Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ben Shapiro: The True Story of Ferguson and the Gentle Giant

End of the Age of Obama | The Weekly Standard

End of the Age of Obama | The Weekly Standard

CENTURIONS FORUM: The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - 2014

CENTURIONS FORUM: The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - 2014: The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity. Psalm 119.153-160 Vide humilitatem 153. O CONSIDER mine adversity, and deliver me : for I do no...

31 October 2014 A.D. 497th Reformation Day—Recommended Books from Christianity Adrift (Today)

31 October 2014 A.D.  497th Reformation Day—Recommended Books from Christianity Adrift (Today)

They need to run this up to 100 books, not ten.

No author. “Top Ten Books on the Reformation.”  Christianity Today. 31 Oct 2014.  Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

The Reformation, Diarmaid McCulloch (Penguin)
“McCulloch is one of the foremost Reformation historians in our day. His works are expansive and thorough. While this book is large, it’s definitely worth the time to invest in reading it.”
~ J. V. Fesko, professor of systematic and historical, Theology Westminster Seminary California

Reformers in the Wings, David Steinmetz (Oxford)
“In this book, Steinmetz covers a number of Reformers largely unknown in the present day, who stood in the massive shadows of figures like Calvin and Luther. They were giants in their own day, however, so it behooves us to learn about their contributions to the Reformation.”
~ Fesko

The Unquenchable Flame, Michael Reeves (B&H)
“Michael Reeves' book is a thoughtful, concise, and clear account of the major events, people, and ideas that shaped the Reformation. With theological sensitivity and historical acumen, Reeves explains why the Reformation happened. And at a time when many are declaring that the Reformation is over and that its concerns no longer apply, Reeves gives a charitable and thoughtful explanation of why it is still important for Christians today and what difference it should make.”
~ Carl Trueman, professor of church history, Westminster Theological Seminary, Phildelphia

Getting the Reformation Wrong by James R. Payton, Jr. (InterVarsity Press)
“Many Christians believe myths about the Reformation, and Getting the Reformation Wrong sets the record straight about the Reformers and their reforming works. For example, Luther and Calvin did not jettison all previous Christian tradition and “just go back to the Bible.” They highly respected the early church fathers and considered the early Christian creeds authoritative. This is one of many popular myths that Payton corrects in his phenomenal book.”
~ Roger Olson, professor of theology and ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary

Here I Stand, Roland Bainton (Abingdon)
“Though a little dated now, this is still the first book I would recommend for anyone wanting to understand the Reformation and its significance. A true masterpiece of a biography, Here I Stand draws you deep into Luther’s life so that you both understand and feel the significance of what he faced and what he did.”
~ Michael Reeves, theological advisor, Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the UK

John Calvin: A Biography, T. H. L. Parker (Westminster John Knox)
“You need to be careful what you read on John Calvin: bookshops are cluttered with opinionated and biased books on him. Parker’s sensitive and careful presentation of the great French Reformer avoids all that, giving a fair and fascinating insight into one of the Reformation’s big hitters.”
~ Reeves

The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, Hans J. Hillerbrand (Westminster John Knox)
“Hillerbrand is a distinguished historian of the Reformation, known for his many books on the subject. This volume offers a sophisticated yet accessible presentation of his prodigious learning on the subject, presenting the Reformation in its complexity—politically, socially, culturally—while emphasizing that the core of the movement was religious. In the table of contents, each chapter is described in some detail, making it easy to use as a work of reference, but the contents of each chapter make reading the book a feast.”
~ James Payton, Jr., professor of history, Redeemer University College

Also recommended:

Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George (B&H)
(Recommended by Scott Manetsch, professor of church history, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

The European Reformations, Carter Lindberg (Wiley-Blackwell)
(Recommended by Scott Manetsch)

Reformation Christianity, Peter Matheson (Fortress Press)
(Recommended by Karen Spierling, associate professor of history, Denison University)


31 October 2014 A.D. Theodor Noldeke: Quotations on Islam from Notable Non-Muslims

31 October 2014 A.D.  Theodor Noldeke: Quotations on Islam from Notable Non-Muslims

Besides Theodor Noldeke, there are 88 more quotes from other leaders regarding Islamo-Jihadists, see:

Here is one of the 89 quotes:  this one is from Theodor Noldeke.

