Is the Psalter “Out of Date”?

Laurie Vanden Heuvel began writing for The Outlook in February, 1968 with her article, “Sing To the Glory of God” (later published in pamphlet form and distributed widely). In 1969, her two articles entitled, “ls the Psalter Out of Date?” appeared, followed in 1970 by the article, “Is This the Bride Christ Bought?” and in 1971 by the article entitled, “Should the Underground Church Be Brought Up?,” a speech delivered at Calvin College at a time when all the harbingers of later developments in the Christian Reformed Church were already sUrfacing boldly, having been nurtured privately for some time by some of the leadership in the CRe. The article, “ls This the Bride Christ Bought?” was also published in pamphlet form by the board of Reformed Fellowship and distributed widely.

The March and April issues of The Outlook this year contain reprints of the two-part series, “Is the Psalter Out of Date?,” still a very current topic.

Laurie Vanden Heuvel wrote many articles in the years following 1971 and she, (together with her husand) became Editor of The Outlook in January of 1990.

The Vanden Heuvels will retire from The Outlook as editors after the April/01 issue. They will take up their work as Directors of Communications for World Reformed Fellowship (featured in the January, 2001, issue).

Relevance! This is the battle cry of many today. “Anything old is bad; anything new is good,” so they say. Consequently, there is a breakdown in morals such as the world has never before witnessed. “New Morality” is the sophisticated term applied to age-old sin. The Bible has been attacked to the point where it has little significance and absolutely no authority for millions of people today. In a frantic attempt to be relevant, people “tune God out” and “tune Satan in.”

There are some however, who, although they have rejected the “faith of the fathers,” nonetheless still want to exert an influence on the church as institution. They are opposed to Biblical preaching and a Biblically oriented worship service. As a result, they have introduced most bizarre forms into the worship service. Modern “church jazz” is one of the new modes. A new hymnody is being urged. One example of such hymnody is the following hymn taken from a new hymnal published by the World Council of Churches entitled “New Hymns for a New Day”:

“It was on a Friday morning that they took me from the cell,

And I saw they had a carpenter to crucify as well.

You can blame it on to Pilate, you can blame it on the Jews,

You can blame it on the devil. It’s God I accuse.

You can blame it on to Adam, you can blame it on to Eve,

You can blame it on the apple, but that I can't believe.

It was God that made the devil, and the woman and the man.

And there wouldn't be an apple if it wasn't in the plan.

Now Barabas was a killer, and they let Barabas go.

But you are being crucified for nothing here below.

But God is up in heaven and He doesn’t do a thing,

With a million angels watching, and they never move a wing.

To hell with Jehovah, to the carpenter I said;

I wish that a carpenter had made this world instead.

Goodby and good luck to you, our way will soon divide.

Remember me in heaven,

man you hung beside.

CHORUS:

It’s God they ought to crucify, instead of you and me,

I said to the carpenter, a hanging on the tree.”

Where does the Psalter fit into such a scheme? May I submit to you that, naive and irrelevant as it may sound, the Psalter is the only answer to the cry for relevance today? Professor J. B. Work has described this Psalter most beautifully:

The great importance of praise as a means of grace is set forth. The singing of Psalms combines prayer and instruction with the highest form of adoration and devotion. What can be so acceptable to God as the words with which the Spirit touched the lips of the Hebrew psalmists? In them the soul pants for God, cries from the depths, looks up to the starry heavens, shouts from the hills of Zion. The collection begins with the contrasted ways of the righteous and the ungodly in the First Psalm, enthrones Christ in the Second, celebrates the Resurrection in Sixteenth, opens the two books of God in the Nineteenth, weeps with Jesus in the Twenty-Second, clasps His hand in the TwentyThird, voices the exiles' plaint in the Forty-Second, grieves with the penitent in the Fifty-First, surveys the widening Kingdom of Messiah in the Seventy-Second, calls all the earth to worship in the One Hundredth, enters the holy of holies in the One Hundred and Third, sings with the Saviour in the Hallel, and so from height to height till it ends with a burst of hallelujahs in the closing doxology. The very order is significant. It was not without fitness that our fathers sang them in course as they gathered morning and evening about their family altars. It was a course of instruction. It was daily admonition. It was bread from heaven. The day of revival shall have dawned when all God's people shall be found offering with true hearts the morning and evening sacrifice of praise provided by the Holy Spirit.1

The Psalms are the answer to today's needs for two reasons. First, they are divinely authorized, a claim which cannot be made for any man-made hymn. Second, they are broad in scope so as to be suitable for the needs of God’s children in every age, in every experience of life. “There is not a musical requirement that it does not meet, there is not a motion of the soul that it does not express, and there is not an attribute of the Almighty as revealed to man that is not made the embodiment of adoration, and the basis of supplication.”2

It is the intention of this article to show briefly how the Psalms are the only divinely authorized manual of praise. In a subsequent article, the wide, comprehensive scope of the Psalms will be delineated.

It is an undisputed fact that the basic Law of Worship for every worship service is this, that everything in the worship of God must be divinely prescribed and anything which does not have this divine appointment is prohibited in the worship service. Therefore the music of such a service must also be divinely authorized. The Psalms are God's divinely authorized vehicles of praise.

