On Dominant Psalmody

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But back to the article:  The author claims that many of the Psalms “flow out of the Mosaic covenant,” which is obsolete (8).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.

An Army of Psalm Chanters

My goal in “Federal Vision Diagnosis” is to give an analysis somewhat removed from the situation. Most of the battle are over. NAPARC has ruled (correctly) that the FV is in error. The CREC provides a convenient outlet. Even if the PCA ultimately disciplines Leithart, he’s won the debate. He has shown that the PCA cannot discipline error at the highest level. The reason is simple: what right do mainstream PCA guys have to rebuke Leithart when they are deliberately weak on the Second and Fourth Commandments? (And to add insult to injury, Jim Jordan really doesn’t take exceptions to those two commandments, at least not the way most people take the exceptions). I am also trying to cut off future movements into FV at the knees. A lot of young guys get enamored with the FV because they do see some good things there and see inadequacies in their own churches, and think the FV is the answer. When they are rebuked on it, they harden the defenses. I don’t plan this to be a rebuke. I really want to capitalize on some good things they are saying. Below is an analysis of one of Jordan’s rants against the Calvinist world. I’m not linking to it. It’s fairly easy to find.

What makes this piece by Jordan so annoying is that of the six pieces he wrote on this topic, hidden in two of them were some gems that would utterly revolutionize Reformed life. I’ll jump to the conclusion: you really want to “change the world” or “continue the reformation?” Sing and “chant” Psalms. And not the tamed NIV-psalms in the Red Trinity hymnal.

Some of my criticisms of this article are more along the lines of “this is why nobody wants to play with you.” Other comments will acknowledge that this idea could work and could be within the parameters of the Reformed faith, but the way it is being presented is harmful.

The Calvinistic churches are little more than extensions of the academy. The black robe is the robe of the scholar, not the angelic white robe of a worship leader.

No argument here on the academy part. If robes worn are under the category of “circumstance,” then I don’t see the problem with wearing a white one instead.

The heart of the meeting is the long lecture-sermon.

Paul did say preach the word.

Candles

I’m going to say “no” but my reasons are different. For starters, Bucer didn’t have an initial problem with it. I’ve been in Presbyterian churches that did light candles and it didn’t detract from the preaching (think of a 40+ minute sermon). At the end of the day I have to ask, “Where is it commanded?” Could it be under “circumstance?” That might work. I have long hated fluorescent lighting with all of my heart. It is ugly and science has proven that it triggers migraines. There is no excuse for it. Using candles (or some variant) instead is infinitely superior.

Colored paraments on table and pulpit?

I don’t even know what that is.

Flowers? Maybe.

I have so many reasons for not wanting flowers. All low-church evangelicals know they are obligated to compliment Aunt Glady May’s flowers in the front or lose their job. Try it next Sunday. Even worse, I’ve seen some churches who are big on “creational theology” overdo the flower stuff. It’s worse than silly. A lot of such theology is no different from Celtic paganism.

The darkest part of the room is the center where the dark wood table and the dark wood massive pulpit and the black-robed preacher are.

Not if they are using fluorescent lighting. Then it is seeringly bright.

The Supper is not a festival, is done rarely, with precious little to eat and only grape juice to drink.

The Reformed world has actually improved on this point. He is right on grape juice. That is utterly inexcusable. It’s not merely a crude violation of the RPW, wine has ontological and typological connotations. If we drink grape juice, then we can’t fight Yahweh’s battles in a drunken Spirit-frenzy (Zeph. 9:15). We’ll fight it like practitioners of American Religion. We’ll vote Republican. But I’ve seen Reformed churches increase frequency on this point and as American Fundamentalism waxes older and older, I think we will see more wine. I hope so, if for their sakes.

And in fact, the sacraments don’t actually do anything at all. They are just aids to devotion. Eating bread is nothing; it’s meditating on Jesus that matters. Water on the head is nothing, just a symbol that some day you might come to the right ideas about Jesus and be saved. In other words, touch and physical contact are completely unimportant. It’s all ideas. If you get sick, don’t expect to be anointed with oil. You might be, but it’s pretty rare.

