Friday, October 16, 2009

Wang Zhi Yong On Calvin and the Psalms: Singing the Songs of Jehovah

Psalm singing is experiencing a revival in our time. Why sing psalms? or the real questions should be "why not sing psalms?" Even though Luther did not limit his singing to the psalms, he did have a great appreciation of the psalms. John Calvin, on the other hand, championed exclusive psalms singing in the Reformed churches. In this paper, our conference advisor, Rev. Dr. Wang Zhi Yong gives us a very clear cut treatment of the exclusive psalmodist view, here are the opening lines:

「我自己从一九九七年开始在中国大陆牧会,也曾在多处旅行,如今在美国研修,参加多处华语教会,见到大陆以及海外华语教会中一个颇为普遍的现象就是:弟兄姐妹的敬拜虽有热心,但往往不是按着圣经中所启示的真知识。各种人所撰写的歌曲大摇大摆地进入公共敬拜,有的甚至声称是“在圣灵感动下”撰写的,大有让人非接受不可之势!有的人觉得甲某某写的哥属灵,有的人认为乙某某写的歌属灵,教会中总是不断有人为在敬拜中唱谁写的歌曲而争执不休,但却甚少有人主张唱颂上帝在圣经中亲自默示的<诗篇>!我对这种现象感到非常痛心,自己又感到困顿乏力,就向上帝多多祷告,希望华文诗篇能够早早面世,有更多的基督徒能够认识到用上帝所默示的诗篇敬拜的重要性。 」

Cathy Tan's chinese review paper here, the review has been translated into english by Daniel Chew as follows:

In his article “Singing the songs of Jehovah,” it is apparent that Zhiyong Wang relies on the Puritans’view of the Regulative Principle of Worship when discussing the issue of worship. Expressed in the 17th century Reformed confessions (the 1646 Westminster Confession of FaithChapter 21, paragraph 1 & the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 22, paragraph 1) [More]

[The paper is now open for discussion.]

27 comments:

PuritanReformed said...

I agree with Cathy in this regard. Unfortunatey, I have not gotten to read Zhiyong's paper, but so far I have not seen anything to persuade me of the rightness of Exclusive Psalmody.

Furthermore, even if we profess exclusive psalmody, what then? Are we to sing the Psalms just as they are, preferably in the KJV? Or is paraphrasing ok (as it is done in the PRCA)? And if so, to what extent such paraphrasing is allowed? Given that most Psalms allude to or point towards Christ while they (for obvous reasons) do not mention him, should the paraphrasing "add" the name of Christ in there. If such adding is necessary, then to what extent should we or shouldn't we add other terms and concepts we think is found and taught in the Bible? And if such is done, when does it cease being a paraphrase and become a song of its own, loosely based upon a certain Psalm?

CREDO500 said...

Well said, Daniel! That's a very interesting idea, I'll have a think about it...

Rev.Wang has made a quite convincing overview of his position. I think exclusive hymnody is more prudential than psalmody. To be relevant, exclusive psalmodist should be persuaded to include some hymns in their worship, while thousands and thousands of exclusive hymnodists today are in crying need to be challenged to begin(or at least make room for) the practices of the biblical psalms singing.

Psalms singing is historical. It were practiced by early and medieval churches, reformers and puritans. Our ancestors were psalms singers! Nothing touches the heart of God’s people like the psalms, particularly sung. However sadly, many of the later evangelical christians may think that it would not be user friendly enough for a church interested in attracting visitors/youngers and growing.

Therefore, I urge that Bible believing/Evangelical christians to revisit/reinvent our psalms-singing roots!

Paul said...

Hi Daniel,

You may want to look from another angle. Should we give our reading priority to good Christian literature (John Calvin, John Owen..ect) or the Bible? Daniel, i believe it an easy to answer.

We all agree that while the reading of good Christian literature is beneficial but it must never be allowed to replace the scriptures - the source of all christian experiences of good Christian books.

Case is closed. Yet this is precisely what has happened in the area of the church’s songs.

