Gently Introducing Psalm Singing at College
The following post is a guest article by Anna (Pulliam) Carini, a senior at Wheaton College studying cello performance and philosophy. It offers ideas and serves as an example of how gently to bring to others the means of grace of singing God’s Word.
Psalm singers are rare outside the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
As a senior at Wheaton College, I’ve learned a lot from my fellow believers on the subject of worship and psalm singing. I was blessed to grow up at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, and though I despised a cappella psalm singing when I was younger (especially being a cellist), I grew to love and appreciate it greatly. However, in a campus of a couple thousand believers, I am one of only a few Wheaton students who believe that psalm singing is best, and I have had a great desire to see the practice grow.
The main point I’ve learned in encouraging others to sing psalms is that conviction of exclusive psalmody should not always be the ultimate goal. When I went away to college, I felt lonely as a psalm singer. I was overly concerned with people understanding a correct theology of worship. But my parents wisely advised me to just start singing with friends and not worry about convincing people of exclusive psalmody. Now, I am thankful to be able to sing psalms with a group of friends every Sunday night, with new people often joining us.
Lessons I have learned:
1) Many people do not know you can sing the psalms (at least, other than Psalm 23, 62, and 100). “The psalter” is a foreign term, and even after people are introduced to singing psalms, they find it incredibly awkward to actually sing when they can hear themselves singing. It’s similar to how uncomfortable I feel when I sing with a worship band playing so loudly I can’t hear myself sing. We are used to the way we worshipped growing up, and we must be sensitive to how others might feel.
2) It is only by grace that I am blessed to have grown up singing psalms, not because of my convictions or intellect. Just as the doctrines of grace are true for salvation, they are true for every other blessing God gives me, including a theology of worship. I Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Thus, it is not my gift to keep but one to share with others.
3) The psalms can be very difficult to understand. The Book of Psalms is often treated as a treasure chest of unidentified objects with a few pieces of gold in it. There are treasured psalms that have gem-like verses, but if the harder ones are never sung, there’s not as much incentive to understand them. Without growing up doing it, singing the imprecatory psalms could be as strange as speaking the curses of Deuteronomy 27 or of some other Old Testament passage.
4) We must recognize how difficult it is for people to start singing psalms. Four-part harmony and a cappella singing is almost unheard of in worship today. And while melodies can be learned and practiced with a piano, understanding some of the texts and appreciating the depth is another obstacle.
5) We must introduce psalms to others, especially by singing with them! I have lost count of how many psalters I have shown and given to people at Wheaton because I have just asked people to sing with me. They become so excited to sing them (if they have gotten over the awkwardness of hearing themselves sing).
The gift of psalm singing should be shared, regardless of someone’s convictions of what should happen in worship. The bottom line is that we are commanded to sing them, and the more we encourage that to happen, rather than just debating fine points of Scripture, the more psalms will be sung.