Theory: The reason churches don’t like to sing the Psalms is that they don’t think they sound like God.
They don’t think he thinks that way or would say those things. It makes them uncomfortable because they would have to sing un-christianly but also without a song structure fitting to the contemporary cultural palate.
The songs are wrong in so many ways. So imprecatory; so negative; so self involved. Half the Psalms are about asking God for things. Isn’t that wrong? Success and protection against our enemies are very common themes. And the glory of God is constant: glory, glory, glory not just in heavenly antiseptic contemplations but here on the Earth in the dirt and sweat of the universe.
But maybe this,
1. When the Psalms sound outside of our religious experience that could be a deficit in us and not in them.
2. When they will not align themselves with contemporary musical sensitivities that is probably a problem with contemporary musical sensitivities. We are over rigid and hyper structured and the Psalms are more free and wild in both their form and content. We are in churches simple products of our culture, time and place.
3. If we think God wouldn’t sound that way we might be too distant from his true tone and vocabulary. When he speaks he intends to communicate and does condescend to our ability but he does not change who he is.
4. That if they seem a foreign language we should learn his native tongue. we should think to ourselves as we read them, “God is like this.”
5. That if they taste bitter here and there they are wholly sweet in their affirmations of him. The places of bitterness and sorrow are for the real life of man and needful to our condition. Life is not always pleasant and tears are common in the place between this life and the next. So be patient and let him give us what we need rather than simply what we want.
6. God saw fit to write them and their theology is perfect in every phrase and sentiment. We have this drive that we’ve always had to make God into what we would like him to be. It’s as unwise as it is unsafe but also veils the glory of the Lord.
7. That when Jesus worshipped he used only these.
8. That if when God wrote worship songs through the tongues of the Prophets he encouraged us to call for mercy, blessing, victory, safety, the downfall of evil, the rise of justice, the encouragement of the soul, the hope of the people, to a thousand generations of those that love him, maybe that’s how we should be praying too.
9. That we must make sure the God in our imagination is the God of the Bible – and the God of the Bible is the God of the Psalms (more than the Psalms but never a God other than the Psalms). The Gospels quote the Psalms and so there would be no Gospel without them.
10. That the Christ of God was expressed clearly in the Psalms to a people before his coming and that they believed in that Savior unto their salvation and eternal life, the same one we share. The same cross, the same sin, the same death and resurrection, the same Son, the same Father, the same Church before ages. The same creation, the same glory, the same humiliation, satisfaction and exultation. The same God, the same Bible, the same Jesus. The Old Testament Christians were saved (in part) through reading the Psalms.
Without the Psalms we would have less than a Bible.
And on that when Jesus worshipped he used only these.. he used them as we find them. The requirement of reframing them into cute four bar stanzas that rhyme at the end of each second and fourth phrase is an odd innovation of worship history. And then we wag a finger at Hillsong and the hymnals for making their songs – like “ye olde psalter” in their form. The Psalter is a bit of an innovation. They were a good idea at the time but we need to remember they were an attempt to keep up with encouraging changes in technology a the reformation of the true religion. It was a good idea but they sometimes go off the rails with their updated, contemporary language versions of the Psalms that can make the NIV seem like a strict translation of the text. Even odder that we would think all ordained worship should be performed in the framework of old Scottish and English folk songs. I’m sure their form was very hip and culturally relevant at the time but every Christian will not be a Dutchman or a Scot. The Bible is sufficient for worship in and of itself without any creative reframing of its content however well intentioned. But it will take a musical genius on the level of a Bach or a Beethoven with the theological mind of a Luther or a Calvin to reform Christian worship back to the purity of its original constructions.
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
2 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
2 thoughts on “The reason churches don’t like to sing the Psalms”
This author really hits the nail on the head in his many points to the effect that if the Psalms seem foreign to us in either theme and/or style, it shows we have become estranged from the Word and Spirit of the living God.
When Jesus refers to himself as the son of David, he expressly identifies with his patriarch as the Shepherd, and the Psalmist. Like his forbear, Jesus spoke the poetic/metaphoric language of the Spirit. In every aspect of his life on earth, Jesus demonstrated that the material is the metaphor of the spiritual — not the other way around! as the mind of the flesh persists in thinking.
Myself a life-long Presbyterian (now 82), I am currently calling out the PC(USA) for her unrepentant infidelity against the eternal WORD, in her abominable “Marriage Amendment” in brazen violation of eternal Principle to favor temporal self-interest (the Original Sin of covetous idolatry in Gen. 3); and am packing up to leave in accord with the Spirit’s instructions to me in Mt.10:14-15, et al.
Kathryn A. Calder