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Issue and Interchange

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

ADVOCATE 1 Response

If Advocate 2 would sincerely seek to be irenic, he should refrain from accusing those who disagree with him of not adhering to the Reformed regulative principle of worship[1] (giving it only "lip-service") and psychologizing their motives (which he has no way of knowing) as influenced instead by current practices in the church. Advocate 2 wishes to eschew talk of fallacious reasoning.[2] He would rather just think that those who disagree with him do so because they are unaware of, or do not understand, or do not honor the regulative principle. That is simplistic, as well as erroneous. And it has unnecessarily disrupted the peace of Christ's church.

As a step toward restoring that peace, let us grant that both of us are committed to the regulative principle, but disagree in its application.[3] The regulative principle does not require that every particular thing done in connection with worship be warranted by Scripture (e.g., "circumstances" such as sitting in a pew, starting at 11:00 A.M., wearing a tie), but that every "element" of worship as such -- everything invested with liturgical significance (e.g. Romanist elevation of the communion tray) -- requires Scriptural justification. Is singing a separate "element" of worship or a "circumstance" of worship? If the latter, it does not require Biblical warrant according to the regulative principle.[4] I have argued that singing is simply one means to (one circumstance through which to) pray, praise, exhort or teach -- rather than an element of worship itself. I proved this from Colossians 3:16, where singing is a form of instruction. Advocate 2 missed the point by replying (dubiously) that instruction is "only incidental" because praise is the "essential characteristic" of singing.[5] But my argument remains. Praise may be given to God in plain voice (during prayer, preaching or testimony) as well as in song. Why would it be acceptable to praise God in a sermon with words outside of Scripture, but unacceptable to do so when melody is added to those very same words and the congregation sings them?[6]

To this Advocate 2 has no answer whatsoever -- beyond calling it "sophistry" and alleging it to have a "sinister practical effect."[7] Until he refutes the claim, we should conclude that singing uninspired hymns no more violates the regulative principle than does preaching or praising or exhorting with uninspired words.

Now let me address a few incidental points in Advocate 2's reply. (1) Is it really "Dispensationalism" to argue that New Covenant worshippers have a fuller revelation and better administration of the covenant of grace than Old Covenant worshippers? See the Westminster Confession of Faith VII.5-6. It was not penned by dispensationalists. New Covenant worship should reflect the progress of redemptive history and revelation.

(2) Does Scripture warrant the singing of uninspired hymns in New Covenant worship? Advocate 2 says "no," claiming "Scripture nowhere warrants humanly composed songs in public worship."[8] But I believe Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 give that very warrant -- referring to "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (not "psalms, psalms and psalms"). Advocate 2 attempts to dismiss this Biblical evidence by claiming that it "may only"[9] pertain to informal conduct of Christians," rather than to public worship. It would be natural to suppose that when Paul speaks of believers singing with grace in their hearts and admonishing one another with hymns, he is referring to believers gathered together and engaged in worship. (How often do we sing to each other as part of informal hospitality?) On what basis does Advocate 2 say otherwise and restrict Paul's referent to activity outside of congregational worship? Arbitrariness is not a convenience the theologian may indulge.

(3) Advocate 2's response continues certain exegetical mistakes. The words of praise in Ezra 3:11 are not identical (no more, no less) with Psalm 106:1. Even Advocate 2 admits that II Samuel 22 is not identical with Psalm 18, noting the verbal alterations. The "natural" meaning of I Corinthians 14:26 is not that an Old Testament psalm has been charismatically selected; this is not natur- al, but stems from a theological preconception. The content of the "psalm" is given by the Spirit, just as in the case of the "teaching, revelation, or tongue" which are mentioned right along side of it. Finally, regarding Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, Advocate 2 concedes that "spiritual" song need not, given Scriptural usage elsewhere, denote the special work of the Holy Spirit (inspiration) -- in which case his conclusion about singing in worship rests upon an insufficiently supported personal preference (an unwitting departure from the regulative principle).


Notes

ADVOCATE 1 Response
[1]
Westminster Confession of Faith XXI.1: the acceptable way of worshipping God is limited by His own will, so that He may not be worshipped in any way which is not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
[2]
But at least one of us must be guilty of such an error since we have reached contradictory conclusions -- and truth is not relative.
[3]
After all, exclusive psalm-singers do not accuse John Murray of not truly believing the regulative principle because he felt it appropriate to sing Scripture songs other than the Psalms. The difference between them was one of application.
[4]
The reader will notice, then, that my argument does not at all -- as alleged by Advocate 2 -- rest upon the Lutheran and Anglican view that only what is forbidden in Scripture is to be excluded from worship. It rests upon the necessary distinction between circumstance and elements of worship, which has always been part of the Reformed conception of the regulative principle.
[5]
Fallacy of false antithesis. We do not have to choose between praise or instruction as the single "essence" of singing in worship. Both functions enjoy Biblical warrant. To say instruction is not really essential, but only "incidental," does violence to Paul's words in Colossians 3:16!
[6]
This is not an "argument from analogy," as Advocate 2 tries to make it. It is a reductio ad absurdum based on a conspicuous inconsistency in the application of the regulative principle found among exclusive psalm-singers.
[7]
These are notorious logical fallacies: (1) name-calling and (2) arguing from the possibility of abuse. Moreover, Advocate 2 shows that he has not understood the argument yet when he speaks of "the sophistry of pretending that singing God's praise is not an element of worship." That is not my claim at all! It is singing (not "singing God's praise") which is not an element of worship as such.
[8]
Well, the Psalms were "humanly composed." Advocate 2 really means songs which were humanly composed, but not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
[9]
It is noteworthy that Advocate 2 himself asserts in another context that to argue from a "maybe" is to commit a fallacy.

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