Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

October 26, 2007

All Rise.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 10:10 pm

This post and those that follow serve as an introduction to the upcoming debate to be held Dec 1, 2007 at RubeRad’s Hoagies and Stogies event. The debate topic that will be discussed is whether or not it is permissible to sing hymns in Christian congregational worship or whether only Psalms should be sung.

I am happy to be the father of the organizer of this event and as such he has invited me to lunch with himself and the two gentlemen who will be debating. At that lunch I will be able to ask some questions in advance of the debate.

I expect to ask questions regarding the exact nature of Christian worship. In this regard I suspect that at least one, possibly both debaters see essential Christian congregational worship as covenant creatures responding to God in the context of a courtroom scene. Here the creator judge enumerates in no uncertain terms the crimes that we his creatures have committed. We respond by uttering the only thing possible: yes we are guilty of these crimes. The creator judge then assumes the role of redeemer God wherein he offers the pardon of the gospel in Jesus Christ. We then respond with praise and thanksgiving as we accept this blessed offer.

I also expect to ask questions regarding the Regulative Principle of Worship since that topic is certainly germane to the debate itself. I am also pretty sure that both debaters adhere to the RPW. The RPW can be thought of as the sola scriptura principle as applied to worship. What it says is this: We must do in worship exactly and only that which God has commanded us to do in scripture. This is opposed to the usual way of looking at it: We may do in worship anything as long as God has not forbidden it in scripture.

The courtroom (notice I do not consider this a metaphor – it is a courtroom) very appropriately forms the bedrock for the RPW. What guilty criminal would waltz into court expecting to call the shots – essentially dictating to the judge what forms of worship he must endure while we do our thing in his presence. No. There are strict rules for how we behave in court in the presence of the king.

My next post will come out in a few days and in it I will detail where these ideas come from and will also provide scriptural support for the RPW.

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  1. Questions I’d like to ask someone who is psalms only:

    The best argument I’ve ever heard for psalms (or inspired Scripture) only is that it seems right that people should only be able to put Scripture in our mouths, that to put the words of a hymn into our mouths is to force us to make a possibly flawed confession, etc.

    This argument makes sense to me, and I find it reasonable.

    Yet I object: when the pastor prays in his own words on behalf of the congregation, he is putting uninspired words in their mouths, even though they are saying nothing at all, because he is speaking to God for them. We believe that the minister has the authority to do this, and the minister alone, which is why the pastor is the one to do the intercessory prayer (though some argue that elders should be able to do this too). But regardless, if he has the authority to thus put uninspired words in our mouths, then why can’t he pick a hymn and put uninspired words into our mouths?

    But if that’s not enough of an objection, consider the Apostle’s Creed. We recite the Creed, and the Reformed have a long history of doing so. And not just the Reformed, but the whole church has a long, long history of doing this. Consequently, it is only the most extreme minority position to say that this is wrong to do.

    Yet the Apostle’s Creed is not inspired.

    Or what about our church’s confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith? Are we allowed to have a Confession? It’s not inspired. Are we allowed to confess our Confession with our mouths? Can we not do so in worship, since when we speak in worship it is a confession of our faith in response to the Word of God? Elders and Ministers are bound in their consciences, taking oaths to uphold the uninspired confession. Members take oaths to submit to the elders who are bound to the confession.

    Granted, we don’t have members subscribing to the confession, so we don’t bind them to it per se directly, so there’s a good argument for not using that in worship. But nonetheless, the mere fact that we have a confession of faith which binds the officers of our church to whom members must submit – well, this would seem contrary to the psalms only or inspired only view.

    The inspired only view is particularly inconsistent on this point in the URC, which does have its members subscribe to the three forms of unity. If that IS their confession, why couldn’t they use it in the worship service, confessing their faith in response to the Word they have heard?

    The inspired only position actually has a lot in common with those who shun confessions because they are not the Bible, saying that the Bible is all we need.

