Why Lutherans Sing

This article was originally posted in The Lutheran Ambassador, the AFLC magazine.

Lutherans are known as “the singing church” and Martin Luther has been called “the father of congregational singing.”  But why do we sing?  Is it simply our tradition?  Is it an appropriate way to express our emotions of gratitude and love toward God?  Is it a biblically sanctioned part of worship (Psalm 66:1-2)?  Does it help bind us together as a community?  The answer is yes to all these questions about communal Christian singing in the Church.  However, there is another excellent reason Lutherans sing:  hymn singing is an important part of our Christian education.

Maybe you thought the children were just having fun singing all those Sunday School songs.  They are having fun, but they are also learning about important people in the Bible (Father Abraham), the essentials of the faith (Jesus Loves Me), the proper response to God’s love (Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children) and what it means to be part of the church (We Are the Church).

Setting words to music is an aid to memorization.  Young people often learn the books of the Bible (in order no less) by singing a song.  Adults who participate in a Lutheran liturgy discover they’ve memorized many Psalms and other portions of scripture by taking part in the worship service.  Well chosen hymns also serve to reinforce the theme of the sermon and the readings of the day.  And in times of crisis in our lives the comforting words of hymns bring the reminder of God’s eternal concern for His people to our minds and hearts.

Good hymns teach.  They help us understand the different church seasons (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel).  They prepare us for communion (Let Us Break Bread Together).  They tell us about the attributes of God (A Mighty Fortress). They convict us of our sin (Amazing Grace). They explain theological concepts (The Church’s One Foundation) and give lessons in how to serve (Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling) and be more generous (We Give Thee But Thine Own). Some hymns are almost a sermon in themselves (Salvation Unto Us Has Come)!

Church music can touch our hearts and sink into our souls in a way that is hard to explain or understand. Church music can lift us up into the very realm of God’s presence.  No wonder Luther called it “a fair and glorious gift of God.”


Stewardship Of Our Singing

Image result for images of congregational singingI’ve just started reading the book Michele reviewed a few days ago, “Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church.”  I would also recommend it as an easy, but thoughtful read about how and why we sing in our worship service. It reminds me that singing is also a gift from God and one that should be used well.  Here’s a quote from the book that helps explain how to do this:

” …don’t just sing, but think What are you singing?  How does it point you to Jesus as He reveals Himself in His Word?  What truths are being laid on your heart, and how is your singing being used to lay it on the hearts of those around you?  Which lines flood you with joy because they move you to consider Christ afresh, and how will you sing them to others and back to yourself this week?”

The songs we sing in worship on Sunday will most likely stick with us, and continue to uplift and encourage us, maybe even more than the words of the sermon. Congregational singing is not just something to “fill in” during the service, and it’s not just entertainment.  Our singing is a witness to others both during and after the service.  We don’t know who may be in church who is yet unsaved, who we will affect as we sing or hum a song of praise in our daily lives.  Singing with our children teaches them gospel truths and Bible stories.  So sing!  Sing as if lives depended on it!

“Your song may be used to save a soul.  Sing it prayerfully.”  This sign is on the wall of a studio in the Moody Radio Headquarters.



The Battle Hymn of the Reformation

Among many talents, Martin Luther was also a musician.  When the Reformation began , he was determined to revive congregational singing.  He worked with musicians to create new music to be sung in the vernacular.  Sometimes he “borrowed” popular secular music for his hymns, though sometimes a tune brought criticism because it was too closely associated with bars and taverns and Luther was “compelled to let the devil have it back.”

“Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott”(A Mighty Fortress is Our God) is his most famous hymn.  It is based on Psalm 46.  In times of difficulty and danger, Luther would be comforted by this song, saying “Come … let us sing the 46th Psalm.”  It has been called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.”


A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Text: Martin Luther Trans. by Frederick H. Hedge
Music: Martin Luther Harmony from The New Hymnal for American Youth
Tune: EIN’ FESTE BURG, Meter:

1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.