Tag Archives: debates

Question #16: Please tell me, where is singing out of the Bible in scripture?

Question #16: Please tell me, where is singing out of the Bible in scripture?

John states the following under Question #15:

“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)”

John, thank you for the question, we’ll get to it very soon.

UPDATED: A good discussion between Dr. R. Scott Clark and Lane Keister

[The Heidelblog has recently closed so the links below are dead. I am working on securing permission to put the Heidelblog quotes here for future reference.]

[Permission denied! Oh well, there are some good comments worth reading at the Greenbaggins website. Rev. Keister, thank you for bringing this issue up for discussion.]

I am enjoying a good discussion on the use of the Psalms and the Psalter between Dr. R. Scott Clark and Lane Keister on the Heidelblog and Greenbaggins websites. Lots of good conversation.

Here are Greenbaggins Part 1 and Heidelblog Part 1  comments

Heidelblog Part 2 More Dialogue on Worship and the RPW
Greenbaggins Part 2 Response to Dr. Clark

Heidelblog Part 3 More Dialogue on Worship and the RPW part 2

Greenbaggins Part 3 Response to Dr. Clark Part 2
Greenbaggins Part 4 Response Roundup

If you join in the discussion, let us know your thoughts…

I must comment that the articles by Dr. Clark are excellent. He responds to some common misconceptions regarding the Psalter and encourages us to be both biblical and confessional in our worship. A few selections from Dr. Clark’s first post:

“I don’t accept the premise that, for the purposes of called, stated, public worship services to which God’s people are required to attend under pain of church discipline, there are such things as “good” non-canonical songs that might be imposed by a consistory or a session upon a congregation. Here’s an analogy. We would all admit that there are skilled artistic renderings that purport to represent God the Son incarnate, our Lord Jesus. Now, we know that no such representation is possible because such representations are necessarily a figment of the artist’s imagination. Confessional Reformed folk cannot tolerate even a “good” painting, i.e., an artistically skilled attempt to represent a first century Jewish male, because it violates the law of God. The same is true for ostensibly good hymns. However permissible it may be to sing well-written hymns with solid biblical content or even paraphrases (e.g., Luther’s paraphrase of Ps 46 is a personal favorite) in a private context their use in the context of public worship is something else altogether.”

“As I argued in RRC, the URCNA synod erred when it essentially codified the mistakes of the CRC from the 1930s. That’s why I distinguish between “conservatives” (e.g., the URCs on worship) and “confessionalists.” I’m not satisfied with mere conservatism especially since we’re conserving a mistake.”

“I have yet to see a single instance in which any of the paraphrases improves upon God’s Word. In services where the order of worship calls for hymn I am sometimes forced to find a psalm to sing or read quietly during the service (there should be no disruption of public worship). Almost without fail the psalm I’m reading/singing is more appropriate to the service than the hymn (or paraphrase) the congregation is singing. I’ve been in many services where it is evident the minister did not even consider a psalm. There are practical reasons for this. 1) Those ministers who, like me, come from non-Christian backgrounds are typically ignorant of the psalms. 2) Those ministers who, like me, come from broad evangelicalism are ignorant of the psalms. 3) Those ministers who were raised in most NAPARC churches are ignorant of the psalms. Our first instinct is to pick a hymn. If it’s a progressive setting it will be a favorite chorus. If it’s a “traditional” setting then it will be “The Church’s One Foundation. To the degree this is true it says more about the inadequacy of those planning the service than it does about the insufficiency of God’s Word.”

“…There is at least a difference of degrees and arguably a a difference in kind between paraphrases and translations. One is not the other. Historically, confessional Reformed churches have sought to make the most accurate translations possible. We produced the Geneva Bible not a paraphrase. Our solution to difficult passages was to teach via marginal notes not to make the problems go away via paraphrases.”

Again, the brief article by Dr. Clark is an excellent summary our our confessional beliefs regarding song in worship. Please give it a read.

A Response to the Decisions of the Plenary Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland

The Rev. Kenneth Stewart of Dowenvale Free Church of Scotland

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.

A Response to the Decisions of the Plenary Assembly

Here are a few selections:

“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?”

Rev Kenneth Stewart (Dowanvale Free Church)

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 #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 #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.