Roundup Response

I don’t know whether this will be my last response or not, but I do want to thank Dr. Clark for his challenging and helpful posts. I am having a ball doing this, and I’m hoping he is, too. I’m learning a lot, and am being forced to think through many things about worship, which is always a plus. I plan on replying to both of his posts, so that we can sort of get back to one post, rather than potentially confusing 2-part responses. Part 1 of his reply is here.

The first part of his response has to do with the distinction between public and private worship. I must admit to being a tad confused here. I re-read my own post and was reassured to find that I hadn’t actually disagreed with that distinction. If I may ask, what was it in my post that gave rise to a feeling on Dr. Clark’s part that he needed to defend that distinction? Maybe some of the comments challenged that understanding. But I agree with his distinction, as long as it is understood that there is still at least some sort of organic connection between the two (a connection which does not require the same things of one worship as it does of the other). I do not see the same elements required in the one as in the other, and yet the covenantal context for both would suggest an organic connection. Moving on, then.

Regarding the question of consciences, specifically, the consciences of people who think that hymns are biblical, he writes:

The original Reformed understanding of Scripture and the original understanding of our confession was that God will have us praise him only with his Word. If that’s right, and no one has shown from Scripture or in principle that understanding was wrong, then that must be our goal.

Now, I can agree with this principle whole-heartedly, actually. The question is whether it is required that the Word be sung ipsissima verba only, or whether songs that summarize the teaching of the Word also sing the Word. I do not see in Scripture the principle that only the minister may summarize the Scripture and that the congregation is forbidden to do so. We both agree, of course, that worship must be biblical. However, I would ask what biblical warrant there is for saying that the congregation may not summarize in song, while the minister may summarize in prayers, preaching, etc. I am not convinced that this is simply an issue of distinguishing between the two offices. The question, it seems to me, revolves around what the content actually does.

Concerning biblicism, I would be the last person to accuse Dr. Clark of being, in general, biblicistic. I hesitated a long time before even using that word, given his rather vociferous objections to biblicism in other contexts. To focus the question a bit more, I would ask this: why are hymns that summarize biblical content not biblical? I suspect that he views this as his answer:

The response of God’s people to his Word in the setting of public worship is not primarily didactic (although it always has that function) but doxological and God’s Word is entirely sufficient for doxology.

To me, it is not clear why saying that the singing is doxological answers the question. For instance, there are many Psalms that are not doxological. There are many Scriptures that we might sing that are not (at least explicitly) doxological. For instance, Psalm 1 is most definitely a wisdom Psalm, is it not? Psalm 88 is hardly doxological, but is rather a lament. So, should all the congregational singing be classified as doxological? In order to do that, one has to broaden the category of doxology to include many things that are not typically regarded as doxology. How useful does the category become after that? Dr. Clark admits that the congregation’s involvement always has a didactic function, even though that is not primary. Admitting the various genres of biblical song, then, gets us to this point: if there is a didactic function (even though not primary), then why would summary be rejected? Didactic function always has an element of summary, does it not? If the singing of the congregation has any didactic function at all, then summary should be seen as part of that function.

As to my unintentional mis-characterization of his argument, I did not mean to imply in any way that our “wish” was determinative of worship. I was referring to the fact that God’s people desire to worship God in God’s way. God’s will is our command when it comes to worship. “What does God require in worship?” is certainly the essence of the question.

Moving on to his second post, he argues that my question regarding the metrical versions of Psalms and paraphrase overlooks the distinction between circumstances and elements. He argues that translation is a circumstance, and so, therefore, would meter be a circumstance. My response would be this: then why couldn’t the difference between ipsissima verba and summary be a circumstance? What biblical basis is there for relegating meter to circumstance and not summary or paraphrase? Again, I am assuming here that any hymn in question here is an accurate summary of Scripture. There are, of course, many hymns that are not accurate summaries of Scripture. These should never be considered for worship.

As to the next point concerning who chooses the music, I am not sure that we have gotten to the point here. My point in bringing up the fact that the pastor chooses the music is not to say that such an action confuses the two offices of minister and believer. My point is rather that if the minister chooses the music, then the office of the believer cannot be seen as the sole determining factor for the choice of music. The office of minister is also involved in the choosing of music. And if that is so, then it seems to me that summary is allowable, and Dr. Clark’s objections regarding the separation of office would not hold, since both offices are involved.

