Saturday, May 18, 2019

What Are We Commanded to Sing in Public Worship?

Recently, I encountered [an article] attempting to reason against Exclusive Psalmody. If you're not familiar with the case for EP, here's an overly brief/simple summary:
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
That which we sing in corporate worship will dwell in us richly. There is only One whose Words may be permitted to do so! (see also the parallel in Eph 5:18-21, where this rich-indwelling of Christ's Word is conjoined with being filled with the Spirit, and each of us is to render obedience to what the others are singing--again, not something to be done with the ideas of men, but only with the Word of God.)
Hebrews 2:11:12 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”
Quoting from Psalm 22, the apostle teaches that part of the "joy set before Him" on the cross, was Jesus's current action in not only the preaching, but also His activity in the singing in the worship assemblies of the church. If it is Jesus who sings in the assembly, we must not presume to put our words or thoughts into His mouth!

Then, there are the many, many obvious Scriptures that apply the 2nd commandment. Basically, if we worship according to the ideas of men, then we make ourselves our own gods. We might sound like we are honoring God with our lips, but our hearts will be far from Him.

The WCF summarizes these Scriptures thusly:
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
So, how is it that I arrive at believing that I am commanded to sing some of what people call "hymns"? It really is not by the form of argument in the article above. I'm not particularly convinced that creed/confession recitation is a prescribed element of the public worship of God (it troubles my conscience to do so where I currently minister, but I submit to the elders in their understanding texts like 1Cor 1:10 to imply some kind of speaking together for confessing the faith). And whereas the preaching that is commanded is inherently expository, but singing is not inherently expository, so that analogy dies easily. The article by itself would push me in the other direction.

However, one cannot so easily dismiss the assertion that metrical translation is inherently paraphrastic--or that singing itself requires some extent of paraphrase.

The argument that has actually compelled me into what some would call "hymn singing" is the fact that we are commanded to sing as the Spirit's appointed method for the rich indwelling of the Word of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit has attached a specific glory to the name, Jesus (c.f. Phil 2:9-11; Col 3:16-17).

In the first place, if "Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" is a limiting clause, then we may only sing in public worship those particular Psalms with those words in the superscripts. So, not even the entire Psalter would be commanded in that case. However, if that is not a limiting clause, then the full command is to sing the Word of Christ--so, rather than like so many "red-letter" text editions of Scripture, we must understand a command to sing the Words of Christ as a command to sing the thoughts of all of Scripture.

I am sympathetic to the argument that the thoughts of all of Scripture may be found somewhere in the Psalms. But, personal and pastoral experience has proved that while we may sing a couple lines from a Psalm that are analogous in theme to the other Scripture text about which we are trying to obey the command; yet, a metrical/paraphrastic translation of that text itself, or faithful opening of its ideas in verse, is a more direct and complete obedience to the command.

I appreciate that the article is trying to say that there is such a thing as hymn singing that is not "our putting our words into God's mouth." At least, I hope that's what he was saying: "here are other places where we are very intentionally yielding our thoughts to God's thoughts by paraphrased/rearranged words; and, that is something that applies especially in the form of song."

Ultimately, this comes to a head when trying to obey the good and necessary consequence of Phil 2:9-11 and the command of Col 3:17. Because, while there are many names and titles for Christ in the Psalter, yet I am commanded by God specifically to use the name of Jesus, and specifically in the glorifying of the Father through the worship of Christ, and specifically in context and connection with letting Christ's Word dwell in me richly in connection with congregational singing in the public worship of God.

Now--a proper understanding of Scripture commands for worship would exclude a vast majority, of the hymns currently sung in American services on the Lord's Day. But, I also think it excludes being exclusive to the Psalter.

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