Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Singing the Psalms

One of the biggest changes we've experienced leaving our Southern Baptist church back in the fall and now attending an RP church has been the corporate worship. Before, mainstream evangelical worship: praise songs, a few hymns, drums, piano, bass, 'worship team'. Now, on Sundays, we sing Psalms exclusively without the aid of instruments, and the Psalm-leader up front has not so much as a microphone. It was very strange (and still is, at times) to not have a clue how to sing the songs in the hymnal (really, Psalter) after being in church worship services all my life.

I'm not attempting here to tackle the theology of exclusive Psalmity; I am most definitely not equipped to do that. I haven't come to any firm convictions about the rightness or wrongness of singing hymns or praise choruses to the Lord in a corporate setting. But I am reflecting on how singing the Psalms, simply and without any hoop-la, has affected me.

A question I wrestled with in the past year is that of false 'emotionalism' versus true worship. Now, let me say that I'm just about as emotional as they come. I believe God has given us emotions and they, in themselves, are neutral. But I started to wonder just how much of my worship was really focused on exalting the One True God, and how much was (literally) driven by the pounding bass, drums, and building climax of the chorus I was singing. I'm really not trying to cause division here, or be judgmental. These are just honest struggles I've had concerning worship.

I feel really immersed in God's Word through worship, now. One of the points of singing the Psalms is that you are singing the inspired words of praise, blessing, lament, and request to God. Are other songs inspired by God? Maybe, but not in the same way as God's Holy Word written down by 'holy men taught by the Holy Spirit', as the kids' catechism says.

Another interesting effect of singing the Psalms has been a feeling of connectedness to believers through the ages. Singing the words that countless other Christians have sung to God over thousands of years is a sobering and yet joyful thing. A common song, if you will.

I haven't thrown out my Chris Tomlin CDs, nor do I have a problem singing praise choruses when we visit my parent's or mom-in-law's churches, but I am so thankful to be able to worship God with Psalm-singing.


Jenia said...

I know what your saying Candice, coming from a non RP background too! The Easter hymns are some of my most favorite! Over the years though I have found what a blessing it is to memorize the Psalms through singing them!

Dana said...

I am certainly no theological expert on this issue, and I know we have talked about it at length, but I thought of a couple of things: Emotions are God-given, but are a poor barometer of truth. If we wrote a love letter to our spouses, or an encouraging card to our children, would we write primarily about how we feel, or something true about them? No doubt, we would have a gush of emotion as we wrote to our loved ones, but that would be in response to the truth of what we wrote. Similarly, if the songs we sing at church don't say much about God, but say a lot about how we feel, they are not saying much worth saying. God meets with us at church-not based on how we feel, but based on the TRUTH of his salvation given to us in Jesus Christ, which He has revealed to us in His rock solid Word (not the shifting sands of our emotions). That's something that I "feel" humbled and thankful for.

Anne said...

Thanks for sharing, Candice. Growing up in the RP church, I forget how "foreign" singing the Psalms are to those who haven't grown up singing them. But that doesn't (or shouldn't) mean I don't need to think about the words I'm singing, even though I know "them by heart". If my heart's not singing them, then I'm not fully worshipping Our Lord.

Dianna said...

I was thinking about something very similar during service this last Sunday. While we sing praise music and hymns there is only a single person playing the guitar and leading worship. It's not the same person every week, and the days of "special music" are just non existent. That time is so much moe personal between God and I. There is no focus on whomever is leading or what other instruments might be playing just on Him and I love that.

Anonymous said...

The choir at our church only sings during the service occasionally, and when they do, they always sit at the back. There is no one up front "leading" worship. The pastors are singing, but they are facing the cross up front. It definitely helps to get the focus off of people or performance, and on to Christ.

Liz said...

I didn't realize that (1) you'd ever been Southern Baptist or (2) that you'd changed denominations. Not that either one matters, but I thought you were still in the Independant Christian Church since that's where y'all were when Larry was growing up around you & Chris. All that said, I've discovered over all these last 20-ish years that every denomination has strengths & weaknesses...good & bad. And you know, I think singing the Psalms is a really COOL thing! Not only are you singing worship to our Savior, but you & your kids are memorizing Scripture at the same time! What an awesome way to do it!!

Candice said...

Thanks for all the comments. I always love to hear what other people think about things like this.

Dana, I agree that emotions may come with worship and that they are the way God has created us--as well as a reflection of His character; the Bible mentions God's emotions lots of times. (Though His are perfect in every way!) My struggle is, as you know, figuring out what comes first: the truth or the emotions? Sometimes that's so hard to discern. I'm so glad that your family is experiencing a kind of reverence in worship that I know you missed for years. *You* have really seen it all, spanning from charasmatic to Lutheran, now!

Liz, it sounds like we are real 'church-hoppers', or rather, 'denomination-hoppers', doesn't it? Yes, I was raising attending an Independent Christian Church (where my parents are still), and when Kevin and I married, since his Dad was a SB Pastor, we moved to that church. When we moved to Lawrence, KS, there was no SB church in town, so we joined an Evangelical Free church, which is almost identical to SB doctrinally. Moving to another town, we did find a SB church, and that's where we were for the past eight years. An interesting journey, for sure, but we are so excited to look back and see how God has directed out steps and brought us to where we are now.