Theodor Nöldeke

Theodor Nöldeke (1836 – 1930) was a celebrated German Semitic scholar, who in 1859 won the prize of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres for his "History of the Qur'an". 

"On the whole, while many parts of the Koran undoubtedly have considerable rhetorical power, even over an unbelieving reader, the book, aesthetically considered, is by no means a first-rate performance... Muhammad, in short, is not in any sense a master of style. This opinion will be endorsed by any European who reads through the book with an impartial spirit and some knowledge of the language, without taking into account the tiresome effect of its endless iterations. But in the ears of every pious Muslim such a judgment will sound almost as shocking as downright atheism or polytheism. Among the Muslims, the Koran has always been looked upon as the most perfect model of style and language. This feature of it is in their dogmatic the greatest of all miracles, the incontestable proof of its divine origin. Such a view on the part of men who knew Arabic infinitely better than the most accomplished European Arabist will ever do, may well startle us. In fact, the Koran boldly challenged its opponents to produce ten suras, or even a single one, like those of the sacred book, and they never did so. That, to be sure, on calm reflection, is not so very surprising. Revelations of the kind which Muhammad uttered, no unbeliever could produce without making himself a laughingstock.[116]"

Noldeke, Theodor.  “The Qur’an.”  Sketches from European History, trans. J.S. Black.  (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1892).  Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

AND NOW,  for illustrative quotes on Islam from the son and grandson of Kenyan born Muslims, a world class and credentialed historian, Imam Barack Hussein Obama, see: 

20 Quotes By Barack Obama About Islam and Mohammed

#1 “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam”

#2 “The sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer”

#3 “We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country.”

#4 “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.”

#5 “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.

#6 “Islam has always been part of America”

#7 “we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities

#8 “These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.”

#9 “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

#10 “I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.”

#11 “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.”

#12 “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed”

#13 “In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.”

#14 “Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

#15 “Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality

#16 “The Holy Koran tells us, ‘O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.’”

#17 “I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.”

#18 “We’ve seen those results in generations of Muslim immigrants – farmers and factory workers, helping to lay the railroads and build our cities, the Muslim innovators who helped build some of our highest skyscrapers and who helped unlock the secrets of our universe.”

#19 “That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

#20 “I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.”

AND NOW, for more scholarly quotes from Imam Obama, see the URL.                             

OR, beside Imam Obama’s insights above, a few Quranic verses that have insired many Islamo-fascists.

Qur'an 3:32—Say: Obey Allah and the Apostle; but if they turn back, then surely Allah does not love the unbelievers.

Qur'an 48:29—Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking Bounty from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. The mark of them (i.e. of their Faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the traces of (their) prostration (during prayers). This is their description in the Taurat (Torah). But their description in the Injeel (Gospel) is like a (sown) seed which sends forth its shoot, then makes it strong, it then becomes thick, and it stands straight on its stem, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the disbelievers with them. Allah has promised those among them who believe (i.e. all those who follow Islamic Monotheism, the religion of Prophet Muhammad SAW till the Day of Resurrection) and do righteous good deeds, forgiveness and a mighty reward (i.e. Paradise).

Qur'an 4:24—Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those (captives and slaves) whom your right hands possess. Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property—desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.

Qur'an 5:33—The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.

Qur'an 9:5—Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Qur'an 9:29—Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day [notice it says "fight those who do not believe," not "fight people who are attacking you"], nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book [the people of the book are Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

Qur'an 9:73—O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.

Qur'an 9:111—Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah's way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.

Qur'an 47:35—Be not weary and fainthearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost: for Allah is with you, and will never put you in loss for your (good) deeds.

Qur'an 2:106—Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?

From the 1662 Book of Common Prayer,  the Collect for Good Friday:

O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. 

