May 07, 2018 Q & A



In light of the OPC’s decision in 1947 to allow hymns in song worship, and the subsequent production of a hymnal, can you tell me what approximate percentage of OPC churches today use the Psalms exclusively in their worship?


Your question does not state the case correctly as to when a General Assembly allowed hymns to be sung in worship. It never disallowed the practice. And I cannot precisely answer the last part of your question. There have, in times past, been some OPC congregations that opted to use only metrical versions of the Psalms in worship. I can think of at least one that holds that practice at present, and there may be others. A generous guess would be between 1–5 percent. But I will try to give some background on the question.

The issue of singing only inspired songs in worship came up in the 1940s. It was championed by Prof. John Murray, a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and an exclusive psalmodist. His position was a minority position and was not accepted by the General Assembly where the majority of ministers believed that both Psalms and hymns should be used in worship.

The first edition of the Trinity Hymnal was published in 1961 by a committee appointed by the General Assembly. A revised edition came out in 1990. The OPC followed the tradition of the Presbyterian Church in the USA of using both Psalm and hymn versions. In the church where I worship, a Sunday does not go by that we don’t sing Psalm versions. I am not sure of the reason for your question. I am ready to defend the prevailing OPC practice of using both Psalms and hymns in worship. But you’ll have to get back to me if you want to hear our reasons. So please feel free to bring further questions if you are interested in a defense of our practice.

Followup Question:

Thank you for your response. I was not aware that the OPC never practiced exclusive psalmody. While I am an exclusive psalmodist, I do appreciate many hymns, and, as hymnals go, the 1990 Trinity Hymnal is great. What frustrates me most is the lack of singing psalms in most Reformed denominations. I commend the OPC for not letting the Psalms be eliminated.


The OPC may vary from other Reformed denominations in their attitude toward the use of metrical versions of the Psalms in worship, though you might run into some OPCs which do not value the singing of the Psalms.

You may not know that the first edition of Trinity Hymnal was a product of the OPC exclusively. The revised edition is jointly owned by the OPC and PCA, because Great Commission Publications is now a joint project of the two denominations.

In 1975 the PCA joined with the OPC in Great Commission Publications for the mutual benefit of both denominations, and Trinity Hymnal became the property of Great Commission Publications through that process.

I would like to give you my own reasons for not being an exclusive psalmodist. I might say that John Murray (with whom I experienced a real closeness during my seminary years and afterward) in private conversations with me disagreed with the Covenanter position that only the inspired Psalms (of the book of Psalms) were proper for public worship. There are New Testament psalms as well, such as those in the nativity account in Luke 1–2, as well as such as are found in Revelation 4–5 and subsequent chapters. He felt that they were equally acceptable and had the advantage of being inspired song from the New Covenant perspective.

There is another argument: we are commanded to preach the Word. It is essentially part of the Regulative Principle. Yet my sermons, quoting from the inspired word, are not inspired. Why, then, must that heightened expression of worship–singing the praises of God–be limited to the Old Covenant Psalter?

I know the answer given by the exclusivists—Ephesians 5:19 and its parallel in Colossians 3:16. Covenanters argue that those three words, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” are all used in the Septuagint with reference to inspired writings. Is argumentation from this translation valid? The New Testament writers knew this translation and quoted from it. But in its translating it was far from faithful to the Masoretic text. Furthermore, as in English, so in Hebrew, words often change in meaning through usage over time.

I have an old commentary on Colossians by Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, dated 1879, which deals with Colossians 3:16 at some length. Let me quote him on those three words. He quotes from some ancient writers and concludes:

In other words, while the leading idea of psalmos is a musical accompaniment and that of hymnos praise to God, odē is a general word for a song, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, whether of praise or of another subject. Thus it was quite possible for the same song to be at once psalmos, hymnos and odē. In the text the reference in psalmois (plural of psalmos), we may suppose, is specially, though not exclusively (1 Cor. 14:26), to the Psalms of David, which early would form part of the religious worship of the Christian brotherhood. On the other hand, hymnos would more appropriately designate those hymns of praise that were composed by the Christians themselves on distinctly Christian themes, being either set forms of words or spontaneous effusions of the moment. The third word odais gathers up the other two, and extends the precept to all forms of song, with the limitation however that they must be spiritual (pneumatikai). (Greek transliterated)

I think, from Lightfoot’s scholarly comments, that using these three Greek words to prove exclusive psalmody on the basis of their use in the Septuagint is rushing to a questionable conclusion.

On the other hand, this does not in any way denigrate the use of Psalms (which were written to be sung) in worship. In the church where I worship we make use of the Psalm versions. We also use Scripture songs when occasion warrants. We have our own praise book, selected and approved by the session. They are used exclusively in our Sunday school and selectively in worship. I hope this contributes a little to your research on the subject.


The OPC and URCNA have produced the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (release date spring, 2018), which includes musical settings of all 150 Psalms, in their entirety, and a selection of the best hymns from the history of the church. All tunes were selected for their correspondence in musical affect to the tone of the lyrics, meaning that the mood of the music fits the mood of the text.



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