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A New Song? What the Bible Teaches concerning Psalms and Hymns in Public Worship

Ronald E. Pearce

Reviewed by: Stewart E. Lauer

Date posted: 06/12/2005

A New Song? What the Bible Teaches concerning Psalms and Hymns in Public Worship, by Ronald E. Pearce. Published by the author (and available from him at 122 Deerfield Dr., Hackettstown, NJ 07840), 2003. Booklet, 22 pages, $5.00 postpaid. Reviewed by Professor Stewart E. Lauer.

A New Song? should help churches singing both hymns and Psalms. The proponents of exclusive psalmody (EP) are prolific, leaving an average OP church member wondering how faithful his church really is. A New Song? provides a succinct and readable overview of the issues. It competently defends the singing of scripturally faithful hymns in public worship.

There are two brief appendices. The first, setting forth a "biblical standard for appropriate hymns," is excellent. Less persuasive is the second, which asks whether advocates of EP really sing "psalms" according to their own view.

A New Song? first lays out biblical, historical, and confessional arguments (pp. 3-5) for "sing[ing] only the Psalms in public worship." Then, while firmly endorsing the Psalter, it counters the EP position from the standpoints of biblical permission, biblical history, and church history (pp. 5-13).

Pearce concludes by exhorting EP advocates to "be careful of a judgmental spirit," and to "realize that we do sincerely hold to the regulative principle." Don't call a meeting a "chapel service" and forbid hymns, he says, and then, "on the same day with the same preacher," call another meeting "a 'convocation '. . . allow[ing] almost any kind of music." Pearce urges hymn singers to ensure that "all the music . . . conforms to Scripture," and that we "include psalms frequently . . . without patronizing."

A weakness of this work is that, by merely contrasting the "psalms only" and "both hymns and psalms" positions, it ignores mediating views.

Another weakness is that A New Song? lacks citations. Direct quotations from key proponents' works would preclude even the impression that Pearce refutes straw men.

Also, A New Song? could be stronger at several points:

(1) Pearce's suggestion that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 may not be about public worship, thus implying that Paul's directive may not be determinative for such worship, is unpersuasive. The New Testarnent portrays the assembly at the center of church life, and this twice-repeated command looks like a standard instruction. Paul's instructions at least include singing in assemblies.

(2) Pearce points out that Paul mentions only "speaking" the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, not "singing" them (as would be done in worship). However, the verb "speak" can mean "utter words" or "express oneself," and so includes singing. Pearce also argues that Paul's exhortation to speak psalms, etc., "applies to all believers" and so cannot refer to worship services, as it would then contradict the rule that women are not to "speak" in church (1 Cor. 14:34) (p. 7). However, when Paul forbids women from individually expressing themselves, he is not proscribing participation in group singing.

(3) A New Song? needs to define what the key terms in the key verses denote. It is correct that they "cannot be proven to refer to the Old Testament Psalter," and that "the [verses' key] three terms overlap," but we can't insist that they "are interchangeable" because "we can't precisely identify each one" (p. 6). Paul certainly intended his readers to apprehend what sorts of songs he was directing them to "speak to one another." To be persuasive, one must determine what Paul meant.

Despite these weaknesses, I recommend A New Song? as a brief, easy-to-read defense of the mainstream OPC position.

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