This inconsistency, in this matter of acceptable praise, arises with many exclusive Psalmists having no problem singing uninspired hymns or songs outside of public corporate worship when at home or in other circumstances. This inconsistency is compounded by the fact that these items of uninspired praise are often accompanied with music. No musical accompaniment is permitted in public corporate worship but seemingly allowable in family worship or personal devotions.
Dr. John Kennedy of Dingwall, a fervent believer in exclusive psalmody in his day, acknowledged, maybe unwittingly, that this inconsistent distinction does indeed exist in the practice of exclusive psalmists. When speaking in a debate on this very issue in the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1872, he said:
Some desire them [hymns] because of an experience of enjoyment in using them, in private or in social Christian conference, to express their feeling of sorrow, hope, or gladness. Let these continue so to use them; I will yield to none in my desire to have them as a vehicle of any strong spiritual feeling that stirs my heart; but to use them in the worship of God in the sanctuary is quite another thing.
However, this begs the question: where are the grounds for arguing that this phrase 'psalms, hymns and spiritual songs' only applies to public corporate worship in the sanctuary according to the regulative principle? There is nothing in the context of these two texts, or elsewhere in Scripture, that supports the claim that only corporate, public worship is in view. These two texts would, when taken at face value, cover all types of worship, whether public, family or personal.
This type of practice, where only unaccompanied 'inspired' praise from the Psalter is used in public worship but a different standard is allowable at other times, necessarily leads to two levels of worship. The outcome is one level for public worship, which consists of unaccompanied 'inspired' praise according to the regulative principle; and one for family/private worship which consists of uninspired praise and musical accompaniment.
You would wonder where this leaves open air meetings, of which there were many in the evangelical history of Presbyterians, especially in Scotland?
There is simply no Scriptural warrant for this at all. These New Testament texts [Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16 ] do not limit the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs just to corporate worship but to all worship. If they do teach, as exclusive psalmists claim, that we must sing psalms then this is applicable to all forms of praise in worship.
Whether that worship is in public or in private, God is always to be worshipped in the same manner as to what we sing, pray or teach. In family and private prayer we are to pray in exactly the same way as we do in public; in reading and expounding the Scriptures we are to treat the Word of God in the same fashion whether in the public or family/personal arena.
The setting may change from public to family/private but the content of our worship ever remains the same. Except that is in the praise of some exclusive psalmists. They have a different, lower standard for worship outside the public sanctuary.
It is surely highly inconsistent to refuse to sing praise in corporate worship not in the psalter and make the comments that they do about those who do otherwise, while at the same time singing the same or similar praise in family or personal devotions and that with music.
This inconsistency is also against the credal position outlined in The Westminster Confession of Faith, which states in Chapter 21, section 6:
Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable to, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.
This concept of two levels of worship is heading perilously close towards the popish belief in different levels of veneration/worship for the saints, Mary and the Lord. It is virtually impossible to distinguish between these levels of worship with Romanism. It is also impossible and unbiblical to seek to make a distinction between the praise sung in the sanctuary and that sung on other occasions.
Previous posts on this subject:
1. The terms 'Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs' inEphesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16 do not refer to the 150 Psalms of the Book of Psalms.
2. Old Testament and New Testament saints did not live by this exclusive psalmist rule.
3. The angels and glorified saints did not sing the psalms.
4. There are possible remnants of hymns/canticles/doxologies quoted in the New Testament.
5. Progressive revelation argues against Exclusive Psalmody.