What should be the priority in singing? Isn’t it self-evident that even the best hymns are nevertheless christian experiences and not-inspired composition

Should we put experiences above the bible?

Your wrote
"And if such is done, when does it cease being a paraphrase and become a song of its own, loosely based upon a certain Psalm?"

Definitely, no church today read from the Greek and Hebrew. All of us need to use translation. Common sense tell us not to used paraphrase bible version like TLB, Messages. But it is not wrong to read them in another occasion (example : private devotion, and references) ..

I prefer a more literal version of psalter just like i prefer a more liter bible, like ESV, NKJV and NASB...


if we sing the uninspired songs in worship... isn't it is like preaching from Rick Warren books (Rick Warren book definitely , contain bible verses :D ) instead from the Bible.

If we singing paraphrasing psalm (it depend the the level) it is like preaching from the Message bible version instead from more literal bible versions. (there no perfect translation)

PuritanReformed said...

Paul:

The PRCA was an example. They state that they practice "exclusive psalmody", so I guess according to your definition, they do not. =)

Btw, I do believe that singing psalms is good and important. But I would probably disagree with the way that you think it should be done.

Paul said...

Hi Daniel,

"The PRCA was an example. They state that they practice "exclusive psalmody", so I guess according to your definition, they do not. =)"

My questions to you is, If I reading the GNB or NTL bible version, is it reading the bible? (God can still these bible for his glory right?) I think we both can agree that reading those paraphrase bible is still better to read them than Rick Warren's books :D

To be fair PRCA don't have much psalter version available to chose from. The scene of the Chinese church is even more sympathetic.

A related article by Don Whitney on this issue... i think he gave some good suggestions about "songs with to other terms and concepts we think is found and taught in the Bible? or paraphrase and become a song of its own, loosely based upon a certain Psalm.."

http://biblicalspirituality.org/3-10ways.html

PuritanReformed said...

Rule number 1) Commenting is to be done in the name of Christian truth and love. All comments thus are expected to reflect the calling of a Christian. Therefore, character assassinations and slander/libel are not permitted here.

3) Do not feed the trolls. Please ignore those who come in for the sake of being disagreeable
(http://credo500.blogspot.com/2009/09/opening-of-credo500-blog-conference.html)


While awaiting Jonah to exercise his moderator role, all please note that spam comments are to be ignored, much less hate-spam who constantly violate the rules of this blog.

PuritanReformed said...

Paul:

before we carry on, may I know if you advocate exclusive psalmody?

With regards to PRCA, PCC (Pilgrim Covenant Church) in Singapore do sing the Psalms word for word from the KJV. I thus am not that convinced that they have no choice in the matter.

I disagree with you on the comparison between Bible versions and worship songs. The Bible is the objective Word of God to us (top-down), whereas worship songs are our words of praise from us to God (bottom-up). Therefore, while I advocate for essential literal Bible translations, worship is another thing altogether.

Jenson said...

Hi Daniel,

"...PCC (Pilgrim Covenant Church) in Singapore do sing the Psalms word for word from the KJV."

Just to clarify, does PCC sing from the KJV or the Metrical Psalms?

"Therefore, while I advocate for essential literal Bible translations, worship is another thing altogether."

Please elaborate? Thanks.

Sincerely,
Jenson

Eng Kiat said...

Hi brother Daniel,

I enjoyed your excellent post; by the way, regarding your avatar, is that your graduation photo?

It's good that people know you are a graduate. Degrees nowadays make a difference, even within Christian communities.

BTW, I'll sing a "new song" unto the Lord.

PuritanReformed said...

Hi Jenson,

"Just to clarify, does PCC sing from the KJV or the Metrical Psalms?"

In PCC, the words are directly from the KJV. In other words, anyone can take a KJV Bible, turn to the Psalms, and there are the lyrics. They are metrical in the sense that the singing is carried out using metrical tunes. If I'm not wrong, it is based on the Scottish Psalm-singing tradition (?) At least, that was my experience in the few months I was there.

