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?
16 thoughts on “Question #15: Why do so few Baptists practice exclusive Psalmody?”
1. I think we have to start with some of the Baptist forefathers of the 17th century. This is also the century that the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confessions of Faith were written (I have more in mind the 1689). If we look at the well known men from the Westminster assembly, they were committed psalm singers. However, if we look at the Baptist side and some of the most well-known men of that day we don’t find committed psalm singers. Three men that I have in mind are William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys and Benjamin Keach. Kiffin and Knollys were against any form of congregational singing. The reasons for which would be a topic for another time. Keach was pro-hymnody. Keach himself wrote many hymns and even authored the book “The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship” in which he argued for the inclusion of hymns in the worship of the church. The thing that we notice is that out of the three, none were exclusive psalmodists. We can see through Baptist history as we move forward from this time period that the views of Keach won out over the views of Kiffin & Knollys. Some say as early as the middle of the 18th century.
2. The Reformed Baptist Resurgence. That is the best term that I can think of so it will have to do. In recent years, there has been a great resurgence in the quantity of Reformed Baptist churches in the U.S. especially. This multiplication and spread of the Reformed Baptist movement in the last few decades has several aspects in it that have led to the spread of hymnody in Reformed Baptist circles. First of all, when a group spreads and churches are planted by existing churches, the same doctrines are planted or taken with them. One of these doctrines is hymnody. Secondly, in the Reformed Baptist church today, many of the pastors have a connection to Pastor Al Martin. Many of them attended Trinity Ministerial Academy which was a ministry of Martin’s church in New Jersey. These former students are now some of the leaders of many current Reformed Baptist churches. Pastor Martin , who is a great Christian man and highly respected by myself and others, practices hymnody. Naturally, therefore, his former students practice the same.
3. The Trinity Hymnal (Baptist Edition). The Trinity hymnal is informally accepted as the official hymnbook of most Reformed Baptist churches. It is at the point today that it is hard to separate the two. When you think Reformed Baptist church, one of the distinctives is the Trinity Hymnal. Because of this acceptance and tradition, hymnody reigns in Reformed Baptist Churches.
4. A looser view of the regulative principle of worship (RPW). From my experience, a great majority of Reformed Baptists have a loose view of the RPW. I’m sure that they would disagree with that statement and an argument can be made as to what determines a loose view. However, if we use the Puritans as a guide to the RPW, I believe we can say without a doubt that most Baptists have a loose view of the RPW. Because of this, some reasons that exclusive psalmodists would use for their practice would be immediately dismissed due to a different view on the RPW.
There would be plenty of other reasons, some I might list later. However, most of them would not be isolated to Baptists. Baptists who do not practice EP also use the same reasons that a non-EP Presbyterian would use.
Wow! Great question Mark.I have always wondered about this one. Is it because they interpret RPW differently? In fact, they are the ones who usually say that “good and necessary inference” ought not to be employed always and RPW must be restricted to “things expressly set forth” in Scripture ( Fred Malone for eg. uses this argument to reject Paedobaptism). Going by this, there ought to be more Baptist EP churches than Presbyterian.
Will love to get more answers
Most Baptists would argue that hymnody is expressly set forth in Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16. I don’t agree with them but that is their view. Some would even go so far as to relegate singing content to a circumstance instead of an element and that only singing itself is an element. That is how many argue for the inclusion of musical instruments. Therefore, by saying that what we sing is a circumstance it is not ruled by the RPW.
Thought I would add one more.
5. The Baptist View of the Covenants. This may at first seem to be an odd reason but once investigated is not. Most Baptists draw more of a hard line between the Old and New Testaments. This is not to say that they do not teach Old Testament but that they see less continuity between the two. Thankfully, I have also yet to meet a Baptist that teaches that there was a different source of salvation in the two Covenants.
The question that must be asked when the church began? Did it began with Adam or at Pentecost? If it began at Pentecost, then why does it matter what worship consisted of in the Old Covenant? If it began with Adam, then what we have continuity. Have there been two churches in history or just one? Although worship has changed and things are different now with the coming of Christ, we don’t have a brand new church at Pentecost. We have a changed one. Therefore, if it is the same church, although with changes, we can still look to the Old Testament for examples. Those things in OT worship that were not 1) Fulfilled in Christ or 2) Changed or added by Christ would still be in effect. This is one way that we can look at psalmody. It was practiced exclusively in Temple and I believe in the synagogue as well. There is nothing in the New Testament that shows that exclusive psalmody was fulfilled or changed. Instead we see examples of its practice. I also don’t believe Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 5:19 are adding uninspired content to the acceptable worship of God. However, if we were to throw out past examples of worship before Pentecost and instead only look to the post-Pentecost church as an example and add a wrong interpretation of those two verses then it is not surprising that psalmody is not more accepted in Baptist circles.
