Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp! (Psalm 150:3, ESV)
αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν ἤχῳ σάλπιγγος
αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν ψαλτηρίῳ καὶ κιθάρᾳ (Psalm 150:3, LXX)
gui·tar… Etymology: French guitare, from Spanish guitarra, from Arabic qītār, from Greek kithara cithara (m-w.com)
I’ve already had to deal with the issue of a capella worship as a violin major at Pepperdine University. At the time, I wrote off the practices of the Church of Christ as a result of their heterodox interpretation of the canon, in which the Old Testament is given about as much weight as Greek mythology. But their tradition is much different from the Reformed tradition: though they require a capella singing, they still use four-part harmony congruent with the music theory developed by the devout Lutheran worship leader J. S. Bach, and sing classic hymns on Lord’s day mornings as well as the new praise choruses of the Jesus movement during mid-week college ministry gatherings. What’s worse, they let their worship preference carry over to secular life, giving vocalists and choirs an elevated status over instrumental musicians and orchestras. What else is disturbing is they had their own a capella rock stars, who actually imitated the sounds of instruments and percussion with their mouths. But this is a digression from the matter at hand.
I just finished reading R. Scott Clark’s chapter on the regulative principle from Recovering the Reformed Confession (pp. 227-291). It was such a great book until now: I was just about ready to start driving an hour away every Lord’s day to visit the nearest Reformed church. But this chapter game me some serious concerns. I must be careful in my critique because Dr. Clark will probably see it (I have a suspicion that he has a Google Alert set up to let him know whenever anyone blogs about his book). Clark says that when you apply the regulative principle of worship in a manner consistent with the Reformed confessions, you must come to the conclusion that you can only sing the Old Testament Psalms or other “inspired” songs recorded in Scripture. He also says you cannot use instruments or harmonize, because these are not commanded in Scripture.
One thing that’s disturbing is that the origin for Clark’s argument is not in fact sola scriptura, but is grounded in the old tradition of synagogue worship and the idea that early Christian worship was patterned after it (244). They sang Psalms in the synagogue, so so should we. According to this argument, should we also put up a mechitza to keep the women away? Synagogues are not biblically prescribed, but were developed in the inter-Testamental period during the Babylon captivity. If we want to sing Psalms, we need only look for biblical reasons to do so (e.g. their inclusion in the canon), and not look to the synagogues as an example. Let us truly apply the regulative principle and do what Scripture prescribes, please.
I make it my goal to apply the regulative principle in my worship. The argument I will present for so-called “uninspired” hymns with instrumental accompaniment is not pragmatic, nor is it from a desire for an improved religious experience, but it is from a desire to be biblical in everything I do, and to do it all to the glory of God—the God who said to “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings…” (Ps. 33:3, ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16, ESV)
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart… (Eph. 5:18-19, ESV)
What does the regulative principle do with these verses? According to the theological notes in R. C. Sproul’s Reformation Study Bible, some Reformed churches see these as subcategories of the inspired Psalms, but this seems like eisegesis to me. If that were the case, where do we see this breakdown? I’ve read through the Psalms dozens of times and have never noticed it (apparently it’s obvious in the Septuagint ). Furthermore, the words “hymn” and “ode” are not exclusive to Hebrew scripture. Rather than accepting these as legitimate concerns regarding his application of the regulative principle, Clark has unsatisfactory arguments to explain these away as either not talking about corporate worship, or talking about singing “Spirit-inspired” biblical texts only (277-280).
How did the apostles worship? Did they use non-canonical hymns? The New Testament has several instances where extra-biblical early Christian hymns are quoted.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Php. 2:5-11, ESV)
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return;
when he suffered, he did not threaten,
but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.
For you were straying like sheep,
but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:22-25, ESV)
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16, ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For by him all things were created,
in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—
all things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-20)
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world was made through him,
yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own,
and his own people did not receive him.
But to all who did receive him,
who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14, ESV)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,
and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3, ESV)
When Peter or John or Paul or the writer of Hebrews sang extra-biblical hymns, did they only in that instant become biblical and therefore achieve the status of “inspired” retroactively? Or was he performing the “extraordinary actings of the saints” (248)? No, these hymns seem to be normative to me, as if they are quoting hymns with which the churches would already be familiar, just as modern-day preachers like John Piper, Alistair Begg, and R.C. Sproul do. Also, does it really seem like a decent argument to say that it would be inappropriate for anyone to sing these in church before the apostles wrote them down, but since the inspired apostles did write them down, they are now eligible for singing by us today as inspired songs? No, we must believe that these hymns were not composed by the apostles; they were written down for our edification, but they were sung by the catholic church before they were ever written down. Might I add that all of the Psalms were likely sung before they were ever compiled in the Psalter?
What about the Psalms that describe and even advocate worshiping the Lord with instruments, such as Psalm 150 and many others? They are even worded in the imperative: “Praise him with lute and harp…” In contemporary evangelical praise choruses, don’t you feel like a hypocrite or even a liar when singing, “I lift my hands,” or “clap my hands” or “bow down,” in a church where such things are not allowed? In the same way, doesn’t one feel like a hypocrite when singing, “Praise him with the harp… trumpet…” in a church where instruments are not allowed? Or do you skip those Psalms?
Clark says the Psalms about instruments are to be taken figuratively just as the imprecatory psalms. In this he fulfills the objections of the fundamentalists and dispensationalists who accuse the Reformed of over-allegorizing the Word. My answer to this is that we have actual inscriptions that recommend which instruments should be used, both in the Psalms as well as other places (Habakkuk 3:19), and these are clearly not figurative or allegorical, but prescriptive.