I found Dr. Clark’s discussion of creeds most interesting and revealing. He admits that he has been on both sides of this issue in the past (I’m not sure which side he is on now, though it seems like he agrees with Calvin on this). He regards creeds this way: “Calvin’s practice can be justified, however, insofar as the use of creeds by the congregation, in public worship, falls under the heading of “Word” (one of the two basic elements of worship).” Presumably, the singing of the congregation also falls under the same category of Word, does it not? So the question becomes this: if ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in the Creeds are the Word, why not ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in song?

As to liturgies, I agree that we should be ransacking the old Reformed liturgies of Geneva, Scotland, England, Holland, the Palatinate, and other places for their immense riches. I have been doing this recently, to my great profit and (I hope!) for the great profit of my congregations. They are wonderfully simple, aren’t they? And yet, they are the simplicity of majesty, not the simplicity of naïvete.



  1. April 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

    To track with this discussion, I reviewed Dr. Kenneth Gentry’s Exclusive Psalmody audio series on Millennial Dreams. He helped me decide. Click on my name to read this short review.

    I wonder now about research into early Christian worship rather than creeds.

  2. April 11, 2011 at 10:31 am

    This may be a non-sequitur but something I would like to hear is that if what we are arguing for is hymnody that is biblical and confessional why are the hymnals that 99.9% of those of use in non-EP congregations (speaking here specifically about the red Trinity Hymnal) full of so many hymns that are out of touch with our confessional documents and by extension what we believe the Scriptures to teach? I will not speak for others here but I know when I sit down to lay-out the liturgy each week and I am looking for hymns to place in the order of worship I skip over a number of hymns that contain serious theological error. (which is one reason why I usually select psalm paraphrases or psalms from the Trinity Hymnal).

    Why should that be in a hymnal that was specifically produced for P&R churches?

  3. greenbaggins said,

    April 11, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Ben, I certainly share your concern about such hymnals, and I agree. I think the explanation is that usually such hymnals are put together by a “consensus committee.” They usually include a fair amount of compromise. As a result, lots of revivalist tradition hymnody gets put in there, as well as some modern bombs. Congregations these days can make their own hymnals. But it would be nice to see a confessional hymnal put out there at some point. I’ve yet to see a hymnal where I felt I could use everything in it.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    April 11, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I should say this, that the discussion about worship has had a very interesting effect on the blog: large numbers of people who have never commented before are engaging in this discussion. I like it!

  5. April 11, 2011 at 10:53 am

    […] in the course of this discussion, both Jason and Lane have used a loaded phrase: ipsissima verba (i.e., the very same words). In theological discourse, […]

  6. Cris Dickason said,

    April 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Re #2 & #3 – Ben & Lane: I’ll agree that the hymns & spiritual songs that we (non-exclusive psalmists) use in corporate worship need to be held to a consistently high standard, and the text or lyrics must be agreeable to, or in conformity with what we confess the Scriptures to teach. So I find that some of Charles Wesley’s hymns can be edited into a profitable form, for example.

    l agree with Ben that there are a number of clunkers (is that a technical term) in the Trinity Hymnal. One advantage of 1st edition of the Trinity Hymnal was many were corralled to the famous section at the end “Hymns for Informal Occasions”. You knew that anything above a certain hymn number was in that section, like “When The Roll is Called Up Yonder.” The revised TH did not help to do away with that section and move a bunch into the main corpus.

  7. April 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    My response would be this: then why couldn’t the difference between ipsissima verba and summary be a circumstance?

    Lane, this line of reasoning would seem to require a conclusion that, the Lord would be just as pleased with the ipsissima verba of Scripture being entirely absent from a Lord’s Day worship service, as long as accurate paraphrases are present. This seems a stretch too far for me.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    April 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Joseph, I think that would only follow if I were arguing that we should not ever sing the words of Scripture as we have them. I do not argue that. I think it is good to sing the very words of Scripture. I would never be against that. I just don’t think that songs that summarize well the content of Scripture are in a totally different category than songs that have the ipsissima verba.

