Sing Gaelic Acapella Psalms or Get Out

Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Christian Music, Church History | No Comments

The Free Church of Scotland is at the cutting edge of the 19th century in terms of its controversies, but it’s current one is bordering on a crisis.

Until recently, I was a member in the Free Church of Scotland; a small presbyterian denomination principally centered around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It is staunchly Calvinist in doctrine and traditional to a degree that most people in evangelical circles in America will find startling. In terms of music, only psalms were permitted in public worship out of a genuine fear of singing things which were questionable or erroneous. Psalms were only sung a capella, and in many cases, in Gaelic.

No instruments were allowed and no ‘un-inspired’ songs were sung. Gaelic Psalm Singing was led by a ‘precentor’ who would ‘line-out’ the psalm in a call-and-response style. Then, a few months ago, a Plenary Assembly of the church voted (by a very small margin) to allow both instruments to be used and hymns to be sung should a congregation wish to. One high-profile minister left the church, a group of disgruntled members and office-bearers set about a campaign to have the decision overturned, and the upcoming General Assembly of the church has the potential to be divisive. I was chatting to an older friend of mine who is a notable precentor in the church about the situation. His response was brilliant.

“If you went to one of those places where Christians are being persecuted for their faith, went to a prison cell and said to one of them, “Oh, our church is on the verge of schism just now. I’d love to hear your opinion about it… Should we sing psalms or hymns? And in either case, should we use instruments or not?” the guy would reach through the bars and punch you.”

Fair point. So which battles are worth fighting for? And at what point does the fight become ridiculous?

Contributed by Iain MacKinnon, Worship Leader, Isle of Lewis, Scotland