Exclusive psalmody limits musical worship in a church service to only the Psalms. Churches which ascribe to this prohibit using any songs that do not originate with scriptural wording within the book of Psalms. Such churches include some Reformed groups such as the Free Church in Scotland and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
Singing worship together goes back thousands of years to the Israelites who sang to the Lord, through the early church described in the New Testament. In Ephesians 5:18–21, Paul instructs the church to "… be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Not only do we employ songs to worship, but also to teach and share the truth of Jesus. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16). Christians also sing songs of praise to express or create joy (James 5:13).
Of course singing the Psalms, and other Scriptures, is allowed, but is it mandated? And, are the Psalms the only words Christians can use for their worship times? Exclusive psalmody says so. Adherents say the inspired words of God (the Bible) should always trump the words of people, no matter how pious, God-honoring, or "inspired" they may be.
Critics of exclusive psalmody say the Bible does not mandate the exclusive use of Psalms for corporate worship. Many would point to Ephesians 5:19 which lists "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" as useful for "singing and making melody to the Lord." Adherents of exclusive psalmody limit corporate worship to the Psalms, not all worship. But the Bible nowhere makes such a distinction or restriction.
Scholars believe many passages of the New Testament record early Christian hymns, such as Ephesians 5:14, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Timothy 2:11–13. Church history shows the use of worship songs written by people such as Martin Luther and John Bunyan.
It seems also that the restriction of the ability of Christians to exercise their gifts of composing worship songs and God-honoring lyrics runs contrary to the purpose of those gifts.
The purpose of worship is to pray, teach the Word, sing, fellowship regularly, and such. Scripture doesn't mandate where or when this is to happen, nor does Scripture regulate such facets as the order of service, offering practices, and the origin of worship songs.
A church may decide to stick to the Psalms while in corporate worship. But can it sing other God-honoring songs? Yes. Even Psalm 96:1 says, "Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!"
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