Reflection by Pastor Shawn Bawulski:
This week we are going to try something during our Sunday worship service at COGS: we’re going to sing a Psalm a cappella. I’ve gathered that this has not been a common practice at COGS, if ever. But I think it will be an enriching and encouraging experience for us.
I first encountered a cappella psalmity when I moved to Scotland. Growing up in a typical North American Evangelical church tradition, I was familiar with praise bands leading the congregation in the latest hits of contemporary worship. I was also familiar with singing hymns. But I didn’t realize that singing Psalms during corporate worship was even an option until I started attending a Presbyterian church in St Andrews, Scotland. It was a refreshing practice for me.
Singing the Psalms is a longstanding tradition in the last 2,000 years of Christian worship. It was especially emphasized by some of the Protestant Reformers, who understood themselves to be returning the church back to a focus on Scripture. So what better way to do that than to sing the Word of God? In fact, twice in the New Testament God commands us to sing the psalms (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).
Singing the Psalms together has several benefits. First, we sing and proclaim the Word of God. Second, music has a special way of sticking in our minds and hearts. Many of us can probably remember the songs we sang in church as children, even to this day. And many of us have famous hymns permanently written into our minds (for example, finish the line: “A mighty fortress is our God, a…”). So singing the Psalms can help us memorize and meditate on Scripture. Third, the Psalms capture the full range of human emotion and experience. Our worship should strive to do the same, but traditions that neglect the Psalms have a tendency to neglect experiences like doubt, lament, and wrestling with suffering. Along these lines, the pastor, theologian, and reformer John Calvin writes that the Psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here [in the Psalms] as a mirror.” Certainly our corporate worship should reflect the full emotional range of the life of the saints, and singing the Psalms is an excellent way to do so.