We need to sing psalms in worship (see previous blog, “Multi-versed for a Reason,” part 13). Some have even concluded that is all the people of God should sing on Sunday morning; our hymnal restricted to the 150 Psalms. A very strong case can be made, however, that the Bible does not limit us to the Psalter.
It may be as easy as citing Ephesians 5:19 or Colossians 3:16; where we are instructed to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Some scholars believe those words to be synonyms that reference three kinds of psalms; but psalms none the less. So let’s grant them that and look elsewhere to substantiate that we are not limited to the Psalter on Sunday morning.
There are several times in the Psalms we are directed to sing a “new song” (33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149:1) to the Lord. When the Apostle John is given a glimpse of heaven and its worship in the book of Revelation, he records what he hears being sung to Jesus. Interestingly, he says they were singing a “new song” (Revelation 5:9). He then reports the lyrics in vv. 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
What this “new song” acknowledges is Christ’s redemptive work. For sure, there are many prophetic verses in the Psalms; but this side of the cross, we get to join the heavenly host in singing songs celebrating that Jesus fulfilled them. The Old Testament (Psalms included) pointed to Jesus; it certainly makes sense that New Testament believers would now sing of the One they pointed to. That is what John heard the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders doing in Revelation 5.
And this was the understanding of early hymn writers; they wrote Christological “new songs” based on the Psalms—calling them “psalm paraphrases.” Isaac Watts said he wanted to “Christianize” the psalms when he paraphrased them into hymns. Watts even took the liberty in most of his psalm paraphrases (hymns) to reference Jesus by name.
Martin Luther looked to the Psalms but also the other books of the Bible for his hymn-writing inspiration; declaring his composing goal was to put the “Word of God into song.” J.S. Bach agreed and it is why he has been called the “fifth Evangelist”; receiving that label because he employed so much Scripture from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in his music.
So biblically and doctrinally rich hymns, modeled after the psalms, is something the church has sung for centuries. Philippians 2:6-11 suggests they already were singing them in the first century.
Further reason to include them on Sundays is that they are composed to be sung corporately; that is, they are typically written for high voices, low voices, and voices in between. I believe that is called harmony. Isn’t that easier for the congregation to sing than a song with a single melodic line taken off the radio originally written for solo performance—one with big swelling emotional crescendos? I like TobyMac but I sure can’t sing like him.
“But,” you ask, “Do ‘new songs’ have to be ‘dusty-old’ and only sung to tunes from the 16th or the 17th century; by definition, can’t a ‘new song’ be written today for corporate worship?” If that’s your question, we are going to talk about that next time when we continue our series on “Some Choruses, a Pep-talk, and an Offering.”Pastor Rich Hamlin February 3, 2011