The Psalm-less Church…

…  singing, “Jesus is my Boyfriend” since at least 1950.

Rev. James Jordan wondered aloud the other day about the marvel that is the Psalm-less 20th/21st century Church.  What has come about in the last century to make the singing of Psalms in worship a rarity?  I have a couple of thoughts…

First, I believe this is a leadership problem (myself included).  Where are the singing theologians?   Did they just fall off the planet?  I am sure they are out there, they have just been silenced.  How were they silenced?

Perhaps you can guess this, but let me ask you, how many music courses are required for an MDiv degree in our Reformed Seminaries?

In one of the most respected Seminaries (at least I respect it) Westminster Theological Seminary’s MDiv Pastoral Ministry Track has no specific “worship music” requirement.  There is a requirement in the third year for a class called “Worship.”  Here is part of the description for that one semester hour class:

Topics covered include biblical-theological foundations of worship,

the directive principle of worship as outlined in the Westminster

Standards, the role of the means of grace in worship, contextualization and worship, music and worship, and contemporary issues with regard to worship. (PT 372 – Worship)

Contrast that with the following:

Expository Skills – 2 hours, Hermeneutics – 4 hours, Gospel Communication – 2 hours, and Sermon Delivery – 2 hours.

Let me just say we make some fine preachers at our Seminaries and thank God for that, but you can clearly see why that is.  We assign time to what we value.  (As far as I can tell, Knox Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary are not any different)

Next, music has become a symphonic-masturbatory exercise in our culture and this lazy pleasure has made it difficult to see the benefit of hard work in worship singing.  We use ear buds and our MP3 players to isolate ourselves from the community of singers.  All singing is perfectly complete without us.  Our voices are not required to complete the piece, it is just easy.

Third, the result of the above means that we (the congregation of the Lord) have forgotten how to sing together. The Psalms are not an easy genre to master and if we are lazy and lack leadership the “how-to” of singing the Psalms is going to be difficult.

But listen, it is doable and we should encourage our pastors in this direction.  If for no other reason than this…  The Bible declares that we are to ‘Psalm God’ in our singing.

1 Chron 16:8-9

8 Oh, give thanks to the LORD!

Call upon His name;

Make known His deeds among the peoples!

9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;

Talk of all His wondrous works!

We can make known the deeds of God in our hymns, and we should, but He put songs into the mouths of His people long ago and to strive for mastery over our own creation, while leaving His alone seems a bit off.

Here are a couple of helpful sites for recapturing the Psalms for worship:

The Genevan Psalter online! Michael Owens has done a wonderful job putting all 150 Psalms online.  You can even listen to them sung in harmony.

An interview with Michael Owens. Our own Uri Brito brings Michael Owens onto the radio-blog to discuss the history of Psalm singing and Michael’s efforts at reformation in this area.

For the pastors our there… how about picking one Psalm and practicing it with your congregation before or after worship.  Then sing it for one month.  Next month pick a different Psalm and repeat.  Soon your Church will have several of them in their repertoire and they will be placing the word of the Lord in their hearts and minds.

May it be for the Glory of God even as He blesses to a thousand generations

al sends

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5 responses to “The Psalm-less Church…

  1. “Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible, p. 26

  2. What about songs that have lines of Psalms within the song, but that also have other Biblcal truths (not word for word from Scripture, but Scriptural nonetheless)? (see Matt Redman’s “Facedown” album).
    In your view, in singing these kinds of songs, are we in error?

    Not every song that isn’t in the category of “Psalter” is a “Jesus is My Boyfriend” song.

    I agree that the Psalms are beautiful and that they should be lifted up among us; however, this idea that the “Psalter” songs are somehow superior to any other song is somewhat unbalanced, in my opinion.

  3. Hi Jessica… well, I don’t think I said what you said I said, but do you believe that Matt Redman’s songs are on par with Scripture? Should we master his songs while neglecting the Psalms?

    I do not know Matt Redman nor his music, so let’s replace him with Issac Watts or John Newton. Is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross or Amazing Grace on par with Psalm 98? If we lost the music and words to either one of those wonderful hymns would God’s word be lost? Of course not. Yet the Church has systematically pushed the singing of the Psalms out of our worship and it is going to take work to get it back.

    That is really all I said.

    al sends

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