31 October 2014 A.D. Deformation Day—Baptachrismocostalist Music & Problems with Praise Teams

31 October 2014 A.D.  Deformation Day—Baptachrismocostalist Music & Problems with Praise Teams

Gordon, David T.  “The Problem with Praise Teams.”  Second Nature.  23 May 2013.  Accessed 28 Oct 2014.  

There has been a good deal of discussion recently about the Praise Team/Praise Band phenomenon, a phenomenon that has become a liturgical commonplace.  Most of that discussion has centered around the practical issues of the expense, the placement of the instruments (front, side, back?), the adjusting of the volume, etc.  Many of us regard that cost/benefit analysis of the matter to fall heavily on the “cost” side, and do not regard the practice as being worthy of the effort, expense, and other logistical headaches involved.  If a student or former student were planting a church today, and if he asked me whether he should have a Praise Team/Praise Band, I would advise against it on practical grounds. Recently, however, someone asked me if I regarded the practice as biblical or unbiblical, and this provoked me to think about the matter differently.  When one asks whether the practice fulfills the biblical duty, the question is framed quite differently, and I now have a provisional opinion on the question of whether the practice is biblical.

Roughly twenty years ago, I began teaching the course on Presbyterian Denominational Standards at Gordon-Conwell Seminary.  About a fourth of the course addressed Presbyterian polity and three-fourths addressed Presbyterian worship.  Students in those days will recall that I often expressed concern about performing choirs and overly-loud organs. In each case (performing choir and overly-loud organ) my concern was the same:  congregational praise is a commanded duty that can be audibly discerned; we should hear congregational praise when it is sung, and nothing else (choir, organ, marching band, bagpipe) should be permitted to obscure the thing that is commanded.

Congregational praise is not the only command that can be measured by the senses.  When Moses instructed the Levites to weave cherubim into the temple curtain, or to carve them on the ark of the covenant, obedience could be visually measured.  One could inspect the product visually and determine that the command either had or had not been observed.  Suppose the cherubim had been woven into the curtain, but out of the same blue, purple, and scarlet threads of the rest of the curtain; would this have been obedient to the command?  The cherubim would have been woven in, but would have been done so in such a manner that they were invisible.  I think such camouflage would have evaded the command rather than fulfilled the command.  Surely, the intent of weaving the cherubim into the curtain was that the cherubim would then be seen there (as a warning not to re-enter God’s Edenic presence except by way of His appointment, since cherubim guarded the garden of Eden after the curse-banishment).  Some commanded things involve the senses; we should feel the waters of baptism and taste the wine of the Supper. The incense of the Levitical priests should have produced visible smoke and an aroma that could be smelled: “And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense” (Ex. 30:7).  And we should hear God’s assembled people vigorously sing His praise together.  If we do not hear the audible thing commanded, arguably we have not done the thing commanded.

The expression “unbiblical” is not always helpful, because it is not always clear enough to do the job.  If someone denies that Christ’s death atoned for sin, such a denial is “unbiblical” in the sense that it denies the central thing the Bible teaches—that the last Adam has undone the work of the first Adam and restored us to God.  But if someone affirms that Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President, this is “unbiblical” only in the sense that the Bible does not address the American Presidency.  Suppose then, for a third example, that when a local church observes the Lord’s Supper each week, the minister reads the words of institution from one of the gospels (or from 1 Cor. 11), but then distributes Spam and Coke instead of bread and wine.  Is this “unbiblical?”  Well, the words of institution are surely biblical; having the meal as a part of worship is surely biblical.  But is the biblical teaching fulfilled by distributing Spam and Coke?  Well, not quite, because the three imperatives (“take,” “eat,” “drink”) have particular direct objects.  The words of institution employ the demonstrative pronoun “this.”  “Do this (τοτο ποιετε) in remembrance of me” does not quite mean “Do anything in remembrance of me.”  “This (τοτό) is my body” (after the clause, “he took bread”) does not mean “anything is my body.”  And “this (τοτο, a cup filled with Passover wine) is my blood of the covenant” does not quite mean “any cup (filled with anything).”  “For as often as you eat this bread (τν ρτον τοτον) and drink the cup ( ποτήριον πίνητε)” does not mean “as often as you eat anything and drink anything.”  So I think we would agree that distributing Spam and Coke during the Lord’s Supper is “unbiblical” in the sense of being “not quite biblical.”  There are some biblical things about it, and some not quite biblical things about it.  I regard the Praise Band (or Praise Team) as “unbiblical” in this particular sense; it is “not quite biblical,” and I would like to explain why I regard it so.