I would like to add a disclaimer to my comments. I am not under the impression that every single Baptist thinks the way that I have described above. There are some that do not. I myself am a Baptist who practices exclusive psalmody. However, the above is from my experience and what I have seen, heard, read, and been taught in my life as a Baptist. Reformed Baptists do teach continuity between the covenants and I am thankful for that. However, they do not include certain areas in this continuity that I wish they would. One of these areas is congregational singing.
“5. The Baptist View of the Covenants. This may at first seem to be an odd reason but once investigated is not. Most Baptists draw more of a hard line between the Old and New Testaments. This is not to say that they do not teach Old Testament but that they see less continuity between the two.”
This seems to especially stand out to me as a reason why there are so few EP Baptists.
As Jon mentions below, “Some seem to think that the same hermeneutic that precipitates covenant-baptism, also precipitates EP; reject one you must reject the other” is very true. From my own experience, I don’t think a general Baptist viewpoint is really looking for continuity between the Old and New Testaments. For a Presbyterian, it would seem that EP would easily or more naturally be accepted from the text of Scripture as we move from OT to NT. But for the Baptist hermeneutic, it would be more forced. Just as the Baptist is looking for a “proof text” for infant baptism, so they would expect one for EP.
In some ways I think this also applies to the subject of worship. Since a Baptist perspective is generally looking at the church as a “new” thing in the New Testament, the mindset is usually that there are no limitations on worship. I grew up in churches that were literally making it up as they went (I know that all Baptists don’t think this way, just an example of some pervasive views). A similar theological view can be observed in other denominations as well. For a Presbyterian, worship and the church start much earlier, so the rules to govern such things are found throughout the whole of Scripture.
Unfortunately, we Presbyterians have a short memory, and most don’t seem to remember what our hermeneutic is or that we should believe in strictly regulating our worship with God’s Word. We can now see that a very small percentage of Presbyterians practice EP. This is really surprising since every Presbyterian accepts infant baptism, but they will not allow that same hermeneutic to extend to the singing of Psalms. I would tease a little and ask if our EP Baptist friends are worried that promoting Psalmody among the Baptists will lead to their accepting of infant baptism. : ) Of course, all they have to do is look at all the Presbyterians who haven’t allowed their infant baptism to lead them to EP.
A Reformed Baptist EP church must be one of the very few, right? Which Baptist denominations hold to EP? Or are there denominations that give freedom to individual congregations to hold EP?
Baptist polity is a little different. “Reformed Baptist” is not a denomination. All Reformed Baptist churches are independently ruled by the elders of that particular church. We do not have any form of church government over the local church. Some non-reformed Baptist groups are considered a part of a denomination. An example would be Southern Baptists who are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the convention has no power over any individual church and serves mostly to pool resources, discuss different issues, and provide an avenue for fellowship between like-minded churches. Some Reformed Baptists churches have joined together in different groups but these would not be considered denominations.
As far as the number of Reformed Baptist churches, there are very few. There are a handful in Great Britain. Our church, as far as I know, is the only EP Baptist church in the entire United States.
I think John has answered well. I would add a couple of things.
Firstly, I think latently within many Baptists (especially non-reformed variety) is a strange idea that because Presbyterians sings psalms, Baptist’s shouldn’t, I say latent because it is rarely expressed. Some seem to think that the same hermeneutic that precipitates covenant-baptism, also precipitates EP; reject one you must reject the other.
Secondly, I think that the resurgence of interest in interpreting the Psalms, and the Old Testament in general, Christologically has been slightly slower coming to RB’s than others. Perhaps more will start to think about the Psalm-singing subject now that it has arrived.
Thirdly, I agree with John that in “received practice and doctrine” is the biggest factor, in my experience few RB’s have thought deeply about this subject, perhaps they have had other things to concentrate on in the past. Few that I have met have read Bushell for example.
However, in the main I think there is no difference in reasoned rejection of EP in Baptists than you will find in PCA, OPC etc.
I would say that *most* Baptists don’t practise Exclusive Psalmody, for the same reason so many Presbyterian churches do. Namely, they’ve never done otherwise and they’re adverse to change. Or, perhaps it is because they have received teaching on the subject, and have yet failed to truly *search* the scriptures (as opposed to simply *looking them up*) to see if the things they have heard are so.
As for me, I am not a big B baptist (though I do believe firmly in believer’s baptism by immersion, as do all who follow the Regulative Principle of Worship) and I believe in singing *both* Psalms and newer songs. We find in the Psalms themselves the explicit commandment to sing a *new* song to the Jehovah, and I take this very seriously. “Praise ye Jehovah. Sing unto Jehovah a *new* song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Ps. 149:1).
