Singing the Songs of Zion
O come, let us sing unto the LORD:
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving,
and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…
The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, chapter XXI, paragraphs 4 and 5, speaks of the ordinary parts of the worship of God:
4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful…
5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God…
In addition to prayer, reading of the scriptures, preaching, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, the singing of praise to God is an ordinary and regular part of God commanded worship. Here, specifically, it called for the “singing of Psalms with grace in the heart.”
Not every song with religious words and a good tune is biblical. For example, the popular hymn, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, was written by a modernist Presbyterian minister, Henry J van Dyke, in 1907, and contains lyrics more Unitarian than Christian- the third verse:
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
These sentimental thoughts of the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of men, learning to love for one another, and the joy of divine thoughts, sound wonderful. The problem: sinful men and women are unable to love God, each other or themselves, without the change of nature which comes by God’s grace through saving faith in the accomplished substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. God does not forgive apart from the shed blood of Jesus. We are the children of God in the sense He created us all. But, we are children of wrath, God’s enemies, until made new creatures in Christ. We need more than a moral lesson telling us to love and be happy. This is not a Christian song of praise.
There are better and worse Christian hymns than this. Their selection and inclusion in public worship is often without regard to their conformity to biblical truth, often based upon the sentimental feelings they evoke, or an enjoyable tune. Someone has said, “People learn more theology from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear.” The words we sing are important, and in public worship, should be in perfect conformity with what God tells us in the Bible, without addition or deletion.
The Bible gives us an inspired book of praise, the book of Psalms, containing 150 perfect songs about God, His works and His people. This was the hymn book used by Jesus, the Apostles and the early church exclusively for the first seven centuries after Christ’s resurrection. The Protestant Reformation, especially that part centered in Geneva, France, Holland and Scotland, returned to the singing of the Psalms translated into metrical form. The Bible teaches and God commands biblical Psalms to be included in our worship of Him.
At First Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we sing only the Psalms of the Bible in our public worship, without musical accompaniment. This may seem strange to many Evangelical, Protestant and even Presbyterian worshipers. However, even those who believe and practice otherwise, can be assured we sing only God’s inspired words in our public worship. Thus, you may participate with confidence, knowing we will not ask or expect you to sing anything contrary to God’s revealed truth as found in the Bible.
The words sung from the Psalms may often be jarring to our modern sensibilities. Not all the Psalms are happy; some are about deep sorrow and lamentation. Some cry out to God who seems far away. Some ask God to destroy His enemies. Some plead for forgiveness and speak of man’s unworthiness. Some speak of joy, victory and God’s glory. Some say God’s law is a delight, like sweet honey or precious gold. Others boldly point out to God things which don’t seem right. One finds a full range of human experience and emotion, in words given by God, showing how we may come to Him, boldly, honestly, without trying to sound pious, sentimental and happy, when we are hurting or upset inside.
Our society and our hearts are sinful; and we see things through the distortions of our culture; even the culture of the church is imperfect and tainted by the sinful world in which we live. God tells us not to be conformed by this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, proving what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). One way of allowing our minds to be challenged, stretched, and transformed, by the will of God, is to sing His word. The Psalms help us think God’s thoughts after Him, to become more and more like Jesus, singing the very hymns he sang.
Our intention in worship is to do all things according to God’s command. Worship is to be God pleasing, not designed to please men, or market religion, or entertain. God is able to break, change, convict and bring hearts, once unwilling and unable to seek Him, to Himself. Man made entertainment is not useful in this processing of converting sinful men into children of God, or perfecting believers until they become more and more like Christ. Faith comes, faith is increased, by hearing, reading, praying, preaching and singing God’s word.
If you want to know more about our views of worship and the singing of Psalms in such worship, you might read: