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Regulative Principle of Worship
The hymns of praise, for instance, constitute the second most-common genre of psalm, and they almost always have at least two parts or aspects: the call to praise, and the grounds for that call. Indeed, the grounds for praise in the hymns of praise are not only just as important as the call to praise, they are more important and actually constitute the larger part of those particular psalms. Here is an example from Psalm In this case, the earth itself, and specifically the coastlands, are called to praise God v.
Though he has delayed his final judgment, he will indeed judge the earth one day, in a furious judgment that is likened to lightning 4 , and mountain-melting fire 3, 5 , because God will remove from his kingdom the insurrectionists against it in a display of power that will cause the earth itself to tremble 4. The substance of the hymns of praise is primarily the reasons God is worthy of our praise.
If we were to sing just the first portion the call to praise , we would be calling ourselves, others, or the created order itself to praise God, but we would not be supplying any reason to do so. Failure to offer an impetus would alter the very nature of biblical hymns of praise, which do not call people to praise without reasons. Further, since no reason is provided for the praise, the praise is not truly corporate; each believer, at some intuitive level, supplies his or her own ground for the praise, but the congregation itself is not offering unified praise to God for a common reason.
Indeed, younger or less-well-instructed individuals may even supply erroneous reasons for praising God such as, not inconceivably, praising him because he loves everyone and will never judge his created order in fury.
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The psalms have not only literary unity but also theological integrity. This integrity is true of other genres of the psalms also, but I will mention just one other, to make the point. Of the sub-genres of the psalms, the largest is the lament. Seventy-three roughly half of the biblical psalms are laments. Laments can be very complex, and some have as many as seven parts Invocation, Plea for help, Complaint s , Confession of sin or assertion of innocence, Imprecation, Expression of confidence in God, and Hymn or blessing.
Others only have a few of these parts, but what makes the lament so significant theologically and liturgically are two parts: the complaint itself and the expression of confidence in God. Like Job, as it were, his lamentable circumstance does not cause him to lose trust in God; to the contrary, he expresses trust in the midst of his situation.
Suppose we sang just the complaint, or just the expression of trust.
This would change the fundamental nature of what lament does, by separating the two parts that together constitute its religious and liturgical genius. Many of the praise songs I have heard remove the expression of trust from its context of despairing lament, and in so doing just become, in my opinion, a trivial chorus that is entirely different in its religious meaning from a biblical lament. Among its verses were these:. My God is true; each morn anew Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, And pain and sorrow shall depart.
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From the lips of a grieving mother, the words are very different than they are from someone whose children are all healthy. Expressing trust when grieving differs from the same sentiment when all is well. When, therefore, we remove heart-breaking lament from our expressions of trust, we fail in several ways:. Therefore, unless a person is extremely skilled literarily and theologically, the selection of some of the words from a psalm, taken from their context, could constitute a very different song altogether.
My observation has been that we have not had many such individuals since Isaac Watts. One of my psalms students several years ago decided to write his paper on laments in contemporary worship music, and he studied the little book of songs we use in the chapel services here at the college. He did not find a single lament. What is worse, by using words from the Bible, we do not even realize it.
A second individual has read some portions or snippets from the Bible from time to time, and had discovered that he sometimes happens to agree with those snippets. However, his opinions are not much changed by the Bible, and he does not labor much to uncover its actual meaning. Some of its words remind him of what he already knows and believes, and when that occurs, he is happy to cite those words. Who, among us, treasures what he discloses to us whose sin has dis-merited such disclosure?
Who, among us, trembles when God speaks, regarding his revelation with loving fear? The issue here is whether the Word will shape us or whether we will shape the Word. Will the Word dictate to us what the content of our praise should be, or will our sensibilities sift through the Word as they do through a restaurant menu, selecting only what we regard as appetizing?