in the sitting room

The reason there’s a problem with instruments and non-scriptural songs in worship is because there is a great, yawning gap in the scriptural mandate where you would look to find a warrant for dispensing with the inspired psalter and introducing musical instruments.

That principle applies to all of worship, whether in the congregation, the family, or private devotions. Offering something as worship which is not divinely required as worship isn’t really worship at all (does anyone out there still know the term ‘will-worship’?).

But that does not require a ban on non-inspired praise songs or musical instruments outside of worship, because not all of life is worship. Not all of life is worship, says Matthew Vogan in a two-part series (here and here), and so says Glen Scrivener much more dramatically here.

So if people are musically inclined and talented, by all means they should take up harp and psaltery and make a loud noise skillfully (although a quieter noise might be better from the less skillful). There is a requirement to do whatever you do to the best of your ability and to the glory of God, whether work or household chores or daily routines. These things may include more or less of what is overtly conscious of God, and more or less of what directly draws attention to his glory, but if there is such a thing as eating and drinking to his glory, there must be such a thing as writing or singing a hymn about his greatness to his glory.

Prayer is an interesting one though. Private and public prayer should be scriptural in wording and tone, but extempore prayer is in general preferred to reading or reciting set forms of prayer – not least because there is no Book of Prayers provided in the scriptures.

[In reference to this.]

21 thoughts on “in the sitting room

  1. Where is your warrant for singing non-inspired psalms in metre? Surely it is only right to sing them in Hebrew if you are consistent?

    What do you mean by ‘inspired psalter’? Surely only the original desrves that title. Every manmade version of the psalms to create rhymes and change word orders cannot be ‘inspired’, can it?

    ((Just to be clear, in an ideal world I would prefer no instruments in public worship and I DO believe in singing the metrical psalms – but I believe the NT gives us clear warrant to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I reject the argument that this refers to three types of psalms only. ))

    I’m not coming at this from a position of ignorance, just curious as to why you think that manmade metricals are inspired. When does a metrical become a paraphrase, how far is too far, and so forth.


  2. I see no biblical problem with uninspired songs and musical instruments in worship. There is no biblical command, either expressed or implied, that these things cannot be used in worship. Some, following Calvin, say that musical instruments in worship died out with the Temple worship. But, frankly, I see no biblical proof for this argument.

    Have I stirred up the pot, now, Cath? :)


  3. Well and truly, Richard – it’s worship in the melting pot, as Peter Masters might put it!

    Jonathan – can i check with you that i understand this right – you’re saying that you should only call the original Hebrew inspired, and a translation isn’t inspired, and a translation into metrical form certainly isn’t inspired ?
    – But obviously saying ‘We sing inspired psalms’ is only shorthand for inspired-in-translation, just like saying ‘you hold in your hands the inspired scriptures’ is understood as shorthand for ‘in translation’, with no claim implied that the translation itself is inspired.
    – So your “consistency” argument would be stronger if you would say, To be consistent you need to sing or chant them in the form of Hebrew poetry, with parallelisms etc more prominent than rhyme
    – To which I haven’t given overmuch thought, except that we do have the prose version of the book of Psalms, which is as in/sensitive to Hebrew poetry as any other instance of poetry in the Old Testament, to be used and consulted along with the metrical psalter, which only casts the form of the Hebrew poetry into forms more recognisable as poetry to the English-or-Scots-speaking translators of the 1600s (and onwards). This point might have more force if the Psalters in use tended to prioritise poetic form over faithfulness to the original, but in the context of the Scottish Psalter of 16-whatever, the criticism is more liable to be made in the opposite direction! Ditto for the new Sing Psalms version I might regretfully add. With the Scottish Psalter you’re not in much danger of veering into paraphrase, certainly considering the Psalter as a whole although there might be sections here and there which are slightly looser rendering.

    Biblical Hebrew has Verb-Subject-Object word order, does it not? so translating it into English prose involves changing it into Subject-Verb-Object as the basic word order right from the start.


  4. Cath – in Richard’s case that logic is also Anglican.

    My comment was inelegant especially re inspiration and as ever you have made some razor sharp incisions. I was referring to the Psalms as arranged for singing as uninspired, over against the Psalms as faithfully translated. A picky argument, I know.

    Yes, you have it fair – surely if it is all we may sing, it should be sung in the proper way, and in the proper form.

    For me, personally, the entire matter hinges on the two ocurrances of ‘Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs’ in the NT.


  5. Jonathan, it was an interesting point that I’d never really encountered before – or at least not in a form that made me realise what the problem actually was!

    I think the distinction between psalms translated into forms for singing, vs psalms translated into prose, need not involve a distinction between unfaithful vs faithful. It’s one of the proud claims for the Scottish Psalter, oft-repeated, although I couldn’t point you to any written source that corroborates it, that its composers went back to the Hebrew in the same way as the 1611 translators, in the making of it. It’s not (so they say) that they worked on the English prose to create English poetry, which I think you’re right to identify as liable to leave you with a paraphrase as the finished product rather than a “proper translation”.