To demonstrate that the Praise band is “not quite biblical” we will need the help of our friend Ann.  Ann is not a theologian; she is just a good faithful Christian who happens to have been born blind.  In every other way, she is a perfectly healthy person; in fact, her other senses are very well developed, as is often the case with those who are blind.  But Ann is very helpful to us because her experience of the Christian worship service is entirely auditory; she doesn’t see anything, she merely hears.  And the question we will ask Ann is “What do you hear?”  If her answer is not the answer the Bible teaches, then what we are doing is not quite biblical.  That is, if the Bible commands something, and if the something it commands is auditory in nature, then a hearer should hear the thing the Bible commands.  So we turn to these considerations, with Ann’s assistance.

First, does the Bible command anything regarding our assemblies on the first day of the week?  Does it merely require that we not forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:24-25), but then permit us to do whatever we wish, e.g. throw Frisbees, eat hotdogs, watch the Pittsburgh Steelers, etc.?  Some traditions think the Bible requires nothing of our church-meetings on the first day of the week.  Some traditions simply meet because they find it helpful and convenient to do so; they regard “church” as a voluntary society, a group of like-minded people doing something together that they find helpful or encouraging, similar to community theatre or a community chorus, but more religious.  For such traditions, Ann and I are silent.  We have nothing to say to those who regard the Christian assembly as a voluntary society, because, by definition, if it is merely a human invention, a voluntary society, then it is answerable to no one other than those humans who invented it.  But there are other traditions that regard the assembly on the first day of the week as biblical and apostolic, something the early church “devoted” itself to:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

For traditions that regard the church as an institution (not as a voluntary society), then that institution must do what it is instituted to do; it must “devote” itself to the purposes for which it was instituted.  Working within that tradition, then, we ask whether that assembly is required to sing audible praise to God, and if so, how it is commanded to do so.  That is, if an audible thing is required, then there would be an audible test of whether the required thing were done (as with the visible test of the cherubim woven into the curtain of the tabernacle).  For example, if Justin Bieber showed up and sang several songs for the congregation, would this fulfill what the Scriptures require the congregation to do?  Do the Scriptures merely require some musical act of any sort, or do they require a particular musical act?  If the entire congregation stood up and hummed “Amazing Grace,” would this satisfy what the Scriptures teach?  I suggest that the Scriptures teach three audible things about the singing of praise in the Christian assemblies:  that the singing be congregational, that it be together (not necessarily unison, but together), and that it be vigorous (loud or robust).

Let me first apologize for the abbreviated nature of the argument here, because I do not wish to write a book-length argument.  But here is (part of) how I reason.  When the New Testament authors employ Greek, I assume that they ordinarily employ it in a manner similar to the Greek Old Testament.  For three centuries, the Greek Old Testament had been the Old Testament employed by the Greek-speaking Jews, and for many of them it would have been the only book with which they were familiar because “books” were rare when they were in the form of manuscripts written on papyrus or animal skin (Porter, 2000, p. 1099).  Therefore, I assume that when they use the same words to describe what is done in the Christian assemblies as were used to describe what was done earlier in the pre-Christian assemblies of the Israelites that they ordinarily meant the same thing.  Specifically, when Acts 2:42 says that, among the things they were “devoted” to was “prayers” (τας προσευχας), they probably meant the same thing by the term as was meant in the Greek Old Testament. In the Greek Old Testament, “prayer” was employed to refer both to what we would call “spoken” prayer and to what we would call “sung” prayer, or praise (Nichols, p. 33). The canonical Psalms, for instance, were sometimes referred to as “prayers.”  Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, is entitled “A Prayer of Moses (προσευχ το Μωυσ), the man of God.”  Psalm 102 is entitled “A Prayer of one afflicted (προσευχ τ πτωχ),” even though we think of it as a Psalm/hymn.  Psalm 142 is entitled “A Maskil of David when he was in the cave.  A Prayer (προσευχή)”.  When one of the five collections that constitute the psalter concludes at Psalm 72:20, it says, “The prayers of David (ο μνοι Δαυιδ), the son of Jesse, are ended,” indicating that such “prayers” could also be called “hymns.”  In the language of the authors of the New Testament, “prayer” and “hymn” were virtually interchangeable (as Calvin noted), so that the Psalms that Israel sang when she assembled inform Christian singing when we assemble:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing (δοντες) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).  Note that when the “word of Christ” dwells richly in our assemblies, it does so in part by our “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that are similar to canonical psalms or hymns, though in our case they are overtly Christological (“the word of Christ”).

