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?

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9 responses to “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?

  1. I’ve heard this several times in the past few years, “You Epers are so divisive!” Really? We’re divisive because we are concerned about the way God is worshiped? The truth is that divisiveness is not really the issue. We believe the issue of worship is of utmost importance, so it’s worthy of our attention and, if needed, a good rousing debate.

    This doesn’t make us divisive. In fact, we could easily make the case that the introduction of hymns into worship is truly an act of division. Most every Christian group will readily admit that the Psalms are allowed in worship. The Psalms of David actually serve as a “universal” song book for the church. We can all agree that the Psalms have a place in our worship. When hymns are brought into the equation, this is where the division occurs. All of us who believe hymns are unauthorized are then excluded (divided) from the service. Who is divisive?

    I suppose it seems that the EPers are a source of division because we’re usually keeping the debate on the front burner, and we’re the ones who stir up trouble when we don’t sing certain songs during worship. It’s also true that we on the EP side have pretty thick skin and we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to being in the minority with our views on worship. But, the question is, are we divisive? I don’t think so…

  2. From The True Psalmody, p 28-29

    “2. In advocating the exclusive use of ” The Book of Psalms,” we advocate the cause of Christian Union. We well know, indeed, that diversity of judgment and of practice in this matter is not the only occasion and source of ecclesiastical separation, but it is one of the roots of this baneful Upas. And, in so far as disunion does arise from this cause, how shall it cease? Upon what basis shall we meet? We can see no other than that of a psalmody which presents this high claim—that it is the acknowledged gift of God himself to men. Were it ever so, that we were warranted to make each his own songs, and sing them, surely we cannot claim the right to impose these upon our brethren, or compel them to sit silent in our religious assemblies? Concession—if there must be concession—should, by all means, come from those who, at most, can only claim permission—who do not even profess, if we understand them, to possess in their favour divine institution: who cannot assert, at any rate, that their compositions bear the direct and unmistakeable impress of Christ’s authority: an impress clear, that he who refuses to use them, limiting himself to the inspired Psalms, is guilty of despising an ordinance of Christ. Here, then, is a common, because a Bible ground, on which, so far as one great and prominent cause of division is concerned, we may meet and harmonize.

    This consideration should, we think, address itself with peculiar force to the churches which trace their origin to the Reformation Church in the British islands. Our fathers were once united in singing praise to God in the Psalms of the Bible. Why are their descendants, so many of them, now severed in this matter of praising God ? There can be but one reply. By the introduction into the worship of God of songs of human composition, or of psalms which profess to be no more than ” imitations ” of those of the Bible. How, then, is this cause of separation and alienation to be removed? By the universal return to the one, definite, permanent, and safe basis—the Psalms indited by the Holy Ghost. We are well satisfied that we are not chargeable with perpetuating schism, because we adhere in our praises to the very matter provided for us by Him whose praises we celebrate.

  3. From The Psalms in Worship by John McNaugher

    “4. There is also an indirect or negative argument founded on the evil results of a departure from our position. Our Saviour gave us this practical principle for testing every practice and doctrine : “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If the practice of worshiping God with uninspired song produces evil fruit, then it is not a tree that our Heavenly Father has planted. What are some evil fruits directly traceable to the practice of the Churches that oppose our principle?

    (i) The earliest introduction of uninspired hymns was, according to historians, for the purpose of introducing heretical doctrines.

    (2) It has borne the fruit of excluding the Psalms from all the hymnologies of modern hymn-singing Churches. While these brethren generally admit that the New Testament authorizes the use of the Psalms, they have practically discarded this divinely authorized book as a book, and allow but a few rare specimens of this heavenly collection to find a place among their man-made hymns. It has come to this, that the Churches will worship God with the Psalms exclusively or with the Psalms excluded. This is not good fruit.

    (3) A practice that leads people to say hard things about a precious portion of God’s Word in order to defend itself is an indefensible practice. Dr. Watts, the father of hymnology in the Reformed Churches, in his Imitations of the Psalms says: “My design has been to make David and Asaph speak the common sense of a Christian.” We heard a Disciple minister quote with great relish and glee the words of Henry Ward Beecher: “David seems to have been inspired at times by the Spirit of the Lord and at other times by the spirit of the devil.” The common sneer at the Psalms as Jewish and unchristian in spirit is a serious charge against a part of Scripture that Christ Himself sang. This is not good fruit.

    (4) It leads to confounding poetic genius and fervor with divine inspiration, to the great disparagement of the latter. A few years ago a writer in a religious journal claimed that Dr. Ray Palmer was inspired in writing the hymn “My Faith Looks up to Thee.” It is no uncommon thing to be told that the writers of modern hymns are just as much inspired as David was. Is
    it any wonder that so many people are off on the subject of inspiration? This is not good fruit.

