Exclusive Psalmody Website

Dear Reader,

In looking for a church to visit while on vacation I ran across a great website which allows you to find psalm-singing churches wherever you go. Upon further exploration, I stumbled across this post which quotes a report of the Synod committee on Psalmody. So much of what they say in the report struck me as so true. And the report is from 1888!

The report argues that we need to occasionally explain to our congregations why we sing psalms and that we need to strive for beauty and skill in our singing (which I am sadly lacking in, but I am glad to be in a church where others have these talents).

In 1888, the Synod reported that “We are surrounded by those who are hostile to the exclusive use of the Book of Psalms as the praise book of the church.” I am afraid our problem today is not so much hostility as ignorance. Most don’t even know this practice exists (I certainly didn’t before I walked into an RP church). Nonetheless, we can agree with our predecessors that:

“We need to do this because of the natural inclination of man to substitute the human for the divine, and to consult his own feelings, even in matters of worship, rather than the revealed will of God. The question in all such matters is not what is most pleasing to human sense, but what does God require.”

Their problem seems to have been an argument that the psalms were not enough. Ours is  a complete lack of the psalms, unless they are chopped up and used in repetitive praise choruses. When I find myself having discussions on this issue with Christian friends, most often I am just trying to convince them that the psalms are even a viable option for singing in worship. I wish I had the boldness of that committee to say:

“To use hymns of human composition in religious worship without divine warrant is daring presumption; it is to say that ‘God’s Spirit acted niggardly in doling out an insufficient supply of praise songs;’ and it is to profess that we are wiser than God. Let us beware of charging God foolishly.”

They seem in 1888 to have been on the verge of beginning a new psalter since they say, “The demand is growing louder and louder year by year for something more smooth and agreeable not only to poetic taste but to the original.” We are at the point where after years of work, we have in our hands a still relatively new psalter. Personally, as someone who has studied biblical Hebrew, I am not overawed by the version we have. It is hard to take a very different language whose poetry works on different principles and to render it in good, singable English. I would love next time (in 20-30 years or so) to see a psalter that has more of an appreciation of the Hebrew poetry while still being singable in English. I don’t know to what degree this is possible. But I agree with those elders from 1888 that we need something  “agreeable not only to poetic taste but to the original.”

In the meantime, I would add one further suggestion to those of the Synod committee– let’s try and cultivate an understanding and appreciation of Hebrew poetry and how it works. It is not necessary for us to all read Hebrew and Greek. God give sus understanding of His Word without these tools. But I also believe that  our understanding and appreciation of the Psalms will be enhanced the more we can appreciate their poetic structures. When we see how the poetry works in Hebrew (which can be seen by looking at English translations that preserve the Hebrew poetic features), we not only see their beauty but I believe we also get more meaning out of them. We see what the psalmist was emphasizing and where his focus lays. That is why I am trying to teach the poetry of the Psalms to my children. Wouldn’t you like  to join us?


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