    It seems to me that the most consistent inspired-only position is one that rejects any confession, because it is morally unjust to bind anyone’s conscience to any words other than the words of Scripture.

    I guess we’ll have to start teaching our members Greek and Hebrew, because the English actually isn’t inspired/inerrant. English translations cannot, by definition, capture the richness of the Bible or the beauty of it. This rich a beautiful version of the Bible, however, is completely inaccessible to the layman. But do we have the right to bind their consciences by putting imperfect translation into their mouths, which is even further mutilated and unintelligible at times when put into a song, changing words around to give it a good rhythm or to make it rhyme?

    Oh, but it is said that still, these songs won’t necessarily be filled with theological error, as is the case with hymns. Yes they will, because they won’t capture the original language, because they are translations. Saying that this is what the Bible says, when that’s not exactly right, is what I would call theological error. But furthermore, what the words say are interpreted by the readers. Sure, the words themselves might be inerrant, but the people reciting the words have their own ideas about what the words mean. When they recite the words, they are reciting their interpretation of the words.

    The Bible was used by Satan himself in tempting Jesus. Using only inspired texts does not guarantee that the people will be free from theological error. Nothing will.

    You cannot take the human element out of worship. It cannot be done. These are human beings confessing an imperfect faith to God. God accepts them not because of the quality or accuracy of their confession, but because of the perfection of our covenant head, Jesus Christ.

    These objections are devastating to the inspired only view.

    Of course, we should use psalms a LOT in worship. Just not exclusively.

    Oh, one more thing. The Psalms do have the covenant name of God, Yahweh in them.

    Of course, we no longer call him Yahweh, but Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Particularly Jesus Christ, our Mediator.

    It seems that that covenant name ought to be on the lips of the people of God, his covenant people. Whether you believe that the new covenant name is Father, Jesus Christ or Holy Spirit, it makes no difference. That ought to be on the lips of the people, just as Yahweh was in fact on the lips of the people once upon a time (though today the Jews only say adonai or Lord.)

    I for one think we OUGHT to use the covenant name of God, particularly in worship.

    But the covenant name we have been given is not found in the Psalms. What to do?

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 27, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  2. Echo, I plan on employing many of these thoughts at the upcoming lunch. I think one thing you rushed right on by is why are we doing any singing in the first place.

    Comment by Bruce S. — October 27, 2007 @ 8:29 am

  3. Because I have made my opinions on that matter abundantly available elsewhere. Singing is confession that’s easy to remember.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 27, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  4. Singing is clearly commanded, by the way, e.g., the song of Moses, Deut.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 27, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  5. What happened to the “…hymns and spiritual songs” portion of the phrase that follows the command “Let the word of Christ dwell”…as you teach and admonish…and as “you sing…” in Colossians 3:16? I’d have thought you’d have a more lively debate as to what constitutes (good) psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in the early 21st century. And I’m with Echo (never thought that would happen :)) that you’d better be brushing up on your Hebrew if you want to be imitating the psalm-singers of long ago. Perhaps the underlying principle is in the following verse to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks….”

    Comment by Barbara — October 29, 2007 @ 4:36 am

  6. Interesting post…I’ll be checking in.

    Comment by Stand and Be Counted — October 29, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  7. Whoa nellie! Sounds like you want to have the whole Hoagies & Stogies over lunch! I doubt you’ll be able to get all of your questions resolved, since the point is more to hash out logistical details.

    I’m afraid I will have to hang back on this thread until after the event is over. I feel it is my duty as moderator to appear (pretend to be) impartial, and to not inadvertently spill either of the debaters’ beans, which they may have communicated to me privately beforehand.

    Comment by RubeRad — October 30, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

  8. Echo, nice reasoning…

    Actually, why do we sing at all? On what basis is singing part of the Church service?

    Didn’t Godfrey talk about this in Ancient Church?

