The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) is the largest of the Psalm Singing denominations in our country (USA). We here at the EP website have a great respect and love for the RPCNA and we try to promote their churches and events whenever possible.
As someone looking at the RPCNA from the outside, I am curious to get some feedback on the current state of the RPCNA. I would like to know what the greatest weaknesses of the denomination are (perhaps women deacons, etc.) and its greatest strengths (perhaps missions, worship, etc.).
Is the denomination secure for the next 10-50 years? Is it growing or shrinking? Will the denomination make a change over the issue of women deacons? How strong theologically is the RPCNA? What are the current movements or debates going on within the group? Are there ministerial opportunities out there? Is the denomination struggling to find ministers who are EP? What has been the feedback on the new Psalter recently put into use?
Please help us know more about our Psalm singing brethren in the RPCNA.
The Rev. Kenneth Stewart provides a response to the recent Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland that voted to allow the singing of uninspired hymns and instrumental music in worship. This is a well written and very informative response that I recommend for your reading.
“The situation now created is a mess. I will say something on its practical implications below, but it should give pause for thought that our vow on worship (which is part of our constitution) is now officially committing us to uphold two mutually exclusive views on worship as both being biblical. We now solemnly vow to uphold uninspired hymns as being both commanded and forbidden! The fact that we could enshrine such a legislative position in our constitution is worthy of several adjectives but ‘remarkable’ will have to do for now.”
“This brings us rather neatly to the novel and convenient idea that by binding us to ‘purity of worship as presently authorised and practised in this church’ our forefathers meant to leave the form of worship an open question, something to be decided at any given time by the church. In other words, anyone taking the vow would be required to commit themselves to what was, effectively, an unknown. Surely, a little serious reflection should expose the absurdity of requiring a solemn vow to an unknown practice! After all, how could the person taking the vow know what would be ‘presently authorised and practiced’ in, two, five or ten years time and how then could he pretend to swear to it?”
“The church to which we belong, in continuity with its Reformed heritage and practice, could only find express authority for singing psalms. These psalms could arguably include the ‘scripture songs’ of the Bible which are, of course, psalms themselves. (These are the ‘scripture songs’ which the 1707 Assembly gave consideration to singing, not ‘paraphrases’ or ‘hymns’). This is why the Westminster Confession, in its chapter on worship, specifies the ‘singing of psalms’ as an element of worship.”
“As was pointed out on the floor of the Assembly, the list of worship elements offered by the Confession is not a suggestive list but an exhaustive one. In other words, it does not say ‘worship consists of things like this of which there may be many others besides’, but, ‘all this and nothing else is worship’. That is why the Assembly produced a psalm book, rather than a psalm/hymn book for singing. This Confessional position of psalm singing was what was ‘authorised and practiced’ when I took my vow and, indeed, when Mr Robertson took his. I promised, as he did, to assert, maintain and defend this, and not allow anything that is subversive of it. He now believes that I should have no difficulty in switching the subject of my allegiance to the permission of accompanied uninspired songs.”
“It seems to be the case that Mr Robertson is completely ignoring what my vow requires me to do: it now requires me to believe that our new position (psalms and hymns permissible) is ‘founded on the Word of God and agreeable to it.’ I am now supposed to follow no ‘divisive course’ from this position.”
“Put simply, a vow to uphold purity of worship as presently authorised and practised is not the same as a vow to uphold whatever practice the church authorises. Can Mr Robertson not see the difference?”
“On the contrary, as in the areas of doctrine and government, the church meant to bind itself for all time in its worship practice. Some people profess to find this horrifying. I fail to see why. If the church can bind its government to perpetual Presbyterianism (because that’s what it finds in the Bible) and bind its doctrine to perpetual infant baptism (because that’s what it finds in the Bible), I fail to see why it cannot bind its worship to perpetual Psalm singing (because that’s what it finds in the Bible as well). As in the areas of doctrine and government, the church meant to bind itself in public worship, for all time, to what could be proved expressly from scripture with no addition whatsoever.”
