Singing with Luther
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
As Lutherans across the globe commemorate the Reformation this weekend, the strains of A Mighty Fortress will fill churches and the worshippers will sing Lutheran doctrine. Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s first hymn, written in German. While this idea does not seem so revolutionary, it certainly was in 1523. Singing in the church was done by a choir and was not done in the vernacular. The fact that Dr. Luther and other early supporters of the Reformation began to set Lutheran doctrine to song in the language of the people became extremely influential.
There are two excellent volumes by music scholars that treat the role of hymnody in the Reformation that are worth reading as we approach next year’s milestone. The first is by renowned musicologist Robin Leaver, The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg (Eerdmans, 2017). The second is Christopher Boyd Brown’s Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation (Harvard, 2005). Brown writes, “Indeed, among the many cultural forms Lutherans employed in the service of the Gospel, they produced a tradition of religious music second to none…Lutheran hymns – whether in Latin or in German – found secure places in the schools, churches, and homes of Germany where they conveyed Evangelical teaching in memorable form to succeeding generations.” (170)
Our piety and faith continue to be blessed and shaped by hymns that convey Lutheran doctrine. Five millennia after the Reformation began there is still a great influence on the faith of congregations and individuals by Luther and his colleague and his descendants. From Paul Speratus and Paul Gerhardt to Martin Franzmann and Jaroslav Vajda in the past to today’s generation of new hymnwriters, our faith is edified by hymns and songs where the focus is on Christ and His gifts that will shape the faith of saints for generations to come. On Sunday, may you be reminded of the blessing that God provides to His people through the great hymns that confess the faith.
Prayer – Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan