Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Psalms in worship

O Wherefore do the Nations Rage

O wherefore do the nations rage,
And kings and rulers strive in vain,
Against the Lord of earth and heav'n
To overthrow Messiah's reign?

Their strength is weakness in the sight
Of him who sits enthroned above;
He speaks, and judgments fall on them
Who tempt his wrath and scorn his love.

By God's decree his Son receives
The nations for his heritage;
The conqu'ring Christ supreme shall reign
As King of kings, from age to age.

Be wise, ye rulers of the earth,
And serve the Lord with godly fear;
With rev'rent joy confess the Son
While yet in mercy he is near.

Delay not, lest his anger rise,
And ye should perish in your way;
Lo, all that put their trust in him
Are blest indeed, and blest for aye.

[Hymn 314, from the Trinity Hymnal]

Christians should sing psalms, together with hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). I am certainly for the singing of psalms, but I am also for the singing of all songs with comprehension. One issue I typically had is that the psalms I have previously looked and heard were hard to comprehend, and the tunes were either hard to grasp, or re-used tunes that were previously matched to other hymns which resulted in cognitive dissonance (since I associate words and songs with tunes).

I had given an exhortation on November 3rd, and us interns had to choose songs for the service. One of the songs I chose was Hymn 314 seen above, which is a psalm based upon Psalm 2. The reason why I chose it was that the theme matched the dissonance I wanted to create in contrast to the beginning song which was about the kingship of God, and the tune was in a minor key which does possess the dissonance feeling. The words are not overly complex and archaic, and Psalms 2 (besides a few others like Psalm 1, 8, 119, 139 etc) is straightfoward in meaning, thus a slight paraphrasing is sufficient .

The issue I'm driving at here is that I, as I suspect with many others, are not against the utilization of Psalms for singing. But I am against terrible renditions of psalms, and against the idea that just because it is God's Word therefore God's people should be forced to sing them. I am not even necessarily for using modern musical tunes for the psalms; gravity after all is important to be maintained especially for psalms of lament. Rather, I am for the simplification of the psalms, having modern wordings, and the usage of appropriate unused tunes (Do not reuse tunes!). I am sure that would make psalm-singing much more desirable.

The service is a covenantal drama, a meeting of God with His covenant people. If we believe that the Psalms embrace the whole range of emotions, it shouldn't be hard for the minister to integrate appropriate psalms into the liturgy, and by that I don't mean just the context of the psalm, or its mere wording. A good psalm should be one with not just appropriate words, but with the appropriate tune. For example, I doubt I would have chosen Hymn 314 if not for the minor key tune. And instead of having one psalm with two tunes or many tunes to choose from, which would certainly create all manner of dissonances for people like me, why not rework the lyrics for two or more different songs? It is interesting to me that certain CCM are based upon parts of psalms and many songs could be made, so I would think that many variations of a psalm could be composed and set to appropriate original music.

Perhaps, instead of attacking those who use hymns and CCM, it would be much better for psalm-singers to win the rest of believers over with psalms and songs based upon the psalms that are just as singable and much more centered upon the Christian faith than hymns and CCM. I honestly do not believe that believers hate the psalms. Attract believers aesthetically, and I am sure they would sing them.


Zac Wyse said...

I appreciate your overriding sentiment that we should have psalms set to appropriate tunes and that we need to sing with understanding. It's one reason I'm very excited about the OPC/URC Psalter Hymnal Project.

I think it's a bit of a stretch, however, to object to Christians being "forced to sing God's word." When God delivers Holy Scripture to us, He binds us to know it and utilize it (all). When He gives us a songbook within the pages of Holy Scripture, even if one is of the opinion that we may add to those songs, we should surely strive to use it all (appropriate settings taken into consideration, of course). Ultimately, God is the one "forcing" the Psalms upon us. But, surely, to acknowledge your overriding concern, pastors and elders need to make sure that they are singable and understood.


Daniel C said...

Hi Zac,

I should be excited about the joint Psalter Hymnal Project, except I know little about what's going on with it.

When I used the phrase "forced to sing God's Word," I was thinking of ministers telling the congregation they should sing certain psalms regardless of how obscure and musically outdated they might be rendered. Perhaps I am making too much of this, but I have a particular incident in mind when I wrote that, involving a 17th century metrical psalter

Zac Wyse said...

Fair enough