This Sermon was preached on August 9, 2009 at First Fairmont Presbyterian Church, PC(USA).
Scripture Text: Psalm 130
Below I wrote a short little piece on Revelation 14:2 and its relation to the use of Instruments in Worship in the New Testament. Rev. Kevin Carroll said, “Personally, I think Rev. 5 provides a great argument against exclusive psalmody in worship.” So we’ll take a look at it and see if Revelation chapter 5 makes this argument.
But first I want to make a point about categories. There is some misunderstanding as to what “Exclusive Psalmody” argues and what I am talking about here. Whether or not the Psalms are to be sung exclusively is a completely separate argument as to the discsussion we are having over if we should accompany our singing with musical instruments aside from the human voice. There are plenty of examples of denominations and churches that have and do use musical instruments but limit the verse to the 150 Psalms of the Book of Psalms. Now this all being said Revelation 5 has nothing to do with instrumental worship. The only verse that mentions instruments at all is Rev 5:8 which says, ” 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
The question then would be for those wanting use this as a support for instrumental accompaniment is two-fold.
1) Why do you not also have all of your elders carry golden bowls full of incense?
2) Are the bowls of incense literally the prayers of the saints? Yes or No? If No then why is the harp literal then?
I am filled both with unending joy and a bit of fear in knowing that I have signed up for the last slate of classes I will ever take in my M. Div program. While I plan on doing work on a Th.M in the near future (which because of some other issues has been put on hold for the time being) this will be the last term and I will graduate with an M. Div at the end of February. I am also currently beginning to send out “applications” to open pulpits throughout the country. So without further ado here are the classes with the book lists…
Classes at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
NT 12 Interpretation of the Bible
Biblical Hermeneutics, Milton Terry
PT 42 Marriage and Family Counseling
Sword and the Shovel, George Scipione
A Homework Manual For Biblical Living Vol. II, ed. Wayne Mack
Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Trip
Classes at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
MI 02 Missiology
Ministry of the Missional Church, Craig Van Gelder
Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, David Bosch
Operation World, Patrick Johnstone
Suffering and Glory in the Mission of God, Scott Sunquist
OT 02 Prophets and Psalms
A History of Prophecy in Israel, Joseph Blenkinsopp
The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms, Jerome Creach
“Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.
In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.
Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.
A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.
Indeed, the biblical portraits of believers give no room to such a notion. Look at Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and the detailed account of the psalmists’ experiences. Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair — and joy, when it manifests itself — is very different from the frothy triumphalism that has infected so much of our modern Western Christianity. In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?
I did once suggest at a church meeting that the psalms should take a higher priority in evangelical worship than they generally do — and was told in no uncertain terms by one indignant person that such a view betrayed a heart that had no interest in evangelism. On the contrary, I believe it is the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship — and thus from our horizons of expectation — which has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies.
By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical — and yet I posed the question in all seriousness. Is it any wonder that British evangelicalism, from the Reformed to the Charismatic, is almost entirely a comfortable, middle-class phenomenon?”
–Carl R. Trueman, from “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004) pp. 158-160.
I have gotten into the habit of reading to my daughter and wife for evening devotions a Psalm (or a section of a Psalm) and tonight we looked at Psalm 36 and as God always does with his wonderful Word really spoke to me through his servant David.
MAY GOD BE PRAISED!!!
1Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
2For it flatters him in his own eyes
Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
3The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
4He plans wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil.
5Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
6Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep
O LORD, You preserve man and beast.
7How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
8They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
9For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.
10O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
11Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12There the doers of iniquity have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.
O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the
earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of
infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your
adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your
heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have
ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You
care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him
with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You
have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of
the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes
through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in
all the earth! — Psalm 8
One of the pleasures and responsibilities of being a parent is the power given to us to name your children. My wife and I have spent hours in the past 6 months pilfering the baby name books, family trees, various web sites and other materials seeking for that perfect name for our unborn child. We have a special situation in our house since I am the last male left in the Glaser line however, because if our child is a boy we have to find a name that will not show preference to any side of the family. It must be a name in which all can find solace and none can find prejudice. You see names still mean something in my family and I am quite sure that is true for many of you. Not only can it can go a long way in endearing yourself to a rich uncle or an overbearing Grandmother, if you see it possible to slip in a Margaret or a Michael, but it can have lifelong effects on the child, you try not to give your child a name that can lead to easy teasing or can hinder their progress later in life. How many of you when you meet a Doctor for the first time and he has the name of let say Billy Bob wince a little? Names can mean quite a bit. The question before us today is if the mere naming of a child can be taken with such care and significance, how much more so should it matter how we address our God, our Creator?
