Since its establishment in 1843, the Free Church of Scotland gave a prime place to the singing of psalmody in its worship, and since 1905 the Free Church admitted only the singing of unaccompanied psalms to its worship. Exclusive use of the psalter, sung without instrumental support, was considered to be “inspired praise,” an important category for this Presbyterian/Reformed body of about 120 congregations in Scotland, England and North America. This stance allowed for the maintenance and growth of a rich corpus of a capella metrical settings in a lively choral tradition. Video clips offering examples of psalms and interesting commentary, taken from the Fhurch’s DVD “Sing a New Song,” are on the Free Church’s website. Also available elsewhere on the site are audio clips of a number of psalms.
This past week, the Assembly (governing body of commissioners) of the Free Church of Scotland met in an extraordinary “plenary” session to consider the findings of a Report on Worship by the Free Church’s Board of Trustees. This report came on the heels of five years of deliberation (and, at times, dissent) about the nature of worship in the Free Church and what Scripture permits in worship. Although the report recognized that a variety of positions were held by leaders and others in the Church, it recommended maintaining status quo. Yesterday (Friday, November 19), however, the Plenary Assembly in a narrow (98 to 84) majority voted to allow extra-biblical texts to be sung in worship, with each Kirk Session (somewhat equivalent to a vestry or parish council, though the members are “ordained” when installed in office) being free to determine whether or not instruments will be used in worship.
The General Assembly ordain that, with regard to the sung praise of congregations in worship, each Kirk Session shall have freedom, either to restrict the sung praise to the Psalms, or to include paraphrases of Scripture, and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the doctrine of the Confession of Faith; that each Kirk Session shall have freedom whether to permit musical accompaniment to the sung praise in worship, or not.
— Findings of the Assembly, par. 7
The Findings of the Assembly (the decision and its rationale) can be found here.
Additionally, a number of theological and “position” papers on worship in the Free Church of Scotland are available here.