“Sadly, I think it is all too obvious why the Barrier Act was sidestepped, against the advice of both Clerks: it was put rather eloquently by one of the speakers, proposing change, who asked ‘What is the point of putting this back down to Presbyteries when we know what the result will be?’ I think that question reveals it all. It indicates very plainly that the main motive for sidestepping the Barrier Act was to rush through what was felt to be possibly out of step with the views of a majority of office bearers. This is clearly contempt of established church procedure as well as contempt of office-bearers.”
“The church is clearly, and with astonishing accuracy, repeating all the mistakes of the 19th century. And it should be a source of wonder to all that the Free Church is looking for her examples in public worship to the era of the Moderates (which introduced the paraphrases, only officially authorised for one year, in the 1780’s) and the era of Rainy (which introduced hymns and musical accompaniment in the 1870’s and 1880’s respectively). It shouldn’t be forgotten that the church which chose to do this was a church which fragmented shortly afterwards.”
“The Free Church needs less sniping at its constitution, more confidence in her heritage, history and message, and an aggressive reaching out with it to a needy country. The country isn’t fed up of psalms: it needs to hear and understand them. It is astonishingly typical of the so-called ‘progressives’ in the Free Church to reject what is in fact just coming back into vogue: all over the world, there is a resurgence of psalm singing and when that world most needs our witness to the exclusive use of the Songs of the Covenant King, we downgrade and compromise them.”
“The Lord is sovereign, and who can doubt that he is shaking the Scottish churches? This shaking will be done in God’s way and in God’s time, and who amongst us knows how the ecclesiastical landscape may look when he is done with it?”
“What is there now to do? It is to have songs not only honest, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor and glorify him. Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory. Wherefore Chrysostom exhorts, as well as the men, the women and the little children to accustom themselves to singing them, in order that this may be a sort of meditation to associate themselves with the company of the angels.”
From the Preface to the 1565 Geneva Psalter by John Calvin
Why do so few Baptists practice exclusive Psalmody?
I would be interested in getting some feedback from any Baptists regarding your convictions on exclusive Psalmody. What are some of the reasons (theological, historical, etc.) why we don’t see many Baptist EP churches?
Question #14: What do you think of a compromise position between hymns and Psalms in worship? My church allows the singing of hymns before the Call to Worship and after the benediction, but only Psalms during the formal worship service.
Question #13: Do the same rules that apply to public worship (RPW, the regulative principle of worship) also apply to private and family worship? Are the songs we sing in private/family worship considered to be praise songs?
In an earlier post Raymond raised the following questions that can be addressed here, “the question to raise is whether meditations or devotions are a part of worship? If not, then the only problem is what to do when musical meditations or devotions take the form of praise? Can they or should they?”
The full post includes a number of related questions: “…the question to raise is whether meditations or devotions are a part of worship? If not, then the only problem is what to do when musical meditations or devotions take the form of praise? Can they or should they? Nextly, the question must be raised whether it is possible to sing a song which was meant (whether rightly or wrongly) to be used in worship without offering it up as worship? What if the portion of Scripture to be memorized happens to be one of the songs of the Bible outside the Psalter? Are there some songs which, in and of themselves, when sung or listened to are seen by God to be offered up in worship to Him? If so, then we need to look at it from another end also. How about musical meditations which people offer up in worship that were never meant to be offered up in worship? Does authorial intent matter? If so, how could we tell authorial intent in some cases? Are there some songs which, in and of themselves, when sung or listened to are seen by God to **not** be offered up in worship to Him because they were merely meditational or devotional in nature and were never intended to be offered up as worship?
So the major question then is: Is it lawful to sing or listen to something that takes the form of praise (even inspired praise in the case of the Psalms and the setting to music of Scripture in order to aid in the memory of Scripture when such music happens to fall into the songs outside the Psalter in Scripture) without offering it up as worship to God? If yes, then the implication seems to be that the Psalms themselves could be used outside of worship–unless of course I’ve messed up in my reasoning somewhere or am forgetting certain portions of Scripture.”