(From the NTJ, Jan. 1997)
From: Glenn Morangie
To: T. Glen Livet
Date: 9/3/96 11:10am
Subject: Psalmody -Reply
Thanks for the response. This is surely better, but I am still uneasy about the compositions of men. Which means I think the inspired words of God are a pretty good way of singing praise to him. Is there any better?
Now of course, versifications are not inspired, which might be an argument for chanting psalms or any other hymn that is part of the canon, like the Magnificat, Nunc Dimitis, i.e. those NT hymns Calvin included in worship. But neither are translations of the Bible inspired and we don’t seem to object to their use in public worship. We wouldn’t read Chuck Colson’s thoughts about Eph. 1 instead of reading the Word. We probably wouldn’t read Colson at all. And in my book, his writings are no better or worse than Isaac Wattsâ€™.
In sum, I find it a very different thing to sing the composition of an author who has sat down and composed five verses based on a passage of Scripture or a particular doctrine, than to sing words that closely parallel the words of Scripture and use them as forms of prayer and praise. And this, I believe fits with Terry Johnson’s argument in his new book. If the Reformed tradition has made the Word central to worship, why not make it central to our singing as well?
So I guess I am not an exclusive psalmodist and, therefore, able to take the Lord’s Supper at your church (since I am not advancing sin). But I think exclusive psalmodistsâ€™ instincts to be on the whole admirable.
And what do you do with our standards? Don’t they need to be revised and don’t we need to say that the early Reformers were wrong and show why?
From: T. Glen Livet
To: Glenn Morangie
Date: 9/3/96 1:36pm
Subject: Psalmody -Reply
Our Reformed worship is not in fact centered on the Word. Reformed worship is dialogical; God speaks to us and we speak to him. In Word and Sacrament, God speaks to us; in prayer and praise, we speak to him. Thus, the rules governing the singing of praise are essentially the same as those governing prayer; the words should be faithful to the scriptures, according with biblical truth (including emphasizing what scripture emphasizes), but they need not be restricted to inspired words. For instance, how could we ever pray for Mrs. Jones, dying of cancer, using the language of scripture?
Indeed, as regards the sermon, the matter becomes even more pointed, doesn’t it? In preaching, God speaks to his people. Yet, we do not limit the sermon to a reading of canonical scripture, but we entrust this grave responsibility to men who are orthodox and of good judgment. If we entrust uninspired men to speak God’s Word to us, we can as easily trust uninspired men to speak our words to God.
I agree with you that the instincts of the exclusive psalmist position are largely admirable, especially in light of the poor quality of much hymnody. On the other hand, an instinct that denigrates praise being offered explicitly to the Second Person of the Trinity is not entirely noble.