The issue of Psalm-singing serves as a crucible in which our belief in the authority, power, and sufficiency of scripture is tested. How can those involved in leading the worship of the church reject Psalm-singing if they believe in the profitability of scripture and if they see the command, significance, and benefit to singing the Psalms?
The practicalities of Psalmody can erect a barrier to the (re-) inclusion of the Psalms in corporate worship. Depending on your denominational affiliation, you may have never sung Psalms and you may not know where to find musical versions of the Psalms.
In this final installment of The Psalms: Truly Persistent Songs, I will highlight some resources for Psalm-singing, provide some guidance for (re-) introducing the Psalms melodically to your church, and address a couple lingering concerns. The relevance of the guidance I provide will vary slightly in accordance with your church’s unique worship setting.
For those of you in a “traditional” worship setting, where printed hymnals are still in use, you may be surprised to find in your hymnal some Psalms set to music. “All People on Earth Do Dwell” is a paraphrase of Psalm 100; most people will recognize the tune from “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” Hymnary.org lists 25 different hymnals that incorporate this Psalm, including the 1991 and 2008 versions of the Baptist Hymnal. Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 23—“My Shepherd Will Supply Me Need”—is another commonly published Psalm.
Most likely, your church will need to look beyond the resources of its own hymnal. Two essential resources for Psalm-singing are the Trinity Hymnal and the Trinity Psalter. The Trinity Hymnal incorporates many Psalms set to tunes with which your church may be familiar. I compiled a list of such Psalms for my church. (Links lead to information on hymnary.org.)
|Psalm||Trinity Hymnal Number/Title||Tune in Baptist Hymnal (1991)|
|16:1-11||692: To You, O Lord, I Fly||339: Not What My Hands Have Done|
|25:1-10||694: Lord, I Lift My Soul to Thee||306: Depth of Mercy|
|45:1-10||169: My Heart Does Overflow||339: Not What My Hands Have Done|
|50:1-6||316: The Mighty God, the Lord||161: Crown Him with Many Crowns|
|69:16-36||607: Thy Loving-kindness, Lord is Good and Free||297: Search Me, O God|
|93||70: With Glory Clad, with Strength Arrayed||574: Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed|
|98||16: Come, Let Us Sing unto the Lord||587: Jesus Shall Reign|
|119:89-96||59: Forever Settled in the Heavens||587: Jesus Shall Reign|
The Trinity Psalter has metrically-arranged versions of all 150 Psalms. For each Psalm, the Psalter lists a common tune, to which the Psalm can be sung. I found 33 Psalms set to tunes familiar to my congregation. A drawback to the Trinity Psalter is that it does not provide the musical score for the Psalm. (I address this issue by scanning the score of the tune and editing the Psalm’s text into the scanned image, which is time-consuming, but rewarding. You could also look into purchasing the piano accompanist edition of the Trinity Psalter.)
To get you started in the right direction, here are 10 musical versions of Psalms. (The links lead to PDF files.)
- Psalm 16
- Psalm 25:1-10
- Psalm 29
- Psalm 45:1-10
- Psalm 50:1-6
- Psalm 69:16-36
- Psalm 92
- Psalm 93
- Psalm 98
- Psalm 119:89-96
Guidance for (Re-) Introducing the Psalms
(1) Exercise patience in (re-) introducing Psalm-singing. Young reformed ministers sometimes struggle with patience in their first pastorate. We enter pastorates with a laundry list of reforms, which we too often rush to implement. Do not move Psalm-singing to the top of your reform-list and fill next Sunday’s order of worship with unfamiliar Psalms. Apply Paul’s instructions to “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2) and “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3), as you plan to incorporate Psalms in worship. Remember that Paul valued “hymns and spiritual songs,” alongside the Psalms, and, thus, continue to sing songs your congregation cherishes.
(2) Cast a vision for Psalm-singing. Instruct your church on the benefit, command, and significance to singing the Psalms. Exposit texts like Ephesians 5:17-21 or Colossians 3:12-17. In a Sunday school lesson or in the public preaching ministry, provide your people with a conceptual framework for Psalm-singing. Show them that singing Psalms is an application of their beliefs regarding the perfection and profitability of God’s word. If members of our churches share this vision, they will follow us more willingly, as we lead them in Psalm-singing.
