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May I comment on Rev. Cory Griess’ article on psalm-singing (SB, October 15, 2012). First of all, I commend Rev. Griess for the article, together with the recent articles in his rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.” I have found them both thought-provoking and profit­able.

That said, I believe Rev. Griess’ good principles on biblical worship are fatally weakened by his claim that “It [the Synod of Dordt] did not advocate the notion that the regulative principle demanded exclusive psalmody” (p. 33). I do not see how we can maintain psalm-singing in our churches without holding to exclusive psalmody. Is not exclusive psalmody like a great dike, as in the sea coast of the Netherlands, holding back the flood of cor­ruption that would engulf the pure worship of God?

That the songs recorded in the New Testament (for example, the Song of Mary) are not mandated for corpo­rate worship is evident from the simple fact they are not included in the inspired songbook of God’s church. In the Psalter, God has given us His own divine songbook! It is not for us to add to it or take away from it. God com­mands us to sing the psalms: “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him…” (Ps. 105:2). The Old Testament church sang the psalms exclusively. The “hymn” that Jesus and His disciples sang (Matt. 26:30) after the paschal supper refers to the Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118), which were cus­tomarily sung on the night of the supper. Thus our Lord Himself sang from the inspired book of praises.

Furthermore, in the same breath and immediately following Rev. Griess’ assertion that Dordt did not advocate exclusive psalmody, he states: “Dordt did un­derstand that the principle of sola scriptura…had to be maintained, as much as possible in worship too, for the life and health of the church” (p. 33). My problem here is with the phrase “as much as possible.” If the principle of sola scriptura in worship is going to be maintained “as much as possible,” then I fear we will not maintain it at all! Sola scriptura must be maintained not “as much as possible,” but “at all costs”!

Sincerely,

Philip Rainey

 

Response:

I thank Mr. Rainey for reading my article “The Secession of 1857: A Return to Psalm-Singing,” and for taking the time to respond in writing. I appreciate, too, the brother’s desire to maintain the pure worship of God in Christ’s church.

Brother Rainey has concerns about a few statements I made in the article. First of all, the brother says, “I believe Rev. Griess’ good principles on biblical worship are fatally weakened by his claim that ‘It [the Synod of Dordt] did not advocate the notion that the regula­tive principle demanded exclusive psalmody’ (p. 33). I do not see how we can maintain psalm-singing in our churches without holding to exclusive psalmody.”

In this instance the brother has an argument with the Synod of Dordt and not with me. The histori­cal fact is that the Synod of Dordt did not mandate exclusive Psalmody. That is seen in that the church order produced at the Synod of Dordt allowed for the singing of a few hymns.¹ Hardly could the synod have made that allowance if she were convinced that the Regulative Principle of worship required exclusive Psalm-singing.

If the brother disagrees with the Synod of Dordt on that, and disagrees with the Protestant Reformed Churches on that (the Church Order of the PRC re­flects Dordt’s view, see Article 69), he is free to do so in the proper way. But the historical facts are what they are and are indisputable.

Historically, though the Dutch Reformed did not teach that the Regulative Principle demands exclusive psalmody, they did desire to maintain the singing of Psalms. This too is reflected in the Church Order of Dordt, which calls for near exclusive Psalm-singing. There are many good reasons for singing the Psalms in worship. Abraham Kuyper, in his book of worship in the Dutch Reformed churches, gives six reasons: 1. Scripture presents us with an inspired songbook, which is the book of Psalms. 2. The Psalms have spiritual depth that exceeds that of man-made hymns. 3. Hymns seem to push the singing of Psalms out of the church historically. 4. The psalms transcend time and culture, whereas hymns are often popular only for a time. 5. The singing of hymns historically led to the singing of choirs in the services. 6. Historically the more pious members of the church desire to sing the Psalms, the less pious the hymns.² The PRC have for these same reasons continued to maintain Psalm-singing in spite of the fact that, following Dordt, they do not teach that the Regulative Principle demands exclusive Psalmody.

The second statement concerning which Brother Rainey expresses concern is the statement I made that “Dordt did understand that the principle of sola scriptura…had to be maintained, as much as possible in worship too, for the life and health of the church” (p. 33). The brother states his concern: “My problem here is with the phrase ‘as much as possible.’ If the principle of sola scriptura in worship is going to be maintained ‘as much as possible,’ then I fear we will not maintain it at all! Sola scriptura must be maintained not ‘as much as possible,’ but ‘at all costs!’”

The statement that Dordt “understood that sola scriptura must be maintained in worship too as much as possible” refers to sola scriptura with regard to the content of worship; Scripture alone taking up the content of the elements of worship demanded by God’s Word. The reason why I say that the Synod of Dordt understood that the principle of sola scriptura had to be maintained in worship too as much as possible is because there is some disagreement on how to apply that principle to the content of the elements of worship. While it is quite possible to sing only Scripture, it is not very possible to pray only Scripture. I don’t think Mr. Rainey would desire that all congregational prayers be simply the reading of Scripture passages. Does that mean he is not in favor of the principle of sola scriptu­ra in worship? Is it sufficient, in the maintaining of the principle of sola scriptura, to say that prayer is built upon the principles of Scripture, that the promises of Scripture are prayed, and that prayer generally follows the pattern set out in Scripture? Similar questions do arise with respect to singing. Must the Psalms be sung in literal translation in order for the principle of sola scriptura to be maintained, or may they be sung as versified in our Psalter?

Though Dordt desired, and the PRC still desire, to maintain Psalm-singing as their respective church orders declare, is singing songs that are versifications of other parts of Scripture denying the principle of sola scriptura in worship? Is the fact that Dordt allowed some songs that are not versifications of Scripture as such, but are built on the theology of Scripture, deny­ing the principle of sola scriptura? These questions existed at the time of the Synod of Dordt, and they still exist today, even within the Protestant Reformed Churches.

If one were to take sola scriptura in the content of worship to mean literal quotations of Scripture in every element of worship, then Dordt would respond by saying we want to maintain that principle as much as possible, but we recognize that in some cases it is not possible (congregational prayer). If one were to take a less rigid view of sola scriptura with regard to the content of the elements of worship, then perhaps the statement I made could be amended by dropping the words ‘as much as possible,’ and saying simply that Dordt wanted to maintain sola scriptura in worship.

Again, at the end of the day, I don’t think the broth­er’s issue is with me, but rather with the Synod of Dordt and the PRC church order. The brother is free to have that issue, and to express it in the proper way as he did in his letter.

Rev. Griess


¹ See VanDellen and Monsma Church Order Commentary, p. 283, if there is doubt about this.

² Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship, p. 39.