You might object, “If we allow instruments, what’s to prevent us from allowing dancing, as it’s also mentioned in the same Psalms?” The answer is that dancing is not mentioned in the New Testament as an ordinance of the church. You might say, “Neither were instruments,” but the Psalms originally came with instrumental accompaniment. They were a package deal. It is inconsistent to say we will implement only the lyrics of the Psalter but forbid the orchestrations.
The light of nature teaches us that musical composition involves two parts: the composition of lyrics as well as the composition of melodies and orchestrations. The actual tunes of the Hebrew Psalms have been lost to time, as they were composed before the development of musical notation, so the new Reformed settings are no more closely fulfilling the original Psalms then a full orchestration with four-part harmony would be. If the tunes are lost and require new ones, then the use of these new, man-made melodies is just as much “uninspired” as the use of paraphrases, alternate translations, or completely new hymns that contain the same biblical doctrine. You cannot use the “inspired” argument as a justification for Psalm-only singing unless you also recover the original tunes and the original instruments and sing them in the original Hebrew.
We need to consider the context of the Psalms, and I don’t mean the Mosaic, sacerdotal, sacrificial, ceremonial worship, but the worship leader, the Psalmist, King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” who wrote much of the material not only for psalmody, but also all the hymns and praise choruses based on the psalms. He was an instrumentalist, and he intended all of his hymns to be sung with instrumental accompaniment, and, dare I say, instrumental interludes indicated by the word Selah.
Finally, I will also conclude that the antiphony of some of the psalms implicitly allows for the use of harmony, since the cantor and congregation are clearly singing different parts. As a musician, it is my expert opinion that the use of different instruments, with their different timbres and multiple strings, also implies that the Hebrews incorporated a primitive harmonic method in their worship.
What about the Psalms that say, “Sing to the Lord a new song?” Does not the regulative principle teach in the very Psalms that it emphasizes 1) that new songs should be sung, and 2) that instruments may be used and a joyful noise should be made
The New Testament speaks of spiritual worship, and the Psalms and Revelation speak of singing “new songs.” The use of the adjective pneumatikos (for “spiritual songs”) seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit has the continuing right to inspire new songs for the church. Clark contends that “Spritual” means Spirit-inspired and therefore refers to the canon of Scripture. His cessationalist stance seems to have gotten the better of him, even to the point that the Holy Spirit’s sovereign authority to govern synods, councils, committees, elder boards, pastors, or worship leaders in the choice of hymns has been totally eclipsed by the doctrine of total depravity.
Instead of taking the extreme of Psalm-only monophonic chanting, and posing burdens too hard to lift, why not better use the Trinity Hymnal, produced by NAPARC member the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, compiled with the regulative principle, “with the full consciousness that ‘the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men…or any…way not prescribed in the holy Scripture'” (Trinity Hymnal–Baptist Edition, v)? Though these hymns are not “God-breathed”, they are just as “inspired” in their statement of biblical doctrines as the metricised English translations of the Psalms, since God breathed in Greek and Hebrew.
I use the regulative principle and find that Scripture admonishes me to seek out new (doctrinally sound and corporately appropriate) songs and to play instruments skillfully and unto the Lord. When I hear that the regulative principle is used to enforce a capella, Psalm-only worship, it seems to me like those who do this are reading a completely different Bible than the one I’m reading. In fact, it is application of the very same regulative principle that causes me to guard against a capella psalter-only worship as a legalistic, Pharisaical, man-made religious construct that has no place in the Reformed faith. I am a fan of the regulative principle, but to me, the principle itself compels me to sing non-canonical hymns (though biblical in content) and “Praise him with the κιθάρα.”
Finally, I will make a practical argument, but I will do it using the Apostle Paul: “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?” (1 Cor. 14:7, ESV) In the same passage talking about decency and order in worship, Paul discusses decency and order in music. He says it’s important to be careful to play instruments clearly and in tune in order that people will know what tune is being played. He uses instruments to illustrate this point when he just as well could have mentioned singing. But I think the point is well made that instrument help the congregation know what note to sing, and they help the congregation stay on pitch for the duration of the song (as compared to pitch pipes, which should help them start strong, but they won’t end in the same key they started). In this way, instruments actually facilitate public worship, in the same way that literacy and the printing of psalters and hymnals has facilitated it since the invention of the printing press.
I am not advocating Mosaic worship. I am advocating Davidic worship, as developed by he who said, “sacrifice and offering you do not desire.” it is the Son of David whom we laud. It is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters and inspired the canon of Scripture and raised Jesus from the dead that regenerates us and illuminates the Word and unites us as the church. God is not dead. Though I am not charismatic, I believe the Spirit is at work today to bring about God’s sovereign purposes in the lives of the saints, and in this way the regulative principle may be applied and still allow for new hymns and instruments. We use Scripture as a guide, measuring hymns by their doctrinal worth, and not their global popularity and standing on the CCLI top 40.
Despite all this, I am impressed by the desire to connect our worship to the past by adapting the Psalms. (I always wished I could go back in time and transcribe them the way they were done in Old Testament worship.) The Baptist edition of the Trinity Hymnal has made sure all the Psalms are represented, and I hope to be able to incorporate them into our worship some day.
Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (Psalm 33:1-3, ESV)
Soli Deo Gloria