It means *new* as in, *new* and not centuries old! It means *new* as in, express your soul in song to the Lord in a new way, as you would in prayer! “My soul followeth hard after thee”. It means *new* as in, when the Psalms were written they were *new*, which is the Psalmist could say, “sing a *new* song to the Lord”!
It also says in the Psalms to praise God on the loud sounding symbol, and I believe in this too! Indeed, I take all the commandments of scripture very seriously, unlike those who are merely set on defending the traditions (of men) which they have learnt. They are not *really* serious about getting to the scriptural truth. You may think this is a bit harsh, but I challenge you: How many people do you know who have grown up in Presbyterian circles who end up believing in believer’s baptism? And how many people do you know who have grown up in Baptist circles who end up believing in household baptism? Obviously, the doctrines of believer’s baptism and household baptism can’t both be right. Therefore, the only *honest* way to explain the fact that people usually just stick with what they have learnt as a child, is that they are following the traditions of men! This applies *whatever* position they hold, because the likelihood is that even those who have the right doctrine don’t believe it because it’s in the Bible, but rather, because it’s what they’ve been taught and because it’s what they’ve always done. That is to say, when they have researched the matter, they have done so without giving a fair place to the other side. They have allowed themselves (though not intentionally) to be bias.
I believe that neither the Baptists, nor the Presbyterians are truly committed to the regulative principle of worship. If you think this is harsh, let me challenge you on a single *example*. If the Baptists and Presbyterians were truly following the regulative principle of worship, they would lift up holy hands as they prayed, *like the Puritans did*! Indeed, lifting up hands in prayer has almost completely died out amongst the Presbyterians and Calvinistic Baptists. But once it was very common. Isaac Watts said in his book, A Guide to Prayer, that there could be nothing more natural than for men to lift their hands whilst praying. We read in scripture: “he spread forth his hands toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:22); “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto you; when I lift up my hands toward your holy oracle” (Psalm 28:2); “I will lift up my hands in thy name” (Ps. 63:4); and concerning public services we read, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands” (2 Timothy 2:8). This is just one *example* of where Baptists and Presbyterians have been content to go along with what everybody else in their denomination does, rather than challenge the traditions of men as they are commanded to do, and as as they *would* do if they were *truly* committed to following the regulative principle of worship: “ye should earnestly *contend* for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
I have challenged many people on various issues relating to the regulative principle of worship, and I have found that a common response is shear offense that I would question not only their interpretation, but also their commitment. Indeed, people tend to get very offended by the fact that I have actually come out and said what everybody really knows, and what you may have even talked about at times with various people in your church (but not *done* anything about). Namely, that so called, “reformed” churches are *dead set* on keeping the traditions of men, if not more that the, “catholics” then certainly more hypocritically, cinse they criticise the RCs for this very thing a great deal.
I could produce *many* examples of where “reformed churches” cleave to the traditions of men, so please do not take it that I am making a mountain out of a molehill over the issue of hands (that was only an *example*). Since the topic is the Psalms, let me provide just one more example; one that, if you are not *truly* committed to the regulative principle of worship, you will likely never have even thought of before:
Please tell me, where is singing out of the Bible in scripture? The truth is, nobody ever sung out of the Bible in Bible times! They didn’t have enough Bibles to go around! They sang the Psalms from *memory*. They didn’t have personal Psalm books or hymn books or anything of the kind. They leaned the Psalms from the communal Bible and taught and sang them from memory. They also taught the other songs of the Lord (such as the song of Moses), and were to know them off by heart. This was even a command of the Lord. The Lord never said, “Sing the song of Moses from a prompt”. Rather, the Law states that men must *teach* the song to all the people: “: “teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths”. As we all know, after Jesus and his disciples had broken bread, they sang a Psalm, but they did so *from memory*! No mention of a Psalm book is made *at all*! Psalm books and hymn books in comunal worship are the inventions of men. The Lord has given all men a truly remarkable ability to remember words when put to a tune. Unfortunately, very few people in the church seem to want to worship God with it.
I hope this post has been challenging, and I pray that we will all learn more of the Lord.
“Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:1-2)
Thank you for your very thoughtful remarks. Indeed, I believe you have introduced some good items for discussion. It is interesting that you feel “lifting holy hands” is an item of neglect in the church, and that by matter of implication, this neglect shows that we do not take the matter of regulating worship seriously.
Brother, I fear you have underestimated how passionately we Reformed Presbyterians feel about the Regulative Principle of Worship. Perhaps you’ve been talking to the wrong Presbyterians?