    I think I am going to re-listen to those lectures and re-read my notes. Sounds like a fun project during my vacation this winter.

    I suppose the response would be Col 3:16, Ephesians 5:19 or Psalms. However, are these appropriate?

    Comment by Stand and Be Counted — October 30, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

  9. It seems to me that the most consistent inspired-only position is one that rejects any confession

    You might recall from Heidelblog recently that this is Scott Clark’s position.

    Comment by RubeRad — October 31, 2007 @ 7:58 am

  10. What happened to the “…hymns and spiritual songs” portion of the phrase

    Barb, my limited understanding of the exclusive psalmodist’s position on this verse is that “Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs” is a technical division of the Psalms into three categories.

    Comment by RubeRad — October 31, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  11. ugh…

    Comment by Albino Hayford — October 31, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  12. Barb,

    Bruce is right. The words in that verse “songs, hymns, spiritual songs” cannot be said to be referring to inspired and uninspired songs for certain. It’s part of the slight ambiguity when dealing with ancient texts. How we translate it is one thing, but what it actually meant at the time is quite another.

    And anyway, that’s not the kind of argument that will win over an inspired-songs-only person. They have been taught how to interpret that passage as Bruce said above. Now, it may be that that’s the wrong way to understand those words, but only the most erudite scholars could really answer that definitively. In other words, it’s not the best place to go in trying to win people over, because you can’t really prove them wrong.

    I think the most powerful arguments, even for folks who don’t hold to reformed views on worship, is within the context of reformed worship, which ostensibly most psalms only folks hold to. Addressing someone on their own terms and showing them to be inconsistent with themselves is the best method of convincing someone of their error.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 31, 2007 @ 6:17 pm

  13. Stand and Be Counted,

    Thanks, and that’s a good question. The short answer is that the people of God in different points of redemptive history are shown as singing. I pointed to the song of Moses above in Deuteronomy. The reason why I like to point to this is because of Revelation 15:3-4. Here is a scene in heaven, in which the people of God are standing before the throne, singing the song of Moses.

    But you’ll notice that it’s not the song of Moses. To my knowledge, they aren’t quoting anything at all, but yet are said to be singing the song of Moses. Well, I’m an amateur at biblical interpretation, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, if you please.

    But I think this is because the song of Moses in Deut was a song that was commanded to be taught to the people. They were to teach it to their children, and they to their children, etc. God explicitly directed Moses to teach them this song. It was to stand as a witness against them when they inevitably broke the covenant.

    I take this to mean, in a more general sense, that the people of God were singing about what God was doing in redemptive history. In Rev 15:3-4, they sing a song about what God has done in redemptive history – but of course from our perspective, what they sing about there has not yet been revealed. Anyway, Rev 15:3-4 seems to therefore be a final, complete fulfillment of the song of Moses in Deut. But of course, we may just have to wait to find out till our pastor preaches on that passage.

    Anyway, there are plenty of other places where singing is commanded or assumed or whatever, so coupled with the evidence of singing taking place in heaven in Rev, there just is no good argument whatsoever that I have ever heard that we shouldn’t sing in worship.

    The best argument I’ve ever heard against singing at all is that there’s no evidence they did it in the early church, aside from the NT passages you mentioned, of course. But like early liturgies that we have didn’t include singing.

    While that’s not to be brushed off lightly, it doesn’t constitute an argument. It doesn’t help us understand why the Bible might teach that position. And in fact, it seems that the Bible doesn’t teach that position.

    So we sing.

    Practically speaking, however, we sing because it’s an aid to memory. It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about being able to remember what you have said. It’s important to remember what you have said, because what you say is binding on you. That’s why, I think, Moses was commanded to teach his song to the Israelites. They needed to be bound to these words. These words needed to come out of them. It was a confession of faith, so to speak.

    There is a very close connection between singing in worship and confessing what you believe. It is essentially the same thing. I think of singing as easily remembered confession.

