For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why Baptists Don't Sing Psalms

I guess I should clarify, since I'm sure there are plenty of Baptistic Psalm Singers out there.  But it seems that many on the "conservative" side of things, those who don't care much for "contemporary" music, those who much prefer "tradition," etc.; these folks don't seem to be those who regularly practice Psalm singing. 

Maybe they think singing Psalms seems to Presbyterian-ish, or Cathoic-ish, or something.  Maybe it's because we just don't remember our history.  Baptists actually have a history of Psalm singing, dating back to the days of our English Baptist forefathers, heavily influenced by Scottish Reformers.  Charles Spurgeon, perhaps one of the most famous Baptists of all time, put together a hymn book just for his folks at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which opened with a collection of hymn-songs called "The Spirit of the Psalms."  Many of Isaac Watts' Psalm songs play prominently here.  

Anyway, so many of our American churches dropped the practice for one reason or another that now it seems "foreign", and "strange."  And since "that's not what we sang when I was growing up" then I guess it doesn't have a place today, right?  Well, apart from that solid "we've never done it that way before" argument, I think there's more going on here in the reluctance of many to sing the Psalms.  It has to do with the words themselves.  

I thought about this as we read a Psalm to open our services yesterday.  While we're slowly trying to help folks understand that Psalm singing is acceptable, we've been using the Psalms as our "call to worship" for some time.  Don Whitney, now of Southern Seminary, introduced me to the idea of "Psalms of the Day" during a doctoral seminar some years ago.  It's simply the idea of taking the day's date, adding 30 to it four times, ending up with the numbers for 5 Psalms to read that day.  Since I'm writing this on the 4th of November, today's Psalms would be 4, 34, 64, 94, and 124.  This gets you through the Psalms completely each month. (sorry for the rabbit trail here, but it seemed appropriate to fill in the details)

So, we take one of the Psalms of the day and read part of it as a "responsive reading" to begin our worship services.  Yesterday, we read from Psalm 33.  These phrases jumped out at me:  "Shout for joy", "Sing to him a new song", "play skillfully on the strings", "with loud shouts."   What's a nice, conservative, traditional Baptist to do with those things??

Surely we know singing those "new songs" is bad.  "Strings" implies guitars and stuff; that can't be good.  And for heaven's sake, "shout"????  We ain't doin' none of that Pentecostal shoutin' stuff.  Now, I hope my Baptist friends know I'm being a bit sarcastic, poking a little fun at the stereotype of the overly-traditional position.  And I admit that I'm a bit odd.  (as if I have to point that out)

For the most part, I'm pretty conservative/traditional about my worship as well.  I'm not a big fan of the entertainment oriented worship stuff going on in a lot of places.  And yet at the same time, my personal musical tastes run a bit on the loud side.  I even confess that as I read that verse about playing skillfully on the strings with a loud shout, I almost chuckled because the thought entered my head about how much I'm looking forward to the new Stryper CD coming out tomorrow.  Skillful strings and lots of loud shouts.  Oh yeah!  

But seriously, while I like that music for my own "entertainment",  I don't think it belongs in my church on Sunday morning.  Yet, not wanting to bring rock n roll to church is a far cry from not wanting to have impassioned worship.  And for some reason, we seem to think that the answer for the feel-good entertainment approach is to be stifled and border-line bored. 

I love Spurgeon's comments on the "loud shouts" of Psalm 33:  "Heartiness should be conspicuous in divine worship. Well bred whispers are disreputable here. It is not that the Lord cannot hear us, but that it is natural for great exultation to express itself in the loudest manner. Men shout at the sight of their kings: shall we offer no loud hosannahs to the Son of David?"

Wow!  A Baptist said that!  Seriously, I think we do struggle with what to do with the loud shouts and clanging cymbals and trumpets and new songs we read so much about in the Psalms.  That might be part of why we don't want to see them more prominently in our worship.  Maybe not.  Maybe it really is the "we've never done it before" idea.  But whatever it is, we need to get over it.

The Psalms are the only God-breathed songs we have.  While God has gifted hymn writers in every generation of the church, and while they have given us wonderful songs to sing, we need to be sure we don't neglect these divine songs along the way.  

I know this has been even more of a ramble than usual.  Probably need more coffee.  But I hope that the church of God, Baptist and others together, will find great joy in the Psalms; reading, meditating and singing them.  And may we truly find "heartiness" in our worship.  

Now, for the really adventurous, you can check out this new single from the aforementioned Stryper CD out tomorrow.  

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