"Therefore, while I advocate for essential literal Bible translations, worship is another thing altogether.
Please elaborate? Thanks."

I would say that the Word of God is God's revelation to us. Being verbally plenarily inspired, we have no right to alter God's words and should strive for formal equivalence as much as possible.

Worship is our response to God. As such, the words used must be ours or made ours, in response to God's grace and His Word.

I hope that answer your question.

PuritanReformed said...

@Eng Kiat:

This is not my post. And that is one of my graduation photos. However, it is utterly irrelevant whether I am a graduate or not. It seems that too many people nowadays are trying to pick a fight over that issue and other trivial ones (not that I am saying you are), and as such I would be changing it soon.

Jenson said...

Hi Daniel,

"In PCC, the words are directly from the KJV..."

I did not realise that the PCC use the KJV Bible as their hymnbook. Are you sure they weren't using the black TBS Bible with Scottish Psalter attached at the back?

"If I'm not wrong, it is based on the Scottish Psalm-singing tradition..."

I assume you mean they sing their Psalms unaccompanied - but using traditional meters and with a precento.

"Worship is our response to God. As such, the words used must be ours or made ours, in response to God's grace and His Word."

That is an unusual statement. But I will not go further on that...

Thanks for your replies.

Sincerely,
Jenson

CREDO500 said...

Thanks for all your comments. I think PCC did well, but nothing against hymnodist, just mean to take more care.

Paul:

“To be fair PRCA don't have much psalter version available to chose from. The scene of the Chinese church is even more sympathetic.”

I’m for inclusive hymnodist, that inclined to deep appreciation for the psalms. Most churches today practice exclusive hymnody (same charge thrown at exclusive hymnodist), or post-hymnody (namely chorusody), or even worse...sadly to say. Like it or not, that is the paradigm of Warren’s purpose.

Daniel:

“Worship is our response to God. As such, the words used must be ours or made ours, in response to God's grace and His Word.”

Agreed, but not without principal (presumably regulative than normative), or else we all tend to fall back into our own presumed set forms. God put a hymn book in the scriptures, a Christo-centric set form that both meaningful to Israel and Church. I would rather say, Worship is our gifted response to God.

Eng Kiat:

“I'll sing a "new song" unto the Lord.”

Wonder which new song are you singing? The hymns imbedded in the NT , includes the heavenly praises that recorded in the book of Revelation. Or the uninspired hymns that at least using the inspired materials, singing praises to God’s attribute and the person and work of Jesus Christ? Or just Hill Songs etc.

PuritanReformed said...

Hi Jenson,

yes, when I was there, PCC used the KJV Psalms as their hymnbook. For those like me who do not use the KJV, they even have one booklet containing only the Psalms in KJV for us to use during the service.

When they want to sing a Psalm, they will say for example let us sing Ps. 119:1-10 to the tune of X, and that's it.

Eng Kiat said...

Hi brother Daniel,

Surely it's your post; your avatar and user name are unmistakably prominent! I’m referring to your comment.

Ah, your graduation photo. May I ask which seminary are you trained in? I sorry to sound like a busy body. It’s just that I’m curious how you got your convictions.

How is it utterly irrelevant whether a person is a graduate or not? Although we do not pander to degrees or PhDs, there is definitely “relevance” in our academic training. Would you go to a Astronomy PhD for advice on Buddhism, or would you ask a botany graduate questions on theology?

“It seems that too many people nowadays are trying to pick a fight over that issue and other trivial ones (not that I am saying you are), and as such I would be changing it soon.”

Oh, Daniel. You are too touchy here. I don’t see any one picking “a fight” with you here. If asking questions or critiquing a position is “picking a fight”, then aren’t you picking a fight in the Credo conference as well?

Augustinian Successor said...

Anon,

What's your point?

I suggest to that moderators to please delete his post. It's completely out of place.

John said...

