Volume 11, Issue 2: Presbyterion
Anthems of Conquest
Psalms are a potent, world-changing force. Long neglected, the psalms are beginning to come back into the public worship of the Church.
Now it is no secret that a debate over exclusive psalmody is ongoing in the Reformed world, but throughout the course of this standing debate, I am aware of no one who wants to maintain that Scripture bans the singing of psalms. And yet, despite this theoretical agreement, why, on a practical level, are the psalms virtually banned from the worship of the modern Church?
The shields of earth belong to God; He is exalted high.
Without getting into the issues involved with exclusive psalmody, at the very least, we must say those interested in the reformation of the Church must also be actively promoting the singing and chanting of psalms. Without a restoration of the psalms to an honored place in worship, our musical worship of the Lord will continue to have the gravitas of a glad bag full of styrofoam packing peanuts.
All ends of earth, remembr'ing Him, shall turn themselves unto the Lord.
But we must be careful not to ruin the singing of psalms before we have even sung any of them. The Church should sing psalms because the Church loves to sing the psalms. Advocates of psalms must remember the vast difference which separates those who would create a controversy about the psalms-as opposed to those who would create a love for the psalms themselves. The need of the hour is for saints who will promote the psalms, not a certain position about the psalms.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.
In one way, the debate over psalms has been unfortunate, because it has left more than a few believers thinking that psalm-singing is more a solemn duty than it is a joyful privilege. Of course the privilege of worshipping God does not remove the fact that it is a duty. But the history of the Church has recorded more than a few who got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It is perilously easy to neglect the weightier matters of the law.
From heav'n O praise the Lord, ye heights His glory raise.
Every congregation is different, and the situations vary. One group of activities cannot be translated without modification to another place. But in our church, it can honestly be said that God has restored psalm-singing among us in such a way that it is a great delight to us. As the Scripture puts it so pointedly, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms" (James 5:13).
Every Lord's Day evening, we have a men's forum for discussion which is prefaced with fifteen or twenty minutes of psalm-singing. Once a month, the men's forum is cancelled, and the whole congregation is invited to gather together in order to sing psalms. We gather together, divide up and learn parts, learn new psalms, learn how to chant-in short, we learn to love the psalms. The harmonies are glorious, and the fellowship in singing is better.
Lift up your voice aloud to Him; sing psalms! Let joy resound!
In our worship on the morning of the Lord's Day, we sing two hymns, not counting the doxology, and we sing three psalms. Call it dominant psalmody. One of the psalms is sung repeatedly over the course of a month so that we can all learn it. Simply put, the goal is for all the saints to be able to sing all the psalter. And as much as we delight in what we have been given, we still have quite a bit to learn.
Advancing still from strength to strength, they go where other pilgrims trod, till each to Zion comes at length and stands before the face of God.
Chanting is a little odd, until you get used to it. The advantage of chanting is that you do not have to rearrange the psalms into a convoluted meter in order to get them to fit. And it must be honestly admitted that our psalter has some bizarre syntax here and there. They utter shall abundantly . . . (?!) Another blessing about chanting is that when it is done properly, a chanted psalm is simply lovely.
O let Thine ordinances help; my soul shall live and praise Thee yet.
When psalms are restored as a gift of God to His Church, the only right attitude in singing them is one of thoroughgoing gladness and joy. A reformation of the Church is not possible without a reformation of music. And a reformation of music is not going to be possible apart from the psalms.
Among the nations He shall judge; the slain shall fill His path.
When God is praised according to His Word, we may be confident in our praise. We are anchored to the text in our worship; we know that, as we sing, we are singing in the will of God. And be prepared-you may have been a Christian for thirty years, and if you start singing psalms you will find yourself singing things that have never occurred to you before.
All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
And when the joy of singing God's Word back to Him is restored, another great joy may be added as well. That is the joy of the spoken amen. At the conclusion of each hymn or psalm, the congregation says amen together, in one voice. In Scripture the amen is found as a solemn covenant oath, binding the people of God together in everlasting joy. So why not say it at every opportunity?