The Reformed world spins in all sorts of un-sacramental circles. In a recent post dealing with the Federal Vision, one writer observed that baptism does nothing to the recipient, but to point him to something greater. A well-known Reformed thinker has begun to use the phrase “baptism brings an individual into the shadow of the covenant.” All of this language serves to stay away from what many in the Reformed tradition, even the majority of reformational confessions have stated all along, namely that baptism accomplishes something. It is effectual. Baptism effectually brings an individual into a corporate reality. That reality brings then various benefits and blessings to the recipient. a
There are particular branches within the Reformed world that de-stresses the effectual nature of baptism. But one must also affirm without a shadow of a doubt that the Reformational expression has by and large emphasized the profound union that exists between baptism and covenant blessings. Baptism is not simply the exposure to blessings, but the experience of blessings.
John Knox, considered one of the fathers of Presbyterianism expresses this most powerfully in the Scots Confession of 1560:
We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.
If Knox is to be used as a paragon of Presbyterian orthodoxy, then this statement will certainly appear frightening to those who have become accustomed to de-emphasizing the efficacy of the sacraments. ((Steve Wilkins offers some of these quotes here)) But yet these quotes can be multiplied.
If we are Reformed, then we need to come to terms with the high view of the sacraments that are prevalent in the historical Reformed faith. To act as if the early reformers imbibed some form of middle-of-the-road covenantalism is dishonest to history, and particularly to our Reformed forefathers.
We could discuss paedocommunion here, but my point is a more general one (back)
We could discuss paedocommunion here, but my point is a more general one
One of my most cherished moments in seminary was to be exposed to John Frame’s definition of theology. For Frame, theology was defined as “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.” a This definition is helpful because “Theology is thus freed from any false intellectualism or academicism. It is able to use scientific methods and academic knowledge where they are helpful, but it can also speak in nonacademic ways, as Scripture itself does – exhorting, questioning, telling parables, fashioning allegories and poems and proverbs and songs, expressing love, joy, patience . . . the list is without limit.”
I have since used this definition again and again and have learned to appreciate it even more as a pastor. Contrary to pietism, the Spirit does not implant in us an application, rather theology is applicable and needs to be made applicable by pastors and parishioners. It is also freeing to consider this definition in light of the theological illiteracy in our day. Certainly we wish to see the church grow in biblical knowledge, but this definition means that a pastor can instruct even the newest convert in the way he ought to live.
Frame’s definition accentuates the pastoral task in that it calls pastors to ask consistently How Now Shall We Then Live? In this sense, as Frame has argued elsewhere, unless theology is practically applied it has not become true theology. On the other hand, the one doing theology must first understand it before applying it. We have seen our share of faulty applications in the realm of the home and the church. Therefore, to properly grasp this definition one needs to be familiar with theology. David’s battle with Goliath was more than a remarkable example for how we can overcome difficulties in our lives, but also how God can use the weak to defeat the strong, and how a nation needs to put their trust in God, rather than chariots. There are individual and corporate obligations involved in that simple narrative.
Theology prepares us to ascend with our Lord, and in that reign we can learn to apply this rulership in all areas of life.
Another dimension to this conversation is that in applying our theology we become ambassadors for our theology. When our lives are poorly lived out we do shame to our theology. When sins are left un-confessed we are asserting that our theology does not have an answer for sin, or that it is flexible toward certain sins. Theology needs to be lived out consistently, and when it is not, we need to confess that is has not been consistent.
We live in a day of chaos. Paul never intended for the Christian to live in this way. For Paul, thanksgiving was central to the Christian expectation. Thanksgiving arranged the world in an orderly fashion. The good life was a life of gratitude. And such opportunity for thanksgiving is given to us in this meal. As Irenaeus once wrote: “where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit and the fullness of grace.” a In this gathering, we taste of the fullness of grace as we commune with one another and give thanks to the God from whom all blessings flow.
Quoted in The Eucharist by Alexader Schmemann, 10. (back)
Quoted in The Eucharist by Alexader Schmemann, 10.
My article entitled 10 Reasons Why You Should Sing the Psalmsreceived a lot of attention and several days later it is still on the front page of The Christian Post. I am grateful for all the e-mails I received from pastors and parishioners alike seeking to benefit from the psalms for their own spiritual edification and the maturation of their own congregation.
In order to provide those resources to a broader audience, I will list many of them here and hope to update them occasionally.
I’d encourage you to visit the Genevan Psalter website. It will provide music and lyrics and a host of links to articles on the Genevan Psalter. This is my favorite Psalter.
You may also wish to visit this site, which will give you some ideas and a general introduction to psalm singing.
Another way to benefit from sung psalms is to simply start listening to psalms on your ipod or computer. For a more contemporary rendition of the Psalms, this CD by Greg Wilbur with Psalms and Hymns published by Ligonier is quite good. Nathan Clark George has done some beautiful versions of the Psalms with guitar accompaniments.