I wasn’t aware anyone was denied the right to hold up hands in prayer. If you feel the need, go for it. As to whether it is a matter of regulated worship and that it must be done in a certain manner…that is a different kettle of fish. Are we always required to hold up our hands when we pray? How often and how high? It seems more likely that the holding up of hands was a custom, or rather that there is a figurative meaning to “lifting” and the thing lifted, the “holy hands”.
B. B. Warfield says on this passage (I Timothy 2:8-10), “It is not the persons who are to pray, therefore, but the way in which prayers are to be made, that forms the main purport of these verses. We should guard ourselves, however, from taking too external a view of this prescription of how men should pray. There does seem to be an implication of external manner, even of external attitude: “I will, then, that the men should pray by lifting up in every place holy hands.” Clearly here is a hint as to the attitude in which the Apostle would have men pray — an attitude that had come to him by inheritance, and that was suitable in itself and full of every expression of reverence. So, on the other hand, he equally wills that women when they come to pray should not “adorn themselves in plaits and gold, or pearls, or costly raiment.” And we cannot doubt that the apostolic will thus extended even to the seemly attire of those who appeared at the public services (cf. i Cor. xi. 5). Both as to attitude and as to dress he had an opinion, and he expresses it. And yet this is apparently incidental to his main purpose here. The emphasis falls rather on what we may call the inner attitude and the inner attire. What he wishes is that when the men lift their hands to God they should be holy hands, and that they should not hold up with them to God angry and doubting hearts; that when women come in seemly guise they should come in womanly shamefastness and sober-mindedness, clothed on with good works, as is becoming in those that profess godliness. It is on these things that the emphasis falls; and this is how Paul would have the men and likewise women pray. Whether he prescribes the standing attitude with outstretched hands or not, whether he prescribes “quiet?” clothing or not, he certainly prescribes holy hands, free from wrath and doubting, and shamefastness and sober-mindedness, clothed on, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works.”
There are incidental matters of worship that we deal with every time we worship: the time we meet, how long we meet, standing in prayer, kneeling in prayer, sitting during a sermon. All of these particular things are mentioned in Scripture as a description of something that happened at one time or another, but they are not elements of worship.
I do think it is of interest that you choose this particular item as proof that we are not practicing regulated worship. I believe we should restrict the worship service to only those elements with a positive command, and those elements without command are to be left out. As such we are commanded to read, to preach, to pray, to sing Psalms and to observe the Sacraments and that is all. How is this not worship regulated by God’s Word? If we don’t hold our hands above our heads for exactly 46.5% of the prayer, we have failed in our worship of God? I don’t think that is the intent of the reference to lifting holy hands. That is an attitude of mechanical manipulation, rather than one of obedience. Although we have limited means, the focus is not on the means. The elements are simply a framework for obedience, and in the use of the limited means we actually are accomplishing much more than those churches who use fog machines and subwoofers. We are accomplishing more because God makes them effectual.
I confess that every worship service I have ever led was less than it should have been. I always fail to worship perfectly. I never get it the way its supposed to be. That’s why I am glad the goal is to obey, it isn’t to obtain perfection. Christ has already done that for us. We approach heaven in the name of Christ.
I would like to hear more of the reasons you mentioned we are not truly regulated by God’s Word. Also, I will address your question regarding the use of Psalters in singing unless someone beats me to it…
More to come…
NEW POST with the question: Please tell me, where is singing out of the Bible in scripture?
Please address the question there so we can keep our thoughts together.
Great post Brother. This discussion has really clarified so many things. And BB Warfield’s commentary feels so right and spot on.
You said, “Perhaps you’ve been talking to the wrong Presbyterians?”
Perhaps I have, but I have to say I have found a general antipathy to any notion of change from almost every reformed person I have ever spoken to. The only ones who seem to be open to the idea of change are the so called, “modern Calvinists” but these people also seem to be open to all sorts of non-scriptural teaching. So, it seems there is error on either side (as usual). I don’t have time to respond fully to what you said about lifting hands, but I would say that while B.B. Warfield seems to have understood what the lifting of holy hands symbolises, he has forgotten about the symbol itself! What if we had no baptism, because we treated it only as a symbol? Presbyterians *almost* go this far with their non-scriptural notions of pre-birth baptism, but they stop short. What if we forgot about the symbol of the Lord’s supper? What if we said, “we partake of the Lord’s body and blood by faith. We don’t need the outer signs”? While it is true that *by faith* men partake of the body and blood of Christ, and *by faith* they are born into the people of God and are circumcised with the circumcision of the heart (upon rebirth), still there are also symbols of these things; symbols that the Lord has ordained for us to keep. So it is that we are to eat the bread and wine treating them as emblems, and so it is that we are to be baptised with water after being born into the children of God (as the Israelite children were circumcised just after their birth, to show that they were born of the people of God). These things are only symbolic, but the fact is, *nothing* in this world (except regenerate spirits and minds) can possibly be anything other than a shadow, for this whole world is going to pass away. Therefore, the *whole thing* is only a symbol. The *whole thing* is to point forward. Everything we do in life should be a testimony, a picture, a symbol, of the love between the bridegroom and his bride; all according to the ordinances of God. Whether it be in our praying, or in our singing, or whatever else. Thus it is that when believers lift up holy hands (there being nothing more natural than this) as did the Puritans and the godly men of old, they are testifying to the attitude of the heart of Jesus’ beloved bride! **Everything** we do should be an act of love to God. “*This* is the love of God, that we keep his commandments”.
