In the frequent conflicts that arise in the church over worship and which songs are appropriate, it is often forgotten that we have an hymnal with indisputable and God-inspired lyrics–the book of Psalms. And we have a COMMAND from God to sing them. If you walked into your average church and suggested they sing 5 modern praise choruses, nobody would bat an eye. However, if you suggested that they sing Psalms 42-44, you would likely get quite a few odd looks. “You mean, psalms are, like, actually for singing?”
I do not believe in Exclusive Psalmody (the belief that the church should only sing Psalms). I believe the church can and should make use of the rich history of non-inspired hymns in their worship. However I love the Psalms and I believe, in some ways, a rediscovery of the Psalms is one of the principle ways in which the Church can avoid the trends toward shallowness, hallowness, flippancy, and false doctrine in worship. If the Church wants to be vibrant and healthy, it should frequently read, pray, and sing the Psalms. Ironically, some of the people who are most vocally against the use of human-authored creeds have no problem whatsoever departing from the God-inspired Psalms and focusing exclusively on human-authored songs. There is no problem with human-authored songs, but they should be Biblically faithful and they should not eclipse the Psalms or cause us to neglect them completely.
Here are some REASONS WHY WE SHOULDN’T NEGLECT THE PSALMS
1. They are God-inspired. They perfectly express the mind of God. They are undisputible in their Biblical accuracy and their emphasis. And they form a perfect cohension with the rest of the Bible, as Athanasius said they “[enjoy] an affinity and fellowship with the other books [of the Bible] which can not be equalled in any human-authored document”.
2. The Bible (even the New Testament) instructs us to sing them, by command and example. Eph.5:19, Col.3:16, and Jam.5:13. On reflecting on how to improve church worship services, Don Whitney stated “I had neglected a clear scriptural command. I’d been involved in the leadership of worship services for more than fifteen years before I realized what many Christians have long understood and entire denominational traditions have known for centuries: God commands us to sing psalms.”
3. They teach us how to pray, plead with God, and be earnest in our pursuit of God’s presence and godliness.
4. They reflect an amazing diversity and unity. They reflect different authors, many differing moods, differing emphasises, different historical contexts, and many topics. And yet there is a great unity of theme in them. They cover emotions, please, and aspects of worship that are rarely touched on in BOTH contemporary songs and old hymns.
5. The rich spirituality, devotion, wholeness, and insight into the human condition are rarely duplicated well in hymns new or old. The Psalms are unique, and one would expect them to be unique as God-inspired songs. They are also
lyrically amazing, well-adapted to melody and what not. They are amazing, poetically speaking.
6. The vast number of Psalms and their richness provide a great pattern for godly hymns. But if we are not familiar with the Psalms, we will not understand this matter and consequently will not be able to apply these lessons into our own hymn writing and/or our evaluation of songs/hymns.
7. They serve to unite the people of God. When we sing the Psalms, we New Covenant believers are singing the very same songs that the Old Covenant believers sang. And when we sing the Psalms in the contemporary church, we are singing the very same songs as the Ancient Church. It helps us to see the unity and universality of the people of God throughout all ages. The singing of Psalms is historically grounded in the early church, the Reformation, and onwards.
8. They speak as loudly and clearly to New Covenant believers as they did to Old Covenant believers. The first proof for this are the NT commands mentioned in point #2. The second proof is fact that “all scripture” is inspired and profitable, and the Psalms are Scripture. The third proof is the extensive use of the Psalms by the New Testament authors. The NT authors quote Psalms more than any other Old Testament book, with probably around 100 direct quotations–and thats not including indirect references! It was been estimated that about 7% of the New Testament is actually quotes from the Psalms! It’s almost as if you can’t read the New Testament without reading the book of Psalms. The fourth proof is the inherently Messianic nature of many of the Psalms. It is totally inaccurate to say that Christ is not in the Psalms! Johnathan Edwards once said “The main subject of these songs [are] the glorious things of the gospel…the use that is made of them in the New Testament…Here Christ is spoken of in multitudes of songs.” Matthew Henry further said “In the book of Psalms there is so much of Christ and His gospel, as well as of God and His law, that it has been called the abstract or summary of both Testaments.”
9. They are versatile. Because they have been around so long, many time-tested methods of singing them and arranging them have developed, with a surprising amount of diversity. They also are versatile in that they can be used in all sorts of circumstances. And they can be used in various ways, prayed, read, and sung.
10. They are a vital reminder of our need to be grounded Biblically as we worship, we are not worshiping on a whim and what we sing must carefully reflect Biblical truth. This rootedness is very easy to forget when focus 100% on non-inspired songs.
Here are some PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS
1. Read the Psalms straight through as soon as you can and as often as you can. And pray through them. Learn from it how to express yourself to God, and many other lessons about spirituality and godliness. Learn what God loves and what God hates through the Psalms. Let the cries for deliverance and mercy and God’s presence become yours. Since there are so many Psalms, you could probably continually cycle through the Psalms and hardly notice the repetition.
2. Use the Psalms as the standard for Christian worship! Hymns appropriate for church worship should follow the pattern and have similar aims, emphasis, and approach to the Psalms. Hymns do not have to necessarily quote verbatim from the Psalms, but all good hymns should show the *influence* of the Psalms upon them.
3. Do not let old or new hymns completely crowd out the Psalms in worship! Any song book worth its weight should (a) have a lot of Psalms and (b) have a lot of hymns that are very Psalm-like or quote frequently from the Psalms. If there aren’t many Psalms in the hymn book, a Psalter designed for singing could also be used, like the one published by Crown & Covenant (http://www.crownandcovenant.com/) and there are many others.
4. Get some recordings of the Psalms being sung. Its a good way to listen to and remember God’s Word. There are a lot of good recordings. Wordmp3.com has “Cantus Christi Hymnal Collection”, which has acappella 4-part-harmony recordings of most of the Psalms. Crown & Covenant (http://www.crownandcovenant.com/) is also great for these sort of audio resources.
I hope that this has whet your appetite for the Psalms!!! I hope and pray that the church of today will have a deep appreciation of and love for the Psalms–in singing them, praying them, and reading them! And, having gotten that taste of the majesty of the Psalms, will not settle for any sort of flippant, hallow, or shallow worship.