Before blogs existed, email did.
(From the NTJ, Jan. 1997)
From: Glenn Morangie
To: T. Glen Livet
Date: 9/3/96 9:28am
The word here in Green Bay is that I am not impressed by arguments against exclusive psalmody. Mr. Mears gave one in Sunday School this week.
Here are my reasons: 1) that we may sing hymns is not very Reformed even though it may work for Lutherans; 2) if we believe that Col. 3 commands the singing of hymns, why hasn’t our denomination commissioned capable people to write hymns reflecting NT revelation? 3) why also do we sing prayers written by men, namely Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts in the “golden age” of hymnody, who couldn’t pass licensure or ordination exams (and so wouldn’t be allowed to lead prayer in public worship)? 4) is any hymn as good as a good metrical psalm? 5) why does our denomination rely so heavily on John Murray on Gen. 2:7 but when it comes to Eph. 5 or Col. 3 finds him to be quite human? and 6) don’t we need to revise our standards since the divines were exclusive psalmodists (and isn’t our fudging here the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other worship novelties)?
Of course, none of these make a convincing case for exclusive psalmody. But I do think exclusive psalmody is more prudential than hymnody. I am sure you disagree. But you are a disagreeable fellow. Any thoughts?
From: T. Glen Livet
To: Glenn Morangie
Date: 9/3/96 9:27am
Without repeating the arguments with which you are familiar, there are a few thoughts that are persuasive to me:
1) Eph. 5 and Col. 3 are irrelevant. Neither passage addresses the saints assembled; each addresses mutual duties believers have to one another apart from their covenant-assembly. Further, the pronoun translated “one another” is actually the reflexive pronoun (heautois, not allelois), and might properly be translated, “singing to yourselves with…”
2) The evidence of 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” I think it is entirely unpersuasive in this context, that the “hymn” spoken of is a canonical OT psalm. Manifestly, the passage deals with the saints gathered in assembly, and it appears appropriate to the new era in the history of redemption that, just as “revelation” and “teaching” (translated “lesson” here) continue, in response to the person and work of Christ, so also hymnody responds thereto.
3) Throughout the history of revelation prior to the coming of Christ, Israel’s hymnody grew; new psalms were added at each significant phase of redemptive history (e.g., songs of captivity were followed by songs of deliverance, during and after the exile). It would be extremely odd, therefore, if, when redemptive history reaches its zenith, the covenant community’s hymnody would be silent for the first time ever. Of all times for singing to the Lord “a new song,” the day of resurrection is the time to do so.
4) Not surprisingly, then, the songs sung by the redeemed saints, recorded in the book of Revelation, are never canonical OT psalms, and further, they are explicitly Christo-centric (not merely implicitly so). Either those songs are sinful to sing at all, or sinful to sing on earth. The first isn’t possible; the latter isn’t likely, because elsewhere in the NT the “heavenly pattern” is to be our conscious goal and pattern. We are to seek the things above (including, presumably, the heavenly praise).
5) While the literary evidence is not 100% clear, there do appear to be hymns imbedded in the NT (e.g. Phil. 2) itself, suggesting that such were sufficiently well-known as to be cited by the apostle.
For what it’s worth, I think #3, above (and the closely-related #4) are the most compelling reasons. I not only don’t think exclusive psalmody is required; I honestly believe exclusive psalmody is sinful, that it is sinful not to sing praises that explicitly celebrate the person and work of Christ.
I DO concede that there are prudential reasons for not singing every hymn in the hymnal; and I surely concur that many of them are horrible. I’ve only approved about 1/7th of the hymns in the Trinity Hymnal for use in our church, for instance. But, as we all know, an argument against the abuse of a thing is no argument against the thing itself.