    (5) Judging by the criticisms of hymn-singing ministers, there must be considerable error in the hymnology of the Churches, and this is a most effective way to propagate it. Hence the practice of using human songs propagates error, and at the same time perpetuates the division of the body of Christ.
    Judging this tree of singing uninspired hymns by its fruit, as the Saviour told us to do, we feel compelled to say that it is not a good tree. “

  4. From The Psalms in Worship, p 156

    “1. Praise is not sentimental only, but also didactic. It is not for entertainment, but for edification. The faith of the Church is largely determined by the songs that it sings. If the matter of praise is inspired, no one may be led into error by its use. When merely human teaching is substituted for the Word of God, the standard is lowered, and the truth endangered. It is interesting to note that the first uninspired hymns were polemic, and sowed the seeds of division in the Church. The Scriptures are the best Apologetic. When men laid aside the weapons that God Himself had put into their hands, and essayed to combat heresy with its own inventions, discord took the place of devotion, and the spirit of missions began to die. The sword of the Spirit — there is none like it.”

  5. Thanks for the post. My wife and I are exploring this topic more.

  6. Amen, and yes, Amen!

  7. some discussion of this question over at the puritanboard

  8. From The Psalms in Worship by John McNaugher

    “Notice, second, that the Psalter belongs exclusively to no one sect or denomination of the Church. It is as broad as the whole Church, and equally well adapted to each and every part of the Church in the matter of praise. It must be that to be catholic. If the Psalter admits of the charge of narrowness or sectarianism, if its point of view is at any distinct angle of vision, if its songs have in them a suggestion of denominational bias, then the Psalter fails evidently in its catholicity. But does it so fail? We assert that it does not. We believe not only that there is no truth that should find a place upon the lips of the adoring worshiper of whatsoever denominational creed that is not found in it, but that the truths it contains are the truths upon which evangelical Christendom is and ever has been agreed. It is the supreme advantage of the Psalm-singer that his songs are from God, and that therefore they embody the truth of God — the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. On the other hand, it must ever remain the embarrassment of those who use uninspired compositions in the praise of God that their hymns are at best but human conceptions of the truth. Such compositions bear upon them necessarily the impress of the writer’s peculiar views. They betray almost certainly in letter as in spirit a denominational bias. Uninspired hymns are, and of necessity must be, sectarian. If this be true, it follows that such hymns are subversive of the unity of faith ; for by all the power of song to stir the heart and mold the thought and make theology they accentuate and perpetuate the differences that divide the Church. There is something truly anomalous in a Church preaching the unity of believers and praying the prayer of Christ that “all may be one,” and at the same time singing the songs that by their sectarian bias and denominationalism foster the divisions thus deplored. Are such hymns necessary? We cannot believe that they are. Do we light our lamps or chandeliers when the sunlight of God’s high noon is pouring in at our windows? Do we set our lawn sprinklers going in our dooryards when the clouds of Heaven are sending their abundant showers upon the earth? Do men carry coals to New Castle? The Psalter is not’ only adequate, but peculiarly adapted to the necessities of the whole Church in the matter of praise, and for the reason that it makes nothing of the things that divide the Church, but everything of those things that are held by the Church in common. Its truths are the great universal truths as seen not from any angle of vision, but in full and clear perspective from the throne of truth itself. Composed at a time when the Church was a unit as to the truth, and before the word was coined that expresses the differences that divide the Church, the Psalms ” know nothing of rival theologies; they favor no partial creeds; they exalt no special lines of doctrine or experience such as fix denominationalism; but on the other hand they present simply the teachings of the Spirit of God in harmony with the experience which He produces.” The position, then, of those who use the Psalter in praise of God is not narrow, but broad, so broad that into its fellowship of praise believers of whatsoever name or distinction may be safely invited without fear of infringing a hair’s breadth upon their denominational testimony. Nay, more; to sing these songs of the Book and of the ages is to sound that note the grateful music of which is already in the air, the note of Christian union.”

  9. This is part of a review of the book “A plea for the songs of Zion: or, the book of Psalms the only inspired and divinely authorized matter of praise” by William Hanna, 1860, published in the Original Secession Magazine, Vol V, 1860-1862

    “We look upon the advocates of a human Psalmody as the greatest enemies to the union and uniformity of the Church of Christ. With such it is even now, as with the Corinthians, reproved by the Apostle, to whom he said, “How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” Hymn-singing has ever been an effective means of giving currency to false doctrine; while false doctrines and unscriptural practices have been the fruitful source of divisions in the Church. The authorized use of hymns raises an effectual barrier in the way of union. Our author truly remarks that “the number and variety of human hymns now in use is almost incredible.” There are Congregational, Baptist, Unitarian, English Presbyterian, United Presbyterian, Methodist, and New Connection Methodist hymn-books. What is this but that Babel-confusion condemned by the Apostle! There must be a return to the inspired Psalmody ere the unity and uniformity of the Church can be realized. The Book of Psalms presents a permanent basis for the union and uniformity of the Church in the matter of praise. Depart from this and there is no limit to disunion—no end to confusion.”

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