What this means for our purposes is that traits that characterized biblical psalms/hymns/prayers would have undoubtedly characterized the early Christian psalms/hymns/prayers.  This means that I regard as germane to our consideration not only the apostolic letters of the New Testament, but also the canonical psalms (and other OT hymns) before them, as well as the visions of perfected worship in the book of Revelation.  So when I talk about what “the Scriptures teach” about the singing of praise in the Christian assemblies, I do not narrowly mean “what the Gospels teach,” or “what the book of Acts teaches,” or “what the Pauline letters teach,” but what the whole of Scripture teaches about singing God’s praise in Christian assemblies.  It is entirely possible that some would disagree with me here, and say that we can settle the matter only by the Acts of the apostles, or only by the canonical Gospels, or only by the epistles, or only by the canonical psalms, etc.  I would entertain such an argument reasonably and, I trust, charitably, but I do not embrace such a view.  My understanding of tota Scriptura is that we are to account for what the entirety of Scripture teaches on a given matter.  When I say that “the Scriptures” teach that congregational praise is congregational, together, and vigorous, I derive those three traits from the whole of Scripture.

Congregational Praise

The first thing we learn about singing praise in the Scriptures is that it is congregational, an act of the entire assembly that gathers in God’s presence.  But wait (some say), weren’t there special Levitical priests who performed praise in the Old Testament?  There were indeed, but everything the Levitical priests did in the tabernacle/Temple was on behalf of the other eleven tribes.  They offered sacrifices on behalf of the other eleven tribes, standing in their place as their proxy, as it were; and so they also sang praise while offering those sacrifices.  But the Levitical priesthood has disappeared with the sacrifice of Christ, and all of their peculiar duties that distinguished them from the other eleven tribes disappeared also, which led the Reformers to speak about “the priesthood of believers,” an office that extends now to the entirety of the Christian church.

Apart from this (exceptional) Levitical praise, the rest of the praise taught in Scripture is to be done by the congregation of God’s people.  The act is essentially vocal; one can listen to a sermon, but one does not listen to singing (at least not in the congregation):

Ps. 34:1   I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Ps. 40:3   He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Ps. 51:15   O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Ps. 63:3   Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee.

Ps. 71:8   My mouth is filled with thy praise, and with thy glory all the day.

Ps. 109:30   With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

Ps. 119:171   My lips will pour forth praise that thou dost teach me thy statutes.

Ps. 145:21   My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Prov. 27:2   Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Matt. 21:16   and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?”

Rom. 14:11   for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Hebr. 13:15   Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

While the Bible refers to praise of “the heart,” it does so as a complement to vocalized praise, not as a substitute for it.  Each of these texts, taken in its natural sense, refers to the actual organ of the mouth or lips or tongue, demonstrating that the act is vocal.  There may be such a thing as “the conscionable hearing of the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 21:5), but there is no such thing as “conscionable hearing of the singing of praise.”

Ps. 9:1   I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds.

Ps. 28:7   The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

Ps. 86:12   I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify thy name for ever.

Ps. 119:7   I will praise thee with an upright heart, when I learn thy righteous ordinances.

Ps. 138:1   I give thee thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing thy praise;

In the assemblies of God’s people, this vocal act is performed by the assembly itself:

Psa. 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psa. 21:13  Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.

