Powerful verses

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.'” Jeremiah 23:16-17

What a couple of verses!

This could have been spoken and written today. How many places can you think of that it applies, both inside and outside the church?

Even with just the Solas Christ alone, as documented in the Scripture alone in mind, comparison to the world inside and outside the church sure gives lots of application…


A Psalm in Your Heart

Remembering that believers are to keep the Word in their hearts (Deut 30:13, Ps 119:11, and others) implies that it has been written there. To write it there effectively, rendering it available for recall by the Spirit when need be, requires effort on our part – consistent effort. That effort is greatly facilitated if the means involves rejoicing in the Word, particularly corporately.

In the past I had read of, and heart from some Reformed Presbyterian acquaintances, about the singing of the psalms in their services, usually in place of hymns or contemporary worship songs. In most of these cases it also involved singing without instrumental accompaniment.

I have to admit that I was not taken with the idea, as I dearly love singing the old hymns with traditional accompaniment. I also quite enjoy many (but not all) of the more contemporary worship songs. More significantly, I could not imagine singing most of the Psalms as written in our translations. This was especially true of the more literal translations that I feel are most accurate. It simply wouldn’t work.

Then some time ago, on a Reformed blog that I follow, one of the fellows was extolling the virtues of singing the Psalms using the Scottish Psalter of 1850. He listed numerous reasons, but the overwhelming impression that grabbed my attention was two fold : great biblical theology and great devotional character.

As we as believers yearn to draw close to the Lord, His Word is the most direct and clearly biblical route. He has recorded His thoughts in readable form in the Word. When we think those thoughts while reading it, we are thinking God’s very thoughts in the form that He provided them for us, and in the form that He intended. Therefor, when we sing the Psalms we are raising our voices in His very thoughts. What a wonderful prospect!

As for the mode of singing, I do not personally see any problem in instrumentation, with the clear provision that the accompaniment not overshadow the singing and that there be not even the hint of a transition from worship toward performance (a huge problem in the contemporary church IMO). With that in mind, accompaniment which allows God’s people to sing together more easily and enjoyably, especially the more musically challenged, is a wonderful boon.

Now to the words of the Psalms. Those that put the Psalms into metrical format (either Scottish or Geneva Psalters) realized that the original words were metered to fit Hebrew. That simply does work in English. Further, we have many traditional hymns tunes that are well know and loved, from which to form a musical base. The metrical arrangement to fit the English language and existing tune structure were the key which I was missing when I dismissed the singing of the Psalms. The blog articles and examples which I read opened my eyes to this possibility.

I tested this out with a like minded group of believers. We found that singing from the Psalter, for the reasons cited above related to the Lord’s thoughts, was convicting and wonderful.

In this age of new worship songs and modes, it would nice to see a resurgence of the Psalter.

One humorous note – the grammar for the Psalter can make some of the lines sound very much like they were written by Yoda. It can be amusing.




Regulative Principles

A couple of verses that we have discussed before to start…

“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16.

And there are numerous others addressing the assembling of the beloved in Christ.

The question is, are these regulative for the gathering of believers now? And what precisely are they describing?

As I stated in another post, my interest in this was initially focused by several articles in the Canons of Dordt. In those sections it is pointed out that the believer can draw great assurance from the fact that they are assured of their standing before God by the very beliefs that saved them – in Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), and not necessarily in other outward signs. Further, it is pointed out that believers should continue to diligently avail themselves of the ‘Means of Grace” that were provided by the Lord in support of their justification, sanctification and assurance.

In the two verses quoted above we find a Scriptural proscription not only for the assembling of the Saints, but even more for their ongoing life in Christ. I am more and more convicted that these specifications from Scripture are both regulative in nature and exclusive in scope. Moreover, there are no alternatives specified in Scripture.

The obvious counter argument is that these were culturally based, for those times alone, and thereby can be redefined today for modern cultural norms. However, I do not see any specifics of times and culture in these verses or their context that would indicate that. In fact, the terms used are sufficiently general to define a model for life as opposed to some specific actualization of a cultural venue. As such, I reject that argument.

