according to it. Being immediately under my parents till I was thirteen years of age, my words and actions and company were strictly watched, which I then thought was a severe restriction. I do not recollect how early I was taught to use the Lord’s prayer. At the age of seven I could use the form of asking a blessing and returning thanks at meals for myself and brothers. No deficiency in dress, and scarcely any extremity in the weather, exempted me from attending on the public ordinances of religion. At family worship I was required to repeat some part of the chapter read. On the Sabbath evening I was required to rehearse what I could of the public discourse.

“August 18th I was ordained to the office of the ministry at Guinston. This was another solemn and express devotemen^ of myself to a witnessing profession—but which, at that time, had not a due weight on my mind. I: was already caught by the popular enthusiasm,, and wished to distinguish myself as an advocate for all those liberal measures by which I thought this happy age was triumphing over bigotry. And my conversation, preaching, and prayers were full of it. O what a fool and how inconsistent I was! But God was preparing to break the charm, and set me again free. There was no place or house belonging to the congregation, and I was, or thought I was, under the necessity of buying land and building a house. The latter was a tedious, troublesome, and very expensive business. It brought me much in debt, and greatly harassed my mind, and became a great diversion from study. It gave me occasion, many times, to know what people really are. And while I was in trouble of another sort, these matters were also in progress, and tended greatly to increase it.

“There was a minister belonging to the General Assembly in my vicinity, whom, for his talents and soundness in doctrine, I esteemed, and he in turn commended my liberal views. We met, on an occasion, for the examination of the Sabbath Schools. Mr. M., in his part of the service, was pleased to sing Dr. Watts’ compositions. I was liberal to my shame and sorrow, but not so liberal as that. But ‘the backslider in heart is filled with his own ways,’—and I now was. I felt it at the time to be God’s reproof. Although I had several times publicly inveighed against human compositions, it did not hinder the people, (my own and others,) from believing that I was, at this time, conniving at the practice, because I was co-operating with one who was opposed to strictness in profession.

“I deemed it my duty to publish my views on psalmody, which I did, in a small book entitled, ‘The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms.’ From the moment of its publication my popularity with many was ruined. Coldness and bitter opposition now occupied the place of adulation and friendship. At the time, I thought this was hard treatment, but have ‘long since viewed it as one of God’s many mercies to me, and as such I here record it. I was now made to think deeply. I saw what I had been doing, even loving the praise of men more than the praise of God, and began in earnest to retrace my steps. . . . And now that I was awake, His rebukes came heavier and faster upon me.’ ”

“Several other trials now came upon me at once. The persecuting tongue was set against me. The occasion of this seemed to be the little book I had published on the psalms. Attempts were made, first, to destroy my character and usefulness, and, when that could not be done, to destroy my credit. In the short space of six months, seven suits were brought against me for debts, some of them real, but most of them pretended. For a length of time I was kept in fear of being sold out by the sheriff. This fear at length induced me to sell out, myself, and owe no man any thing, and leave the place. Upon looking back on these thoughts, I am disposed to ascribe them chiefly to the spirit of free masonry, which I had previously attacked in a public discourse.

“My conscience, too, spoke in terrible accents to this purpose:—

‘Fools for their sin and their offence
Do sore affliction bear.’

“Among the multitude of thoughts, these came with force:—’It may be I am nothing but a hypocrite, after all my professions and preachings.’ Although suffering very unjustly at the hand of man, yet these sufferings from the hand of God are nothing to what I deserve. The world knows not the hundredth part of my vileness. I am utterly unworthy of the place I hold. The very idea that the gospel is preached by such as I, begets horror. Nobody could think so meanly of me as I did of myself. In addition to all the rest, I was continually borne down by fearful apprehensions of death.”

The biography of Gordon Alexander is found here

The website of the Guinston Presbyterian Church is here, with further historical information

Question #8: It seems to me that those who promote Exclusive Psalmody have stirred up a lot of friction in the church. Why is the Exclusive Psalmody movement so divisive?

Question #8: It seems to me that those who promote Exclusive Psalmody have stirred up a lot of friction in the church. Why is the Exclusive Psalmody movement so divisive?