Psa. 22:3  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Psa. 22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

Psa. 30:4  Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.

Psa. 33:1    Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.

Psa. 66:8    Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard…

Psa. 67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Psa. 69:34  Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.

Psa. 79:13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

Psa. 89:5  Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!

Psa. 95:1-2  Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psa. 98:4   Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Psa. 102:18  Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:

Psa. 105:1-3  Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!  Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Psa. 106:10-12 So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.  And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left.  Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.

Psa. 115:17-18 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.  But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!

Psa. 149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!

Psa. 150:6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

Rev. 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Rev. 19:1-6  After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah!’…And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.”  Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Not only does the entire assembly of God’s people declare His praise; they call on creation itself (“Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them”) to join them.  Those who benefit from God’s creative and redemptive acts are those who are called to sing His praise.

Praise Together

Very closely related is the reality that congregational praise is done together.  Only one of 150 Psalms (Psa. 136) is antiphonal, where one party (probably priests) does one part and the congregation replies “His steadfast love endures forever.”  The ordinary pattern is not antiphonal but unison, and the ordinary pattern does not divide the congregation into parts.  The ministering Levites may well have sung the one part of this antiphonal Psalm, but the united congregation sang the other part.  This is undoubtedly due to the fact that worship is essentially a dialogue between God and His people; He addresses them in word and sacrament; they reply in prayer and praise.  Thus, there should ordinarily be only two “voices” in worship; the voice of God in word and sacrament and the voice of the people in prayer and praise (even if a minister speaks for the one party or the other).  Therefore, it would not be right for one hundred people to gather on the first day of the week, each one podded up and each one singing something different from what the others were singing.  The congregation is assembled together, to worship together, and to pray and sing together.  What distinguishes corporate devotion from private devotion is precisely this united dimension.

Singing together does not exclude singing harmonious (or polyphonic) parts.  Singing together does not mean that the congregation must sing in unison.  If a given culture develops sufficiently to sing harmonious parts, that is fine, but they should be singing the harmonious parts to the same hymn; the congregation should not be divided into sub-groups that are doing different things from one another. A certain kind of harmony is built into the very nature of the differences of voices; most females will sing the melody an octave higher than most males, for instance.  This is fine, as long as they are singing these (differing) octaves together.

Vigorous Praise

We note also that biblical praise is vigorous (loud).  We may be able to pray silently, but we cannot sing silently.  The assembly is to raise its voice in hearty, loud praise:

Psa. 32:11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psa. 33:1  Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.… 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psa. 35:27 Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!”

Psa. 42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Psa. 47:1 Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psa. 71:23 My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.

Psa. 81:1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!

Psa. 95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!… 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!…4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Psa. 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

Rev. 19:1   After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…3 Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah!’…5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6  Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”

Our earthly assemblies are anticipations of the heavenly/eschatological assemblies, in which the redeemed cry out songs of praise in loud, united praise.  Therefore, our present assemblies should look and sound like those assemblies insofar as it is possible; we too should cry out in loud, united songs of praise.  Such vocal exuberance is natural to our social nature.  Nations have national anthems which they sing vigorously at appropriate occasions; British soccer fans sing the anthems of their respective teams across the field, attempting to drown out the voice of the opposing fans.  Effectively, in worship, we declare robustly, publicly and unitedly our allegiance to our Creator/Redeemer, and we effectively “shout down” all opposition.  But it is the congregation that does this, not a small ensemble with artificially-amplified voices.  The amplification should come from the great number of redeemed voices joined together.

What Ann Hears

Let us take Ann, our blind friend, to two churches on two consecutive Sundays.  On one Sunday, we take her to the local RPCNA church, and the congregation sings Psalm 100, in four-part harmony, without instrumental accompaniment.  The next Sunday, we take Ann to a NAPARC church that has a Praise Team and it sings the 100th Psalm.  We ask her the same question about each:  “Ann, what did you hear?”  Here are her answers:

Week One:  “I heard a congregation of voices united together singing Psalm 100.”