When David became king of Israel, the religion of Jehovah was in a deplorable state. David immediately began his work to revive and reconstruct the religious services of the church. His first task was to recover the Ark and establish for it a place of residence. His first attempt failed because he neglected to obey the directions given by God Himself for the handling of the Ark. Before his second venture, he made careful preparations and was then successful because he had divine approval. Then we read, “and David and all Israel played before God with all their might, with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries...” This is the first service of singing and musical accompaniment recorded in the Bible. David then appointed Levites to “minister before the Ark of the Lord, and to record and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” David proceeded to write more than half the psalms and he declared that he spoke "by the Spirit of God" and the "Lord's word was in his tongue." This is further verified by Peter in Acts 1:16. Jesus Himself verifies the fact that the Holy Spirit inspired David and Asaph. These psalms were used throughout the entire Old Testament period and on into the New Testament era.

It is disputed by some that the Psalms were used in the New Testament period. But the Bible refutes their position by two methods: 1) silence and 2) verbal testimony.

The argument from silence is fourfold:

  1. There is no recorded divine command in the New Testament to hymn-writers or any promised help of the Spirit in hymn-writing.
  2. Although various gifts were bestowed at the outset of the New Testament era, there was no special gift bestowed on any to write hymns. In the Old Testament this gift was specially dispensed.
  3. There is absolute silence in the New Testament about the making of a new hymnody while the formation of a new hymnody was a very important occurrence in the Old Testament.
  4. There is not one bit of evidence from archaeology to indicate that anything but the Old Testament psalter was used. This is true also throughout the first century of the Christian Church. Later on other hymns were introduced into the worship by heretics as a subtle method of propagating their heretical ideas. As a result, the Council of Laodicea met in 360 A.D. and according to famous historian Philip Schaff, this council “prohibited the ecclesiastical use of all uninspired or private hymns.”

The New Testament however, is not silent concerning the music of the church. Professor W. G. Moorehead has said: “In the first Christian sermon ever preached, that of Peter (Acts 2), the main doctrine taught rests on the interpretation of two Psalms, the Sixteenth and the One Hundred and Tenth. In Paul's first recorded discourse (Acts 13) the effective appeal is made likewise to two Psalms, the Second and the Sixteenth. Hebrews also is filled with arguments drawn largely from the Psalms as to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of that epistle there are seven quotations from the Old Testament, and six of them are taken from the Psalms. Obviously, apostolic teachers had no difficulty in finding Jesus as Messiah in the Psalter; they saw in it not only predictions of His advent, but likewise they saw in it the main features of His mission, His mediatorial offices, His death, resurrection, and exaltation, His kingdom and its glory, His people and their blessedness.” Jesus on the night on which He was betrayed sang with His disciples the Hallel found in Psalm 113–118. James says: “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” Paul enjoins the Christians at Ephesus and Colossa “to speak (or teach) one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” There are those who use this passage to prove that it is not necessary to use the Old Testament psalter because of the words "hymns" and “spiritual songs.”3 It must be pointed out that these two words were also used to describe the Psalms in the Old Testament psalter. Sixty-seven of them have the title, “psalm,” six have the word “hymn” and thirty-five have the title “song.” In certain places there are varied combinations of these words. So it is obvious that it is this collection of psalms, hymns, and songs that Paul referred to. In addition, the-term "spiritual song" means Spirit-given, or Spiritled, or Spirit-determined song. This rules out the contention that Paul had in mind songs other than those which were divinely authorized in the Old Testament psalter. Early church Fathers such as Basil the Great and also Augustine prohibited anything but the psalms from divine worship. It may appear from the preceding discussion that the writer recommends only the use of the Old Testament psalms in the worship of God. Early reformers did feel this way. But because this writer is a product of her age, she does not hold quite as rigid a position. However, it must be stressed again and again that God is extremely jealous of the manner in which He is worshiped. He has never cancelled out the Psalter. He has never commanded new additions. Therefore, we His children must exercise extreme caution with regard to the musical praise offerings in our church services, Sunday Schools, Christian Schools and other kingdom functions. It is true that hymns are included in our Psalter Hymnal but they have been carefully screened to include only those which adhere closely to the "whole counsel of God" as it is expressed in His Holy Word. And now, reader, can you be challenged to sit down some Sunday afternoon with your Psalter and another inferior gospel songbook and compare the offerings you find in each? It will be an enlightening experience and your heart will praise God for the wonderful heritagewhich He has provided for you inHis psalms! One author has put itthis way: "There is need that the whole Church get back to the strong old songs of divine inspiration. They will put iron in the blood. They will put strength into the purposes. They will make men humble before God, but mighty for His truth's sake whenthey stand before men. They will give us for these days character like that of the Covenanters and the Huguenots and the Puritans, menwho know God and will dare to be true. And that is the sort of revival which the Church most needs."4

Footnotes

1. Me Naugher, John, editor. The Psalms in Worship.Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1907, p. 157.

2. Ibid, p. 96.

3. Ibid, P 105.

4. Ibid, P 58.

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