How Must the Question of Exclusive Psalmody be Answered?

by | Jul 14, 2014 | Exclusive Psalmody

How must the question be answered?

What do I mean by this question?  I mean, On what basis must the question be answered?  What rule should govern us when we try to answer the question of exclusive psalmody?  What in the context of this series on the question, How then should we worship? should be our basis for answering this question?  It must, of course, be the regulative principle itself.  That principle requires that we have warrant in the Word of God for every element of our worship.

But there is a difficult question here.  How exactly does the regulative principle apply to this issue?  Is the application of the regulative principle to this issue that the exclusive psalmodist must provide clear, scriptural warrant for exclusive psalmody?  Or is the application that the non-exclusive psalmodist must provide warrant for singing uninspired compositions?

As I said, this is a difficult issue.  It is also, however, an important issue because it relates to the crucial issue (for this and all other arguments) of the burden of proof.  Upon whom falls the burden of proof?  Does the burden of proof fall on the advocate of exclusive psalmody?  Then the question will be, Do we have warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of exclusive psalmody?  Or does the burden of proof fall on the one who rejects exclusive psalmody?  Then the question would be, Do we have warrant in Scripture for singing something other than the inspired psalms found in the Bible?

Obviously, the one who holds exclusive psalmody will usually argue that the burden of proof rests on the one who wants to sing something other than the biblical psalms.  He will say that it is clear that we should sing the biblical psalms and that we have clear warrant for that.  He will say that it is safe to sing inspired, biblical psalms, but that it is not safe to sing other uninspired hymns unless we have clear warrant for that in the Bible.

Now I am not sure that the exclusive psalmodist is totally correct in placing the burden of proof on us his opponents.  It surely would be an odd thing if exclusive psalmody as a doctrine could not be justified on the basis of the regulative principle.  To put this in other words, it would certainly be strange if the doctrine of exclusive psalmody could not be proven on the basis of sola scriptura. Does not every doctrine of the church—including exclusive psalmody—need to be proven on this basis of sola scriptura?  That is certainly the case.  To quote the 1689 Baptist Confession chapter 1, paragraph 6a:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Every doctrine of the church must be based on Scripture or its good and necessary consequences.  This is the meaning of the phrase, “either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture.”  It seems to me, therefore, that it is most difficult for the exclusive psalmodist to make the burden of proof rest on his opponent and to evade the necessity of showing that exclusive psalmody may be proved on the basis of Scripture alone.

But whether or not he can do that, it is certainly true that his cause is lost if the burden of proof rests on the exclusive psalmodist. It is clear that he cannot prove from Scripture that we must only sing inspired, biblical psalms.  If the burden of proof rests on the exclusive psalmodist, then, (Let me repeat it!) his cause is lost.  And, I think, he knows his cause is lost.  Pastor Jeff Smith of Coconut Creek, Florida (in his unpublished paper entitled “Arguments Against Exclusive Psalmody”) remarks:

… the Scriptures never say anywhere that the O.T. book of Psalms was given to be the definitive hymnbook of the church for all time. Indeed the Scriptures are given to be our sole rule of faith and life but the Scriptures never say that the Psalter is to be our only source of Christian praise.

Let me illustrate this from Scripture.  In order to prove exclusive psalmody from sola scriptura the advocate of this view must show that passages like 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19-20; and Colossians 3:16-17 only refer to the Book of Psalms.  The fact is they do not make this claim.  Their argument is rather that these passages clearly include the Book of Psalms, but not that this is only, totally, and certainly all to which they refer.  Rather, they say that it is uncertain whether other songs are in view.  Thus, to be on the safe side we must only sing the Book of Psalms or at most inspired songs.

Similarly, they suggest that the word, spiritual, may refer to the idea of inspiration.  Nevertheless, it cannot be proven that this term means inspired in this context.  In fact, as I will show later, another interpretation commends itself much more strongly.

All of this is just to say, then, that exclusive psalmody cannot be proved from sola scriptura. Thus, it may very well be proper to argue that we do not have warrant in the regulative principle for exclusive psalmody.

But for the sake of this argument, in my future blogs, I am willing to assume the burden of proof.  I am willing to ask and answer the question, Do we have warrant in Scripture for singing something other than the inspired psalms found in the Bible?  My answer is a resounding YES!

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