Hi Daniel,

I'm a member of PCC in Singapore

To clarify your point. PCC do not sing from KJV bible. I do not know where the information you get it from, you seem to speak with so much confidence.

We singing from the Scottish Psalter 1650. It is another translation from the Hebrew text.
We do sing other great hymns, but not in public worship.

Follow the link to listen one of my favorite psalm. Robert Murray M'Cheyne commented that some part of the Scottish Psalter a better translation than the KJV bible.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB2efUp33B0

John said...

Monica C and Anon,

I don't understand you post, what your point?

I suggest that Jonah to delete your post. It's completely out of place.

Hi Daniel, i think because the Psalter 1650 and the KJV is using old English (thee & thou).. that's why you think it is from the KJV. Actually it is another translation from the Hebrew, in metrical form. (example 8.6.8.6)

PuritanReformed said...

Hi John,

I see. Well, I thought since you use your own KJV Bible to sing, so it should be from the KJV Bible? So how does this work out?

PuritanReformed said...

Anon:

you have violated the rules, so stop whining about censorship. According to such inane thinking, the police are practicing censorship since they "censor" people from murder. In fact, according to your bizarre view, all countries are "commmunist" since they "censor" anyone who breaks the law of tha land.

You are an unrepentant rule-breaker, and all your comments will be deleted when we have the time to do so.

John said...

Hi Daniel,
We read and preach from the KJV bible. We sing from the Scottish Psalter 1650.

It is my dream if a vernacular-literal version is around. If not than i have to content with the current version.

a related link
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/booksandresources/miscellaneous/godshymnbook.html

John said...

Hi Daniel,

Maybe i should explain the different between the Scottish Psalter and the normal Bible version

The Scottish Palter are set to the Common 8.6.8.6 Metre, which means that there are 8 syllables on the first line and 6 on the second, and so on. Any tune that can be fitted to such a metre is known as a Common Metre tune. For example, the first stanza of Psalm 103 reads:

O thou my soul, bless God the Lord; (8 syllables)
and all that in me is (6 syllables)
Be stirred up his holy name (8 syllables)
to magnify and bless. (6 syllables)

Try singing it to “Amazing Grace” or any of the popular Common Metre tunes. It is so easy

PuritanReformed said...

John:

interesting. I checked it with the KJV and it looks like a slight re-arrangement to match the metre.

So, how do you manage to follow the words when you use your KJV Bible without taking a Psalter?

John said...

Hi Daniel,

In the darkness of the night, presecution, tumoil, depression and pain... often i cannot read anymore or too dark to see anything..in time like this, i just sing from my memories ...this is one of the benefit of singing the psalms...it help me to remmeber His words and keep it in my heart. Feel His presence really near when sing it.

In church, we singing from the Scottish psalter, it a separate, like a hymn book, some come with music notes, while some come only with lyric. Some bible publish by TBS has scottish psalter at its appendix.

Fyi some reformed church in china sing directly from the CUV bible..

PuritanReformed said...

Hi John,

I see. Was wondering since quite a few members don't seem to take the Psalters but instead just use their KJV Bible.

Thanks for the correction.

Hedonese said...

Sovereign Grace is a family of reformed churches which has done excellent work in providing contemporary worship resources with solid theology as well. They came up with a Psalm CD here

www.worshipmatters.com/

John said...

Share a quote from W. Robert Godfrey book, "An Unexpected Journey” "The Psalter especially gives voice to my passionate commitment to the God revealed in Scripture. This God sometimes surprises me with the songs he has given me to sing. Sometimes the psalms contain difficult ideas, but even then they cause me to ponder the ways of God and to reform my thinking. Calvin was certainly right when he said that the Psalter expressed all the emotions of the Christian soul. As one scholar put it, the metrical psalms give Calvin's piety poetic power...The psalms have helped me to express my passion and zeal for Christ, his Word, and the Reformed faith. They have focused and united for me the theology, the worship, the piety, and the church life taught in the Scriptures. They have united for me head, heart, and mouth in the praise of the Lord. They are the soul of the Reformed faith... "