Psalm Singing

I come from a country that has a rich heritage of Psalm singing. Presbyterianism is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland and as a result has had a big impact on our culture. Scottish metrical Psalm singing is part of our cultural heritage. Everyone knows at least the 23rd Psalm (sung to the tune Crimond). Old 100th ('All Creatures that On Earth Do Dwell') was our school hymn, sung on all special occasions (like prize-giving).

Yet Scottish (and Ulster) Presbyterians were not alone in their Psalm singing. At the time of Isaac Watts, his hymns were controversial. No one sang hymns in church in Britain. Only Psalms were sung (hence Watts' Christological Psalms).  Anglican Chant was developed for Psalm singing.  In fact, the Book of Common Prayer calls for a lot of Psalm singing (or at least reading).

Today, however, the Psalms seem largely absent from much of our worship. The village church at home back in Northern Ireland only sings Psalms (they're Reformed Presbyterians, so that's one of their distinctives), but that is somewhat of an exception.  While I was at university, we did a series of Bible Studies in our college Christian Union groups on some of the Psalms. In Peterhouse we decided to sing the relevant Psalm each week during 'Prayer and Praise', just before the Bible Study. We chose tunes everyone knew to make it nice and easy, yet singing Psalms was a huge novelty for nearly everyone. Here in Belgium I have looked in vain for a French metrical version of Psalm 23, the best known of all Psalms, in our hymn books and song books. From time to time we sing a song based on a verse or two out of a Psalm, but never a full Psalm itself.

Does it matter? Well, the Psalms are inspired by God, unlike modern songs (or even ancient hymns).  The first argument given against exclusive Psalmody is usually taken from Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16, both of which speak of singing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. What we seem to forget is that the first part of this group of three types of song are the Psalms! Scripture, therefore commands us to sing Psalms!

Don't get me wrong; I'm not arguing for exclusive Psalmody. Hymns and choruses are fine as well. But lets not neglect the Psalms altogether. Let's delight in singing God's inspired Word together.

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