Many churches today are embroiled in “worship wars” over whose preferences should determine the content of congregational singing. We believe that the Scriptures themselves provide a plain and peaceable solution to this unfortunate controversy. The only praise songs that should be sung in worship are those which God’s Word has specifically authorized us to sing. Of course, the next logical question is, What praise songs has God’s Word authorized us to sing?
To answer this question, we must briefly survey the history of congregational singing as recorded in the Bible.
- During the period from Adam to (just before) Moses, we find no record of God’s people singing praises to Him in worship.
- During the period from Moses to the Judges, we find God’s people singing praise songs written exclusively by divinely inspired prophets and prophetesses, such as Moses and Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Moses Himself (Deut. 32; Psalm 90); and Deborah (Judg. 5).
- During the period from King David to the Babylonian Exile, we find God’s people singing praise songs written by divinely inspired authors such as King David himself and his guild of Levitical prophets (2 Sam. 23:1-2; 1 Chron. 25:1-6; 2 Chron. 5:12-13; 29:30).
- During the period from the Return from Exile to the closing of Old Testament canon of Scripture, we find God’s people singing from the inspired collection of praise songs that took its final form as the Book of Psalms, probably under Ezra (Neh. 12:45-47).
- During the period from the closing of the Old Testament canon of Scripture to the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, there were no new prophets and, therefore, no new praise songs added to already-finalized Book of Psalms.
- During the period from the birth of John the Baptist to the death of Christ, we find certain individuals speaking (but not necessarily singing) inspired prophetic lyrics (Lk. 1:46-55; 2:29-32), and congregations singing from the inspired Book of Psalms (Mt. 26:30; Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16).
- During the period from the Resurrection of Christ to the closing of the New Testament canon of Scripture, we find individual prophets singing inspired “charismatic” songs (1 Cor. 14:13-15, 26), and entire congregations singing from the inspired Book of Psalms (Mt. 26:30; Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). [For a persuasive demonstration that Eph. 5:18-19 and Col. 3:16 both refer to the Book of Psalms, click HERE.]
- During the period from the closing of the New Testament canon of Scripture to the future return of Christ, God’s people possess the inspired Book of Psalms with no ongoing gift of prophetic inspiration (1 Cor. 13:8; Heb. 1:1-2), no new additions to Scripture (Rev. 22:18), and, therefore, no additional inspired songs for congregational singing.
A straightforward examination of this Scriptural evidence forces us to conclude that the singing of inspired praise has clear and well-documented Scriptural warrant as an element of New Testament worship. As for the singing of uninspired praise, we find no such warrant (i.e. explicit command, approved example, or necessary logical inference) anywhere in Scripture. Now that the canon of Scripture is closed, the Book of Psalms constitutes the only inspired “hymnal” which God has seen fit to give to His Church.
We rejoice that God has given us the Book of Psalms as a fully sufficient, Christ-centered collection of inspired New Testament praise songs. Marti Luther was correct to call the Psalter “a little Bible” and John Calvin was right to characterize it as an “anatomy of the soul.” Even more significant is the Apostle Paul’s designation of it as “the word of Christ” (Col. 3:16), and our Lord’s own assertion that it speaks so very explicitly “concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). Indeed, who better to author the lyrics of Christian praise songs than Christ Himself, who inspired every word in the Psalter by the operation of His Holy Spirit?
For more a more detailed presentation of the Biblical case for Exclusive Psalmody (with responses to common objections) we recommend visiting the online database of articles and audio resources compiled by Rev. Mark Koller of Dallas Reformed Presbyterian Church on his website, ExclusivePsalmody.com. The following articles may prove most helpful to new inquirers:
- Sing the Lord’s Songs: Biblical Songs in Worship by John W. Keddie
- The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God by G. I. Williamson
- The Singing of Psalms by Rev. Sherman Isbell
- Ashamed of the Tents of Shem, by J. G. Vos
- The OPC Minority Report on Song in the Public Worship of God by Prof. John Murray & Dr. Wm. Young
- Practical Psalm-Singing Resources at Psalter.org
We also recommend our pastor’s sermon on Matthew 26:30 entitled, What Hymn? as well as his lecture entitled, A Response to T. David Gordon’s Critique of Exclusive Psalmody, which features an extensive handout, and is now available on our YouTube page (see above).