    So I do find that in the worship service, not only can the sermon be pedagogical, but the response can be too. Singing is meant to teach.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 31, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

  14. Rube,

    Yeah, I know that’s Dr. Clark’s position. But I am saying that for this position to be consistent, it seems they shouldn’t have a confession at all. I don’t just mean in the worship service. Dr. Clark, for example, subscribes to the 3 forms of unity, as he is URC. My objection is that if this is our confession of our faith, and we believe it is biblical, why can’t we use it in the worship service? It makes no sense to exclude the three forms of unity, which in the URC all members must subscribe to, not just officers, from the worship service. This is what all their members believe, and their church has affirmed that it is biblical. Why can’t they confess it TO GOD in the worship service?

    Now, it would be different in my denomination or yours, Rube, but it still seems to me that if you don’t think the Apostle’s Creed is orthodox, you are not a Christian. Now, maybe you don’t think it says ENOUGH – I don’t – but that doesn’t make it unorthodox, just simple. Nonetheless, if you can’t agree with what’s written there, you aren’t orthodox.

    So why can’t we bind people’s consciences by putting these words in their mouths?

    If the pastor has the authority to pray to God for them, on their behalf, then he is putting uninspired words in their mouths in the worship service.

    Furthermore, the pastor’s sermon is not inspired, but based on the inspired text. Why can’t we respond to God in kind?

    I just don’t see the argument being successful against these objections.


    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 31, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  15. When’s that hoagies and stoagies gonna be, and can I get a ride from Bruce?

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — October 31, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  16. Dec 1. Your eVite probably went to your old address.

    Comment by RubeRad — November 1, 2007 @ 6:52 am

  17. I object that this is the only response I’ve gotten. Boo!

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — November 12, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  18. Hey,

    Preliminary reports indicate that I will be able to attend the discussion so, yes, you can ride with me. Dec 1 – late afternoon.

    Comment by Bruce S. — November 13, 2007 @ 3:00 pm

  19. You’ve been silent for a few weeks now, so I am waiting for the scriptural support to which you referred. In the meantime, I attended my 3 x semester interfaith dialogue with the topic of liturgy (or worship) this morning. My Jewish rabbi friend, who is also a historian, opened us with a brief history of worship practices in the Jewish communities (emphasis on the plural there) from the middle ages on. So much of what she said has echoes in Protestantism. But as I left (early, alas–to do a writing workshop), I told the group about your discussion on the singing of Psalms only and the RPR. Joan said, “Oh, that sounds like the Karaites” a 9th c group of Jews who rejected the validity of the rabbinic tradition and wanted to go back to worshipping ONLY what is prescribed in the Bible. I just wanted you to know that someone beat you to it….

    Comment by Barbara — November 19, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  20. For my part at least, the silence will continue until the debate is done. I will forward your intriguing observations on to the debaters, however.

    Comment by RubeRad — November 21, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  21. Tough to go back to what’s prescribed in the Bible if you’re Jewish, since there’s no temple.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — November 28, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

  22. So how was the debate? what was the conclusion?

    Comment by danielbalc — December 4, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  23. The debate went very well, most of the guys told me afterwards “Wow, I didn’t expect it would be this good!” Go hear for yourself

    Comment by RubeRad — December 5, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  24. I’m assuming that the comments for your latest post are off intentionally, though I’m not quite sure why.

    I think it is a good post and worthwhile ground work that can be universally acknowledged.

    God makes rules as to how we should and should not approach him.

    Comment by danielbalc — December 12, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  25. Excellent assessment of Hebrews! Look forward to reading the next installment.

    Comment by Stand and Be Counted — December 12, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  26. I object to comments being turned off, but I understand why. How about the 2nd commandment though, eh?

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — December 13, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  27. Bravo! on the next installment of RPW.

    Does the RPW also apply to preaching? I am thinking especially of guarding against sermons that are laced with political activism.

    Comment by Stand and Be Counted — December 20, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

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