One indispensable selection of psalms put into music is from a dear brother, Jamie Soles ( a CREC elder). Jamie has a wonderful gift of bringing psalms into easy and memorable tunes for children, but I confess I listen to them myself often.A great hymnal to get you started is Psalms for Singing. You can find audio samples on-line. You can also purchase the Cantus Christi,which is a Psalter-Hymnal. The Cantus includes about 75 psalms of the 150 (with several chants). If you would like to hear some of the psalms sung and harmonized, you can purchase this CD. You can also find samples of some of the Psalms on the Cantus Christi:
Finally, for an award-winning website with more information on the Psalms and psalm-singing than you will ever need has been compiled by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, AL. called The Psalm Project.
NOTE: If you find any additional resources, please let me know.
The Christian Post was kind to publish my article “10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms.” I have since received several e-mail from folks around the country inquiring about how to go about singing the psalms. I am pleased to see a major evangelical on-line presence publishing such a piece.
Over at the Kuyperian Commentary’s beautiful new website, I have a new article entitled “Is the Christian Divorce Rate Really 50%?” Go ahead and take a look. And if you have not already done so, please subscribe to receive updates daily.
Grace, mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are at a unique stage in history; a stage when the world is now being exposed to the Gospel as fast as hitting the refresh button on your computer screen. We have today in our congregation someone who is developing software to facilitate the job of Bible translation, or as I call it “the modern gift of tongues.”
We have with us our speaker this morning, Rev. Blake Purcell, who has invested his life in the training and equipping of God’s people and the proclaiming of the reign of King Jesus in Eurasia, and who has served with zeal in what the Apostle Paul calls the “defense and confirmation of the Gospel.”
This morning we have the opportunity in worship, Sunday School, and later this evening to expand our world to see what God is doing in the world.
We have the opportunity to hear what one missiologist referred to as the “social continuation of the incarnation;” the work of the gospel going forth and continuing what began at Pentecost.
I pray that you will have ears to hear Pastor Blake Purcell, but beyond that, to be caught up into the vision of the kingdom of God.
Let us pray:
Father, Son, and Spirit, apart from your work, we are all dead and incapable of uttering an intelligible word, but by your grace you have enabled us to speak words of wisdom; words of gospel transformation; words of life. Hear us when we pray and beseech you to change the hearts of the lost and bring them into your everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Church has sung the psalms for the first 1,800 years of her existence, but by the end of the 19th century it had become largely absent in churches. In the last forty years there has been a powerful movement that has sought to restore the Psalter to a place of honor once again in the body of Christ.
What we are doing tonight is joining many others in this psalm-revival and making our communities more aware of what it means to sing God’s 150 spiritual songs.
This evening, we have 11 selections. These psalms vary from lament and exaltation, and all point to and portray Jesus Christ, who is our Shepherd and in Him we will not want.
The tunes used tonight are simple tunes. The pianist will play through each of them before we sing them, which will provide us an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with them in case you have not sung these before. We hope you enjoy these psalms, and we pray God will be delighted with our praise.
Let us pray:
O God of heaven, you have called us out darkness into the kingdom of light; and in this light we find your songs to heal and restore our weary souls. Be pleased with our singing and bring down principalities and power through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Have you ever been in the middle of a phone call or a conversation with someone else and been interrupted by your children? I have many times, and I am certain I have not always responded the right way. To say parenting is difficult is a profound understatement. As I mentioned in my little booklet, The Trinitarian Father, being a parent requires that you embody many roles at the same time. Paul Tripp summarized this when he says that parenting demands spontaneity:
Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don’t really know what’s going to happen next. You don’t really know when you’ll have enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love. a
We are not just speaking of making up rules as we go, but of a prepared spontaneity. This demands wisdom; wisdom that at times is not available in a handy “how to” book. Wisdom that needs to be gained in community; a community that struggles together with you and is not afraid to consider and learn from their mistakes.
What is easier? To ground a child after an act of disobedience or to speak and nurture a child after the act? What is easier? To separate two children after a dispute and send them to their separate rooms or to engage them each and teach them how to confess sin and find reconciliation? Parenting is hard because dealing with the consequences of our children’s sin is time consuming.
Instead of dealing with each issue the easy way, and instead of treating each sin as an interruption, the ways of God demand that we change our attitude about these things and realize that parenting “is never an interruption.” b We should look at our roles as parents as roles that demand constant interruption. When children rebel that history of rebellion is filled with fathers and mothers (mainly fathers) who did not use wisdom when their plans were interrupted, but who rather chose the easy way out.
We need to be spontaneous in our parenting, but not spontaneous to apply easy-fix answers, but spontaneous enough to be interrupted regularly, and then choose the strategy of long-term discipleship.
Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a
The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b.“ By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:
This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c
Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).
So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?
The answer is a resounding no!
There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:
First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?
Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.
Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.
Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”
Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d
Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.
Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.
Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.
Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.
Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.
This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.
For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See Terry Johnson’sThe History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph (back)
Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974 (back)