Circumstance of Worship (Singing as a)

“Circumstance” in the Westminster standards refers to matters such as a place for worship, time to assemble, length of Scripture to be read, what tune to sing, and so on. It does not refer to the actual content of the truth being taught. Since all songs teach by their words, the songs cannot be a mere circumstance of worship. Consider also that the Scriptures contain clear instructions concerning what is to be sung: the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs of the Book of Psalms. Jesus sang these Psalms. Clearly, he did not sing them just because, circumstantially, they happened to please him. Therefore, what is sung cannot be a mere circumstance left to be decided according to the light of nature and Christian prudence.”[1]

“In a recent discussion of psalmody, Stephen Pribble, a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, claims that while the Bible authorizes the practice of worship song, it does not indicate any particular text to be used in worship song.[2] His argument is designed to deny a specific divine appointment, because where there is a specific appointment of worship elements or religiously-significant circumstances, the biblical regulative principle would exclude additions. This objection not only fails to appreciate that the biblical narrative specifically declares that the Psalms composed by David and the seers are for use in worship song,[3] but it also overlooks the canonicity of the Book of Psalms. The very inclusion of the Psalter in the canon constitutes a divine prescription for its use in the church’s worship song. It is passing strange to assert that the Lord has not indicated any particular text for use in worship song, when the Lord has given the church, in the canon of inspired Scripture, a collected book of one hundred fifty worship songs. Such assertions question whether the contents of the biblical canon are a reliable indication of what God intends to be used in the church’s worship; one might as well argue that the composition of the canon provides no specific indication that the sixty-six books in the canon are those to be used when the Word of God is read in the church’s worship.”[4]

1RPCNA Synod’s Study Committee on Worship. “The Psalms in the Worship of the Church.” Submitted to the Synod of the RPCNA, June 2004. First Reformed Presbyterian of Cambridge. PDF article.
2The author’s footnote: Stephen Pribble, “The Regulative Principle and Singing in Worship,” The Presbyterian Advocate 3, nos. 9-10 (November-December 1993): 25-26, 29.
3The author’s footnote: “The section of the majority report dealing with the Old Testament material, apparently written by Edward J. Young, acknowledges that the biblical narrative identifies specific song texts used in worship, but Young does not consider the implications of this biblical specificity for the operation of the regulative principle. “Report of the Committee on Song,” p. 53: “We know definitely from I Chronicles 16 that the content of some of our present psalms was used in worship. It is obvious from other psalms that they were intended for use in the public worship of God; see Pss. 95:2, 27:6, and 100:4. Another reference which clearly gives an indication as to the content of song is II Chron. 29:30, where Hezekiah expressly commanded the use of the words of David and Asaph the seer for a certain occasion of worship.”
4Isbell, Sherman. “The Singing of Psalms.” The Westminster Presbyterian. Presbytery of the United States, in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Web. January 9, 2016.