  9. Gage Browning said,

    April 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Your point about creeds is one I can’t seem to get out of my mind. We allow for in many (reformed circles) and even demand, the reading of the confession of faith, nicene and apostles creed, which is clearly a good summary of what we believe the Bible teaches. If so allowed, then music similarly qualified would be allowed as well…in my humble opinion. To be consistent, it would seem that we would never allow anything in worship, if an EP congregation, then the reading of scripture, prayer, supper, and Psalms sung. Do all the EP’rs also allow for the reading of the confession, and/or creeds? I don’t know of any in my context that would not prescribe the confession and/or creeds to be read.
    Also, didn’t Calvin write a few hymns…>
    This discussion also got me to reading some other things on the subject- One thing I noticed is that Horatius Bonar pastored an EP only church and wrote numerous hymns. His own church didn’t even know he was famous for such a thing, for a long time. Seems weird not to participate in the “good gifts” that God gives to the Church. Just a glancing observation.

  10. April 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    […] Part 3 Response to Dr. Clark Part 2 Greenbaggins Part 4 Response […]

  11. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Someone asked me to post some of the hymns I find questionable. Here are some I have noted in the TH I have here at the house. I am more than willing to take any off the list if I am in error.

    This list is in neither in any way exhaustive nor comprehensive, but are the ones I have noted in the hymnal here at the house. I am more than willing to be corrected if I am misguided on any of these.


  12. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I was notified of a resource that explains some of the problems with some of our hymns.

  13. April 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Lane, my understanding of Dr. Clark’s argument was that if you can rightly classify a given choice (between two competing options within the context of worship) as a “circumstance of worship” (rather than an element of worship) then a selection of one circumstance is normatively just as good as (read: Biblical / pleasing to God) selection of the other circumstance/option. So, if Dr. Clark is correct that meter or no meter is simple circumstance, then we can keep it or leave it in worship. He was responding to your “Hey Dr. Clark, don’t you already use summaries of Scripture when you use metrical Psalms” argument. And you responded to his elements/circumstances point with: “Couldn’t the choice between using the very words of Scripture or an accurate summary of Scripture be a choice between circumstances [this is me summarizing your point]?” And my point then is that this proves too much because then summaries are just as good as the very words, in which case, summaries could be used all the time without any actual Bible readings.

    At this point in the discussion you said something that I simply cannot comprehend: “The conclusion you reached based on my premise about summaries and the very words being a choice between circumstances leading to both being just as good as the other would only follow if I were arguing that the very words of the Bible should not be sung.” I think now we’re talking past each other. I said I’d have coffee, and you’ve asked how many lumps I’d like with my tea. If the conclusion, that I said flows out of your characterization (of the very words versus summaries as a choice between circumstances; i.e., that, then one is just as good as the other), is true, then what you said in your last post would be a conclusion you could draw from this line of reasoning. It is not, however, (as best as I can tell) an additional premise necessary to reach the conclusion I arrived at from your circumstances characterization.

    What you might have meant to say in your last response: “Nope, because I was just talking about songs [me, now summarizing what you did not say, but what you meant to say – pretty good, huh?].” In which case, I’d wonder what principal you are using to keep your “accurate summaries of the Bible are just as good as the Bible” argument hermetically sealed off from lurching into the non-song portions of a worship service?

  14. bsuden said,

    April 12, 2011 at 12:16 am

    9 Gage,
    The creed confession thing has been discussed a couple of times in the foregoing threads to this one. Arguably it belongs under the oaths and vows of WCF 21:5.
    No, Calvin didn’t write any hymns. I think CColdwell has something on in the Confessional Presbyterian. He did restore the early church practice of psalmody though.

  15. Bill Tucker said,

    April 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Really? We should not be allowed to say the name “Jesus” in song on Sunday morning?

  16. Gage Browning said,

    April 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks! I thought he wrote, “I greet thee my sure redeemer”…I guess there is debate over his authorship. I think I understand the VCF 21:5 argument. I’ll chew on that. That’s the section on Religous Worship and Sabbath Day discussing oaths and vows, fastings etc. So the argument is, those things are prescribed, and the reading of the confession and creeds falls under that umbrella, right? Interesting. Thanks for the feedback.