You said, “Are we always required to hold up our hands when we pray? How often and how high?… If we don’t hold our hands above our heads for exactly 46.5% of the prayer, we have failed in our worship of God?”
Okay, I take your point! But of course if I am speaking about a godly custom, then it *will* be open abuse! The legalists will always try to add in extra requirements, just as the Pharisees abused the commandments of God’s law. But if we let this deter us then we wouldn’t follow *any* commandment at all! Let me demonstrate by applying your own questioning standard: Scripture says, “preach the word”. I ask, if we were really meant to do this outwardly, then for how long should it be done? In what manner? If, “preaching” is different to simply, “speaking” then precisely what style should the preacher need to preach in, or how loud does the preacher have to be before his words constitute, “preaching”? Of course, you might want to answer some of these questions from scripture, and I don’t have a problem with that, but whatever you answer, it is always the case that one may proceed to ask more questions concerning the matter. Just because you can ask, “Are we always required to hold up our hands when we pray? How often and how high?” doesn’t mean it is wrong to lift up holy hands.
You have said, “If you feel the need, go for it.”
Ah, but this *must* be wrong regardless of the truth of the matter. For if it is right that we lift up holy hands in prayer, then it is right for everyone. But if I hold a mistaken interpretation of the many verses which speak of lifting holy hands, then surely that interpretation is wrong for everyone!
You have said, “Worship is not a memory test.”
Well, worship is not a test at all. But it does require memory. Memory is a part of the mind. We are to worship God with all our *minds* as well as our hearts and souls. Besides, I have already commented on the fact that it is universally recognised: God has given men a remarkable ability to remember words when they are put to a tune (preferably not a metered tune). Many teenage girls can recite all the words to every song on every album of their favorite rock band. If they can do this, why can’t Christians just memorise 150 songs? If they get stuck, the rest of the congregation will inevitably keep them on track. Have a look at the following non-metered Psalms. These are sung straight out of the King James Version. I guarantee that if you practice this a few times, you will remember not only every word to these Psalms after a week, but the tunes as well!
You have said, “Having copies of the Psalter to hold in front of us while we sing is a good and wise inference from the Regulative Principle of Worship”
Have you ever memorised a Psalm and sung it at home or when you are relaxing? I can tell you it is just bliss to close your eyes and sing to the Lord of his own word totally from memory (you won’t need to *struggle* to remember, for if you have memorised it, it will just come naturally). It is so freeing not to have to hold a book in front of you. It is so freeing not having to read and sing at the same time. It is so holy.
You have said, “Our doctrine of the depravity of man also implies that we would want to guard against the people (and the minister) proceeding in worship simply on the basis of their memory”
The “total” out of “total depravity” applies to the *scope* of man’s wickedness. It does not say that man is as wicked as he can be. It says that man is depraved in every way; everything he does is corrupt. The doctrine of total depravity means you will be depraved *whatever* you do, whether it be reading from a Psalter or singing from memory! Besides, how are God’s people to worship God with all their minds if they are not to worship him with their memories?
You have said, “There is nothing in God’s Word that would seem to imply that we cannot or should not have a copy of the Bible or Psalter in front of us when we worship”
Then you admit they sang from memory in the early church? You admit that Paul and all the congregations of the early church sang from memory? I thought you were saying that because of our total depravity we shouldn’t do this? I thought you were saying that that this would be disorderly? Clearly you are mistaken. The regulative principle of worship says that if the worship of the church as described in scripture was good and wholesome *then* (as opposed to disorderly), it means it is good and wholesome *now*!
Communal worship with Psalters is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but let me give you a few:
1) It is on a is largely on account of not *needing* to memorise the Psalms to worship the Lord, that so many people *haven’t* memorised the Psalms. I’m no saint here. I haven’t memorised them all either. But it was after the people I meet with decided to get rid of the Psalter that I was forced to start memorising them and I have benefitted no end from getting rid of that Psalter.
2) When you are reading the words of the Psalter as you sing, it is an unnatural form of singing. Have you ever noticed that when you read aloud in public, often you don’t actually follow what it is you are reading? You are trying so hard to ensure that you are reading it correctly and saying the right words in the right tone of voice, that you actually miss the message? It can be the same with Psalters to a lesser degree.
