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Issue and Interchange

ISSUE: DOES SCRIPTURE PERMIT THE USE OF HYMNS OTHER THAN PSALMS IN WORSHIP?

ADVOCATE 2: Scripture Warrants Only the Singing of Inspired Hymns

Awareness of the importance of the Regulative Principle is a wholesome sign. Yet it is possible for a profession of allegiance to this principle to be vitiated by self-deception. A good beginning may be hedged about by the spurious claim that Christian liberty under the New Testament leaves open an area in which the Church may institute modes of worship. Or illicit applications may be made, by which it becomes evident that the principle has not been understood. What has been stated as the crucial question is an instance of such misunderstanding. This question presupposes that the Psalm-singer is obliged to show that Scripture contains explicit prohibition of the singing of songs other than the Psalms. This demand by the Hymn-singer is an instance of the lax principle of the Lutherans and Anglicans that only what is explicitly forbidden in the Scripture is to be excluded from worship, while the Reformed principle states that worship which is not prescribed in the Word is a violation of the Second commandment. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the Hymn-singer to show that there is Scriptural warrant for singing of uninspired songs in worship.

Defenders of non-Scripture hymns are fond of designating the opposed position by the ambiguous expression "exclusive Psalm singing." Many who adhere to this view, like the late Professor John Murray, have granted the propriety of the use of versions of other Scripture songs. The present paper defends only the propositions: (1) Scripture warrants the singing of the 150 Psalms, and (2) Scripture does not warrant the singing of uninspired hymns. The singing of other Scripture songs in worship will be neither defended nor opposed. This policy renders a number of the opposing arguments irrelevant to the question whether the introduction of uninspired hymns can plead Biblical warrant.

The attempted plea rests partly on general grounds and partly on specifically exegetical considerations. A chief example of the former is the analogy of singing with prayer and preaching. It should be observed first that logic teaches us that arguments from analogy are at best inconclusive and at worst illusory. The argument in question is a case of the latter sort, particularly in the case of preaching. Preaching is addressed to sinful man; praise is addressed to the Holy Sovereign God. Instruction is only incidental to the singing of praises and not the essential characteristic of this element of worship. This consideration should banish the sophistry of pretending that singing God's praise is not an element of worship. Even the didactic Psalms are fundamentally in praise of God, whether the central theme is the confession of sin, Ps. 32, or the faithfulness of God notwithstanding the repeated idolatry of the visible church, Ps. 78. The misapplication of Col. 3:16 in this matter, leading to the conclusion, "singing does not require a separate Biblical justification," means the emancipation of singing in worship from the Regulative Principle which has clearly not been understood. A sinister practical effect of this attitude is that, instead of being determined by God's Word, what is sung in worship becomes a matter of making concessions among various conflicting groups in much of the professing church. Thus, it is the will of man which decides what is to be sung in God's praise.

The Christological or Dispensational argument may also be classified as general, although it involves some exegetical considerations. First, the concession is made that Christ is found in the Psalms. Then the consequences are denied. Far from it being preposterous, it is a striking fact that the inner sufferings of the Saviour's soul are set forth more fully in the Psalms, like the twenty-second and the sixty-ninth, than in any historical or doctrinal passages of the New Testament. The inference that the Psalms are insufficient in containing the content of song for the New Testament is the kind of fallacy commonly found in Dispensational arguments.

Space allows only a few exegetical remarks which may be supported elsewhere (as in Mike Bushell's excellent work) by detailed argument. Ezra 3:11 plainly refers to Ps. 106:1 and obviously does not claim to be the entire Psalm. II Samuel 22 is definitely Ps. 18 with minor verbal alterations in places. In I Cor. 14:21 the natural meaning of psalmos is an Old Testament Psalm which may have been selected charismatically. In any case, if it were charismatic in content, it was an inspired song. Similarly, it is not necessary to settle many disputed questions in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 to realize that they offer not the least warrant for uninspired hymns and songs in public worship. They may only prescribe rules for informal conduct of Christians. As for -pneumatikos, Eph. 6:12 is the only passage where it refers to creatures rather than the Holy Spirit and His special work. To support hymns from a series of "maybes" is to commit the fallacy of arguing from possibility to actuality. And the possibility itself is no more than, "I don't know that it isn't so."

The concluding paragraph of Advocate One's paper contains serious charges and has a tone other than the irenic expressions of the opening paragraph. Propositions one and two are both established by appealing to Scripture: first that Scripture commands the singing of Psalms, which is granted by Advocate One, and secondly, that Scripture nowhere warrants humanly composed songs in public worship. There is a temptation to make counter-charges, to assert, "The arguments of hymn-singers are flawed by fallacious reasoning and exegetical mistakes." The observation may be made that even when they give lip-service to the Regulative Principle, they are in fact influenced by the current practice in their own churches, far removed from that of the Westminster Assembly, not to speak of Calvin, Augustine, and first of all the Apostolic church. An appeal to tradition of this sort is simply a justification of the right to be called Reformed or Calvinistic, while Scripture remains the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. But apart from such reflections, let the argument speak for itself.


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