Week Two:  “I heard a small number of voices, greatly amplified, singing Psalm 100, and I think I heard other voices, greater in number but lesser in volume, singing along with them.”

Anyone who has been present at such services will attest to the fact that Ann’s answer is accurate.  For content, she heard the same thing (Psalm 100).  But in the one case, she unmistakably heard the congregation unite in singing God’s praise; whereas in the other, she wasn’t even entirely sure she heard a congregation at all.  She’s sure she heard a small number of highly amplified voices, and that these voices were singing together.  But the other voices were quieter and more hesitant.  Why?

Functionally, the Praise Team has replaced the hymnal.  When churches decided to sing contemporary music, they often could not find musical scores, and/or they could not reproduce them for the congregation for legal or financial reasons.  So the Praise Team would rehearse ahead of time (at least they had the musical score) and sing the material.  It was hoped that the congregation would “sing along with” the Praise Team; and it often did, picking up on the song as it went along. But the congregation—even if the members can sight-read music—cannot sing as vigorously or confidently as the Praise Team, for two reasons.  First, the congregation does not have the musical score, and must learn the song by ear.  Second, the Praise Team often varies its instrumental or harmonic parts (and worse, its instrumental bridges) between stanzas, so that the congregation is not entirely sure exactly how each stanza will be sung.  And since the Praise Team alone has rehearsed beforehand, those who operate the microphones must be sure that the Praise Team is not drowned out by the congregation because, after all, only the Praise Team actually knows what is going on.

What Ann hears in the two settings is two very different things, acoustically.  In one, she hears an entire congregation singing robustly together.  In the other, she hears a small, highly amplified ensemble, and possibly she also hears a hesitant group of congregants singing along with them.  Take the test yourself some time, and you will hear what Ann hears.  For just two Sundays, close your eyes during the singing, and listen.  You will hear what Ann hears—two very different things.  But here’s the point and the problem:  in the one case, what she hears–a congregation singing robustly together–is what is commanded; but in the other case, what she hears–an amplified small ensemble, and maybe some others following along hesitantly–is not what is commanded.

The hesitance of the congregational singers is an unavoidable consequence of using a Praise Team rather than a printed (or otherwise displayed) musical score; and the drowning out of the congregation by the Praise Team is due also to the fact that the Praise Team functions as the musical score, albeit one that is heard and not seen.  Some Praise Teams are worse than others, of course.  Some introduce more variations between stanzas than others, and such variations create even more hesitance for the congregation:  Will there be an instrumental bridge between the stanzas or not?  Will the same harmonies be employed in each stanza, or not?  Will portions of the refrain or one of the stanzas be repeated or not?  The congregation does not know—indeed cannot know—how each stanza will sound until it hears it, so the congregation sings tentatively, hesitantly, and a micro-second behind the Praise Team.  The Praise Team has unwittingly become like the third grade jokester who invites you to have a seat, pointing to a chair.  When you go to sit down, the jokester pulls the chair away, and you land on your backside.  The Praise Team does the same thing musically; the congregation never knows (indeed, it can never know) how the Team will perform each stanza until the congregation hears it.  And it can only hear it if the Praise Team is amplified to the point that it effectively overpowers the congregation.

Mrs. Gordon chastised me gently several years ago for saying that I just don’t bother attempting to sing when there’s a Praise Team present.  I explained why:  I was tired of and embarrassed by singing the “Two-Syllable Solo.”  Often the Praise Team goes straight from the first to the second stanza without an instrumental bridge; and does the same thing between the second and third stanza.  I assume that they will go immediately from the third to the fourth, so I vigorously begin singing the fourth stanza only to discover that I am singing a solo; everyone else is waiting to hear when the instrumental bridge will end.  Of course, I catch myself after a few syllables, and I too become like a sheep, waiting to hear what the Praise Team will do next and to follow it sheepishly when it finally decides to do whatever it is that it has decided to do.  Mrs. Gordon has sung a few of her own “Two-Syllable Solos” over the last few years, so she now ordinarily adopts her husband’s practice and does not ordinarily sing when there is a Praise Band present.

