The Music of the Church

Adult Sunday School – Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church

April – May 2002


Class #2  (4/28/2002)


I.  Review & Introduction – Pastor Meyers


• Why should church music/singing be different?


1.  Different context—Covenant Renewal Worship on the Lord’s Day.

2.  Different people—the body of Christ gathered as the church on the Lord’s Day.

3.  Different standard—the Bible norms both the content and the music of liturgical singing in the church during worship.


• Church music/singing, therefore, will be different than music and singing in other contexts.


• A warning against liturgical snobbery!


II.     Church Music


A.    The Words We Sing


1.     Sing to God the words He likes—Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual [Holy-Spirit-given] Songs (Eph. 5:17-19).  The church must do a better job of learning the songs God has given us in the Bible.  If we were really Spiritual, we would be itching to learn to sing all the Spirit-breathed songs and Psalms of Scripture.  We would do this first, before trying to introduce music and songs that we like.


2.     Music greatly aids in memorization. Singing is remembering (Deut. 31:21).  This is another reason why we should sing mostly Scripture in church (Ps. 119:11)


3.     Most singing to God is glorified corporate prayer.  This fact must control the content and language of our singing in church (example:  “He is Coming”).


a.     Singing is not a “separate element” of worship that is more strictly regulated than praying.  This is one of the reasons why the argument for “exclusive psalmody,” however well-intentioned, cannot stand.


b.     Just as the church should compose our her spoken prayers in praising, thanking, and petitioning God, she should also compose our own sung prayers of praise, thanksgiving, etc.  We call these compositions “hymns.”


c.     And just as the Scriptures must be the standard that informs all of our talk about as well as our talking to God, so too when we sing about and to him as a congregation the content must be regulated by the inspired prayers, psalms, and songs in the Bible. Our hymns must be Psalm-like. (Example: “I’m Glad About it”)


4.     Our corporate singing must therefore lead us into mature forms of praise and prayer (Eph 4:14-15; James 1:4; Heb 5:12-14).  What this means in brief:


a.     Church singing must be appropriately God-centered and not merely about how we feel.


b.     The content and form of the music we use at any given point in the covenant renewal service must be fitting (give examples of appropriate music for the opening hymn, preparation for the reading and preaching of the Word, communion, and our commissioning at the end of the service).


c.     If the church is to be mature (and to mature) by means of its corporate singing, the content of our hymns must faithfully cover the full range of Christian living (and dying).


d.     All of this implies that a new convert or immature disciple may not always fully appreciate any church that practices this kind of philosophy of church music.  Some music and words will be difficult and challenging (as songs are in the Bible!).  As sinners, even Christians don’t like maturity. We would rather remain children.  Life seems easier; the songs certainly are!


e.     Eric Routley, after surveying selected passages in the Old and New Testaments, says, “We now have some useful guides for judging church music. . . we have the principle that the Christian’s goal must be maturity in Christ.  Our Lord could not have been clearer about this, and Paul found constantly (as apparently did other apostolic teachers) that to fallen human nature the status of slave is attractive, while that of the son is demanding. The prodigal son, we remember, was not permitted by his father, despite his bad record, to take the job in the kitchen he asked for.  He had to wear the robe and the ring and like it. . . . We are therefore on firm ground in saying that where church music inhibits the growth of the Christian community to maturity it is to be censured.” (Church Music and The Christian Faith, p. 20). Adolescent and teenage music styles are omnipresent in our culture. What does this mean?  We are a culture that cannot grow up.  And what is worse, modern Christians in their 40’s and 50’s cannot seem to grow out of the “contemporary” Christian music of the 1970’s.


5.     Singing unites the community around shared commitments and history (Num. 21:16ff.; Judges 5:1, 2, 12; 2 Sam. 1:18; 2 Chron. 35:25; Psalm 147-150; etc.).  Singing Bible songs and Bible-based songs will reinforce who we are and what God has done for us and our fathers (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. . .).


6.     We dare not despise the gifts the Spirit has given to the Church through the ages.  We need to be willing to learn from those who have gone before, especially insofar as the Spirit has created a liturgical-musical culture in the church.  The Spirit has established something of a musical tradition in the Church.  That must not be lightly set aside.  As Eric Routley put it well to young church musicians:  Church music is a conversation that has been going on for 3000 years; you should listen for a while before chiming in and trying to change it.


7.     And we have said nothing of the need for orthodox content in what purports to be Christian hymnody!  There is no place in the church for theologically heretical, unbiblical, or even misleading or ambiguous language in our hymnody.  (example:  “We’re Going Up to the High Places”).


8.     More on Biblical song texts – Mr. Bill Hoover

a.     What are they like?  (Psalms; song of Moses [Ex 15],  Magnificat [Lk 1], etc.)

1)    Lengthy and comprehensive – each tells a story  (Ps 78)

2)    Mature, rich poetry and vocabulary

3)    Primary focus on God and his work

a)    Proper perspective on self

b)    Christological  (Ps 2, Ps 72, Philipp 2, Rev 4-5)

4)    Full range of biblical emotion

b.     Contrast with:

1)    Short Biblical excerpts that don’t tell the full story  (“Scripture songs” – Psalm 118:24)

2)    Simplistic, childish, casual/irreverent language

Oh when He rolls up his sleeves He ain't just puttin' on the ritz,

Our God is an awesome God…

His return is very soon and so you'd better be believin' that

Our God is an awesome God  (Rich Mullins, 1988)


Lord I lift Your name on high

Lord I love to sing Your praises

I'm so glad You’re in my life  (Rick Founds, 1989)

3)    Primary focus on self  (I just want to [see You, praise You, etc.])  

4)    Limited emotional range (…And now I am happy all the day – from “At the Cross,” Ralph Hudson, 1885)

c.     What texts fit the Biblical-song pattern?

1)    The actual words of Scripture (they are the pattern!), i.e. the Psalms and other Bible songs

2)    Versifications of Scripture (ex: the metrical Psalms found in our Psalter)

3)    Scripture-based hymns  --  “My people, give ear“ (#301)*, based on Ps 78; “At the name of Jesus” (#124), based on Philip 2

*Hymn numbers refer to Trinity Hymnal (1961 edition)

4)    Hymns not largely based on one particular passage but which reflect the theology and language of the Scriptures  (ex: “Crown him with many crowns,” many others)


B.    The Music that fits the text – Mr. Bill Hoover

1.     Fitting the text is key!  (no pun intended)

2.     The melody, harmony, form, etc., will reflect the textual and emotional maturity, richness, and Godward focus of the biblical text

3.     Supports singing the entire text

4.     Examples - various Psalter traditions

a.     Metrical Psalters

1)    Switzerland– Genevan Psalter (French), 1551 and 1562

Š       Later translated into Dutch and widely used in Holland and Canada

Š       Translated into English in the 1970s – “Anglo-Genevan” – the one we use

2)    Germany – Becker Psalter, 1628

3)    Scotland – Scottish Psalter, 1564, 1615, 1635

4)    America

a)    The Bay Psalm Book, 1640 (Puritan -- 1st book published in America)

b)    The Psalter, 1912 (United Presbyterian – see hymn #53, many others)

c)    Trinity Psalter, 1990  (Terry Johnson, Indep. Pres., Savannah GA)

5)    Many other psalters not listed here

b.     Chant

1)    Gregorian, Anglican, other styles

2)    Flexible enough to fit actual words of Scripture

3)    Gregorian chant is foundational to all Church music since