  17. Cris Dickason said,

    April 12, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    In reply to Lane’s Roundup: I find it a very helpful and accurate summary. I too have found no warrant from Scripture offered by exclusive Psalmists (or exclusive Scripture Songists). That is , I have found no exegetical reasoning from Scripture to require God’s people to only sing in response to God only with words (even if translated from Hebrew and metered and made poetic in target language) that God has first given in Scripture.

    How is our response to God in worship, our praise of God in corporate worship more fitting if we are restricted to only reciting words given to us? It can’t be that non-canonical compositions are unintelligible to the Lord (“I speak after the manner of men”).

    An unspoken assumption seems to be that we are protecting our worship and ourselves from possible error by restricting ourselves to the words of Scripture. But does that portray a talisman-like view or use of Scripture? Isn’t that approach coming close to a “fencing” of liturgy to prevent possible errors, not just actual errors.

    At the risk of offending all, let me put the issue in this way. Is this a case, motivated by proper scriptural, confessional doctrine of God, confessional view of worship and of Scripture, some seek to extend the reach and control of the church officers so far as to cut off all possible form of error in or through corporate singing by restricting the lyrics sung to the canon? Is it possible that some circles of reformed ecclesiology has just always sought to be more tightly regulative?

    Just wondering if this is the kind of meta-hermeneutic or meta-ecclesiology at work amongst exclusive psalmist communities in this discussion.


  18. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Well the Westminster Confession of Faith is an Exclusive Psalmody document and I myself registered an exception to WCF 21.5 with my Presbytery. All Presbyterians were EP and non-instrumental until the 1st GA and turned to non-EP and added instruments ironically because we were afraid of losing the youth to the Methodists and other revivalists, especially after the 2nd GA. Those who do not think biblical hymnody to be anti-Scripture should remember that we hold this position against the wisdom and exegetical work of John Calvin, John Knox, the Puritans, the Westminster Divines, R.L Dabney, and John Girardaeu. That in and of itself should give us pause and make us fall on our knees in prayer that we are not the ones in error. Part of the problem in these discussions is we come to the table assuming our presuppositions that we recognize as being “Reformed” are right and the Puritans were all wet. We can fall into a chronological snobbery on this issue.

    So if we were wanting to be truly “confessional” we would be EP.

  19. Allan said,

    April 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Benjamin, #18:
    “All Presbyterians were EP and non-instrumental until the 1st GA and turned to non-EP and added instruments ironically because we were afraid of losing the youth to the Methodists and other revivalists, especially after the 2nd GA.”

    Could you point me to the sources for this. What documents confirm “all”, “until 1st GA”, and “because we were afraid of losing the youth”?

    I would seriously like to look into this. Thanks!

  20. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 12, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    To wet your appetite while I get the info:

    “Musical instruments in celebrating the praise of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, or the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews.” John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 33.

  21. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Here is the “keep the youth” quote I was thinking about:

    “The first organ I ever knew of in a Virginian Presbyterian church was introduced by one of the wisest and most saintly of pastors, a paragon of old school doctrinal rigor. But he avowedly introduced it on an argument the most unsound and perilous possible for a good man to adopt that it would be advantageous to prevent his young people from leaving his church to run after the Episcopal organ in the city. Of course such an argument would equally justify every other sensational and spectacular adjunct to God’s ordinances.”

    This was written by R.L. Dabney in 1849. The link is below.

  22. Allan said,

    April 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks Benjamin.

    I am actually looking for a published historical study for the basis of these statements, not simply Calvin’s view of instruments or Dabney’s experience.

    Dabney here speaks of the Episcopal church, not the Methodists or revivalists. If he is referring to both of the latter groups, this is the first time I have seen an argument against organs in relation to pietists. The argument, as I have seen it, against organs has always been in relation to Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Anyways, thats a tangent I’m veering off to, sorry.


  23. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    April 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    The best historical study that I know of without doing too much research tonight are these two books.

  24. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 13, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Benjamin (#18): Those who do not think biblical hymnody to be anti-Scripture should remember that we hold this position against the wisdom and exegetical work of John Calvin, John Knox, the Puritans, the Westminster Divines, R.L Dabney, and John Girardaeu.

