Christianity 201

November 25, 2018

Let Them Offer Thanks to Him, The Sacrifice of Praise

Today’s thoughts are from a referred source which was new to us, the website/blog of Zion Evangelical & Reformed Church in Garner, Iowa. As usual, click the title below to read this at source and then take a minute to look around their site.

Why Did We Sing Psalm 107?

Last Sunday, as a congregation we lifted up our voices to a song not found on the CCLI’s “Top 40” – a metrical version of Psalm 107. Ever sung it? Unless you’ve spent time in a church that is being Reformed by the Word of God, chances are you haven’t.

While most Christians think of the Old Testament book of Psalms as important for the worship of Israelites, few Christians think of the Psalms as part of their worship today. Perhaps some realize the importance of praying through the Psalms, or studying the verses as parts of their Bible studies (Psalm 119 gets really long!). But few ever think to sing what was the original songbook of God’s people.

But in Reformed churches, psalm singing is still important. Taking Colossians 3:16 as their cue – “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” – Reformed churches have emphasized taking the inspired Word of God in the Psalms and putting them to meter so they are singable by the congregation.

Last Sunday we were preparing for Thanksgiving, and so the words of Psalm 107 in meter were especially poignant:

O praise the Lord! For He is good,
His mer-cies still endure;
Give thanks to Him, pro-claim His grace,
From sin and death se-cure

Let them give thanks un-to the Lord
For all His kind-ness shown,
And for His works so won-der-ful
Which He to us makes known

And let them of-fer thanks to Him
The sac-ri-fice of praise!
His works let them de-clare with thanks
In songs our voices raise!

Is an-y wise? Then heed with thanks
The mer-cies of the Lord!
And may we grate-ful-ly re-ceive
With thanks our lov-ing Lord!

Clearly, Psalm 107 allows Christians to sing God’s Word back to Him in the form of inspired thanksgiving!

Some Christians might wonder about the practice of psalm singing. While this article cannot tackle all the aspects of this topic, the following words by Rev. Terry Johnson give us a better understanding of the history of this important practice. Examining what Christians of past generations does not decide anything for the Church; our beliefs and practices are founded on the Word of God alone. Nevertheless, it can be very helpful to understand what our forebears in the faith have taught on a certain issue, and help us to understand what God’s Word led them to in ages past. May the following selection by Rev. Johnson be helpful for understanding psalm singing today.

*** *** ***

The church fathers and earliest Christian writings demonstrate a devotion to the Psalms, and particularly to the singing of the Psalms, that is startling.

Calvin Stapert speaks of the Church Fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm singing,” which, he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the Psalms in the second half of the fourth century. The writers of The Psalms in Christian Worship and others, including most recently John D. Witvliet, have collected a number of testimonies of psalm singing from the church fathers that survive to this day.

For example, Tertullian (c. 155–230), in the second century, testified that psalm singing was not only an essential feature of the worship of his day but also had become an important part of the daily life of the people.

Athanasius (300–343) says it was the custom of his day to sing psalms, which he calls “a mirror of the soul,” and even “a book that includes the whole life of man, all conditions of the mind and all movements of thought.”

Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340), bishop of Caesarea, left this vivid picture of the psalm singing of his day: “The command to sing Psalms in the name of the Lord was obeyed by everyone in every place: for the command to sing is in force in all churches which exist among nations, not only the Greeks but also throughout the whole world, and in towns, villages and in the fields.”

Basil the Great (c. 330–379) comments, in his sermons on the Psalms, on the “harmonious Psalm tunes” that mix “sweetness of melody with doctrine” and are sung by the people not only in the churches but “at home” and “in the marketplace” as well.

Augustine (343–430), in his Confessions (ix.4), says, “[The Psalms] are sung through the whole world, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.”

Jerome (d. 420) said that he learned the Psalms when he was a child and sang them daily in his old age. He also writes, “The Psalms were continually to be heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The plowman, as he held his plow, chanted the Hallelujah; and the reaper, the vinedresser, and the shepherd sang something from the Psalms of David. Where the meadows were colored with flowers, and the singing birds made their plaints, the Psalms sounded even more sweetly. These Psalms are our love-songs, these the instruments of our agriculture.”

Sidonius Apollinaris (c. 431–c. 482) represents boatmen, who, while they worked their heavy barges up the waters of ancient France, “[sing] Psalms till the banks echo with ‘Hallelujah.’”

Chrysostom (d. 407), the renowned Greek father and patriarch of Constantinople, says, “All Christians employ themselves in David’s Psalms more frequently than in any other part of the Old or New Testament. The grace of the Holy Ghost hath so ordered it that they should be recited and sung night and day. In the Church’s vigils the first, the middle, and the last are David’s Psalms. In the morning David’s Psalms are sought for; and David is the first, the midst, and the last of the day. At funeral solemnities, the first, the midst, and the last is David. Many who know not a letter can say David’s Psalms by heart. In all the private houses, where women toil—in the monasteries—in the deserts, where men converse with God, the first, the midst, and the last is David.

