A Consideration of Exclusive Psalmody

by | Jul 7, 2014 | Exclusive Psalmody

In the beginning God said, let there be singing.  The act of creation is described as a time of singing.  It was when “the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7).  Since that time God in His providence has said, Let the earth bring forth all kinds of singing and music.  He has said, Let there be love songs, laments for the dead, ballads for the brave, and let there be hymns of praise to ME!  He has also ordained that just as there should be a great variety of songs, there should be a great variety of music.  Out of His creative providence have sprung all sorts of musical instruments and all sorts of musical geniuses.  In the world we enjoy everything from brass bands to Bach and much more.  Singing and music are wonderful gifts of God made for us to enjoy.  Indeed, there is a great deal of Christian liberty with regard to this matter.  Some may push this matter of their liberty way beyond what is good for them or glorifying to God or edifying to their brethren.  Yet still without question there is great Christian liberty to enjoy these good gifts of God.  Christians may enjoy sacred concerts, the singing of biblical psalms, the talents of great musicians, Southern gospel quartets, soloists, duets, trios.  All these are good gifts to be enjoyed.  Christians with discretion may also enjoy all sorts of secular music.  Of course, care must be taken not to fill our minds with music that defiles us.  But there is a place for all these sings in the rich life that God has given to His people.

But in my preaching for Grace Reformed Baptist Church in the series, How Then Should We Worship?I am not dealing with the liberty Christians have to enjoy God’s good gifts in their own lives as they see fit.  I am not speaking of what kinds of music they may bring into their own homes or concert halls.  My concern is different.  We are asking what God has appointed about this matter for His own house.  There are many things that have a place in God’s world that do not have a place in God’s house.  We have a liberty to order our own houses that we do not have in the house of God.  The very essence of the regulative principle of the church is that God exercises a special rule over His own house that is different from His rules for life in general.  This is the reason Paul said to Timothy I write so that you may know how one ought conduct Himself in the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). In the world we have Christian liberty within the limits of His laws.  In the church we have God dominating His own worship.

In this series, then, when I came to the required part of worship which the 1689 Baptist Confession describes as teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord, my intention was not to say much of anything about the music to be enjoyed outside of the church.  We may do as we will in the world within the limits of God’s laws, but in His house God condemns will-worship or self-made religion (Col. 2:23).  The question I set for myself was simply this:  What has God said about the singing of His praise in His worship?

Now many important subsidiary questions arise in conjunction with this, but the one I want take up in this question has to do with the renewed push in some Reformed circles for exclusive psalmody.  In taking up this question I am assuming the answers to two previous questions.  The first of these had to do with the precedent for congregational singing in the formal worship of God.  I believe there is such precedent on the basis of passages like Matthew 26:30; 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26; Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16-17; and Revelation 5:9-10.  The second question has to do with the purpose of congregational singing.  Here, and this may be a little surprising, the New Testament makes clear that the purpose of such singing is not just the praising God, but also ministering to men!  This is clearly emphasized in at least three of the five passages just cited (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:18-20; and Colossians 3:16-17).

But assuming these things, I came to the practice of congregational singing in my preaching on this subject and confronted the question addressed in the title to this series.  In this and following blog posts I will address four questions related to this subject:

  1. What is exclusive psalmody?
  2. Why should we take the time to deal with it?
  3. How must the question be answered?
  4. What are the major arguments against it?

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