In the medieval church, the congregation was invited to join in the singing of praise, but was not able to do so, because the congregants did not know Latin.  So the priests in the front of the building sang the praise, because they alone had the knowledge necessary to do so.  One of Luther’s most intentional reforms was to re-introduce congregational praise, and he did so both by writing almost forty hymns, but also by translating others and encouraging the writing and translating of more (Brown, 2005). For Luther and Calvin, “the priesthood of believers” meant that the entire congregation now offered the sacrifice of praise to God (not just Levitical priests who offered animal sacrifices).  As James Hastings Nichols (1968) put it:

“The most important thing was intelligent participation, resting on full understanding of the language used.…Calvin knew, as did the ancient church, that ‘each Christian bears the exalted title of sacrificer’ (Opera Calvini, XXVII, 407) and has his rightful place in the corporate offering of praise and intercession.  The people should understand and, insofar as possible, unite themselves to voice the sung and spoken prayer of the service.  So they had done in the third and fourth centuries.”

Today, the barrier to full, hearty congregational praise is not the lyrical score (in Latin) but the musical score (withheld from the congregation).  The medieval worshipers did not know the lyrics; we do not know the music.  But in each case, some smaller sub-section of the congregation performs its praise for it, graciously inviting the congregation to participate, but not actually permitting it to do so in a vigorous manner.  What Ann hears is not the congregation/assembly of Jesus Christ; what she hears is a small ensemble, highly amplified.

The Reality More Important than the Term

It should be evident that my concern is for the reality of an amplified ensemble overpowering the congregation; not for what you call it.  But labels sometimes are indicative of the thing denoted thereby, and perhaps the problem with the label indicates a problem with the thing.  Whether we call it a “Praise Team” or a “Praise Band,” either one is problematic.  If we call it a “Praise Band” the title designates a performance, and we hesitate to replace the congregation’s vocal praise with someone else’s performance thereof (even though, in fact, this is largely what the Praise Band does).  If, on the other hand, we designate it a “Praise Team,” well then, what is the congregation?  This may even be worse, by designating a small ensemble within the congregation as those who do the praise.  When we have a “football team” on the field, we on the sidelines observe their performance, but do not play the game ourselves.  Calling the Praise Team a “Praise Team” therefore also denotes something we would rather not say.  But is not this difficulty of finding an appropriate label merely a reflection of the fact that the reality itself is problematic?  Having surrogate praisers is simply out of accord with the teaching of Scripture, which call the entire assembly to present vigorous praise to God.

Crafty Levites could have woven blue, purple, and scarlet cherubim into the tabernacle curtains so cleverly that they blended in with the curtains themselves.  They could have argued that they had kept the command to weave in the cherubim, but no one would have believed their argument.  If you fulfill the command to create a visible thing in such a manner that the visible thing is invisible, then you really have not fulfilled the command.  And if God commands the entire assembly to sing together vigorous praise, and yet Ann does not hear such, the commanded thing is not done.  Whether we “hide” the cherubim with threads that are the same color as the curtains, or whether we “hide” the assembled congregation with an amplified ensemble, in either case we have failed to do what is commanded.  God is enthroned not on the praises of an amplified ensemble; he is enthroned on the “praises of Israel” (Psa. 22:3).

As a final lexical consideration, I note that many defenders of the present liturgical model have coined the expression “contemporary worship music.”  They did not call it “contemporary congregational praise,” and they really could not have done so, since it is evident that the current practice actually makes it difficult for the congregation to sing robustly since no musical score is provided and difficult even to hear them if they do.  But the Scriptures do not command “worship music;” they command congregational praise.  So even the label here is mildly misleading.  If we required people to use the expression “contemporary congregational praise,” we would, in doing so, require them to do those things that enhance such congregational praise, and require them not to continue doing those things that worsen it or hide it.

Works Cited

Brown, C. B. (2005). Singing the gospel: Lutheran hymns and the success of the reformation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nichols, J. H. (1968). Corporate worship in the reformed tradition. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Porter, S. E. (2000). Septuagint/Greek old testament. In Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (eds.) Dictionary of new testament background. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.