Presbyterian Pastor on Singing Psalms

6 Jan

The quote in this post is all taken from PCI Moderator Reverend Stafford Carson’s website, an interesting read…browse through and leave a comment to let us know your thoughts?!

“I had the privilege of conducting worship and preaching in the congregation of Dromore, Co. Londonderry, on the first Sunday of 2010. It is one of the very few Irish Presbyterian congregations that has preserved the practice of singing psalms exclusively with no musical accompaniment. On a clear, crisp, cold Lord’s Day morning, we raised our voices in worship without the aid of organ, piano, praise band or powerpoint slides.

I love singing the psalms, and one of my regrets is that in the latest Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook, published in 2004, a revised version of the Psalter was not included. That inclusion might have encouraged more congregations to make greater use of the psalms in their diet of worship, and given ministers a better resource in planning and conducting worship. It seems that in many congregations the singing of metrical psalms is declining, and in some places disappearing completely, in favour of modern hymns and worship songs…

While I cannot defend the exclusive use of the psalms in worship, I believe that to fail to use the psalms in worship deprives the church of a language and form of expression which leaves it impoverished. We do well to obey the Bible’s clear and balanced exhortation by singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with gratitude in our hearts to God.”

Read the full article here.

In between what we’ve quoted Carson offers his reasons for not being an exclusive psalmist (not cool but he has to explain it after that endorsement of psalms) and quotes from none other than Steelo’s favourite Carl Trueman.


8 Responses to “Presbyterian Pastor on Singing Psalms”

  1. Tori January 7, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Hmmm… Psalms, hymms AND spiritual songs…. Interesting…

  2. James January 7, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Arrrgh! Tori sets up the bait but I’m refusing to bite and write a long, serious reply. You know I reckon Paul means Psalms (with the titles he had for them in his psalter) even if Carson disagrees thinks he means Mission Praise! ;)

    If you’re interested you might want to check out this ancient and serious blog post from Steelo. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Daniel Ritchie January 7, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    The problem with the above argument is that it is just a preference, nothing more. If the singing of uninspired hymns can be defended then there is no need to sing inspired psalms at all.

    An argument that is often put across by conservative Presbyterians to justify their departure from the PCI’s historic position is that the psalms are not sufficient for NT praise, therefore, we need to supplement them with human hymns. However, if the psalms are not sufficient, then why sing them at all, since the hymns apparently make up for their deficiency? Why would you want to sing deficient psalms when you could sing sufficient hymns? Thus arguments like the above are an exercise in self-refutation, as those who completely abadon the psalms are the ones who are being consistent.

  4. Tori January 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    You know I have nothing against Psalms. I quite like them myself.

    But whatever happened to “with stringed instruments”…? Loads of Psalms begin with that in italics… You know.. As a direction for how it is to be sung? Eg. Psalm 4, 6, 54… etc…

    I’m not even being argumentative, for once. Curious is a better word.

  5. Daniel Ritchie January 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm #


    While it is true that the psalms contain references to musical instruments, they also mention sacrifices. If we can sing about sacrifices without having literal sacrifices in modern worship, then it must follow that we can also sing about instruments without necessarily having to use them today.

  6. James January 7, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Two very good points Daniel. Carson is self-contradictory though it’s still a good thing to take heart from him recognising the importance of Psalms. I like your second answer too, a good simple point that is easy to forget.

    RPCI church website says “Instrumental music was an integral part of Old Testament sacrificial worship, which was fulfilled in Christ, and there is no example of such accompaniment in the church of the New Testament.”

    The most important thing is that it seems that there is no biblical commandment for us today to use musical instruments in worship and if God had wanted us to use them He would have told us. We can’t decide how to worship Him ourselves.

    It’s also worth remembering musical instruments in the OT weren’t allowed to be played by anyone, only the Levities. We don’t have any Levities anymore, they were another part of the sacrificial worship Christ fulfilled.

    It seems kind of strange now but throughout history singing psalms unaccompanied was the majority position of biblical Christians. Did all that help any Tori?

  7. Daniel Ritchie January 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    I have just looked at the article and noticed some things which need to be addressed.

    Take this one:

    “Our friends in the Reformed Presbyterian Church maintain the practice of exclusive psalmody, and defend it on the basis that all elements of worship must be positively commended in Scripture, and that no element may be included without specific scriptural authorisation.”

    This is not entirely correct; it would be correct if the word “specific” was left out, however, the regulative principle does not restrict us to specific commands, but also takes into account valid logic deductions from Scripture (i.e. infant baptism, first day Sabbath observance, cf. WCF 1:6).

    And this:

    ‘Hughes Oliphant Old describes this position as “a most venerable sort of hyperconservatism”.’

    I am actually quite offended at this comment; this is just applying pejorative terms against people you don’t agree with. If I said Dr Carson was a “liberal” because he takes a different view would this be fair? Of course not. To apply the term “hyperconservative” to the RPCI is really quite shameful.

