Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Should We Sing the Psalms Exclusively?

If you are new to the Reformed Presbyterian church or even if you grew up in it your whole life, you probably harbor in your mind some questions concerning Psalmody. Such questions may vary from why we sing Psalms at all to the peripheral application of Exclusive Psalmody. Nevertheless, it is important that we examine RP worship principles in accordance with the scriptures. As younger members of the RP church, the authors of the Selah Psalm blog sincerely challenge everyone, particularly other young people in the RP church, to consider specific questions and objections that are commonly brought up about or against Psalmody. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive arguments but to introduce the subject through insights from the Scriptures. All opinions expressed on this blog are ours alone and not necessarily those of the Reformed Presbyterian church of North America.   

Why should we sing the Psalms Exclusively?
“The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.[1] But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1
(Deut. 12:32; Mat. 15:9; Acts 17:25; Mat. 4:9-10; Ex. 20:4-6)

            The Reformed Presbyterian Church believes, as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, that every part of worship requires warrant from scripture, and this principle extends to the singing of songs to God. Though we believe that the scriptures as a whole teach this principle, the most convincing argument for singing the Psalms can be found by simply singing the Psalms themselves. Michael Bushell states it in his book Songs of Zion, “The question of what songs we ought to sing in worship is not complicated. It is ultimately no more complicated than the question of whether the songs of God are better than the songs of men. God deserves the best. The Psalms are the best.” (13) The first half of the article will address the benefits of singing the Psalms and the second half the biblical reasons to sing the Psalms.

What are the Benefits to Singing the Psalms?

There are many reasons why we sing the Psalms. If you are part of the RP Church, then you probably know several of these reasons. We believe that the Bible commands the singing of Psalms in worship. We sing the Psalms because God tells us to do so.  Sadly, because of this we can easily treat the Psalms like a chore and forget the joy and beauty that takes place in singing them. God has given us the Psalms for many purposes, and one of these purposes is to express our emotions in a godly and beautiful way. The Psalms make it clear to us that it is okay to express our joy and thanksgiving, but the Psalms also make clear that it is okay to express our fear, sadness, and frustration. God has given us emotions for a reason, and He gives us the Psalms so that we can express these emotions in a righteous way.

Psalms of Praise

Praise songs in our society today have become very popular, and many of these songs are written by fine Christians. However, God has already given many beautiful Psalms of praise and rejoicing. For example, Psalm 136 praises God because of His love and His power. Verse one of this Psalm says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” God is the definition of goodness and His love never ends! What an amazing thing it is to sing these powerful words and to know with full certainty that they are true because God Himself has written them!  The Psalms of praise in the Bible are perfect with absolutely no misconceptions about who God is.

Psalms of Comfort

When we are having feelings of loneliness or when it feels like the whole world has turned against us, God has given us Psalms to comfort us and to remind us of His great power. Psalm 18 is a beautiful Psalm that reminds us that, as Christians, God is our fortress and He is our rock. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.” What a great blessing we have to be able to sing this Psalm in full confidence that it is true and that it is right.

Psalms of Lament

God has graciously given us the Psalms of Lament, which contain much that is absent from most hymns and praise songs today. What a blessed thing it is to have these Psalms in which God gives us permission to come before Him in our sadness, frustration, and confusion.  Psalm 42 and Psalm 88 are great examples.  I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.”  “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” As you can see, God wants us to express our sorrow to Him as well as joy. The most beautiful example of a Psalm being remembered as a crying out to God was when Jesus was in anguish on the cross and quoted Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”   

Praise, comfort, and sadness are only three of the many different emotions that we find in the Psalms. We must always remember while singing the Psalms that they are not a chore but rather a precious gift from God! We are able to express our deepest emotions through singing.  God gives us Psalms that we can sing to express these emotions and know in full confidence that God is pleased with what we are singing. When singing the Psalms, remember that we are given the opportunity to express our deepest emotions in a righteous way to a God who truly listens and cares.

What are the Biblical Reasons to Sing the Psalms Exclusively?

            The controversy over exclusive Psalmody often times can be tangled and confusing with a plethora of arguments and counter arguments on every minute detail. However, at its core, the argument for exclusive Psalmody is extremely simple.
·         We are to obey God. (Deut 6:1-2; Ecclesiastes  12:13-14)
·         We may not add our own inventions to the worship of God. (Deut 12:31-32)
·         God commands us to sing Psalms. (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19)
·         God does not command us to sing uninspired hymns.
·         Thus we should only sing the Psalms of the Bible in worship.

Although each of these statements can be (and has been) contested, the second statement is really at the heart of the issue. Exclusive Psalmody hinges on what is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), which can be summarized as follows: Every part of worship with religious significance must have warrant from Scripture.

Similar to the doctrine of the Trinity, the RPW cannot be explicitly shown through a single passage. Yet, like the doctrine of the Trinity, we believe that the RPW can be “deduced from the word of God by good and necessary consequence”. (Bushell 162) One simply must meditate on Scripture as a whole, and ask if God regulates how He should be worshiped. Furthermore, God provides a book of songs in the Bible, so the burden of proof is not on Exclusive Psalmody. Considering the Scripture’s teachings of our relationship with God, Old Testament temple worship, God’s demand for obedience, and the frailty of man’s wisdom, it is a difficult task to validate the idea of God giving us flexibility and room for creativity concerning His worship.

The main proof text for the RPW can be found in the Ten Commandments and is expounded by the Westminster Larger Catechism.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Exodus 20:4-6

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising (Num 15;39), counseling (Deut 13:6-8), commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself(Deut 12:30-32); the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God (Malachi 1:7-8), adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves (Ps 106:39), or received by tradition from others (Matt 15:9), though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever (1 Sam 13:11-12); simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
Westminster Larger Catechism

The Ten Commandments are a summary of the entire moral law, and just as Jesus classified anger as murder, unacceptable worship must be classified as idolatry. “Idolatry is simply one of the most egregious examples of unacceptable worship.” (Bushell 163) An example of this is given in Exodus 32 when the Israelites tried to worship God through a golden statue.

And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4

Another example is found in Exodus 20:25 when God teaches Israel to not improve upon His worship.

And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. Exodus 20:25

Other main proof texts include:
Leviticus 1:1-3                        The Offering of Strange Fire
1 Chronicles 13:9-14               The Death of Uzza
Deuteronomy 12:29-32           Warnings Against False Worship

            So why should we sing the Psalms exclusively? Is it acceptable to decide for ourselves how God should be worshipped? It is important to make sure that we are asking the right questions, since incorrect questions do exist. Today many people ask, ‘What type of worship makes me feel the closest to God?’ However the chief purpose of worship is not to appeal to our senses, but to bring glory to God. (1 Cor 10:31) At the end of the day, we sing Psalms out of obedience to God, embracing the benefits, but with the main goal of glorifying Him.

“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” Deuteronomy 12:32

Special thanks to Eden Schaefer for writing the section on the benefits of singing the Psalms!

Bushell, Michael. The Songs of Zion. Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1980. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Very well-written article that helped me to better understand why we sing the Psalms... even though I've been pretty much doing that my whole life. :) Great job!!