21 December 2006

What Is RP and What Does It Have To Do With Music In Church?

What Is RP & What Does It Have To Do With Music In Church?

RP is the Regulative Principle in Worship. It essentially states that whatever is not commanded in Worship (this is formal Lord’s Day worship) is forbidden. Most churches worship under the normative principle which, simply put, is that if it’s not forbidden it’s acceptable in worship. From Wikipedia:
The regulative principle of worship is a Christian theological doctrine teaching that the public worship of God should include those and only those elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible; that God institutes in Scripture everything he requires for worship in the Church, and everything else is prohibited.
The regulative principle is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship, which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, so long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In other words, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.
The normative principle of worship is the generally accepted approach to worship practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists. The regulative principle of worship is generally practiced by the conservative Reformed churches, Restoration Movement, and in other conservative Protestant denominations, and it finds expression in confessional documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.
Some groups reject the use of musical instruments in worship on this ground [1]. Such groups may argue that there is no example of musical instruments for worship in the New Testament, and/or that the Old Testament uses of instruments in worship were specifically tied to the ceremonial laws of the Temple in Jerusalem (like the Old Testament sacrificial system), and are not applicable in the church. Many early Calvinists eschewed musical instruments in worship, and this practice typified Presbyterians, and other Reformed and Calvinist churches. In recent times, since the 1800s, most of these churches no longer exclude instruments.
(The above article is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulative_principle_of_worship)

So why is this important and why is it important to the Christian music community and to others that simply just want to go to church and worship? Two reasons, those churches that adhere to the RP normally, but not always, also subscribe to Exclusive Psalmody (singing only the Psalms) and do so with no musical instruments. Let me interject at this point that I wholeheartedly agree with RP and Psalmody except for a few areas which I will detail here. I am staunchly Reformed! However, I am not the only one who disagrees with the notion that to be RP one also must be EP. Take, for example, the Bible Presbyterians. View their website here: http://bpc.org/ and read their articles on music in worship. With great clarity they explain why EP it not required when a church otherwise follows the RP.

So where does this leave us? Let me put forth a few thoughts for the reader to consider.
Though I am not EP I am very close to it. Why, I here you asking? Because of the plethora of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) that has such poorly written and/or downright unbiblical lyrics. (Add to that the feminized, over-emotional lyrics to many of these songs – guys how can you sing these and not feel a twinge of uneasiness?) Solution? Sing the Psalms. We don’t have to concern ourselves with theological error if we do.

My overall suggestion, therefore, is to sing the Psalms more often and more often to modern tunes. It’s interesting to note that singing the Psalms exclusively somehow also means to old tunes exclusively, often old hymn tunes. Now I find nothing wrong with the old tunes until they’re thrust upon me to use them exclusively. Musical worship can and should be a blend of old and new tunes, Psalms, hymns, songs, etc., reverently used with Christian wisdom and prudence befitting Lord’s Day Worship. But as I don’t believe we are required to be EP, what about hymns and songs? As long as the lyrics are not in theological error let’s go for it and in like manner, i.e., with some modern tunes.

But there is the next rub. Those in the EP camp sing only acapella. There are good arguments for using instruments and those have been made so I won’t detail those here (once again, see the articles at the Bible Presbyterian website and by the way, I do not belong to that denomination). Suffice it to say that I am not in that camp. Have you heard a congregation sing the Psalms acapella? Ouch! It’s painful. Off key, off tempo, monotone and altogether not praiseworthy. If we are to be giving our best in worship having the musical accompaniment makes it easier for the congregation to sing the correct notes and make the music what it should be. The music should accompany the lyrics, not overtake. This is praise to our God, not a concert.

I keep advocating modern tunes, why? Well, as stated above, I’m not advocating the discontinuation of the older tunes; many of them are pretty sweet. Nor am I pushing anyone to sing death metal. But as time marches on so should we. Why should we only sing tunes that are 100, 200, and 300 years old? Our old tunes were new then. As we continue to strive to learn and work for our Lord in every other area of human endeavor we should not neglect music. Some of us are musicians so let them write pleasing music that can be played and sung to our Great God.

Let me summarize all these disjointed ramblings:

Let’s mostly sing the Psalms
Let’s sing hymns and songs after careful scrutiny of the lyrics
Let’s sing the Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to old tunes and new tunes
Let’s sing with musical accompaniment used judiciously

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