    It’s a good point, Benjamin, and the strongest argument that I’ve seen for EP. That is:

    (1) The RPW requires that we limit ourselves to worship according to Scriptural command;
    (2) The early Reformed church overwhelmingly understood Scripture to command Psalms alone;
    (3) Therefore, it is highly likely that the Scripture commands Psalms alone;
    (4) Therefore, the RPW requires us to sing Psalms alone.

    The only possible rejoinders I can imagine would be these:

    (~2) Doctrinal development in the church has shown that EP is exegetically unsound.


    (~3) Exegesis itself demonstrates that EP is exegetically unsound.

    I think (~2) and (~3) are certainly possible; but I think they have to meet a high bar of proof.

    I appreciate your focusing the issue in this way.

  25. Cris Dickason said,

    April 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    #24 – Jeff, helpful summary.

    I would characterize ~3 as “exegetically over-reaching” or perhaps “too tightly bound liturgically”. While a given community may decide to exercise their liberty tolimit their corporate singing to Psalms (or canonical material), it is just that, an exercise of liberty. Not a univerasal Scriuptural requirement.

    As for # 2 – and this is for all, not just Jeff – Is it possible that the mainline Reformers in the 16th century were over-reacting to Rome when they abandoned non-canonical songs? In the godly desire to be rid of Rome’s excesses, did they place too tight a restriction on their liturgies?

    One does not need to abandon all non-canonical songs in order to get rid of bad (poor) non-canonical songs. One does not need to be an exclusive psalmist in order to avoid bad songs.

    Just as one does not Exclude Psalms just because one is not Psalm Exclusive.


  26. April 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    RE #25. I don’t think it was an overreaction; in any event, one does not really even see much controversy until the next century after the Reformation. One sees very little clamoring for expanding the psalter beyond the psalms (Robert Boyd being one exception). The Westminster Assembly set about purging an official psalter for the three kingdoms of anything but psalms from things which had crept in via the printers of earlier psalters. There was not a concern to expand the songs of the church (the cryptic “other scripture songs” project of the Scottish kirk notwithstanding) Rather, if anything, there was a reaction, an abhorrence really of the disorder of the enthusiasts who made up their own ‘inspired’ psalms (cracked brains as Baillie famously calls them). Later John Brown of Wamphray wrote for psalmody contra the Quakers. See a first time translation of his arguments in The Confessional Presbyterian journal. In Translatiōne: John Brown of Wamphray: Singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in the Public Worship of God From De Causa Dei contra Antisabbatarios, [Part 1], vol. 3 (2007); Part II. vol. 5 (2009). Perhaps in the equal time category, there will be a translation of the preface of the Constance Hymnal in the forthcoming 2011 issue.

  27. Cris Dickason said,

    April 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    #26: Chris – thanks for reminding to put The Confessional Presbyterian higher up the stack on my “to be read” pile.

    Where did you learn learn to spell, anyway?


  28. David R. said,

    April 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Benjamin (#18),

    “Those who do not think biblical hymnody to be anti-Scripture should remember that we hold this position against the wisdom and exegetical work of John Calvin, John Knox, the Puritans, the Westminster Divines, R.L Dabney, and John Girardaeu.”

    I’m pretty sure that Dabney and Girardeau were not opposed to uninspired song in worship. (I do know, however, that they were both adamantly opposed to the use of instruments.) If you know of any resources that demonstrate otherwise, I’d love to know! (My own conviction and practice is inspired songs only.)

  29. j.hansen said,

    April 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Has anyone responded to Bill Tucker’s argument? It seem prima facie a powerful reductio. To adopt EP, we are asked to concede, that despite the revelation of the Son of Man having come “at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” any mention of the name “Jesus” in our worship singing…”the only name under heaven by which men must be saved.”

  30. David R. said,

    April 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Jeff (#24),

    I think your summary is pretty good, but I think one thing that’s missing (and is implied in Benjamin’s #18) is the differing views on the Psalter’s sufficiency as a manual of praise. From what I can tell, the classic Reformed thinkers generally viewed the Psalter as totally sufficient (as is evident for example from Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms). They didn’t think our praise would be impoverished in any way by the exclusion of uninspired songs (on the contrary, they believed that the addition of such songs would constitute an impoverishment). Whereas those who now argue in favor of hymns view the Psalter as insufficient for New Testament worship and hence see the exclusion of hymns as a restriction and a loss rather than as a benefit. If I’m correct about these differing presuppositions concerning the Psalter’s sufficiency, I wonder what has led to the change in thinking.

