28 June, 2008

Worship - A Pastoral Resource Letter

Rev. Robert McCurley of the Greenville congregation recently composed a letter to his congregation in which he provides an overview of several important and helpful resources regarding the topic of worship. For those interested in learning more about purity of worship, psalmody, etc. this letter provides an excellent launching point for such study. The benefit lies not only in its sound direction to tried and true resources, but in that it also makes it easy to locate the resources electronically. Please find it posted below. Also, you will find a link to Rev. McCurley's sermons in the column to the right of this page.

Dear Congregation,

A few people have recently asked for material that they could use for themselves or that they could give to their friends and family that would explain the biblical basis for the singing of Psalms in worship without musical instruments. While at risk of inundating you with information, I thought that I would compile a number of resources in one easily accessible place. This will enable various people to pick and choose from the online resources that best suit their needs. This extensive list is an attempt to help you and not overwhelm you.

The best brief introduction to Psalm-singing is a booklet by G. I. Williamson, a retired OPC minister, entitled, "The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God". If someone is only going to read one thing, then I would recommend this piece by Williamson. It can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms-in-the-worship-of-god.php. In addition, there is the 1947 minority report of the OPC, written by Professor John Murray and William Young, which has come to be viewed as something of a classic 20th century statement. This is also a small piece. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/song-in-the-public-worship-of-god.php. One of our FCC ministers, John Keddie, has also written a small book entitled, Sing the Lord's Song. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/sing-the-lords-song-biblical-psalms-in-worship.php. The most comprehensive, contemporary book on singing Psalms exclusively in worship is, The Songs of Zion, by Michael Bushell. This is a more substantial book and can be borrowed from the GPC church library. You may also be interested in a series of articles by Pastor Sherman Isbell on exclusive psalmody in which he powerfully refutes the objections to exclusive psalmody that have been appeared in the last couple of decades. This series of articles begins at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms.php. Pastor Isbell has also written a helpful introduction to the split-leaf Scottish Psalter that we use in our congregation, which was produced in conjunction with the Westminster Assembly. The article can be found at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/how-to-use-a-split-leaf-psalter-a-book-review.php. I would also commend a nice overview about Christ in the Psalms by E. S. McKitrick, which is found online at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/christ-in-the-psalms.php. All of these above links are to Pastor Isbell's website, The Westminster Presbyterian. The homepage for his site is: [the website's contents have now been transferred to the Presbytery's site: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/ -JM, 15 June 2009]. Pastor Isbell is one of my closest friends and our FCC pastor in Washington D.C. His website has a gold mine of articles on a wide variety of topics from the classical Reformed and Puritan perspective.

A brief introduction to the question of musical instruments in worship is, "Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?" by G.I. Williamson. This can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/instrumental-music-in-worship-commanded-or-not-commanded.php. If you want something to listen to on this topic, I preached a sermon on the biblical basis for not having instruments in New Testament worship entitled, Musical Instruments in Worship, which can be found online at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1140719162. We have a few books in the church library that address this topic. The best full-length book is by John L. Girardeau entitled, Instrumental Music in Worship, which is available in the GPC library. Girardeau was a 19th century South Carolinian Presbyterian pastor and theologian.

Underlying both the question of instruments and Psalm-singing is a more fundamental Reformed doctrine called the regulative principle of worship, which is spelled out in the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessional statements. Much of the above material on Psalm-singing and musical instruments in worship will contain information on the regulative principle of worship. For additional introductory material on the regulative principle of worship itself, you can read the following: "Regulated Worship" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/worship.html; "The Heavenly Sanctuary" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/temple.html; "The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship" by G.I. Williamson beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php; "The Second Commandment" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-second-commandment.php; "The Puritan Principle of Worship" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-puritan-principle-of-worship.php.

I have previously circulated to the congregation electronic audio filies of most of the tunes in our Psalter, which is a helpful aid in learning new tunes at home. This can be made available to others upon request. There are also several CD recordings of singing from the Scottish Psalter -- from various folks in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia and the US. You can order some of these from www.psalms4u.com. My personal favorite is entitled, Performed in Heaven, seen at:http://www.christianfocus.com/search/do/-/-/n_t?term=performed+in+heaven&type=all This and several others have to be ordered from Britain ( e.g., the FP Bookshop: http://www.fpbookroom.org/.

I hope that this e-mail adequately supplies the kind of material that some of your were requesting. If you still want more after you have read all of the material in this e-mail, please let me know. There is much more material once we turn to the historic Reformed writings.

If there is anything else that I can do to be of help in this regard, please do not hesitate to ask. May the Lord pour out the abundant riches of grace upon you and your families.

Warm Regards,

Pastor Rob McCurley

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