Since moving to Scotland I have had the privilege of preaching in churches which sing no hymns (in the traditional meaning of that word) but employ only metrical Psalms in their worship. These Christians are generally earnest, sincere and, as far as one can observe, godly folk. I do, however, feel sorry for them, for they are missing out on a glorious part of our Christian heritage. Not only so, but I believe their insistence on exclusive Psalmody is a serious mistake.
One Free Church minister expressed his conviction in these words,”We use only divinely inspired words in worship.” That is quite plainly wrong. Why? Because they pray extempore prayers in the services. Is prayer not worship? Or do they consider their man-made prayers to be divinely inspired and on a par with Scripture? To the best of my knowledge, not one exclusive Psalmody preacher uses only prayers from the Bible. Many ministers would also include preaching as an act of worship, but no minister preaches only sermons from the Bible.
Some churches who restrict singing to the Psalms also insist on the King James version of the Bible for Scripture reading. I asked a leader in one such church if a metrical Psalm could be used as the Scripture reading. I was told, “No, it must be the AV.” I can undrstand that, as the metrical Psalms are a paraphrase. Most who insist on Psalm only would deny that they are a paraphrase, and would prefer just to use the word “metrical version.” But they do not exactly render the original. To take but one example, easy to spot, the shortest Psalm, Pslm 117, has the word “accord” added which is not in the original. In fact the NKJV is nearer to the AV in that Psalm. So you can sing the metrical Psalms but cannot read them as the reading.
I then asked if it would be in order to quote a hymn in my prayers or my sermon, and the answer was that this would be quite in order. So one can read or quote hymns but cannot sing them in public worship. One person gave as a reason that there are so many poor or rubbishy hymns. That is quite true. But there are also many glorious hymns. Even some of the hymns of Charles Wesley were rubbish, according to his brother John, which is why they have been unused for centuries. But we do not abandon preaching because heretical sermons are preached. Nor do we abandon the Bible because there are some very bad translations around.
A leader in a Psalms only church told me that they considered only Psalm-singing to be “pure” worship. By implication that means those of us who use hymns are offering impure worship. All the great and godly ministers of the past who used hymns, and who often wrote them, and all the millions who sing them were and are employing impure worship, according to that opinion.
The tragedy is that even today churches are being split and ministers are leaving their churches over this issue. One cannot help but feel that exclusive Psalmody is not only a serious error, but amounts to sectarianism, legalism and unnecessary schism.
One thing I am eternally grateful for is the rich heritage of Christian hymns, many of which I learned as a child. Almost every day, in my private devotions, I read at least one hymn and often sing it. These dear mistaken people, by limiting themselves to the Psalms, are losing out on a glorious source of devotion and praise. They seem to be locked into the Old Covenant, and have not entered into the glorious freedom of New Covenant blessings.