3) When you are singing from a Psalter, you are always looking down. You cannot *see* the people of God worshiping as they did in the early church because you are looking at a book. To a certain degree, I have found that this actually hinders people from fully appreciating the total unity of the church in worship of the Lord. Also, some people who are timid, like to *hide* behind their Psalter. They don’t like to look around or have people looking at them. They are embarrassed about the fact that they are singing in, “worship” to God!
You have said, “I would like to hear more of the reasons you mentioned we are not truly regulated by God’s Word.”
I’d be glad to give you a few, but I can’t possibly go through *why* I believe all these; it would simply take too long. Also, please, I’ve heard that I’m a legalist from enough people already, I don’t need to hear it again. I know what I believe and why I believe it. Calvinists tend to be very good at telling others that they are sinning, and get quite annoyed when when they are accused of legalism, but when they are told about their own sins, they tend to instantly start accusing others of legalism. How alike we all are to the people we would hate to be! How sinful we are for our attitude, which is in effect the same as the one the man had who said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican”! Please bear this in mind as I take you through these. Also bear in mind that nothing I am about to tell you has been made up or invented. I am simply sticking very closely to scripture. All of these doctrines have been held to by various Christian groups history, and it is overwhelmingly the *modern* church which has departed from them.
• Firstly, I’d just like to mention something that was said by Anonymous: “Where in Scripture is there everyone in the congregation having a Bible to read out of during sermons and perhaps Scripture readings too?” Spot on Anonymous, whoever you are!
• In the early church there were services that were open to all the men to speak. In this way the Holy Spirit would lead. So, if someone has a word of ministry, it should be given, whoever it is. It doesn’t have to be a set preacher. (the women, of course, are not permitted to speak). If someone has a psalm, it should be given, whoever it is. It is scriptural, of course, to have a preacher and elders, and not many should be teachers. But nevertheless, if the Lord lays a word on a brother’s heart, he should be allowed to speak it openly and freely, or if the Lord gives him a psalm, he should be allowed to recommend it. In the early church, there were of course set times for set sermons. But there were other services when questions could be asked; when prayers could be prayed and when *ministry* could be given by those whom the Lord gave it to. In my experience, Presbyterians seem to put too much emphasis on the pastor. What about the words, *every one* in, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, *every one* of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”? BTW, the Plymouth Brethren have services for this very thing, and they *still* have set preachers and set sermons in *other* services, and it all works very well.
So relient on the preacher are some presbyterians, that at the worst of times, I have even known the whole church service to be called off just because the preacher couldn’t make it! Can you believe that? They would cease to come together to worship God (to gather together, *not* to the preacher, but rather, “to the name of the Lord”) all because one man could not be there! Churches that do this may as well have their own popes, for that is practically what they seem to have anyway.
• Services should *never* be called off because “not enough people” could be there. Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there in the midst.
• The Lord’s supper should be practised every first day of every week, as was the practice in the early church, for we read that they went to their houses and met together to break bread.
• The building for meeting should not be called a fancy name, lest the emphasis be put on the building not the thing that happens there. I have noticed the particular perniciousness of this tradition (of men), and how people still deny that it has any negative effect of “their” church! Yet it leaves churches in a sorry state. The church is the *called out assembly*, not the building! And yet, when there are names (as opposed to descriptions) attached to a building, such as, “Bethel Chapel” or “Trinity Church” the whole congregation become subtly trapped (such that they don’t even realise it!) into the mindset of, “the church is the building”. Scripture speaks of the called out assembly, saying, “the church, which *is* the house of God”. The building isn’t the house of God! Its the church! In the early days, if they met in a person’s house, they would just call it “a house”. If they met in an upper room, they would just call it “an upper room”. Why? Because that is *all* it was!
• Women often wear head coverings in church, but this is not what scripture says! Scripture says, “when they pray or prophesy”. We know, of course, that Paul wasn’t speaking about the church service when he said that women should wear head coverings when they pray or prophesy, for only a little later in the same letter he forbade women from prophesying in church (or speaking) at all! Therefore, he must have meant *whenever* they pray or prophesy.
• In the church I attend, thankfully people regard contraception as a sin, but in many churches they do not see how this practise totally distorts the picture between Christ and his bride.
• The communion supper should be practised with *unleavened* bread, since Jesus said, “Do *this* in remembrance of me”. Jesus *was* the unleavened bread and he *was* the fulfilment of all the Old Testament words concerning the unleavened bread, and the bread he broke with his disciples, saying, “do *this*” was the passover meal, which is made of unleavened bread. Leaven is *always* a picture of sin in scripture, and it totally deprives the symbolism of the supper if leavened bread is used.
