How Singing God’s Word Fulfills John 17

Good Morning,

As we’ve walked through some of the older distinctives of the ARP we’ve touched on a number of subjects that either have fallen out of favor from disuse, or were consciously discarded as the situation changed in our denomination. To close out this series we are going to look at two subjects that in some ways fit both of those descriptions. I am a man who likes tidy numbers so 16 seems like a good number to close out on so each of the following will only take up two weeks each. The concepts/doctrines we’ll be covering are the Sabbath Day and Psalm Singing. Both of these have had a bit of a resurgence lately, but especially on the former there is probably no theological position outside sexual sins that the culture has obliterated more and made it more and more difficult for Christians to be active in society and still keep in accordance with Jesus’ words in John 14:15. So in order to do this well our goal will be to do Psalm singing first, and then close out with Sabbath observance in the 21st century.

In our Centennial history of the ARP (one of those big red books collecting dust in either your church or pastor’s library, which I highly recommend taking the time to read) there are a series of speeches recorded as being given at the Synodical celebration of that milestone. The Rev. J.S. Moffatt, D.D., then the pastor of the Chester ARP Church in Chester, South Carolina wrote an address in 1903 entitled, What the Associate Reformed Church Stands For and as part of that discourse he says a few things worth noting about the question of psalm-singing. First of all about the spirit of the ARP he says, “[The ARP] does not stand for bigotry, narrowness, obstinacy, or schism, but it pleads for the supremacy of truth, loyalty to conscience, and the holding of the truth in love.”. About our way of worship he notes, “Our church gives pronounced and emphatic witness to the principle that God is to be worshipped only in the way appointed in His word.” And in regard to this he goes on to praise Psalm-singing particularly because of its ecumenical spirit. He writes, “The book of Scripture praises is the most catholic hymn book. Indeed, it is the only non-sectarian hymnbook. . .the psalms of the Bible are neither Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist hymns; they are God’s songs, as undenominational as the Bible itself.” As we walk through our discussion about Jehovah’s book of praise, I want us to keep that principle in mind. It is vital that we remember what one of God’s purposes in psalm singing is all about.

Our vocals on the Lord’s Day morning are born out of the unity of the body of Christ. All people should feel welcome and able to join in with what is being sung. No part of conscience or concern should rise up in the hearts of believers as they rejoice in Christ. The beauty of the psalms is the fact that not only can they be sung by everyone, but that they have been sung by everyone for thousands of years. There is something cool about knowing that the words on our lips are the same ones that passed through the vocal chords of David, Josiah, Malachi, Jesus, Paul, Dorcas, Rhoda, and Timothy’s mom and grandma.

The Bible also never goes out of style. What turn of phrase or word choice that may sound good to one generation may be wildly questionable for another future group of folks, not to mention how culturally restrictive some terms and ideas can be. The Psalms have no ethnic bounds. On this point it is part of the beauty of psalm-singing that because we are translating directly from the Hebrew to the vulgar tongue of the people they are also not tied down to a particular tune or even musical style. This gives much leeway for how a group of folks can measure the words of our Lord for their own edification. There is much about the way that the Psalms of David can bring the people of God together, not only in this sense of fashion, but in the way they give us a common language of praise that no matter where we may be geolocated on the planet we are bound as one in tongue and heart. Unity was one of the prayers of the Lord Jesus in John 17 and psalm singing is a perfect example of how we can go about fulfilling that testimony.

Much of our time this morning in this prayer and worship help has been focused on some of the ideas around singing the words of Christ found in the Bible that we may not often think about. It is part of my goal throughout this entire series focused on the historical positions of the ARP to assist our re-understanding why it is our forefathers in the faith did and believed what they did. It is always helpful for us to take a step back, reassess where we are, where we have been, so that we can know where we should go in the future. God has graciously provided for us a whole liturgy of praise and while we at Bethany are still grounded in the supremacy of psalm singing, we know that there is much to be done to help others see the awesomeness of praising our Lord in His words. The book of psalms is unique among all the books of the Bible in that it is the only one that is completely God’s people speaking to God and seeking His help, intercession, and listening ear. We have much trial before us and there is no better way to strengthen our faith, both in heart and mind, than by using the Bible’s songs to lift us up in the presence of the Almighty, that the maidens and the dragons all might know the Christ who is King forever and ever.

In closing, we’ve talked a bit about some of the advantages for psalm singing and why it is good and right to do. Next week we’ll take a step back and get some Scripture going to prove more about why the psalms must be a central part of our word of praise in worship.

Here’s a word more:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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