Confessing Luther's Theology in Song

On July 1, 1523, two Augustinian monks were put to death in Antwerp for refusing to recant the theology of Martin Luther. To honor these martyrs of the faith, Luther wrote his first hymn, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun.” His second hymn would be the more familiar, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (Lutheran Service Book 556). A few months later, the first Lutheran hymnal would be released containing eight hymns for congregational singing. These early milestones opened the floodgates for setting the Biblical theology of Luther to music, which would go on to influence the vast majority of Christianity.

The significance of the common people singing Luther’s theology cannot be overstated. For generations, the faith of Lutherans have been shaped by the Scriptures, the Small Catechism, and the hymnody. Lutheran worship is still shaped by the practice of involving the congregation in the Church’s song by singing hymns that confess the truth of Holy Scripture. It’s not about singing Luther’s hymns, though sometimes we do; it is about singing hymns that proclaim Christ and God’s Word.

Towards the end of the month, Lutheran congregations will likely join in singing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” or “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” However, take time to peruse some of the other hymns by Luther and other Lutheran hymn writers of the past such as Paul Speratus, Phillip Nicolai, and Paul Gerhardt. But also, give thanks to God for those who have risen up in every age to confess Christ through hymns of faith. Newer examples are Pastor Stephen Starke, who has contributed a large canon of hymns in this current hymnal, but also Lisa Clark, from Concordia Publishing House, who has written a growing number of hymns that are being introduced to congregations today.

Just think about it, prior to Luther’s reforms, singing was the function of the choir. Luther brought not only the Scriptures to the hands of the people, but also placed the songs of faith into the mouths of God’s people throughout Christendom. It is good for us to remember Martin Luther for more than just the 95 Theses and the Small Catechism. Give thanks to God for the continued witness of Dr. Luther as you sing every Sunday in worship!

Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan was born in Birmingham, Ala., and graduated from Concordia, Seward, Neb., in 1992. He holds both a Master of Divinity Degree (1996) and Doctorate of Ministry (2011) from Concordia Seminary. Hagan served as Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran in Concordia, Mo. (2002-2015) and was previously an Associate Pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Evansville, Ind. (1996-2002). He has been President of The Missouri District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod since June 2015. Hagan also served as Interim Director, LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission (2011-12), on numerous District Boards both in Missouri and Indiana, and during multiple Synodical Conventions as a delegate and on Floor Committees. He is married to Jill and they have two children.