    He then quotes John Frame (who has redefined the regulative principle to the point that it is indistinguishable from the normative principle of Lutheranism/Anglicanism):

    “[Dr] Frame says that to limit one’s praise to the psalms is to praise God without the name of Jesus on one’s lips.”

    While I could understand someone in the pew making this sort of a comment, there is no excuse for trained theologians such as Dr Frame and Dr Carson. Firstly, the people in the New Testament did not sing “the name of Jesus” since “Jesus” is an English translation of a Greek word. Besides, psalm-singers do sing the name of Jesus (in the proper sense), because the name of Jesus does not refer to two syallbles, but to Christ’s person and authority (Phi. 2:10), things which are spoken of throughout the book of Psalms.

    Finally, he says this:

    ‘Singing in worship is like preaching and praying. The Bible authorises us to preach uninspired sermons and to pray uninspired prayers, so it also allows us to sing uninspired songs. As my former colleague at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr Vern Poythress, used to say, when it comes to worship, “if you can say it, you can sing it.”’

    Here Dr Carson reveals his fundamental misunderstanding of the regulative principle. He confuses the parts of worship by thinking that the same rule applies to each part, but it does not. For instance, all the congregation is commanded to sing. However, only the minister is to read, preach, audiably pray and administer the sacraments. Therefore the different parts of divine worship have different rules governing their observance. Consequently, it is a non-sequitor (a conclusion which does not follow from the premises) to argue that because we can use uninspired prayers and sermons we can also use uninspired hymns. This assumes what has not been proven, namely, that the same rule applies to singing as applies to preaching and praying. Indeed Prof Poythress’ remark is another non-sequitor, because let us change it to “if you can say it, you can read it”. Most adherents to the regulative principle would admit that it is perfectly acceptable to quote John Calvin in preaching, however, that does not mean that it is okay to substitute a Scriptural reading with a selection from Calvin’s Institutes. So, just because you can say it, does not mean that you can read it. Why? Because there are different rules for the various parts of worship. The same applies to singing. God has provided us with a praise-book, he has not provided us with a prayer-book or sermon book, hence, the Divine provision for these parts of worship is different.

    ….Having submitted my essays yesterday, this has been a fun way to spend a day off…James must conserve his mental energy for exams…;-)

  8. Daniel Ritchie June 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I know this post is an old-timer, but I just came across a couple of quotes by Professor James Dick which exposes objections to psalm-singing as a fruit of higher-criticism. It is not surprising to me that various denominations’ which have rejected exclusive psalmody have also went on to embrace highter criticism, since the presuppositions against total psalmody and in favour of higher criticism are essentially the same (i.e. man placing himself as a judge over the word of God). Consequently, we cannot adopt a latitudinarian, take it or leave it approach to this subject, but must defend the biblical position tooth and nail. Anyway, here are the James Dick quotes:

    [T]he position of the “Higher” Critics IS substantially the position taken up by those who urge the claims of uninspired hymns […] although I do not say that they would go the whole length with the “Higher” Critics, if they only thought of the length to which they were going. But, so far as the Divine authorship of the Psalms is concerned, their position has been almost uniformly the same as that of the “Higher” Critics; that is, that the Psalms are to be dealt with cavalierly, and objected to or rejected, and argued against on the ground of their insufficiency and their lack of Christian teaching, exactly as if they were only human compositions, in order to make way for hymns.

    James Dick, ‘The psalms and “higher” criticism’ in Psalm-singers’ conference, held in the Y.M.C.A. hall, Wellington Place, Belfast, on 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th August 1902 (Belfast, 1902), p. 191.

    The “Higher” Critics, without exception, plead for the use of uninspired hymns in worship; and generally they endorse the argument that Christ is not to be found in the Psalms. There, again, they place themselves in flat opposition to our Lord. Not alone before His crucifixion, but after His resurrection. He showed that the Psalms contained references to Himself. To the two disciples on the way to Emmaus he spoke of “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow”, and “beginning at Moses and all the prophets. He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself”. Christ found Himself in the Psalms; the “Higher” Critics and many others do not. But when the authority of Christ is cited in these questions, the reply sometimes is, “Why draw Christ into this controversy?” Beyond all these and other similar points, the “Higher” Critics deny the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Psalms inclusive — and this causes the exclusion of the Psalter from the sanctuary of God. With one consent, they reject both the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, as those principles have been hitherto held throughout the Protestant world. If the Psalms are not the product of the infallible Spirit of God as their Author, then they are unworthy of the place given them in the Church of Christ, and should at once be rejected. Their lack of inspiration and their mythical character demand their consignment to the museum of Babylonian and Grecian “sacred” books, full of legendary characters and mythical occurrences.

    Ibid., pp 196-7.

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