>Jesus is My Girlfriend Worship?

>Sometimes things like this make me wish I was an exclusive Psalm singer.  Songs that can be sung to a girl or to any human cannot be sung to God!

O.k., so you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.  Well, this past Lord’s Day, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church held his Easter service at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA.  At this Easter “worship” service, Warren had the Jonas Brothers do “a three-song session” (or performance) to close the nearly two hour service, worship service.  A service reportedly devoted to worshiping God was closed with a performance by a popular boyband, singing Easter classics like “Hold On,” A Little Bit Longer” and “Gotta Find You.”

Now apparently the last song was written by a member of Saddleback Church, so certainly it should be about the resurrection, Jesus, or at least about God, right?!  Unfortunately, no!  Well, at least we’re really not sure since the song had been originally sung to a teenage girl in the ABC Family television show Camp Rock.  Now if you can sing a song to a girl, and then later sing that same song to God as worship, then either your view of that girl is way too high, or, the more likely scenario is that your view of God is much too low.  In fact, it is what the Bible refers to as idolatry.

Below is a video clip that shows the song being sung at the Easter service compared to when it was sung to a girl.  I do not endorse the man that introduces the clips nor his cynicism, although the idolatry it reveals is quite flagrant and shocking. 

Songs that can be sung to a girl or to any human cannot be sung to God!

>Some Helpful Resources on the Psalms

>For the past couple of months, we have been attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Norfolk, Va while waiting for a call. In the morning, the senior pastor is preaching through the Psalms. From listening to the sermons, I have been reminded of the deep riches that can be mined from the Psalms, as well as the importance and necessity of reading and applying them Christocentrically. So I recently decided to do my own study of the Psalms, including some work on the use of the Psalter in Reformed worship. Here are some resources I have found helpful so far.

First, a classic place to begin for any reader, but especially the Reformed reader is the “The Author’s Preface” in John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. This can be found in volume four of the Baker edition on pages xxxv-xlix.

Second, for any proper Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms, one needs to begin with Geerharudus Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter.” This article first appeared in the Princeton Theological Review back in 1920, but has also been republished as an appendix in The Pauline Eschatology. Now, this article is not for the faint of heart–it is challenging, but well worth great effort. When one comes to understand Vos, one will find that every Psalm, not just some of the Psalms, are “messianic.”

Third, for an updated case arguing for a Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms in which all Psalms are understood to be “messianic,” I am reading Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms.


Fourth, for a handbook that is geared towards teaching the exegetical method for approaching a Psalm, I am reading Mark Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. This book does a great job of starting with the most basic elements of Hebrew poetry and then moves you through the exegetical process, including understanding the Psalms redemptive-historically and theologically, including how to identify the type of Psalm, and how to teach or preach the Psalm. The book is equally practical and theological. The book may appear technical to those who have not had Hebrew, but lack of training in Hebrew will not cause anyone to miss anything.

Fifth, for an introduction and suggested guide for using the Psalms in worship, I have been reading John D. Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship. Although this book is not as Reformed as I was expecting (the author is the director for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship), it still has much to offer concerning the historic use of the Psalms and current ways to use them in worship and prayer.

Last, a book that I am not yet reading but plan to is Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship. This book combines exegetical insights from Waltke (who also believes that every psalm is messianic) with historical insights on how the Psalms have been interpreted and used throughout the history of the church. The only reason I’m not reading it yet is because it has not yet been released! But I will begin it as soon as I get it.

The plan is to provide more in-depth reviews of these resources as I am able, so check back for more info. But for now, pick one or two and get reading!

>Singing God’s Words – The New Book of Psalms for Worship

>In addition to the 1973 edition of The Book of Psalms for Singing comes the new Book of Psalms for Worship. Crown & Covenant Publications of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America have produced a new Psalter. They have updated the language and have used modern English to make it easier to understand. Included in this updated version is fresh translation work from the original Hebrew in addition to consulting updated English translations–which means that when one sings these Psalter selections, one is singing the very words of scripture–this is a translation, not a paraphrase. They have updated some archaic expressions, and have also switched certain words to provide a more up to date word that better expresses the intended meaning. You can go here to see some examples.

In addition to changing and updating the language, they have also updated the appearance. They have given it a new page lay out with a uniform presentation of the music and font. The now identify the Psalm selection with the first line of the Psalm in addition to the number. They have used a larger font for the Psalm number and selection letter for easier identification and navigation of the Psalter.