(3) Expose your church to the musical Psalms. Find a practical way to introduce a couple of Psalms to your church. For instance, if your church services include a “special music” or “offertory song” performed as the offering is collected, sing Psalms during that time. (By the way, this is a way of obeying Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16!) A vocalist or instrumentalist should alert the congregation that the song is a Psalm. Ideally, the church would provide attendees a score of the Psalm (in the bulletin, or in a binder in the pew rack) so that they can follow along, as the Psalm is performed. Follow up this exposure by singing the Psalm congregationally in the not-too-distant future.
(4) Alert the congregation to Psalms in the order of worship. Whoever is responsible for introducing songs should make sure the congregation knows when Psalms are sung. Tell the congregation that the following song is a paraphrase of, for example, Psalm 23. Another good method is reading a Psalm as a call to worship at the beginning of the church service (e.g., Psalm 100) and then singing the Psalm (cf., “All People that on Earth Do Dwell,” #5 in the Baptist Hymnal 1991). Here is a sample song introduction in this scenario: “Let’s sing back to God the words we have just heard from him in Psalm 100. Our first hymn is Hymn 5, “All People that on Earth Do Dwell,” which is a paraphrase of the Psalm 100.”
Perhaps, more than the practicalities are inhibiting you from incorporating the Psalms into the worship of your church. I want to address just a couple other hypothetical concerns. (I would love to entertain additional concerns; please leave me a comment.)
“The musical Psalms available are paraphrases of the Psalms; doesn’t that negate some of the benefit of Psalm-singing?” Almost all musical versions of the Psalms require some paraphrasing. The OT Psalms reflect conventions of Hebrew poetic meter and hymnody. These conventions do not translate easily to Western musical norms. Paraphrases, thus, make it possible to sing the content of the Psalms in our modern context.
The utility of paraphrase has some biblical endorsement. 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 substantially contain the same song of praise. However, when the two texts are collated and compared, over 100 variations exist between the two texts. An analysis of the two texts shows that 2 Samuel 22 transmits an older version of the song, and the variations present in Psalm 18—many of which have a devotional tone—are due to the liturgical use of the song in Israel’s worship. (For more information on 2 Sam 22 and Ps 18, see my paper on the topic: here). Both 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 are included in the corpus of scripture; both are recognized as inspired and infallible. So, we should not disqualify paraphrases, per se.
Do, however, examine the paraphrased Psalms before promoting them as Psalms. For example, “Christ Shall Have Dominion” (#439 in the Trinity Hymnal) is listed as a paraphrase of Psalm 72:8-19. However, Psalm 72 has no occurrences of the word “Christ.” Perhaps, we should be careful to call this song a Psalm. Those are the kind of decisions each church and its worship planners should make.
“The format of our church’s worship is best described as contemporary. We sing mostly modern hymns and rarely incorporate older hymns. Most of our attendees are not familiar with older melodies and tunes.” This common scenario calls for an abundance of patience and wisdom as musical Psalms are incorporated. Do the necessary, preparatory work. Teach on worship, generally, and Psalm-singing, specifically. Point church members to the rich, historical tradition of Psalm-singing. Perform a Psalm for the congregation before asking them to sing that Psalm congregationally. You may need to incorporate musical Psalms gradually and only occasionally.
However, you cannot use a contemporary-orientation as an excuse to avoid Psalm-singing altogether. In doing so, you excuse yourself from obeying Paul’s admonishment in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Sadly, you rob your church members of the benefit and significance of Psalm-singing. Have you done them this disservice only because you lacked the courage to lead them?
Now Let’s Sing
My aim—perhaps, too ambitious—in The Psalms: Truly Persistent Songs has been to promote the recovery of Psalm-singing in modern evangelical churches. The discussion of the command, significance, and benefit of Psalm-singing should provide the paradigm needed for (re-) including the Psalms in corporate worship. This post should provide resources and guidance to get started.
But the work is far from done. I esteem your feedback. Let me know if you’ve tried Psalm-singing and what results you’ve seen. Let me know what other barriers inhibit your church from incorporating the musical Psalms. Together, let us strive to apply our convictions regarding the sufficiency of scripture to our congregational worship.