Next, am I implying a narrow reading of the principles that would imply a specific instrumentation (a big issue today) or style of hymnody? Not at all. Although I think that there are some restrictions implied, we are not talking about an RPW (Regulative Principle of Worship) which demands the acapella singing of KJV-only Psalms (to take an extreme but existing example). In its restrictiveness, I think that would defy the regulative principles implied here, just as much as many emergent approaches most certainly do.

I am talking about an ‘attitude’ model as much as anything else, and the actualization falls naturally from that, not the other way around.

What is that model? Well, let me close this post by parsing the verses above for the implied components:

1. devoted to the Apostles’ teachings – for us, the Scriptures
2. fellowship – notice that is fellowship in the teachings
3. breaking of bread (communion, not dinner)
4. prayer
5. Word dwell richly within you, (the Word) teaching and admonishing in
5.1 songs
5.2 hymns
5.3 spiritual songs
all rejoicing in thankfulness to God.

There you have it – a gathering focused upon the Lord in every way, directly and primarily through the Scriptures and things drawn from them – always looking up so to speak. Not a single word about anything at all of man – no mention of programs, books about programs and self-actualization, etc.

These plus a few others that expand upon them embody the sole regulative model in Scripture and thereby the regulative model for God’s people, the beloved in Christ – a model for all time.


Gathering in the Beloved

Let us start with biblical prototypes for believer interaction.

“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” Ephesians 5:18-19. There is no indication at all that this is culturally or time period relative. It is a time independent prototype.

In Colossians 3:16 we have method. As we gather “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

And in Hebrews 10:24-25, motivation to gather regularly. “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Thus, we have believers exhorted to gather together regularly, to study and speak of the Word, to exhort and support one another in holiness, while thankfully (and by implication humbly) rejoicing in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

The disciples modeled this in their behaviour once they were on their own, after Pentecost.

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

“Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,” Acts 2:46.

It is significant to note the “Day by day continuing” phrase. This was not something occurring only periodically, be that weekly or monthly. It was a daily mode of living the believing life.

Putting this prototypical model together, what do we have and what happens when we follow this paradigm? As an aside, we should take note that, although church is vitally important, this does not sound anything like many, if not most, church services – an issue for another blogging day.

A key here is that the focus and feeling of these gatherings centered around a humble thankfulness in salvation, and the upon the Lord, through the primary means he specified, scripture. This may have taken several forms and many possible expressions, but the focus was on Him and His Word.

It is useful to note what the focus was not on. It was not on ‘activities’ outside of praise, worship and directly associated fellowship. It was not on the work of the assembly in the community. It was not that this work did not exist or was not important, but it played no apparent part in the assembling. That work was external to and a result of  it. For example, there was no focus on the men who were helping the widows. In fact, it appears from the necessity of their appointment that they were appointed so that work would not be disruptive to the gathering in the Lord’s name. “Then we can appoint those men over this business, and we apostles will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4

The sole reason for the beloved to gather was to fellowship in rejoicing in the Lord and His work of salvation. All part of gathering were an expression of that rejoicing. And this was a daily way of life, which would result in that mindset overshadowing all other worldly activities. It was their worldview¹.

Considering what the Lord has done, especially in salvation, rejoicing in Him in a way that eclipses all else would seem only appropriate. But here we see that path modeled explicitly.

So, how about us in the 21st century? I don’t see that anything has changed much or at all. Yes, life has become cluttered with countless distractions of the world, and as with the early church world it would have us believe that this clutter is of over-riding importance. But remember who the world represents and to whose ends this worldly emphasis contributes – none other than the Prince of the Air, Satan (Ephesians 2:2). And the Scriptures have not changed. There has not been any new revelation that changes the prototypes as given in the existing canon.

The implication is that we and our earthly brethren are to follow suit in our focus. Our worldview is to be centered on the Lord.

The resultant experience, though mine has been tiny and sporatic, is wonderful, humbling and convicting even on a small, tentative scale. The gatherings in this model that I have experienced can only be expressed in the words of David in Psalm 139:6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” The humble thankfulness and joy of such gathering with other believers is just too wonderful to be truly take in. And that, I think, is how it is intended to be.

¹For more on worldview, see Naming the Elephant, Worldview as a concept, 2ed., James W. Shire.