Scott Clark has argued that one of problems with the URC Psalter Hymnal that is coming out is a general resistance in the Reformed ethos to singing Scripture-only music in our churches. Singing Scripture only is a position that he advocates in his Recovering the Reformed Confessions. It must be clear here that Clark does not advocate Psalms-only singing, although he certainly loves the Psalms (as do I). He advocates that the only thing we should sing in worship is Scripture. His position is that the Regulative Principle requires this.
Now, this position has a very honorable pedigree in the Reformed tradition. It is not a position to be made fun of, or to dismiss cavalierly, as many are wont to do. I would certainly not wish to do so, even though it is not my position. Comments are closed on his blog, and so I thought I would write my question to him on mine. This question comes, it must be said, from a genuine curiosity, and not from any attempt at a “gotcha” argument. I do not remember Clark addressing this particular question in his book.
My question is this: we allow paraphrases and summaries of biblical doctrine in several places in the worship service. Usually, even the strictest advocate of the Regulative Principle believes this. Preaching inevitably involves this, as does prayer (at least, good prayer does!), and any reading of the confessional standards in the worship service. If we allow paraphrase of the text to occur in some places in the worship service, why not when notes are attached to the paraphrase? What biblical warrant do we have for placing good paraphrases of the Bible in hymns (and, of course, there are plenty of bad paraphrases in hymns which should never be used, but the bad does not in and of itself negate the good) in a different category from biblical paraphrases in prayer or preaching? If a service can have a made-up confession of sin, for instance, that paraphrases different biblical truths, why couldn’t that same confession be sung?
One other question I have arises from this quotation:
When our parent denomination was founded, one of the three principal concerns was that the older Dutch Reformed church in the USA (the RCA) had given up psalm-singing for hymnody. When the founders of the CRC came to North America they were shocked by such liberalism.
Now, no Reformed church should give up singing the Psalms. That is, after all, God’s own hymnbook given to us, and we should make regular and extensive use of it. However, is singing any hymns (even what I would call “good” hymns, which would be Scriptural in content with music that fits the words) a mark of liberalism? Clark, of course, is here talking about giving up Psalm-singing for hymns. I wonder if he would say the same for a congregation that sang Psalms, though not exclusively, but also sang hymns that paraphrase Scriptural truths well.