Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Luther and hymns

Most Lutherans love to sing the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." It is certainly Luther's best known contribution to church music. But Luther was a prolific writer of texts as well as tunes. He was an acclaimed singer. Most of all, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the importance of congregational singing.

This was in marked contrast to a thousand years of precendent before his time. In the 4th century, the Laodicean Council made this argument: "If laymen are forbidden to preach and interpret the Scriptures, much more are they forbidden to sing publicly in church."

Martin Luther's stance was the diametric opposite. "Let God speak to His people through the Scriptures; let His people respond with the singing of hymns," he wrote. Furthermore, he held music in such high esteem that he remarked, "Next to theology, I give the first and highest honor to music."

Luther's music was an important tool in shaping the Reformation and winning adherents to his cause. Joyful hymns should continue to be a highlight of our services. As Kenneth Osbeck wrote in his book Singing with Understanding, "Atheism has its arguments but no songs...the entertainment world introduces thousands of new lyrics and melodies each year, but few meet the heart-felt needs of the human soul and thereby survive the test of time."

Our Lutheran legacy and theology are encapsulated in the ELW - sing it loud and proud, knowing how valuable those hymns are!


  1. Now if we could just sing them all auf Deutsch...

  2. I would be happy if people sang them in English

  3. Another of Luther's contributions was using the vernacular in worship, but it is still so fun to sing some of the Christmas Carols in German or Norwegian! I notice a little Spanish slipping into the ELW also. I look forward to learning those so maybe someday others will look forward to expressing themselves in a variety of ways.