Psalms Only, Please!

An acquaintance of mine wrote recently to tell me of a friend of his who claims that we shouldn’t sing any hymns as part of our Christian worship, but only Old Testament Psalms. I’ve heard this argument many times before and for the life of me, I can’t understand it. Of course we should use psalms in Christian worship! But the idea that the composition of all creative Christian music or poetry based on revelation should have ceased 2000 years ago and that we should sing only works written 3000 years ago is, in my opinion, daft. If we carried this to its logical conclusion, we wouldn’t even read out ‘The Notices’. After all, they’re not ‘Scriptural’!

In my view, we need always to remember that the psalms belong to an era before Christ came in the flesh and before the completion of the divine revelation.  What’s more, they (like many other parts of the OT) contain things which are unsuited to Christian worship. Should Christians for example, in the light of Jesus’ injunction that we love our enemies (Matt 5:44) be singing about taking revenge against those enemies by dashing their babies’ heads against rocks (Psalm 137)?  Perhaps those who wish to use only psalms in Christian worship would not want to sing this, but then they’d have to edit out of the psalms the ‘uncomfortable’ bits. Of course, the very idea of this puts us on shaky ground, bringing to mind the text (often used out of context of course) which warns about taking anything away from that which is written (Rev 22:19).

I think people who suggest we only sing (or say) psalms are similar to those in Anglicanism who insist that we use only the old 1662 Prayer Book and the Authorised Version of the Bible (1).  It’s all part of an attempt to fix God and his works and words in reinforced concrete which set almost 2000 years ago and which was perfectly recorded in an Elizabethan English which fell from the sky 1600 years later.

Surely, our God is a living God, not just a God of the past (Matt 22:32), and I’m sure he still reveals himself to people in such a way that they can use new words (and music) to witness to Himself and to retell the old truths which are enshrined in the canon of Scripture. Indeed, if this is not the case, we can certainly ignore out of hand the opinions of people like my friend’s friend, because his actual words are not in the Bible. In fact, if we followed this logic to the bitter end, we wouldn’t listen to preachers or read anything other than the Bible, because none of these external communications are Scripture in themselves but all regurgitations and paraphrases of what has already been said, or, better, what we believe has been said in the Bible.  And even to understand Scripture properly, we would all have to learn, not Elizabethan English, but Hebrew and Greek and then only read from original manuscripts (written for example in Luke or Mark’s own hand), as copies and translations always colour or distort the text to some degree.

Now, if people have a gripe with lots of modern hymns, I can join in wholeheartedly.  There is a great deal of twaddle out there, both in music and words, and as a professional musician and composer, I cringe when I hear some of it.  In my view, it’s vital that God gets the very best which human beings can offer (see for example 2 Sam 24:24).  But if we are saying that the ability of humans to offer their best ended 2000 years ago, or, for that matter, 400 years ago, then something is very wrong.
(1) Some of the males of this species wear ties with ‘1611’ printed on them! 

  1. Speaking as a fellow musician – Chris, are any of your hymns out there?

    I confess though, I greatly lament the passing of the sung psalm. And of hymns with the proper words rather than the cleaned up and dumbed down “Hymns for Today’s Church” version.

  2. Hi Liz
    I know I replied personally to you on this, but felt I should post a comment here too.

    No, I don’t have any Christian work published, although I haven’t written or pushed a great deal in this area. And those things I have written are not hymns or worship songs… not for communal singing. I have, however, written a complete setting of the new Common Worship Liturgy, which has been used in my own church (Anglican) since 2002.

    Also, I do have a publishing contract with Bell Hughes Music group (www.bellhughesmusic.com), a large Australian music company.

    I agree with you about ‘dumbed down’ language up to a point, although some of the updated words I find helpful. For example, in Hymns for Today’s Church, ‘My Song is Love Unknown’ is quite beautiful in its more modern rendering

    Chris Lazenby

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