We can without even thinking too hard name any number of instances where we see God’s name in our society being used superficially and with great offense. Whether it be politicians or music stars or athletes or ourselves it is not uncommon to hear the name of God nearly constantly being used in a derogatory and mocking manner. We live in an age today where we have become flippant about how we use God’s name and have placed humanity’s will and comfort above what God has commanded and demonstrated for us in his Word concerning his Holy name.
David in the Psalm we read this afternoon begins and ends his Psalm by using the proper name of God, the Trinitarian head of our Faith in a way that only someone who truly knows God can speak. It is vital we understand why it is that David does this and why it is important that we treasure the ability given to us by being children of God to use the name given by God to his people and do so with reverence and with awe. David writes in verse 1, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth…” We can hear David’s love and relationship in that one sentence, David is not saying, “Hey that God? Great Guy.” No David is confessing the splendor and the immeasurable greatness of our God. He goes on in Psalm 8 to lay out all the things that make our God not only the God of creation but the God who cares for the all that he has fashioned and seeks to empower the glory of his creation, humanity, though smaller and seemingly insignificant in its stature to the great universe above, though now fallen because of the sin of Adam, yet is still pre-eminent in the eyes of God so much so that David here speaks forth to the son of man, who is Jesus Christ, that will come and bring the glory and power of God to all the world. In knowing all this how do we ever come to the point where we take God’s name not only for granted but in vain?
The Third Commandment forbids us from taking the name of our Lord God in vain. Deuteronomy 5:11 says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave them unpunished who takes His name in vain.” Moses here uses the same word that David uses in Psalm 8. The unspeakable name of God that the scribes were so afraid of using that they substituted the word adonai or Lord for it. I cannot press enough the point that the Jewish scribes and priests were rightly so afraid of misusing God’s name in vain that they would not even write it down in the Hebrew, instead using another word to signify its presence for the reader. We can recall in Judges 11: 31 the story of the General named Jephthah and his vow to the Lord that if he came back victorious from the battle he was waging that he would sacrifice the first thing which came running out of his house. And if you remember that story the first thing that came out of his house to greet him was, his daughter. Jephthah remembering his vow to God fell down in pain and anguish knowing what he had promised the Lord and did as he had promised because of the fear of breaking God’s Law. Yet we have become so careless with the way we come to God in prayer, in worship, and in our daily life. God has become just another epithet, meaning nothing more than any other word that we cry out so as to fit in with a Godless culture. Not only that but we have completely dismissed the last part of the Third commandment, do any of us really believe anymore that God punishes anyone? Have we become so blasé about God that we doubt his power and his right to do that which he has promised to do? Or do we go as far as to say that well since we are in a New Testament period that must mean that we no longer have to worry about all those outdated and silly claims made by the Mosaic Law that they no longer apply to us? Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-18 that, “I have come not to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why do we then think we have a special dispensation to do otherwise? Why do we continue to take the Lord’s name in vain at nearly every opportunity? There is a great power to this name as David shows us in Psalm 8. We would be wise to use it as God has commanded us to.
Jesus gets himself in great trouble whenever he claims for himself the proper name of God to describe himself, and rightly so. If Jesus was not who he claimed to be then he was committing blasphemy by using the Lord’s name in vain, violating the very commandment that we have read today. For if Jesus is not God, if Jesus is not the Second person of the Trinity than he has committed a grievous sin and his death is pointless. We must recognize even this that Christ gave great care and trouble to making sure that the people of Palestine knew who he was and that he was God and is God incarnate and he did so by invoking the very name that David has given us in our Scripture lesson for this morning. As Jesus tells the elders, scribes, and Pharisees in Mark 14:62, “I am He.”
In closing, given these examples and God’s command to his people in His Word how should we come before our Holy and Almighty God but with reverence and awe with the power and the authority and the responsibility of using God’s proper name with care and foresight in our lives? The Scriptures give us stark examples of what happens to those who forsake and abandon the accountability they have been given as children of God. We would be wise today to remember the words of David.