Friday, December 15, 2006
Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs
I had mentioned in my 100 things that I belong to a denomination that only sings psalms in worship. I know this is very unusual so, after being asked about it, I thought I would share why my church does this and some of the blessings that come from that. This is not meant to start a psalms versus hymns argument (there is enough of that elsewhere on the internet) but instead to share a part of my church tradition by which others might be edified.

The reason behind Exclusive Psalmody (which also includes the singing of other songs in Scripture) comes down to the Puritan concept of "Purity of Worship" and the Regulative Principle, which is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith as:

But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped 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.
In summary, it means that the only acceptable worship is that which is specifically instituted by God in the Bible and that we can not do better than to sing God's own word in his worship. This is practised in my church by the singing of only psalms and biblical songs and by singing a cappella. This contrasts with the more common Normative Principle, which allows anything that is not specifically prohibited in Scripture as long as there is general agreement in the Church that is good and edifying.

I have found many blessings in singing the psalms. I love singing them, knowing that these are the same words sung for thousands of years by God's people and even by Jesus himself. All human emotions are expressed in the psalms, from anger at God and rage at feeling abandoned by him to rejoicing and praise. Sometimes these are emotions and ideas we find hard to share with each other, never mind in singing to God, yet they are here in God's word, inspired by the Spirit, and are clearly designed by him for singing. Through singing the psalms in church and in my own quiet times, they have been hidden away in my heart so that without me even noticing that I have memorised huge portions of Scripture.

If you are interested in listening, I have found a few links for you to experience psalm singing. (If you are really brave, you could try the Gaelic psalm singing. It divides people like Marmite - you'll either love it or hate it!) Psalm singing has to be sung in 4 part harmony to be heard at its best. Often in church this will happen spontaneously which really does make a joyful song! If your psalmody tastebuds have been awakened, I can recommend Discovery, the DVD of a recent Festival of Psalms - you might even spot someone you know!

Psalm 24:7-10 to the tune St George
Psalm 46:1-5 to Stroudwater
Psalm 65:1-6 to Dunfermline
Psalm 69 to Stornoway (Gaelic)
Psalm 117 to Regents Square
Psalm 103 to Coleshill (Gaelic)
Psalm 104 to Kilmarnock (Gaelic)
Psalm 121 to French

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16

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  posted at 10:16  

At 16 December, 2006 16:30, Anonymous janna said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing! :)

At 17 December, 2006 11:06, Blogger Robert said...

Thank-you for posting this article about why your church sings psalms.It was interesting.When you said that your church sings a cappella it reminded me of the Primitive Baptists denominations in the U.S. who sing a cappella.I heard them on a cd called Southern Journey Vol 4.I also enjoyed listening to the psalm singing.I did try the Gaelic ones-I liked them.

At 18 December, 2006 11:23, Blogger Keziah said...

I think these traditions are probably from the same root. From the time of the Reformation, churches in Scotland had been singing unaccompanied psalms, so it seems reasonable that when many Scots moved to the new colonies in America that a cappella psalm singing went with them.

Recently, there was even a study on Gospel singing in the South of the USA that suggested that Gaelic psalm singing (where the line is put out) might have been an influence.

Did you know that the first book to be published in America was a book of metrical psalms in 1640?

I have really enjoyed reading all this! It is good to know from where our traditions come! I am so glad that others have found it interesting.

At 26 March, 2007 00:14, Anonymous susan said...

Thanks for sharing these links.
Since I am using my sista's computer (which has dsl) I can listen to them. :-)

I've had a marvelous time listening and contemplating God.

Good luck with the CD.

At 08 March, 2008 15:51, Blogger Monica said...

We belong to the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and learning to sing the Psalms has been the greatest blessing. My husband and I were introduced to Reformed doctrine about 8 years ago, so Psalm singing is still fairly new. We have been so blessed, though, to see how quickly and joyfully our children have picked it up.

Thanks for this great post

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