Singing the Psalms

This past Sunday we introduced you to what I called a “worship experiment” in which we attempted to sing a Psalm as a sort of musical call and response. This is something that I’m pretty excited about and we’ll continue to experiment with over the coming weeks.

So, why bother singing the Psalms?

Well, because they’re songs!

As I briefly discussed in my sermon, the Scriptures are full of all sorts of different literary genres and that includes songs! God has provided us with 150 songs (or “psalms”) which he has inspired. If that’s not a clear endorsement of what the church should be singing, I don’t know what is!

And so, in order to help us interact with these Biblical songs in a fresh way, we are engaging some of our own musicians to write short choruses based on a given Psalm which we can then sing as a response to the reading of that Psalm.  In this way, it’s sort of like a musical responsive-reading.

This idea came about as a response to what I have experienced in the chapel services at the Institute for Worship Studies. At every IWS chapel, we sing a Psalm and often in differing styles. Sometimes it’s an ancient chant, sometimes it’s more classical, sometimes it’s very contemporary. But, regardless of the style, I fell in love with these musical expressions of the Psalms.

Last spring, I had some fun with our musicians here at MBC. We walked through the history of singing the Psalms and then attempted to sing some Psalms in these various styles: a Benedictine Chant (500s AD), an Anglican Chant (1600s AD), a traditional responsorial style (still used today in many traditional liturgies), and then a contemporary responsorial style.

Part of what I wanted to communicate to our musicians, and now to our whole congregation, is that, even though we’ll be doing this in a fairly contemporary style, when we sing the songs of the Bible we are joining together with millions-upon-millions of Christians and the Old Testament people of Israel who have sung these same words for the past 3,000 years! So, while it might be fun to sing the newest song from Hillsong or Worship Central … it’s just not the same as singing the Psalms of Scripture.

And, as a little historical side-note, the earliest Baptist churches only sang the Psalms.  They didn’t want any of these “man-made” songs.  If they were going to sing anything, they wanted to sing scripture. And so, the Orders of Service of Baptist churches in the 1600s show that they often sang a Psalm at the opening and closing of their services.

All of this is to say that, as we sing these Psalms in our own way, not only are we allowing music to embed these scriptures in our hearts and minds, we are also joining together with King David, the first churches planted by the Apostle Paul, medieval monks, and the original Baptists in worship of the One True God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a little taste of what the “communion of saints” is all about and a foretaste of the worship we will all experience when Christ returns where every Christian from every age will join together in eternal praise.