My Fourth Major Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

by | Jul 28, 2014 | Exclusive Psalmody

Fourth, exclusive psalmody is out of accord with the requirements God makes with regard to other parts of worship.

We are certainly commanded to preach scriptural sermons and pray scriptural prayers, but this does not limit us to only reading sermons found in Scripture or to praying only prayers found in Scripture.  Why, then, should we think that in our singing we are limited to singing inspired Scripture or even singing verbatim Scripture?

My point is that this view is inconsistent with the other parts of worship.  The exclusive psalmody view says that in the church’s worship we may only sing translations of Scripture, but consider how inconsistent and strange this is.  Exclusive psalmody does not restrict the preaching to the recitation or reading of Scripture translation.  It does not and we do not restrict preaching to inspired sermons or translations of biblical sermons.  We do not and exclusive psalmody does not restrict praying to the recitation or reading of biblical prayers.  They do not and we do not restrict corporate prayer to inspired prayers or translations of biblical prayers.

Yet exclusive psalmody does restrict the singing of praise to the singing of inspired songs or translations of biblical hymns.  We simply ask why?  How can it be right to preach uninspired sermons, pray uninspired prayers, and yet wrong to sing uninspired hymns?  Why should we restrict our hymnody to translations of Scripture when we do not so restrict our preaching or praying.

Listen to Pastor Jeff Smith in his unpublished Essay on Exclusive Psalmody:

… if it is wrong to sing uninspired hymns in worship then it seems to me it would be wrong to pray uninspired prayers and to preach uninspired sermons. You see, the same argument for the exclusive use of the book of Psalms, or a more moderate argument for the exclusive use of songs already recorded in the scripture, if carried to its logical conclusion would mean we can only recite scripture prayers and we can only recite scripture sermons. If there is no place for extemporary songs of praise, there is no place for extemporary prayer and extemporary preaching either. Now those who hold this view don’t go that far and I say that, therefore, they’re being inconsistent…

This problem is particularly pressing because the Bible does not make a hard and fast distinction between singing and praying.  Something above 20 of the 150 Psalms are called prayers.  Here is one example:  Psalm 17:1 reads:  “A Prayer of David. Hear a just cause, O LORD, give heed to my cry; Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips.”

The exclusive psalmodist sometimes appeals to the part of worship involving the reading of Scripture to show that there is another part of worship restricted to the very words of Scripture.  Thus, they argue some parts of worship are free (like preaching and praying), but others are fettered like singing and Scripture reading).  To this several responses must be made:

First, as noted above, this kind of distinction tends to defy the way in which singing slips into praying.  And, as I will now say, it tends to defy the connection between Scripture reading and interpretation.

Second, the Bible teaches that part of the reading of Scripture should include the explanatory comments of the reader.  What does Nehemiah 8:8 say?  And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.  The reading of Scripture may be and where necessary should be accompanied by brief, explanatory comments.  This is clear from its connection with the exhortation and the teaching in 1 Timothy 4:13.  It is clear from the comments made in Nehemiah 8:8.

Third, as suggested in my first argument, the reading of Scripture in English services requires the selection of an English translation.  Every English translation of the Bible—even the most literal—involves interpretive decisions by the translators.  This is not wrong, however, but finds its precedent in Nehemiah 8:8.  Thus, even the Scripture reading does not parallel the claim to sing inspired psalms.

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