They have also updated the tunes used for singing the Psalms. Some of the Psalms have retained the same tune, but many of the Psalms have been given new tunes. Some of the new tunes are traditional hymns tunes that are readily recognizable, some are new tunes that were written specifically for the Psalter, while others have been borrowed from other cultures. These changes are not for the sake of being contemporary, but an attempt to help the worshiper understand the Psalm by using a tune that reinforces the setting and meaning of the Psalm. (I am particularly interested in this improvement since one of my beef’s with the old Psalter is that many of the tunes did not match the Psalm.) A complete chart noting the changes in words and tunes can be found here. If you want to hear the new musical arrangements, a complete library index of the tunes (MIDI files) and Psalm selections can be heard here.

However, in all the updates and changes, my favorite improvement is that they have taken steps to help the worshiper see the broader connection that each Psalm has with the rest of scripture by including a New Testament reference that goes along with the theme of the Psalm. This NT reference is to help the worshiper have a more Christ-centered experience of singing the Psalms by helping the worshiper understand the Psalm as Christian scripture in light of its fulfillment in connection with the person and work of Jesus Christ (see Luke 24.27 & 44):

It is deemed important to help the singer associate and appreciate the presence of Christ and the Gospel of the kingdom in the Psalms. Though these are old songs, they are new in Jesus Christ; promise followed by fulfillment.

They hope for this new Psalter to encourage Psalm singing again in the Church and in the home. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing God’s truth and learning true theology, which serves to nourish us and form us in the image of our savior. Jesus, himself, sung the Psalms and by them he learned prayer and he learned the nature of his own calling. Jesus saw himself in the Psalms (his life and experiences) and he found his voice in them. And when we sing them, we who are united to him by baptism and faith, find our own lives, experiences and words hidden in the one of whom the Psalms speak, and who continues to speak through them.

If you are interested but don’t want to buy it without seeing it, you can sign up for a free Psalter sample kit first. Check it out.

>Old Wine in New Wineskins: Giving Traditional Hymns Modern Tunes

>In the previous post, I talked about the value and necessity of the Church in utilizing Reformed hymnody and psalmody in worship and pointed out the danger of the recent trend to leave them behind. But, some of you may be thinking, what about giving the old traditional hymns and psalms new modern tunes and arrangements? Isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Well, let me direct your attention to Psalm 96.6-9:

Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
o tremble before him, all the earth!

As we read in Psalm 96.6-9, we find that the worship that the church is commanded to offer God (“ascribe” is a command), is to be reflective of the splendor, majesty and glory that is due to God because he is a God of splendor, majesty and glory. Our worship is to be biblical. The words can be scriptural (psalmody) or interpretations of scripture (hymnody), but they should never be unbiblical or false interpretations of scripture. But beyond that, biblical worship is concerned with more than just the words, but also the mode by which those words are sung. This means that sound words can be sung and offered to God in an unbiblical way–esepcially, if the worship offered does not reflect his splendor, majesty and glory.

Paul Jones comments that there is a problem today with the influence of the music of pop culture in the Church. The result is that it is leading the Church to become dominated by the spirit of the age rather than the spirit of Christ. The way I would put it is that it is leading the church to offer up worship that has biblical content in a worldly wrapper. The result is that the worldly wrapper colors the biblical content so that the worship is no longer biblical. In other words, as Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, et. al., have taught, you cannot separate the message from the medium. One of the problems with trying to breathe new life into the old hymns with modern tunes and arrangements is that it tends to borrow from the world in order to engage in an other worldly activity. The end result is that old hymns with new tunes often end up being no better than jettisoning the old hymns to begin with, for the mode changes the meaning, which means the hymns get jettisoned anyway.

Let me offer up an example. Below you will find two video presentations of the song “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” which was originally penned by Charles Wesley in the 18th century. Both are using the same basic lyrics, though the second does add its own chorus. The lyrics are:

Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears:
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the Throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
For me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love,
His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for ev’ry race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly plead for me;
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!

My God is reconciled;
His pard’ning voice I hear;
He owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

Listen to both and see which one you think better reflects the splendor, majesty, and glory of God as commanded in Psalm 96. Which seems more fitting to be sung to and before the face of a heavenly, divine, Lord?