  31. April 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Here is one reply to the argument above from some years ago:
    Singing the Name of Jesus: The Psalm Singer “Can” Sing the Name of Jesus

  32. April 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Chris Coldwell, thanks for the link. That’s an interesting article (though perhaps an insufficient treatment). The syllogism offered by Richard Bacon could be far more charitable by offering something more persuasive (at least more persuasive sounding). I propose the following syllogism:

    1. The time has come when we must worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
    2. Worshiping the Lord in truth requires that our worship reflect the full richness of the truth about the Lord that he has given to us.
    3.While the NT does place a new gloss on the meaning of many Psalms (i.e., infusing them with NT meaning), there are yet many new truths about the Lord revealed in the NT that are not obviously reflected in the Psalms.
    4. In order to faithfully worship in truth, these NT revelations must be reflected in our praise and adoration of the Lord.
    5. For that to happen, we must sing a new song from time to time.

  33. Stuart said,

    April 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Some thoughts concerning the sufficiency/insufficiency issue of the Psalms for worship . . .

    It’s powerful rhetoric to accuse others of believing that “the Psalms are insufficient.” Obviously, those of us who believe in the God-breathed nature of the Psalms would not want to argue the Psalms are insufficient.

    Yet there is more to this issue than a simple “we think the Psalms are sufficient while you guys don’t” argument.

    First, the Psalms are sufficient when it comes to the particular God-given purposes of that portion of Scripture. Both sides would agree on this (at least I hope we would). The pertinent issue, however, is not whether the Psalms are sufficient, but what those “God-given purposes” are. EPers say at least one of those purposes of the Book of Psalms is holding the status as THE hymnbook of God’s people. Non-Epers (with variations on a theme) see the Book of Psalms as a source for our hymnody (implying it is not the only source). Yet even with those differences in mind, both EPers and non-EPers can say they believe the Psalms are sufficient for the purposes God intended.

    Second, there is a certain sense that the Book of Psalms in and of itself IS insufficient (before you cast that first stone, hear me out!). If all we had were the Psalms and no Torah, no Prophets, no NT, the Psalms would be insufficient in a canonical sense because the whole counsel of God would be incomplete. Thus “singing only Psalms” cannot mean “singing Psalms without knowledge of how those songs fit within the larger scope of God’s revelation to us.” The best arguments of the EPers include how the Psalms sung in worship point us to Christ and the gospel, and how the Psalms fit within the fuller revelation given in the Scriptures as a whole. If we sing something along the lines of Psalm 66:15 (I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats) without understanding something of the fuller revelation of how Christ fulfills these sacrifices and offerings, wouldn’t such singing violate the commands of God and thus the RPW? If so, it would seem that even the EPer has to admit there is a certain sense in which the sufficiency of the Psalms is limited when it comes to this issue.

  34. David R. said,

    April 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Stuart, I agree with both of your points. (I don’t think disagreement with them was implied in my #30.) What do you think of my main point, that older Reformed writers pretty much universally viewed the Psalter as being sufficient as “the hymnbook of God’s people” (I acknowledge they sometimes also included a few New Testament songs) whereas newer writers don’t—and my question at the end?

  35. stuart said,

    April 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

    David R.,

    I’m not a historian, nor the son of a historian, so I can’t say whether the older Reformed writers would agree with the statement: “the Psalter is sufficient as the hymnbook of God’s people.” What little historical knowledge I have makes me think they would have much more sympathy for such a statement than most modern Presbyterians do. After all, one can go to plenty of Presbyterian worship services in America and rarely hear the singing of a Psalm.

    Yet I have to admit “more sympathy” and “universal, total agreement” are not the same things. Especially if we mean by “the Psalter is sufficient” that no other songs should be sung. I have read (but in all honestly I do not know if what I have read can be substantiated in any kind of historical verification) that Calvin’s liturgy, for example, contained a few songs other than the 150 Psalms (singing of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, etc.). Granted, this is a far cry from a hymnal with 500+ hymns or a CCLI database that is growing so large no one can possibly keep up with all the songs, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as exclusive as some EPers seem to be.

