There have been times where I have almost been convinced of the argument for exclusive psalm-singing in public worship. The argument is generally connected to a strict reading of the regulative principle. This is essentially: that which is not commanded is forbidden.
Ephesians 5:19 reads: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” Many Protestants think this refers to the modern distinction between Psalms (from Book of Psalms) and hymns (modern and historic songs of praise to God). But groups like the Reformed Presbyterians (RPCNA) will respond that this is a technical term for the Book of Psalms in Scripture. It definitely seems that they are probably right in their understanding of this verse in Ephesians.
But does this mean that we should scrap the use of the hymnal in worship and only sing the Psalter with the potential addition of songs taken directly out of Scripture (like the song of Moses and Zechariah)?
Danny Hyde defines the Regulative Principle here:
“The Regulative Principle of Worship holds that we worship God in the manner He has commanded us in His Word. As the Westminster Confession says, ‘But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture’ (21.1)..”
So then, does the singing of hymns in worship break this principle? Has God commanded that we only sing the Psalms in worship? I might add to this the questions: (1) Has God commanded that we only read Scripture in worship and not explain the Scriptures through the preaching of the Word? (2) Has God commanded that we have no creed but Christ, and that we should avoid reciting creeds and confessions in worship? (3) Should we only pray the prayers of Scripture in worship or can ministers call out to God before the congregation on behalf of the concerns and struggles in the congregation?
One of the principles for worship which is broadly agreed upon in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, is that worship is a dialogue or a conversation between man and God. We recognize that God speaks and we respond. This could be called covenant renewal worship, but the principle is that when God speaks He demands a response.
When God speaks, He speaks through His Word. Of course the two primary pictures of the Gospel are Baptism and Lord’s Supper. So in Christian worship, the Scriptures must be the basis for the preaching, the singing, the prayers, our confession. It is the Word that regenerates men and women (I Peter 1) and so everything must be tested in accordance with the Scriptures in the Old Testament and the New Testament (whether songs, prayers, preaching, use of the sacraments, or confessions/creeds).
Being Scripture and divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Psalms should definitely hold a high place of priority in worship. The language of our praise should be shaped by the language of the Psalms. But we must also respond to the Word with the hymns and confessions of the Church. We must sing about the triumphs of God in the Scriptures, but we should also sing about the continuing triumphs of God in the history of the Church, as the Gospel spreads to the ends of the earth..
Along with the Theses of Bern, the Christian argument is that: “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, abides in the same, and does not listen to the voice of a stranger.” And so Psalm-singing gives birth to the songs of the Church. In obedience to Christ and in faithfulness to His Word, we respond to the Word of God. We do this by singing the great hymns of the Church, and the songs of His ever expanding Kingdom.