>The Value of Reformed Hymnody and Psalmody

>In his lecture “Music, Singing, and the Protestant Reformation,” Paul Jones provides an excellent history and introduction to the importance of the Reformation and the recovery and development of congregational singing in worship. With the Reformation came the recovery of reading and studying the Bible in the original languages. From their studies, the Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were able to see the errors propagated by the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine and worship. Their reading of scripture and recovery of the truth led them to protest those false teachings and practices, especially in worship. In the 1000 years prior to the Reformation, the congregation would not participate in worship through song. Singing was reserved for the clergy and choirs. But with the influence of Luther and Calvin, congregational singing once again became an essential element of worship.

Martin Luther did much in recovering and developing congregational hymnody. One of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church was the use of Latin in the worship services. The Bible they used was the Latin Vulgate and the entire liturgy was performed in Latin. Most of the laity did not know Latin (in fact many of the clergy didn’t either), so they had very little understanding of what was taking place in the service. And if they did know Latin, they still were not able to read the Bible for themselves, for the Bible was not made available in the pew, but was reserved for the clergy and scholars alone. Luther changed all of this.

He facilitated the witting participation of the congregation in worship with three radical changes. First, he began conducting worship in the German language so the congregation could understand and participate in the worship liturgy. Second, he translated the Bible into the German language. This way the congregation could read the Bible in their own language. This translation into the common tongue, combined with the use of the Gutenberg printing press, facilitated many acquiring a Bible they could read and understand. But what about the persons who could not read and did not have anyone to read to them? Well, third, he produced hymns in German. The hymns were Luther’s way to teach doctrine to his people in a way that they could easily remember, since he noted that people recall the words to songs much more readily than the words from a sermon.

John Calvin also contributed much to congregational participation in worship through singing. Though Calvin was not a musician like Luther, he nonetheless viewed music and singing as one of the most excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit. Calvin wanted the people to sing–especially the canonical psalms. So Calvin developed French psalmody by utilizing French poets and artists (like ClĂ©ment Marot, Loys Bourgeois, and Guillaume Franc) to collaborate with him on the development of a Psalter. In 1562, the Genevan (or Hueguenot) Psalter was completed and published. Because Calvin understood the Bible’s command that all the congregation praise God through singing, he gave the French speaking Protestants metrical psalms that they could sing in the worship God. Very quickly, the Genevan Psalter was translated into German, Dutch, English and other languages so that congregations of many different cultures, ethnicities and languages had biblical songs to sing in their own language, which they could understand.

The point here is that in recovering biblical Christian doctrine and biblical Christian worship, there was a recovery and development of public, corporate worship where all the congregation participated in praising God through singing. Luther and Calvin understanding this importance gave the Protestant Christians biblical church music for them (and us) to sing. Part of what it means to be a child of the Reformation, then, is to understand the musical heritage that we inherit in the hymnody and psalmody of the Reformers. A heritage that has been preserved and passed down to us in Hymn Books and Psalters.

Yet, there is a trend today to move away from our Protestant and Reformation heritage. In the last couple of decades, there has been a movement to replace hymnals and Psalters with movie screens and power point. Psalm singing has almost disappeared completely, while the songs that are sung in many churches are no longer the historic hymns of our faith that teach us biblical doctrine. These songs are being replaced with trite praise choruses that focus more on one’s existential experience of God in order to have a spiritual experience, than in communicating the truth of God’s word back to him as a reflection of his truth and glory. There is also a trend to utilize more “special music” where special choirs, worship teams, ensembles and soloists do so much of the singing that the congregation is being sung to, as much as, if not more than, it itself participates in the singing.

Are these trends a good development for the church’s worship and life? Is this going to nourish us and enrich our worship of God? Jones thinks not,

There is something wrong with throwing out the hymnals and Psalters. You see, people died for our right to hold song books in our hands, and to read them, and to have them in our homes, and places of worship, to teach them to our children and to share them with each other. This move to be unencumbered by hymnals will prove to be a disastrous one for the spiritual health of the church. We think we’re freeing ourselves to worship better, but what we’re actually doing is impoverishing our worship now, and for our children and grandchildren in the future. It only takes one generation for a hymn to disappear from use.

