My position–which I won’t debate at the moment with my more Covenanter-ish friends–is Dominant Psalmody. The Psalms in their entirety should comprise the majority of private and public liturgical devotion. The burden of proof should always be on the one who says we shouldn’t sing God’s word (even though God commanded us to sing his word, Eph. 5:19). With that said, however, I am not exegetically convinced that there is no place for hymns. I am not going to give huge detail on why or why not. I have no interest in defending hymns at large, especially the saccharine revivalistic hymns. But my own convictions lead me to conclude that some hymns aren’t sinful. But that’s not the point of this post.
One of the recent New Horizons (March 2014) by the OPC examined the Psalm-singing debate. Well, not actually. It explored the ramifications of introducing more psalm-singing (specifically, a new psalter) into the life of the congregation. Some of the articles (Eric Watkins and others) were quite good on redemptive history and the psalms, if not actually giving an analysis of the discussion. However, one pastor argues that we shouldn’t sing all 150 psalms (p. 7). He says God hasn’t commanded us to sing all psalms. He notes (probably correctly) this has been the consensus of the OPC committee.
What to make of this argument? I want to be respectful because I came from the OPC and I don’t like criticizing the OPC (remember the rock whence you are hewn). However, it appears sophistic. God commands us to sing psalms. True, he didn’t say “all 150,” but that’s like taking Paul’s injunction “to preach the Word” as meaning, “Yeah, but we don’t have to preach the whole bible.” Sed contra, the hymn singer has to give the justification on why songs by Wesleyans and Pentecostals and anybody from the 1970s gets precedent over God’s word. God or somebody who says we need a second blessing to be fully saved? It’s not a hard choice (and for the record, I like “And Can it be?” However, at the end of the day even Psalm 137 necessarily gets priority).
But back to the article: The author claims that many of the Psalms “flow out of the Mosaic covenant,” which is obsolete (8). He doesn’t give any examples, but then goes on to speak of “The Old Testament.” This is bizarre, since the New testament sees Psalms 8 and 110 as proof-texts for the New Covenant, and Psalm 89 is the locus classicus for the Davidic Covenant. Reformed theology, however, does not identify the Mosaic Covenant with the Old Testament. In fact, since David wrote most of the psalms, would it not better to speak of their being in the Davidic Covenant, which is very much a reality for believers today (Acts 2; Jesus being identified as the Davidic King)? In the second column on page 8 he says the imprecatory psalms are incompatible with Christian piety. We are on the edge of Marcionism here. Most amazingly, he writes that Christian’s suffering today cannot be identified with that of the Psalmists (3rd column, p. 8). He may be the only person in Christendom who has ever said that. In fact, if what he is arguing is true, not only should we not sing the psalms, maybe we shouldn’t even pray or read them!
Continuing in a veiled Marcionite strain, he says the attitude towards other nations changed. While he admits that the Old Testament does see the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, he says this is not the psalms’ approach to other nations. Presumably, the psalmists (though writing under the Holy Spirit) wanted God to kill the other nations. It’s a strange argument. Among other psalms, 22 and 72 prophecy the in-gathering of Gentiles.
Reading that article makes me want to apologize to James Jordan (just a little bit). For all the wacky things he has said, he has also vigorously argued for more psalm-singing in church. Even more, he has given practical and step by step ways to introduce it into the church. We might be uncomfortable with the idea of chanting, but we must remember that everyone from Ireland to India chanted the Psalms, and for a specific reason: memory. In the ancient church you could not have been a bishop without having memorized the Psalms (and at least one gospel). When he advocated an army of Psalm Chanters to change the world, he practically clinched the debate. The negative of this is what happens when you don’t sing Psalms.
At this point I had planned to do a review of the Red Trinity Hymnal, but that would make the post unnecessarily long.