    As to the question of how the change from mainly Psalms only to mostly other songs besides the Psalms came about, I’ll have to plead ignorance. I could speculate, but I don’t know enough history to make a judgment call on the motives and reasons behind such changes.

    The main issue to me, however, is not why those changes came about but if those changes are correct or not. While it is possible that a widely held view was changed for the wrong reasons and with the wrong conclusion, it is also possible that the conclusion of the change was right while the reasoning was wrong. Granted, that kind of possibility is yet to be argued in any conclusive way (at least for those who are committed EPers), but the hypothetical issue remains.

    Any of us can use history or Scripture to our advantage. The issue is whether our views are truly the views expressed in Scripture.

  36. David R. said,

    April 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm


    “The issue is whether our views are truly the views expressed in Scripture.”

    Of course, but I’m questioning whether it’s quite that simple. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps our differing views on the sufficiency of the Psalter for singing praise to God colors the way we understand what Scripture says on the topic of song in worship. For example, suppose you are John Calvin, and your opinion of the Psalms is what he expressed in the preface to the Genevan Psalter:

    “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.”

    If this is your view of the Psalter, then it is very unlikely that arguments like, “If we can pray and preach using our own words, then we can sing using our own words” or “The Psalter is insufficient because it doesn’t speak explicitly of Christ” are going to be very persuasive.

  37. April 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    When Augustine said “no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him,” I wonder if Augustine used those very words, or if that was a paraphrase? And in any case, one need not hold EP or CMO in order to agree with that principle.

  38. bsuden said,

    April 15, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I don’t understand your argument?
    Is it that Calvin advocated psalmody, but Augustine didn’t?
    Because both did advocate psalmody. For Calvin is was one of the first four things he promoted in the reform of Geneva’s worship and Augustine was no friend of the Donatist hymns.

  39. April 15, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Bsuden, I am simply ignorant of what Augustine thought on this. From your comment, I take it that Augustine was EP? My second point was to point out that those who advocate the legitimacy of using paraphrases (assuming of course proper ecclesiastical authorization and selection) also agree with the principal articulated by Augustine (though they would not mean exactly the same thing, assuming Augustine was EP as you say).

  40. stuart said,

    April 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

    David R.,

    Of course, but I’m questioning whether it’s quite that simple.

    In one way I agree with you. Just because I said, “The issue is whether our views are truly the views expressed in Scripture” doesn’t mean I don’t think the issues surrounding this topic aren’t complex. In other comments on this blog I have tried to convey the idea that our differences on the RPW, EP/ES issues are hermeneutic in nature. Our presuppositions and approaches to Scripture do more than simply color our conclusions . . . they shape them in such a way that I’m not sure either side will change their minds unless their foundational hermeneutical ideas are changed.

    That said, THE issue IS whether our views are the views of Scripture or not. We can hide behind our presuppositions and interpretative approaches, but at some point we hit the “either/or wall.” Either EP is what Scripture teaches, or it is not.

    My question is: Are we all willing to rethink not only our conclusions on these RPW issues, but also our hermeneutics in order to see if what we believe and practice is truly what God has revealed in Scripture?

    As to the Calvin quote, the quote in and of itself certainly leans in a “Psalms are the best” direction, but does it indicate EP? From what I can understand, at least one version of Calvin’s Psalter included the Ten Commandments, the Song of Simeon, and the Song of Mary. Again I haven’t been able to verify this to my own satisfaction, but I have read in several sources that at some point Calvin’s liturgy included singing the Apostle’s Creed (btw, if any Calvin scholar out there can verify this or prove it is false, I would greatly appreciate it!). So while the bulk of what Calvin sang was certainly the Psalms, such a practice is not exactly the same thing as EP. Granted, Calvin isn’t the whole of the Reformed tradition, so if he was inconsistent or simply not as thorough and developed on this issue as later Reformed folks, we can’t rest a whole argument on him. But then again, neither can we rest our whole argument on any point in Christian history (both sides could find “evidence” for their cause at some point, I’m afraid). Even our own Confession says, “All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”

    If this is your view of the Psalter, then it is very unlikely that arguments like, “If we can pray and preach using our own words, then we can sing using our own words” or “The Psalter is insufficient because it doesn’t speak explicitly of Christ” are going to be very persuasive.