Although many are making these changes with good motives and intentions, by forgetting the past and not thinking about what we are doing (why we do it, how we do it, if we should do it, etc.) in the present, we unwittingly can lead the church into repeating the errors of the past and developing our own novel traditions that distort true, biblical worship today. The answer obviously is found in scripture. We must take the time to think biblically about our worship. And according to Jones, the Reformation’s teaching on music, singing and worship promotes and reinforces just that,

If the Reformers have taught us anything by their example, it is that we must take time to examine our ways and methods, that we must measure them by the principles of scripture, that we must ensure the biblical models are followed when it comes to worshiping the one who created us for that very purpose. They have taught us to go to the Bible . . . it gives us guiding principles that can be applied and are instructive for us.

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}Reformed hymnody and psalmody are valuable and essential for the Church today because they teach us our heritage, they help us to learn and remember scripture and doctrine, and they protect us from falling into the snare of idolatrous worship as the Church did long ago, and from which the Reformation freed us. To quote from Jones one more time,

Singing Psalms and hymns, writing new ones, holding these collections of prayers and doctrinal teaching in our hands–these privileges are our birthright as children of the Reformation. This is our music; we must value it, treasure it, teach it and share it, and above all, sing it, for God’s glory and our enrichment as his children.

The Catholic leaders during the time of the Reformation claimed that they could have stopped the spread and influence of “Luther’s heresy” if it wasn’t for the hymnody that caused it to spread like wildfire throughout Europe. It was Reformation hymnody and psalmody that played a key role in the recovery and propagation of the light of the true gospel. If we give up our Hymnals and Psalters, we will lose our hymns and our psalms, we will give up our identities as Reformed Protestants, and we risk developing spiritual anemia–and the Protest may soon be over. For as surely as Reformation hymnody and psalmody played a role in the recovery and spread of the true Christian faith for past generations, it certainly also plays a crucial role in guarding and preserving it for future generations to come.

>Does "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" Need A New Tune?

>At this year’s Reformation Heritage Conference held by Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA, the speaker Paul S. Jones weighed in. While talking about Luther’s hymn, he commented that it was the battle hymn of the Reformation, and was sung by the Huguenots in Paris during the St. Batholomew’s Day Massacre. He noted that it is a hymn that immediately reminds astute Protestants of their heritage having been sung for 500 years to the same tune. And then he opined concerning the idea of giving it a new tune:

And let me just state up front my opinion that it does not need a new [tune]. Honestly, I sometimes wonder at the audacity we have to have to think we can improve on a tune that martyrs and saints have sung for 500 years. A tune that has galvanized Protestants together in the truths of scripture, that people have sung while burning at the stake, and while waiting for the guillotine to drop. Has it needed our help to last that long, or do we just refashion it or dumb it down to make it somehow valid for use today? I mean, really.

You can hear this lecture and all four of the lectures here:

  • Session 1: “Music, Singing, & the Protestant Reformation”
  • Session 2: “Martin Luther & Reformation Hymnody
  • Session 3: “John Calvin & the Recovery of Psalm Singing”
  • Session 4: “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World”

[HT: David Strain]

>Cassiodorus on the Psalms

>From The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship:

The psalms make our vigils pleasant when in the silence of night the choirs hymn their praise. the human voice bursts into melody, and with words skilfully set to music it leads us back to Him from whom divine eloquence has come for the salvation of the human race. . . . From Him we have both obtained our saving religion and have come to know the revealed mysteries of the holy Trinity. So the psalms rightly unite the undivided glory of Father, son, and Holy Spirit, so that their praise is proved to be perfect.

Truly they are vessels of truth, for they contain so many virtues, they are suffused with so many odours of heaven, and they are thronged with so many celestial treasures. They are the water-jugs containing the heavenly wine and keeping it ever fresh and undiluted. Their marvelous sweetness does not grow bitter with worldly corruptions, but retains its worth and is continually enhanced with the grace of the purest sweetness. They are a most abundant store, the fecundity of which cannot be exhausted, although so many peoples of the earth drink of it.

What a wondrous sweetness flows from them when sung! . . . But we are not to sing like parrots and larks which seek to imitate men’s words but are known to be utterly unaware of what they sing. True, a charming song delights our minds, but does not impel them to fruitful tears; it soothes the ears but does not direct its hearers to heavenly things. But we are pricked at heart if we can heed what our lips can say.