• Women in *many* presbyterian churches show off their legs, and their upper chests! Sometimes, I have even seen them show the crack of their breasts! Clearly these women are not true Christians, for if they were they would not think it acceptable to show their nakedness as the world does. Nevertheless, they do it and their husbands/fathers allow it. It is utterly shameful of all parties concerned. If these women were to go back to John Knox’s day, them and their husbands wouldn’t even be allowed inside the building due to their total disrespect for the Lord. About a hundred years ago, it was considered quite inappropriate for women to show their ankles, and rightly so, for the ankles need not be on display. I said this to a young Baptist woman once, and she replied by asking whether I thought Christian women should dress like Muslims! I should have replied, “No! Christian women should dress like Christians!” That is, modestly and with shamefacedness. If you wouldn’t have a preacher in the pulpit in shorts, then why would you have a woman in the pews in a dress that does not cover her lower legs?
• The first day of the week is *not* the sabbath, so Presbyterians should stop calling it that! It was *never* called that in scripture. The sabbaths have all been fulfilled: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Today the believer finds his rest in Jesus, and he looks forward to the eternal sabbath, into which he must strive to enter: “So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience”
• The King James Version has mistakes in it! It is a very good translation, but it is not perfect. A brother and I have done some detailed study of several passages and have found that the Geneva version was actually more litteral in several places, and the King James more litteral in others.
• Chapter and verse numbers are not in the Bible. We are meant to “search” the scriptures, not “look them up”! Perhaps then our scripture knowledge would be better!
• ‘Local church membership’ is not a scriptural doctrine. It is sectarian and explicitly commanded against in scripture. *All* who are believed to be true and upstanding should be allowed to partake of the communion supper. There is no such thing as ‘local church membership’ in scripture. There is only membership of the body of Christ. Denominational communion is a sin. If you discern the body of Christ, the church (that is, if you are a true believer) then *nobody* has the right to bar you from the Lord’s table!
• Teaching should be consecutive at times, as Jesus taught in the Synagogues in this manner. However, in *other* services, it should be free, as Peter’s sermon was, or many of Paul’s sermons were, so that the preacher is not going through, “chapter by chapter”.
• Preaching should be extemporary (that is, without notes) as was *all* the preaching in the New Testament. The Gospel Standard Strict and Particular Baptists of England practise this, and I can say that theirs are some of the most powerful sermons you are ever likely to come across. Unfortunately, they don’t believe in recording them or putting them online, “lest they get into the wrong hands”. Yes, unfortunately they happen to be hyper-Calvinists. Nevertheless, their sermons are perhaps the best sermons I have ever heard and the Holy Spirit is more free to move when sermon notes are put aside.
• It is essentially effeminate for men to cut their beards. I don’t make *anything* of Old Testament law concerning this. It has *certainly* passed away, and no commandments concerning the trimming of the edges of the beard apply any more. However, I believe that scripture clearly presents it as shameful for a man to have no beard (such as when the Israelites did not want to return to their homes after their beards cut off, or when Jesus’ beard was plucked out before crucifixion to put him to shame). It is just a fact of nature: Men without beards look very feminin.
• Women should not cut the hair *at all*, yet many presbyterian women cut it. The scriptures clearly present the shearing of the hair as shameful. It is forbidden for a woman’s hair to be short of its natural length. Though many churches have held this doctrine throughout history, today it is only held by a few independent Baptists and some Pentecostals. Surely we are living in dark days.
• Faithful Christians do not indulge in luxuries or in anything that is not helpful to the Christian life. For example, their children are allowed to waste their time playing with “toys” but should learn about the *real* world. There are no toys in scripture. No true Christian has many possessions. He has sold his possessions and given alms, as Jesus said, “sell that ye have, and give alms”. All who have not done this are rich, and as Jesus said, “woe unto you”. There are Guatemalan children rummaging around in garbage dumps right now, cutting their little fingers on sharp objects. Fake Christians will spend a huge amount extra to purchase an Audi, or a fast car of some kind, rather than purchasing a cheaper car that would be find for their needs. By doing this, they are neglecting the poor man on the doorstep. Today more than ever before the world’s poor are on the doorsteps of the West. All that extra money could be spent on sending missionaries to feed these children, or to build orphanages for them. But many so called, “Christians” have bought jewelry and all sorts of mod-cons, like iPhones. Why? All to gratify the flesh. That is the *real* reason. “woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” meaning simply, if you’re rich, you won’t get any consolation in heaven.
• The open collection box in a church building is an abomination to the Lord, as are all forms of religious begging. “And they went forth, taking nothing of the heathen”. Church members should share what they have with their brethren, as did the early church. There are people in England called the “Jesus Army” who do this very thing, and it works very well, except that the Jesus Army folk go too far with it. Christians in New Testament times still owned their own houses, and this should be permitted, although they should share them with the brethren whom they love. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common”.
