Monday, June 07, 2010

Against Exclusive Psalmody (Nature of Words Argument) and WLC 109

I earlier spoke of the history of Hymn Singing in the Reformed Church and the question was raised about the Westminster Tradition, especially the Larger Catechism Questions 109-110, and Shorter Catechism Questions 51-52. These all deal with the second commandment.

Specifically question 109 states with regards to the sins forbidden by the second commandment:
"corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever . . ."

Or Shorter Catechism 51
"The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word."

This is what is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. What God does not command is thus forbidden. It is in the Westminster and it is also in the other major confessions. The Heidelberg Catechims has similar wording, although not nearly as detailed as the WLC.

The Genevan Tradition begins with exclusive Psalmody, but it is particularly the Westminster Tradition that codified it. It seems fairly obvious that the Scottish Church held to exclusive Psalmody until at least Isaac Watts in the 18th century. Even then Watts was a scandal for a time. The rest of the Genevan Tradition had abandoned Exclusive Psalmody. The Huguenots were long gone, and the Dutch Church had instituted non-inspired texts like the Apostles’ Creed to music in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which shows that it was around already. In fact, several other hymns Dort was trying to keep out, but they opened the door. The churches continued with the hymns for the most part, and soon they were accepted. Leaving only a Westminster Tradition as favoring Exclusive Psalmody.

The argument as I understand it is that hymns are customs “invented and taken up of ourselves” which is forbidden. The hymns are human inventions and are thus forbidden.

In responding to WLC 109, I am going to have to give the Nature of Words argument, which had been slated to be third.

Are the words of the hymns of human origin and invented by man? Yes. The answer has to be yes. But so too is much else that even the Scots hold dear but do not cast out of the worship service. One thing that can easily be pointed to are the instruments. The piano is invented by man. And some in the Westminster tradition forbid them. But a better thing to point to is prayer and preaching. The words of prayers are often man-made, not divinely inspired. Yet the Scottish church has a tradition of free prayer. They do not use the Book of Common Prayer, which was made by men anyway. Just as the Bible has songs in the Psalms, so they have a great many prayers. There is the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer at the temple by Solomon, the prayer of Jesus in the Garden or the prayer of Hannah or Jonah in the belly of the whale. And those are just off the top of my head. Yet, no one argues that prayers must be only the words of the Bible. Why not? What is the difference between words made up by man and prayed and the words made up by man and sung?

Preaching too must fall under the same condemnation of WLC 109 if we read that phrase so strictly. The words of the sermon are not Scripture, but rather “invented and taken up of ourselves”. Yet no one argues that only the sermons of Scripture are to be preached. Most scholars believe Hebrews was a sermon, and the epistles of Paul were read as if they were sermons. You have other sermons like the Sermon on the Mount that could also be read as the sermon. Many of the prophets have sermons recorded for us. Why not then just read those as the sermons? What is different about human words in a sermon and human words sung to a tune in hymns? Is there something ontologically different about words when we sing them that makes them unacceptable? If not then human invented hymns have to be allowed. They cannot be deemed unacceptable based on their uninspired origin. If non-inspired words are allowed into a service anywhere, then they have to be acceptable everywhere including in songs. If one wants to keep non-inspired sermons and prayers, but not hymns then it becomes incumbent on them to prove the difference between words spoken and words sung.

This leaves only one ground for Exclusive Psalmody, the broader argument from WSC 51 about hymns not being commanded. This means that the Bible commands psalms to be sung, but nothing else (which rules out the associated argument that only inspired words are allowed, but more than just psalms). This will led us now to the Biblical argument for Hymn Singing.

6 Comments:

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Andrew Duggan said...

Hi Lee,

Well, just quickly, the answers to the use of uninspired words in prayer and preaching, in brief this:

We have by good and necessary consequence in Paul's Epistles that prayer is to be specific, because he writes about making mention of various persons in his prayers. As you know those are numerous. Therefore to pray in our own words is commanded. The content of those words though is pretty regulated in by the Lord's Prayer and other scriptures.

That the preaching of the word is specifically commanded (otherwise Christ would have used the words read or recite my word instead) in the great commission. This is further strengthened by Paul when he describes the offices in the church, which are preaching focused. Where in those lists did he give some hymn composers?

So we are left with good reasoning why prayer and preaching can be in, for lack of a better expression, "in our own words". We still have no such reasoning on why the content of singing should be in our own words.

Notice how in Esp 5:18,19, the singing is sandwiched between references to the Holy Spirit: "... but be filled with the Spirit"? The Col 3 passage is similar, but using the phrase "... word of Christ dwell..." Only the scriptures are the Word of Christ, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only the book of Psalms do we find the Holy Spirit's collection of the Psalms hymns and songs that are the Word of Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The fact there are other songs in scripture that Christ did not have the Holy Spirit move the collectors of the Psalter to place is reason doesn't change anything. The organization of Psalter, as witnessed by Act 13:33, in specifically referencing a Psalm by number, (#2) was inspired by Holy Spirit as much as the words are themselves. The very fact that God put a hymnal within Scripture itself should be plain enough to anyone that that is the hymnal that He wants used.

Andrew Duggan said...

That final paragraph's first sentence should have read:

The fact there are other songs in scripture that Christ did not have the Holy Spirit move the collectors of the Psalter to place within it, doesn't change anything.