Monday, May 31, 2010

The argument Against Exclusive Psalmody (or only singing the Inspired Words of Scripture)

I just wanted to take a minute to defend the practice of singing hymns during worship. This will be done in three sections. First, the Historical Argument. Second, the Biblical Argument. Third, the Nature of Words argument (I am sure there is a better title to this argument, I just don’t know it).

I do want to take a minute to speak about the historical argument. It is often argued that all of the Reformed Churches were originally exclusive psalmists and that is how they understood the Bible and the Regulative Principle of Worship. This is simply untrue. It is true that Calvin, the Huguenots of France, the Scots, the Directory of Public Worship and even Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate desired exclusive psalmody. However there are at least two other earlier Reformed strands that are often ignored.

One strand is the Swiss Strand, which is probably extinct today. If you ever wonder why Zwingli is not referenced in this debate it is because Zwingli and the churches of Zurich did not sing at all. That is right: no congregational singing. That was the way of Zurich. Zwingli did not sing. Bullinger did not sing. Not even during the next head of the church, Simon Gaulther, son-in-law of Zwingli, did they sing. Nor did Bern under the leadership of Berthold Haller. Bern did not sing at all. In fact, Calvin himself seemed to favor this tradition. He was unsure if the people should sing, but he came to the conclusion to sing psalms as it was the safest thing just in case singing was not allowed at all.

The other tradition is the German Reformed tradition. This tradition does not spring from Geneva or Calvin, but from Constance and Strassborg. Constance, a German city reformed by Ambrose Blarer and Johannes Zwick, produced a hymn book that did have psalms, but also had uninspired hymns. It seems it was used during worship, especially on feast days. It contained some of Luther’s hymns. It also contained many hymns written by the Zwick and Blarer brothers. It also even had a hymn by Leo Juda, right hand man in Zurich. Since Zwick and Blarer had a hand in other cities like Augsburg one can assume that this hymnbook was used in more places than just Constance. The earliest copy we have is dated 1540, but it is also clearly a revision. We know they were singing hymns by at least 1533 in Constance.

Constance ended up changing the practice in Strassborg as well. The 1537 Strassborg Psalter included many hymns. Mostly by the Blarer’s and Johannes Zwick. Thus, Strassborg was not an exclusive psalmist city. In fact, it switched away from exclusive psalmnody. The Germans continued with their hymn singing even after the Augsburg Interim put an end to Reformed Services in much of Germany. Heidelberg and the Palatinate started out singing only psalms under Frederick III, but under his son Lewis, they sang hymns. This practice remained as they sang hymns during communion services from that point on. The Palatinate was not the only German church to sing hymns during communion services. So to did the church in Bremen.

Better yet, Brandenburg, which went reformed in about 1613 always sang hymns. The churches in the county of Mark also sang hymns. Mark was part of the Synod of Cleve, Julich, and Mark. Since Mark sang hymns it is fairly clear that the Synod was not against hymns. Thus, the tradition of singing hymns in the Reformed Churches in Germany is well grounded. So, it is completely wrong to suggest that the Reformed tradition sang only psalms. Such a comment is to equate Calvin and those who followed him with the entire Reformed tradition. There are at least two other traditions, which actually predate Calvin’s influence, and one of them is the singing of hymns during worship.

3 Comments:

Andrew Duggan said...

It seems to me then that your first argument is that because not ALL "Reformed" churches were EP, then therefore EP is incorrect -- is that right?

So unless all Reformed churches in the 16th and 17th centuries were EP then EP is invalid?

The historical argument for the EP is only valid within a strand, for example English/Scottish Presbyterian AKA "Westminter" Presbyterians. I can still argue that today's Presbyterians are out of accord with their confession, because that is true.

Just because some others who never confessed that were not EP doesn't negate the historical argument for EP within a strand that did.

The overstating by some in saying EP was the practice of the Reformed churches, when you will claim/demonstrate that some 16th/17 Reformed churches didn't practice EP, doesn't really have any impact on the EP argument as the "historical argument" for EP has always been used against those in strands that where the historical practice was EP. In this case the historical argument for the EP strands is really only a way of saying non-EP are unfaithful to their confession, and history demonstrates that the language of e.g. WCF cannot be understood to mean anything other than EP.

The Lutherans fell short when it comes to Reformation didn't they? With all due respect, to those of us who are heirs of Genevan/French/Scottish strands it rather appears you are saying little more than the German Reformed somewhat like their Lutheran countrymen failed to continue the Reformation as far as they should have.

I would ask you one question does God still in the course of His normal providence act in accordance with the reasons annexed to the 2nd commandment as described by WLC 110 and WSC 52, while I know you don't subscribe to those, I guess I wonder if you repudiate them?

Lee said...

Andrew,
Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that the historical argument is not meant to disprove EP. It is more meant to show that non-EP, or singing hymns, is not new, but has roots in the reformation. It does not have much impact for those in the Westminster Tradition.

I do think that the argument "EP is the only one in Reformed History" is being used in current books. So, I felt that including this particular argument was important.

As for your thought:
"to those of us who are heirs of Genevan/French/Scottish strands it rather appears you are saying little more than the German Reformed somewhat like their Lutheran countrymen failed to continue the Reformation as far as they should have"
I think that argument cuts both ways. For those of us outside the Genevan/French/Scottish tradition, it really seems like the Reformation was deformed a bit in the refusal to sing hymns.

I think your questions about the WLC 110 and WSC 52 are good questions. They deserve a longer response. Thus, I will write a blog post about it. Hopefully that will further this discussion.

Thanks for your input!

Andrea Powell said...

Are you saying that Calvin's reason for choosing exclusive Psalmody was more out of safety, that he wasn't sure singing was even allowed, than a robust Biblical argument? Am I understanding you correctly?