• The words, “fat” and, “glutton” are pretty much synonymous in scripture, and all fat people should be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Jesus himself prophesied about the last of the last days, in which there will be fat people in practically every church and congregation. He said that in the last of the last days men would be companions of gluttons and drunkards. No chocolate or potato chips or anything unhelpful should be eaten. Only those things that are healthy for the body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit!
• Men should say “Amen” when they agree to something in the prayer, as was scriptural practise.
• Chit-chat is a vile form of speech. All speech should be about godly matters and concern things that are helpful.
• Almost all jokes and jests are foolish and need to be put away as foolish jesting. Christians should jest only about those things they are commanded to jest about in scripture.
• Those men who think it is acceptable to go to the theatre to see ungodly movies, or to watch some kind of filth, should be excommunicated, as was scriptural practise with those approving of filthiness.
• Names for Christians, such as, “Calvinists” are fine and scriptural. Indeed, “Christian” is a perfect example of such a name. Names for doctrines, such as, “baptist” or, “amillennialist” are also helpful (at times). But when Christians start defining their church according to these names, I have a problem. They say, “I go to a Baptist church” or, “I’m a Presbyterian” not so much to refer to the doctrines of baptism or church government, but rather to tell their hearer that they are of a faction of Christians. Paul explicitly speaks against this practise of sectarianism: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”
I could go on and on…birthdays were only ever celebrated by *evil* kings of the Old Testament, and are sinful, as is X-mas and easter, which are pagan practices. All, “articles of faith” books are totally unscriptural. etc, etc… Basically, if you can’t find the equivalent in scripture, it is because the Lord doesn’t want you doing it. Sound systems, believe it or not, *are* in scripture! I can’t remember which prophet, but somewhere it is written that they made a tall pulpit out of wood so that the prophet’s voice could be heard.
There are of course, non-practical issues that I think the Presbyterians have got wrong. For example, Paul didn’t write the book of Hebrews, and the scripture says so; there was no “covenant of works” with Adam (Herman Hoeksema had some good things to say about this). For all those dispensational Presbyterians out there, scripture makes it plain that there is only one people of God in eternity, and there is no such thing as a pre-tribulation rapture! For all those covenant theologians out there, scripture makes it plain that God will stip away the gentiles and graft back in the Jews at a future time (before the Lord returns). It also says God’s people will reign with him for a thousand years. But I could go on and on for hours with all the disagreements I have with the Presbyterians. Ultimately, whether people are Presbyterian or Baptist, or anything else for that matter, my main problem is that they are stuck in their time bubble, products of their generation. They don’t realise that they are not actually *considering* the issues at hand when they think about them. They wonder about alternatives only as a fancy: They always seem to find their way back to agreeing with what everybody else in their church says on a particular matter. They don’t seem to realise that people thought totally differently in ages past, and that the odd ones out our this generation were actually in the majority a few generations back. Though they deny it, there is an implicit assumption on their part that our generation of Christians is superior than the last. For example, I have heard many critics of the reformation say that Calvin was a murderer for having Servetus burnt at a stake. Loyal Calvinists of today’s generation reply that it was actually the city council that had Servetus executed for Calvin didn’t posses the power to have *anybody* executed. They also point out that Calvin actually pleaded with the city council to reduce the penalty from burning at the stake to hanging. But I have yet to hear anybody of our generation say, “Actually, Calvin was right. That wicked man *should* have been executed!” Well, I say it. He was not only a trinity denier, but he was intent on leading people away from the truth and poisoning their minds with his filthy blasphemy; and he was intent on slandering anybody who disagreed with him. He *should* have been executed. The rulers have been charged by God himself to be a minister of his vengeance upon the wicked. This is merely an *example* of what I am talking about. You will no doubt say, “Ah, but that can’t be right!” And people of Calvin’s generation would say the opposite, for back then, (almost) *all* accepted the principle of the death penalty for grievous blasphemy and slander, as a *scriptural* principle. Can’t you see what is happening here? Its the same reason Baptists stay Baptists, and why Presbyterians stay Presbyterians. Its evil. And every last person who fails to consider this solemn fact is truly blind.
To God alone be the glory. Amen.
Sorry I haven’t made a response to your post, I have had a very busy schedule these past few weeks. I’ve been thinking through some responses that I will try to get posted this week. Thanks for your post, I think it reveals to us that you have put some thought into these many issues that are connected to our worship of God.
I moved the discussion of the Psalters and the above post over to Question #16 Please tell me, where is the singing out of the Bible in Scripture? found here.
Please address comments there so we can keep our discussion together. Very interesting topic of conversation, by the way.