    Psalms, psalms, and psalms, you mean? :-) I’ve heard so many explanations of this verse that i can’t for the moment remember which was my favourite. I’m just sure it can’t mean hymns-hymns, unless you can convince me otherwise!


  6. By the way, Cath, re: your first paragraph, if you want biblical warrant for musical instruments in worship, you need look no farther than the Old Testament, where they are incorporated into corporate worship. You will search the Scriptures in vain for any command, expressed or implied, that they be NOT included in New Testament corporate worship.

    Just stirring the pot some more…


  7. The instruments in the OT worship were minutely prescribed though and tied to specific ceremonies which were only to last for the duration of the OT. With the whole of the ceremonial system being dismantled, we have no further use for the trumpets (or whatever they were) which were blown at the burnt offering, or whatever it was.

    Along with the consideration that if the type and use of these instruments was so tightly regulated in the old administration, it shows that musical instruments more generally can’t be neutral things which you can pick and choose which and how to use in worship.

    Peter Masters has a rather good wee book called Worship in the Melting Pot. It is thoroughly worth recommending, except for the big wobble towards the end about the legitimacy of uninspired hymns.


  8. So, do I understand it correctly that instruments in worship are okay either in the past (OT) or in the future (Rev 5:8-9; 14:2-3 and 15:2-3) but not in the present?


  9. What kind of harps do they play standing on a sea of glass then? :-)

    Instruments in the OT were okay to the extent that they fitted the divine prescriptions for temple worship.


  10. The best book on this subject is “Old Light on New Worship” by John Price (not easy obtained in UK). In my opinion his biblical arguments against the inclusion of instruments are insurmountable, indeed in a very irenic way he absolutely blasts all arguments I have heard and a few more besides out of the water.

    Anyone interested in this subject MUST read this book. It’s a great read too, he is an excellent writer.

    There can be little doubt that instruments were part of the ceremonial law and have therefore been fulfilled in Christ. They are not mentioned in NT, are dismissed by the Church Fathers and unused for 1000 years thereafter, being reintroduced in the Dark Ages.


  11. Thanks Paul, I’ll keep an eye out for that. Is it quite recent? Screeds have been written on the topic over the years – eg in the 1870s in the controversy in the Free Church – churches which retain unaccompanied singing are generally doing so on principle, not from some sort of perverse delight in unexciting ‘worship styles’ – something which should really be emphasised/explained more.


  12. Thanks! I’ve decided to splurge and purchase it :) I was sadly disappointed with John Frame’s “Worship in Spirit and Truth” some years ago, so it’s time to invest in something more solid!

    Re instruments being ceremonial and hence now fulfilled – I discussed this general issue with someone some time ago, and they wanted to know what exactly it was (about trumptets etc) that Christ fulfilled. Eg we know that he fulfilled the types of the scapegoat, the mercy seat, etc, but how does he fulfil the instruments? (I don’t think it was a genuine question, just something to fling into debate, but interesting all the same.)


  13. Yes I’ve heard that argument (genuinely stated) as well. In response I think Dabney does a reasonable job of arguing that the instruments were peculiarly attached the Temple and as such are fulfilled in Christ’s fulfillment of the Temple.

    “Now we find instrumental music, like human priests and their vestments, show-bread, incense, and bloody sacrifice, absolutely limited to this local and temporary worship. But the Christian churches were modeled upon the synagogues and inherited their form of government and worship because it was permanently didactic, moral and spiritual, and included nothing typical. This reply is impregnably fortified by the word of God himself: that when the Antitype has come the types must be abolished. For as the temple-priests and animal sacrifices typified Christ and his sacrifice on Calvary, so the musical instruments of David in the temple-service only typified the joy of the Holy Ghost in his pentecostal effusions.
    Hence when the advocates of innovation quote such words as those of the Psalmist, “Praise the Lord with the harp,” etc., these shallow reasoners are reminded that the same sort of plea would draw back human priests and bloody sacrifices into our Christian churches. For these Psalms exclaim with the same emphasis, “Bind your sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Why do not our Christian æsthetics feel equally authorized and bound to build altars in front of their pulpits, and to drag the struggling lambs up their nicely carpeted aisles, and have their throats cut there for the edification of the refined audience? “Oh, the sacrifices, being types and peculiar to the temple service, were necessarily abolished by the coming of the Antitype.” Very good. So were the horns, cymbals, harps and organs only peculiar to the temple-service, a part of its types, and so necessarily abolished when the temple was removed.”

    REVIEW by Robert L. Dabney Dr. John L. Girardeau’s Instrumental Music in Public Worship. accessed


  14. Thanks for this, Paul, and for the link. The general point, that because instruments were specific to OT ceremonies, they were abolished along with the whole ceremonial system, is well made. The comment there about what exactly the instruments typified is exactly what the question is presumably getting at. They typified the joy of the pentecostal effusions – that’s enough to be going on with! Many thanks.


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