He says again, “David is always in their mouths, not only in the cities and churches, but in courts, in monasteries, in deserts, and the wilderness. He turned earth into heaven and men into angels, being adapted to all orders and to all capacities” (Sixth Homily on Repentance).

Over against this devotion to singing psalms, there was a growing skepticism about hymns “of human composition” throughout this period because of the use to which they were put by heretics. For this reason the Council of Braga (350 AD) ruled, “Except the Psalms and hymns of the Old and New Testaments, nothing of a poetical nature is to be sung in the church.” The important Council of Laodicea, which met about 360 AD, forbade “the singing of uninspired hymns in the church, and the reading of uncanonical books of Scripture” (canon 59). While these were not the decisions of ecumenical councils, nearly one hundred years later, the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the largest of all the general councils, confirmed the Laodicean canons.

We cite these decisions to underscore the point that the Psalter clearly was the primary songbook of the early church. Worship in the early church was “according to Scripture” and consequently filled with scriptural praise.”


Terry Johnson, “The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church,” in Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century (ed. Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio; Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 44–46.

 

 

February 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Today’s guest writer is my wife. This is a series of readings she put together in the church where she was leading last week, along with lines from the songs they sang corresponding to each aspect of congregational worship.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours.  We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:
Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105
I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
 ***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***
Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:
I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us? 
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
 ***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***
Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:
God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam 
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
 ***
Our God is an awesome God!
***
 Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:
 
You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3
 
Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.

-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***

 

December 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: ,

Today’s article is best read at the author’s site because it contains a video of a different type of congregational singing which may or may not work depending on your system. But I encourage you to read this there on the off chance that it plays for you, which it did for me one time. The author is Kyle Borg who is a pastor in Winchester, KS in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the website is Gentle Reformation. Click the title below to read it there. There’s also an introduction which you need to read at that site as well.

What Then Shall We Sing About

God wants us to sing about depression. Yes, even believers get depressed and the Psalms give us songs to sing in the blackness and ache of depression, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5) and, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:3-5).

God wants us to sing about persecution. Jesus warned that in the world we will have many troubles and the Psalms give us words to express the troubles that come for bearing the name of Christ, “For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me with cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies(Psalm 69:1-4).

God wants us to sing about children. Though many view children as an inconvenience in our culture, God delights in opening the womb and the Psalms instruct us to sing of their blessedness, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

God wants us to sing about death. Often death is viewed as an almost taboo topic and yet the Psalms give us language to sing not only of its dark reality but of our confidence in the midst of it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

God wants us to sing about sleep. The rest that is given to us is traced even to the gifts of God, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8), and “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest; eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

God wants us to sing about atheism. The Psalms show us, in singing, how to interpret the world and its systems around us, even the system of unbelief, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

God wants us to sing about prosperity. The Psalms demonstrate to us that God cares not only for our souls but also our physical well-being and blesses us in this manner, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!(Psalm 144:12-15).

God wants us to sing about enemies. It’s probably hard for the Western and contemporary church that has experienced little by way of outward and physical oppression to comprehend the way the Psalms invite us to sing over our enemies. But the Psalms are filled with warlike victory anthems, “I pursued by enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets(Psalm 18:37-42).

God wants us to sing about missions. The scope of the gospel isn’t confined to the borders of any nation or people group. The knowledge of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries and we are to sing of the advance of the gospel to foreign lands and foreign people, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth(Psalm 67:1-4).

God wants us to sing about alcohol. The Psalms celebrate that it is God who waters the earth causing vines to grow which produce wine to cheer the heart even of the afflicted, “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:13-15).

God wants us to sing about sin. Not only are we to sing about sin’s pardon and forgiveness but the Psalms often emphasize the great danger that accompanies sin. We are to sing out these warnings and cautions, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealous with their idols. When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:58-59), and “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).

God wants us to sing about hell. Frightening, terrifying, and sorrowful as the topic is — to bear the unmitigated wrath of God is unimaginable — yet the Psalms direct us to sing even of this, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), and “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15).

In the Psalms we sing of protecting the poor (Psalm 15:5), angels (Psalm 91:11-12, 104:4), political upheaval (Psalm 2:1-4, 135:8-12), frustrations (Psalm 73:1-3), history (Psalm 95:8, 106:32), the birthing of animals (Psalm 29:9), the keeping of vows (Psalm 76:11, 116:14), the failure of friendship (Psalm 55:14), family relationships (Psalm 128:3), false gods (Psalm 135:15-18), and so much more. These are some of the things that fill the content of the very songs that the Holy Spirit has given to the church… And he himself has approved these things to be expressed through the gift of singing in order to impress them upon our minds, provoke the emotions of our hearts, and activate the deepest recesses of our memories as our tongues are loosened to sing the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.