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Issue and Interchange

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

ADVOCATE 1 Concluding Remarks

Advocate 2 argues that singing in worship must be restricted to inspired words (for instance, the psalms), and he wishes to draw this conclusion from the regulative principle of worship. In my past two essays I have tried to show that such reasoning is fallacious, being (1) inconsistently applied and (2) resting on a misunderstanding of the regulative principle itself.

What now does Advocate 2 reply? He simply asserts that the "genuine tendency" of the regulative principle really supports his view, not mine. That is, Advocate 2 openly begs the question that we are supposed to be debating. He just announces that "it is clear that the principle has not been meant in its proper sense" when made to support "forms of false worship," like singing uninspired hymns.[1] This is not an argument; it is merely repeating what you are supposed to prove. Previous essays give reason to believe that it is the theological tradition defended by Advocate 2 (one which is noble but narrow) which has misunderstood the proper sense of the regulative principle.

I have argued that singing is not an "element" of worship, but rather one "circumstance" by which we perform various elements of worship (praise, prayer, instruction, testimony). Advocate 2 disputes this in two ways.[2] First, he claims that singing[3] is "not a circumstance common to human actions and societies" -- which is just false. Second, he claims that singing God's praise declares God's glory "in a way not done" by prayer or preaching.[4] What is this difference? He does not specify. What evidence does he offer? None. He is simply being arbitrary. He pronounces that "the use of the same words in a sermon and in a hymn is radically different." Then exactly what is that relevant difference? Moreover, what Scripture warrant is there for such an exaggeration? Advocate 2's opinion that a sermon is "directly" instruction, but only "incidentally" praise, is equally artificial.[5]

But this is still not the biggest mistake in his reasoning. Accept (for argument's sake) the artificial view that singing a psalm is "direct praise," while a sermon or prayer is "incidental praise." Advocate 2 does not tell us why our "incidental praise" (the sermon, prayer or what have you) may not be communicated through the medium of music -- in the form of a hymn.[6] He has not noticed that his argument is senseless and unsuccessful unless singing in worship is restricted exclusively to direct praise -- a view which is at odds with Paul himself (Col.3:16)!

Advocate 2 makes a weak and unpersuasive effort to make my defense of uninspired hymns out to be logically inconsistent. On the one hand I say that a Biblical warrant for singing uninspired words is not necessary; on the other hand, I say that such a warrant nevertheless can be found in Col.3:16 and Eph.5:19. Why Advocate 2 finds these remarks (involving, as they do, different modalities) logically inconsistent is a mystery. Imagine Bert arguing that the dish Julie brought to the church dinner is not "fruit salad" unless it includes peaches. It would be perfectly logical to reply both that (1)peaches are not"necessary" to fruit salad, but (2) even Bert should recognize Julie's dish as fruit salad because it just so happens to actually contain peaches anyway.

And it so happens that the New Testament includes (by example) uninspired hymns in its worship, even though no such warrant would be necessary in the first place. The example of Col.3:16 just does not fit into the view that our singing in worship must be restricted to inspired words.[7] Advocate 2's only defense is that since it is possible that the verse "may only refer to informal practice" (rather than formal worship), therefore it is not necessary that singing uninspired hymns in worship is allowed.[8]

But of course this has nothing to do with my argument anyway. I am not claiming that Col.3:16 necessarily refers to singing in worship, but simply that in actuality this happens to be what Paul is talking about. In my last essay I gave reasons why this is the natural reading of the text and why Advocate 2's view is very odd. He has not chosen to reply to those reasons. If I am correct in fact about this verse -- and Advocate 2 has not attempted to show otherwise -- then he has been refuted on his own grounds. Clinging to "maybe's" will be useless here.

Those Reformed believers who use uninspired hymns in worship do not, as portrayed by Advocate 2, do so because they reject or misapply the regulative principle of worship. Nor do they do so because they are dispensationalists (or, as he most recently altered the charge, no better than Reformed Baptists) regarding the unity of the covenant of grace. Perpetuating these misconceptions will not buttress the fallacious and unbiblical argument that singing in worship must be restricted to inspired words. I am confident that Advocate 2 would join me in encouraging the thoughtful reader to look beyond such characterizations and to decide the theological issue simply on the merits of the case. Let us think clearly and consistently. And as always, sola Scriptura.


Notes

[1]
The cautious reader will notice Advocate 2's attempt to impute guilt by association, placing the singing of uninspired hymns in the same category with "innovation such as dance" -- which is not my position whatsoever.
[2]
The reader will again notice the attempt to impute guilt by association when Advocate 2 tries to lump me with Lutherans and Anglican -- whose views of worship I oppose.
[3]
Actually, Advocate 2 refers, not to singing, but rather to "singing God's praise," once again showing that he has not understood the precise object of our discussion (and therefore not understood my argument). See footnote 7 in my previous response.
[4]
Of course, trivially, there "is a way" that singing God's praise glorifies Him differently than prayer and preaching does: viz., with music. Advocate 2 must mean something more than this!
[5]
Notice also that Advocate 2 cannot decide whether the difference is "radical" (as he says at one point) or "relative," a matter of priorities (as he says here).
[6]
That is, even given his own category scheme, Advocate 2 need only restrict "direct praise" singing to inspired words (like the psalms), but the "incidental praise" elements of worship would readily permit singing uninspired words (such as hymns)!
[7]
In his reply to my comments on Col.3:16 Advocate 2 misrepresents me as saying the verse "subordinates singing God's praise" to doctrinal instruction. This is off the mark. The language of "subordinating" one function to another is that of Advocate 2, not mine.
[8]
The reader will need to read Advocate 2's words many times to untangle his convoluted use (and misuse) of modal expression (e.g, possibility, actuality, necessity, allowability) and double negatives.

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