Let’s look at what he is and isn’t saying. He is implying that we are transformed, but not in a Romanist sense. What kind of sense? I don’t know. He doesn’t say. You can’t just drop bombs like this. This is why even on the most charitable reading, The Federal Vision can be accused of pastoral irresponsibility.

So, the churches are miniature academies. People are not taught the Bible, but the confession of faith, over and over.

Sometimes they aren’t taught the Confession, either. No one has ever accused the PCA of being too confessional! LOLOLOL!

I should have thought that the “basics” were learning to chant all the psalms, getting a real practical knowledge of the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and coming to be able to walk through every book of the Bible.

He has a point. If you are trained to do chiastic outlines of the Old Testament, I promise you will be able to recall most of it (structure) from memory. And Scripture becomes infinitely more beautiful. But what about chanting? Isn’t that what EO and Rome does? Sort of. I doubt they chant it like the Hebrews did. But however you say it, chanting is mnemonic. Many Russian Cossacks had the entire Psalter memorized. Even though imperfect, they sought to be Holy Warriors. Chanting aided memory.

And what does the Calvinistic seminary-academy look like? Well, this is what I was taught: We start with exegesis, the grammatical-historical method of getting the data out of the Bible. Then we build Biblical Theology on top of that, learning Biblical themes. But the acme, the highest point, is Systematic Theology. There we have it all put together. So, what are sermons like in Calvinistic churches? They consist of “points” that are somehow related to some text. They do not consist of walking through the text and bringing the people as close as possible to how God wrote the text. Something as simple as walking through the text line by line and closing with some applicatory thoughts would just not be “sermonic” enough.

I’m sorry but this is true. No, the reality is much worse. My experience was a watered-down version of the above. Yeah, that bad.

But let us consider what a Christian view of the Church would be. It would be a place of transformation, not merely of information. Marshaling the people into an army of psalm chanters would be at the top of the list. Indeed, in seminary several psalms would be chanted every day in chapel. The music in the church would be loud, fast, vigorous, instrumental, martial. There would be real feasts. People would be taught that when God splashes water on you, He’s really doing something: He’s putting you into His rainbow.

Some of this is silly, but I hope the “army of psalm chanters” got your attention. As to the instruments–my jury is out on that one.

The environment of music (and the Spirit is the Music of God, as the Son is the Word of God) would be a healing environment (1 Samuel 16:14-23); there would be far fewer occasions for pastoral counseling. Also, because the things that God holds important (music, sacraments, Bible) would be paramount, what passes for systematic theology would be kept on the back burner where it belongs. We need it to ward off errors, but it does not cause the Church to grow. Confessions of faith are neither soil nor fertilizer nor water. Laymen probably should not know that they exist.

There is something to systematic theology, but I am willing to see the above enacted. We shouldn’t reject Charles Hodge. All of the convertskii have demonstrated that they know nothing of Hodge and Turretin.

 

Beginning Posts on Psalmody

I originally wanted to do a post on Covenanter Continuationism as a response to the uproar over the Strange Fire conference.  Psalmody is more important, though.   I’ve never really explored it in detail.   The following is simply some theses and tentative conclusions (ironically at the beginning of the study).

Whatever else the verses commanding us to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” mean, particularly the latter two terms, the Bible is commanding us to sing Psalms.   How often are psalms sung in today’s churches?

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I think we are seeing something like a religious version of Gresham’s law (bad money drives out good money):  Inferior songs tend to eclipse biblical psalms.   It’s interesting to compare the two Trinity Hymnals on this point.  Find the older (Blue) hymnal and compare it with the newer (Red) one..  The Psalms are far more prominent in the former.    It’s interesting that the majority committee that created the former admitted that hymns were not sanctioned by God in his word.

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The question that really impressed itself on me was this:  who is a better songwriter than the Holy Spirit?

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I don’t think the question is entirely clear-cut, though–and for both sides.   Some in the Reformed camp argue that we see songs sung in the New Testament that are outside the Psalter.  The Christ-Hymn of Phil. 2 for example.   That is a fair point, but it’s difficult to draw modern-day application from it, since if one sang that hymn it would only be 20 seconds long!   Others object that the “pitch whistle” violates the EP exclusion of instruments.  Well, it might but the thesis before the house has to do with Psalms and Hymns, principally, not instrugments.