53 – Revisiting the Kensrule

Psalm 53

Psalm 53 in the ESV – Hey, did you see that Relight now has the ESV and the KJV?

Listen to the Episode

We’re Back!

This is our first episode back from our “summer” hiatus. Thanks for sticking with us. We start out by talking about what we’ve been up to and listening to. A big shoutout to Poor Bishop Hooper who has just completed their EveryPsalm series with Psalm 150.

Main Topic: Revisiting the Royalties Argument

A brief peek behind the curtain…

  • Grant came up with the idea to revisit the topic from #14 since Psalm 53 and Psalm 14 are nearly identical. This was about a year ago.
  • I came up with the idea to talk about holding in tension the Royalties Argument and the Kensrule.
  • We all (this was back when Justin was still on the show, though it is worth noting that he is still active in the community) agreed that we wanted to give ourselves adequate time to prepare for this episode, because we all saw the potential for its helpfulness.
  • We immediately came to a disagreement between the Presbyterians and Baptists on the understanding of the Kensrule 
  • This disagreement led to
    • 1) some good conversations about how Covenant theology trickles into worship and 
    • 2) some challenging conversations about mysticism in worship
  • The second item in particular led me to personally dig very deeply into the subject, and as a result I have actually flipped on a few of my stances. Over the next few episodes I will address these changes.

For the rest of this episode I want to share some of the details of the rabbit hole that very nearly led to the end of this podcast.

Ultimately, the conversations I had led to three perspectives on how to interpret the Kensrule. The boring part of the conversation is that all three of these perspectives handedly said “there is no tension to hold between the royalties argument and the Kensrule: don’t play songs that pay real money to people who are using it against the kingdom of God”.

I agree with this assessment, even more after having had these conversations. However, what I was really trying to pin down was this question: “Royalties aside (think “public domain”), does it take glory away from God to worship Him by singing a song that was written by an unregenerate, yet sincere church member in good standing with the church community and leadership?”

This question is a big question, because it includes songs like “It Is Well With My Soul” which has been sung by many Christians for many decades, and it challenges the legitimacy of believers’ worship when they do choose these songs. It also raises the question of “how can I know for certain that this particular songwriter from 1873 was actually a Christian, and if he wasn’t a Christian, am I blaspheming God unknowingly by singing it?”

These questions made me reconsider Psalmody Exclusivity once more, but ultimately I could see that there is a gnostic element to that line of thinking at its core, though on the surface it seems legitimate.

Contemplating the question through months of conversation, I settled on three possible answers:

  1. Songwriters under the Abrahamic Covenant will receive the blessings of regularly hearing biblical teaching, regularly receive prayer from other members, and regularly be ministered through the spiritual gifts of other members. As such, this Covenant membership justifies their songwriting and makes it useful for congregational worship.

This is a more or less original thought. It makes sense to me based on my understanding of the Covenant as well as my personal experience. However, since it is an original idea, and since there is no such thing as new doctrine, just old repackaged heresies, I was very nervous to keep promoting this idea, especially as Truth.

For more information on what we believe about God’s Covenant with us, see Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7

  1. Songwriters who were never Christians never fully understood the gospel and were never able to worship God properly. As such, any song they wrote was ultimately to a god made in the likeness of the songwriter. Using this song takes glory away from God and is not useful for congregational worship.

This thought comes from a more Reformed Baptist view of Covenant membership and rejects the idea of Covenantal abandonment. This is also taken to its logical conclusion regarding the glory of God.

With both of these first two thoughts, however, we fall into the trap of seeing music as more mystical than it is. It can actually be very easy to treat music and songwriting as a sacrament! The final thought rejects the view of sacramental songwriting.

  1. Songwriters in good standing sitting under good teaching will tend towards having a better head knowledge of theology and can incorporate that knowledge into their songwriting. Also, in order for a song to be useful for congregational worship, there does not need to be an “original worship experience” that mystically makes it possible for future legitimate worship experiences. As such, each song should be judged for legitimacy only on its own merit through various discernment processes.

This third view is the view I now hold. The Royalties (and the Guilt By Association) Arguments are still major things to consider, but as far as “The Origin Element” goes, nothing about a song’s origin gives it “worship legitimacy” nor does it take legitimacy away from the song.

Thanks for listening

The Balm of Gilead podcast is a member of the Tech Reformation family of podcasts. If you enjoy the show, please share it with others. We enjoy hearing from you, so join us on our Discord and let us know what you’re thinking. If email is more your thing, write to us at thereis <at> balmcast <dot> com. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time, Lord willing.

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