    I agree. At the same time, such arguments point us to some of the issues behind the issue, and we can use them as an opportunity to talk about those hermeneutic presuppositions rather than simply talk past each other.

  41. Richard said,

    April 15, 2011 at 9:27 am

    @bsuden: Are you saying that St. Augustine advocated the singing of Psalms exclusively? May we not say that because the Donatists were trying to spread their views through their own songs Augustine thought it wise to sing psalms. If so, that is rather different from saying he is EP.

  42. David R. said,

    April 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm


    “As to the Calvin quote, the quote in and of itself certainly leans in a ‘Psalms are the best’ direction, but does it indicate EP?”

    Thanks for the interaction and I think I agree with most of what you’ve been posting here. When it comes to EP, I’m a whole lot more concerned about the practice than the theory. Calvin may not have gotten to EP exegetically in the same way as the Covenanters do, but he obviously got there. If someone wants to claim that he wasn’t EP because he didn’t exclude the NT songs, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed, that’s their prerogative. But Calvin is clearly not on the side of those who advocate for uninspired songs.

  43. Stuart said,

    April 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    David R.,

    When it comes to EP, I’m a whole lot more concerned about the practice than the theory.

    I hear what you’re saying. At times I find that I have some affinity to such a concern with practice over theory. After all, if we have a theory down pat but don’t put it into practice, what good is such a theory?

    I’ll be quick to add, however, that I am very concerned about the theory because the theory should dictate our practice as the practice should be consistent with the theory. And in the case of EP (or any other view on the RPW for that matter), if the theory has some issues the problems with practice are sure to follow. And if our practice doesn’t follow our theory, then we need to either adjust our theory or our practice.

    Calvin may not have gotten to EP exegetically in the same way as the Covenanters do, but he obviously got there. If someone wants to claim that he wasn’t EP because he didn’t exclude the NT songs, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed, that’s their prerogative.

    Here’s a case in point of what I was saying above. I think there is more of a gap between a full blown strict EP theory and practice and the theory and practice of Calvin. Maybe I think this way because of the strict EPers I’ve run across over the years who would never dream of singing anything but the Psalms. Calvin’s main diet of singing was the Psalms, no doubt. But “main diet of Psalms” and “nothing but Psalms” are two distinct things. And if Calvin’s practice allows even one song other than the Psalms, his theory is not strictly EP . . . even if it sounds like it.

    But Calvin is clearly not on the side of those who advocate for uninspired songs.

    I agree Calvin’s practice is a far cry from the practice in most American Presbyterian churches where the main diet is not the Psalms. And I agree (based on my limited knowledge of Calvin’s views and practices) he would not be in favor of a theory and practice that ousted the Psalms for hymnody or praise songery.

    But if it is true that Calvin sang the Apostles Creed, then at least while he was doing that he would not be totally against uninspired songs either. And it would seem that if Calvin did sing the Apostles Creed, the door is cracked open for at least the possibility of other uninspired songs to seep through.

  44. bsuden said,

    April 18, 2011 at 1:30 am

    41 Richard
    Nope. A advocated psalmody best I can tell.

  45. proregno said,

    April 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    So the debate is settled: we can sing anything we want, as long as it is a Psalm.

  46. April 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Proregno, as long as that Psalm was not paraphrased.

  47. Darrell Todd Maurina said,

    April 25, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Ignore this post. Being made to notify me of follow-up comments via email.

  48. John Harutunian said,

    April 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    This whole argument is pretty silly. Why? Because there’s one -and only one- passage in the entire Bible which refers to the Psalms as a whole -that is, as a corporate entity. That passage is Psalm 72:20. It’s a critical verse, since it comes at the end of book 2 of what were originally the 5 books of Psalms. And it makes no mention of singing, or “sung praise”, or music in any way. It simply reads ,”The prayers of David the Son of Jesse are ended.”

    The conclusion is plain: God gave the Book of Psalms to Israel _primarily_ as a prayer-book. (Only secondarily, if at all, as a “songbook.”)

    Therefore, it’s a sin to pray in church -unless one prays a Psalm.

    Does anyone actually believe this?

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