Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm-singing for Vigorous Kingdom Service (part 3)

So far in our series of posts about the martial ethos of historic Reformed worship, cultivated as it was by the godly singing of the Psalms, we have noted Dr. Reid’s bold claim that this particular music developed a peculiar resolve in the hearts of Calvinists who were forced to use weapons to defend their lives and promote their liberty. Unlike the Lutherans, who after the Peace of Augsburg (1555) did not have to take up arms to defend themselves against hostile enemies, the Reformed were in a much different position and would spend the next 150 years marching out to battlefields and being marched to the stake to be burnt in the flames for holding to their Calvinistic, Reformed faith. These assertions are simple matters of fact, and Dr. Reid has made the argument that what galvanized the hearts of the Reformed around their cause, trained their hands to fight, and steeled their courage to endure intense persecution, was the singing of the psalms. Beyond that, we have seen that the construction of the Geneva Psalter, which was a life long pursuit of Calvin completed in 1562, left the Reformed with a song book comprised of nothing but the psalms bequeathing a distinct heritage of psalm-singing that would serve as a badge of identity and strengthen their morale in the face of persecution and conflict (p.42). That leads us in this post to address the question of why the Psalms had this effect by expounding the three reasons Dr. Reid furnishes as answers which account for it.
            First, Reid argues that psalm-singing provided the Reformed with a distinct identity (p.43). It appears that this distinctive practice was so prominent among the Reformed that they were derisively labeled as “psalm-singers” by those from without. It is not too difficult to understand how this practice could have served as such vivid and accurate label when we consider that all the rest of the churches of 16th century Europe sang what could be called “sacred music” meaning hymns and canticles accompanied by an organ. Encountering the “strangeness” of Reformed worship (a cappella singing) in that day would have left just as much of an impression upon the casual observer of the peculiarity of the practice, as it would in our church context today which almost entirely dominated by praise and worship music. So, singing of the Psalms had the effect of strengthening the Reformed to face opposition and conflict because it gave them a distinct identity which was as peculiar as it was easy to identify.
            Second, Reid proposes that the identity shaped by psalm-singing produced unity among the Reformed (p.43). The bonds of unity were not only reinforced by sharing in the same practice of worship and the singing of psalms exclusively, it was also cultivated by sharing in a common cause and profession of faith expressed in the psalms. Beyond that Reid points out that the Reformed shared a profound sense of being enlisted in a common battle for the defense and promotion of the kingdom of God even to the point of bearing of arms in battle. Evidence for this form of unity is indicated in the fact that they sang the Psalms in unison as battle songs while they marched in columns toward fields of battle gaining the confidence every step of the way that “no matter what would take place they were on the Lords, i.e., the winning side” (p.43). Not only did the Psalms play a significant role in building up confidence and courageous resolve as the Reformed marched out to battle, they also united their hearts in praise as they gave thanks to the Lord for victory with psalms. So psalm-singing cultivated unity among the Reformed as they rallied together around the common cause of promoting the kingdom of God.
            Third, Reid makes the case that the singing of the psalms had a profound effect upon the Reformed because they were convinced that they could legitimately appropriate them to themselves. A primary point of departure for appropriating the psalms to themselves was by identifying the new covenant church as the continuation of the covenant people of God who were bonded together in covenant with the sovereign Lord. By singing the psalms in worship and in a host of informal contexts they bore witness to this relationship. Hopeful that the psalms would be used for this very purpose Clarence Marot wrote, in his dedicatory address of his own publication of 49 metrical psalms in 1543, that it “would a happy time when prayer would flourish, with the laborer at his plow, the carter in the street, and the craftsmen in his shop singing psalms to ease their work” (p.44). Hostile witnesses provide more than ample evidence that Marot’s wishes were fulfilled as Roman Catholic Claude Haton, wrote in his memoirs the Huguenots sang psalms “to move their hearts” and fellow Catholic M. de Casteleneau observed that the “harmonious and delectable singing stirred the Calvinists to proclaim the praises of the Lord no matter what the circumstances” (p.44). Clearly, even beyond the walls of houses of worship, the Reformed testified to their identity as the covenant people of God as they took His sacred songs upon their lips in praise.

In our next post we will chronicle some of the opposition mounted against the psalm-signing Calvinists by their bitter enemies.

1 comment:

David Rothstein said...

Thanks so much for these lengthy series on the history of Reformed worship. I've struggled to maintain my own practice of exclusive psalm singing for the past 6-7 years in spite of being a member of an OP church that sticks with the Trinity Hymnal. (It hasn't been easy!) Why oh why do Reformed churches insist on worship that is not historically Reformed--or inconsistently Reformed? Why is Calvin's theology good enough for us but not his theory of worship? How I long for Reformed churches to be more consistently Reformed in this area. Thanks again. These essays are a breath of fresh air.