Liz said...

Well I'm certainly not shocked or offended by your "denomination-hopping". Larry & I have had our fair share of experience in several churches as well. Honestly, I can't imagine having always been in one denomination. It's been good for us to experience different denominations along the way. God has used each church we've been in in a different way to grow us & develop our walk with Him. It just so happened that some of them have had different denominational titles.

Chris said...

Well here's my two cents (although it's really not worth anymore than an Obama promise).
I believe that music is one of God's greatest gifts in terms of the human experience; and by music I mean any type whether instrumental or non-instrumental. For whatever reason I would argue God's design), there is something that truly appeals to our souls and beings in an intimate way when we express it through song. I find it ironic (and perhaps spiritually shallow) when I am moved by scripture that is set to a tune and yet find little conviction, or encouragement or awe when I have simply read it. Again, perhaps this is simply due to a continued lack of spiritual maturity for which the only cure is continued seeking and prayer, or perhaps for some this thing we call "music" is so powerfully attached to our very being that to assume that it in itself can be separated from God's word or the spiritual journey and its' discoveries and awe is akin to separating the artist from his palette, only leaving him the empty brush and the canvas. The artist can see perhaps what we cannot-the beautiful image in his or her minds' eye, but for the rest of us we can only see the tools-the means to an end which we cannot appreciate.

I am not trying to be too esoteric here, but I honestly believe that those whose "music" endures and ministers are those who have sought to express the depth and complexities which they themselves have learned or experienced through their spiritual journeys or in scripture, and find this medium of "music" to be the closest and best way to express those things for which (I believe) have been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit.
This is not to say that those "performers" or worship leaders grasped this depth or that they do not, but rather that the writer or performer or both, want to share in the beauty, awe, wonder, and holiness that are perhaps so real and so impacting that they must share them in the best way that they can, by once again allowing the Holy Spirit to utilize them and the gift(s) that were bestowed on them- the gift of music.
So as to whether it is best to sing "psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs", scripture says there all permissable. I would say though that although David was obviously an inspired writer and arranger and knew the depth of God and His love perhaps more intimate than most anyone, I never-the-less find great challenge, encouragement, truth and worship in many writers of the past several hundred years and would say that the Holy Spirit inspired those writers just as much when they penned those lyrics and notes as did God perhaps directly when his servant David wrote out of his experiences and love.

Chris said...

And yes I feel guilty that I blogged on your site Sis when I so lazily didn't check my spelling or punctuation before I sent it, as you were always so meticulous about grammer and always have such well written posts, but hey maybe you can use this for a proof reading excercise for Keely. :-)

Liz said...

Wow. Chris, as always, your words are beautiful & full of great points to think on. Do you have a blog, too?

Candice said...

Hey, Chris! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your opinion from the perspective of a professional musician. I too, agree that music is a wonderful gift from God and that we should use our guitar, or paintbrush, or hammer, or pen for His glory. All of our lives and gifts should be employed to bring glory to God and to praise Him.

However, I believe that there is a difference between public (corporate) and private worship.
The reason the RP Church sings acapella hymns exclusively, as I understand it, is because the Psalms are titled "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs" in the Septuagint. The a capella part I don't understand as clearly, but I think it is because of the command in the NT to offer praise from the 'fruit of our lips'(I think Heb 13:15). Also, the use of instruments is believed to be only used in temple worship as a 'type and shadow' of the fulfillment to come in Christ.

As a Reformed church, they adhere to the 'Regulative Principle', which is, "worship God only as He has commanded", as opposed to the Lutheran, and modern view, that "whatever is not explicitly forbidden is acceptable." Kevin can recommend some good links if you're interested in reading up on those things.

Chris said...

In Greek the word psalmos means a sacred ode which is accompanied by voice, harp and/or other instruments. Hymnos in Greek means to sing a religous song or ode, and Pneumatikos or spiritual song refers to a chant or ode that is sung.
The non-instrumental churches (such as the Church of Christ) take the position that since there is no mention specifically of the apostles nor the early church using them they will not; however, since Colossians was written to the Church at Colassai and Colossians 3:15 and 16 says "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" I differ with that opinion since the writer refers to Psalms, and the audience as "one body" in the act of "teaching" which in my opinion refers to their meeting together (i.e. corporate worship).
This is not to say that I don't like accapella worship- I do and use it frequently when I fell led; nor do I think that accapella worshipers have it wrong by doing so, only that to call instrumental corporate instrumental worship "wrong", or "adding to" New Testament scripture is to have picked and chosen parts of verses and words without looking into their true meaning. Although we all do this at times and have our "opinions" based on this method,as we all know we must guard ourselves, as context and definitions are extremely important. I think this is why God chose to write the New Testament in the Greek, so as to be so precise- which causes all of us a lot of problems since english is such a generalized language.

I hope that you don't think I am being disagreeable or taking a counterpoint just for the sake of arguing; on the contrary. I believe that anytime we come together on why we take certain positions from an individual position rather than a denominational or canonized (if that's a word) one, then we are forced to study and question what and why we believe (or don't) a particular point, and that is absolutely the best way we can grow.
I appreciate your Blog Sis' and hope to come back to it soon. Take care!