REFORMATION 500: Hymn Debate

As much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities. In the early decades of the Reformation, Calvinists broke with Lutherans over several important matters, but one was existentially apparent at every gathering for worship: the singing. Lutherans sang hymns that with considerable freedom expressed their understanding of the gospel (like Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” or “From Heaven High I Come to You”), and they often sang them with choirs, organs, and full instrumentation. Calvinists, by contrast, sang the psalms paraphrased and with minimal or no instrumental accompaniment (like the 100th Psalm, “All people that on earth do dwell,” which was prepared by William Kethe for English and Scottish exiles who had taken refuge in Calvin’s Geneva during the persecutions of England’s Catholic Mary Tudor). However natural it may now seem for Protestant hymnals to contain both Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and Kethe’s “Old One Hundredth,” in fact it took more than two centuries of contentious Protestant history to overcome the visceral antagonism to “non-scriptural” hymns that prevailed widely in the English-speaking world. It was even longer before organs, choirs, and instrumental accompaniment were accepted.

—Mark Noll, “Praise the Lord: Song, Culture, Divine Bounty, and Issues of Harmonization”


Confident Access

Psa. 15:1    O LORD, who shall sojourn in Your tent?
Who shall dwell on Your holy hill?

Apart from being in Christ, God’s tent is not a safe place for sinners.

—Matt Mason, “The Worship Leader and Singing,” in Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader, 197


The First and Last Word

The hymns of Israel stand in service of the central theological claim of the Old Testament, that the Lord of Israel alone is God and requires the full devotion of all creation. The expression of praise was the glorification and enjoyment of God, the true measure of piety and the proper purpose of every creature. So for Israel the first and last word of faith was “Hallelujah!”

—Patrick D. Miller, Jr., “‘Enthroned on the Praise of Israel’: The Praise of God in OT Theology,” Interpretation 39 (’85):19

Heart Worship 2

I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the LORD better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs. (Psalm 69:30-31)

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. (PSalm 107:22)

To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17)

O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, And teach me Your ordinances. (Psalm 119:108)

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)

Heart Worship

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12 )

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22 )

“Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.” (Psalm 40:6 )

Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
And pay your vows to the Most High (Psalm 50:13-14)

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

Shunning Sameness

If worship is always entirely exuberant or always entirely solemn, we send the message to God’s people that only certain emotions are religiously acceptable.  But God invites us to bring our whole selves to worship—surely the chaotic emotions expressed in the book of Psalms amply demonstrate this.  In the presence of God, as God’s people, we can feel sadness, joy, contrition, thankfulness, peace, grief, agitation, anger, reverence, assurance, determination, and every nuance of human experience.  Using vivid language avoids a kind of bland sameness that associates being in worship only with a detached pose of religiosity. 

—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 34