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.”

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I Am the Bread of Life — Book Review

A few months ago when our theme was “Food, Feasts and Gluttony” I purchased a copy of I Am the Bread of Life by Sister Suzanne Toolan and Elizabeth Dossa.  Sister Suzanne is the composer of the song, as well as many others and is also a gifted teacher of music.  The book is made up of a series of essays –some are biographical, others Sister Suzanne’s thoughts on topics such as Silence, Liturgy, Ritual, Celebrations, and some contain practical advice on prayer, music and liturgy.

I Am the Bread of Life

As a Lutheran, I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but much of the material on liturgy resonated deeply with me.  It’s obvious that to Sr. Suzanne, music is a spiritual practice. She took care to make sure her students understood what they were singing.  She felt the music should encourage their faith. She speaks about liturgy not as something to study, but as a beloved and thoughtful discipline.  Here are some of her quotes:

“A good hymn is almost instructional.”

“Entertainment or liturgy as theater has no depth to it.”

“There is a unity of spirit in the singing.”

“The Liturgy is about leading the congregation to the Real Presence.”

Sister Suzanne is an amazing woman, and anyone interested in the liturgy and music of the church will enjoy this read.

 

Lutherans and Music

This article, written by my husband, our Pastor was included in the congregation’s December newsletter.  If you would like to read more articles he has written, his blog is goodnewsforabadworld.wordpress.com 

The Lutheran Church has often been called “the singing church.” Prior to the Reformation there was no congregational singing in most worship services. What singing occurred was done by choirs and specially trained cantors. Martin Luther decided to change that and published the first hymnal in German with a number of hymns written by him and by his colleagues in the reform movement.

Luther was, himself, a talented musician who enjoyed playing and singing. His love of music led him to the belief that lay people, many of whom were illiterate at the time, could learn more about the faith by being taught to sing of the doctrines and truths of the Church during regular worship services. While other reformers encouraged only the singing of the Psalms, Luther’s work was much more expansive.

Over time a great tradition of hymnody developed in the Lutheran Churches and this was copied by others, especially in England and in the United States. Now the Church has thousands of hymns to choose from as part of its function as the teacher of the true faith.

It is important for us to maintain this tradition of hymnody. Without it we would, as a Church, be much the poorer. At St, Paul’s we are trying to expand our repertoire of hymns, searching for ones that, while they might be unfamiliar are, indeed, gems that we have yet to unearth.

Unfortunately, not all hymns in our hymnal are gems. Some of them are difficult to play and sing and a very few others have theological problems. When we try one of those less than stellar hymns and it doesn’t work well we have to decide if we’ll keep working on it or just drop it. But it’s a process. In the last 2 years we’ve used over 200 hymns in our worship. Some we’ll see again, some we won’t. But all singing is for the glory of God.

 

A Stewardship Hymn –Take My Life

One day in 1873 hymnist Frances Havergal received a little book entitled “All For Jesus.”  It stressed the importance of making Christ the king of every corner of one’s life.  Soon afterward, she found herself visiting with a group of ten people, some of them unconverted, others not yet fully devoted to Christ.  She prayed, and went to work witnessing, and before she left all ten were yielded Christians.  On the last night of her visit, she wrote this great hymn about allowing God to own and control one’s entire life.  In the years that followed, Frances often used it in her own devotions.

 

The Story of We Give Thee But Thine Own

The author of “We give Thee but Thine Own” was William Walsham How (1823-1897), an Anglican bishop.  He was known as “the poor man’s bishop” because of his concern for the poor—and “the omnibus bishop” because he used public transportation rather than a private carriage for travels around town.

Bishop How wrote a number of hymns that reflect his concern for expressing the Gospel in terms that the average person could understand.  This hymn is a good example.  It speak of stewardship, not as a church budget concern, but as acknowledgement of the blessings that we have received from God.

We sing this hymn every week in our worship service as the collection is taken.

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive,
And gladly, as Thou blessest us,
To Thee our firstfruits give.

Open My Eyes #3

I couldn’t close out the “open my eyes” theme without this favorite old hymn.

Listening to Music

Yes, I spend some of my time listening to music.  While I drive to work and back I listen to the local Christian station.  I pick up new songs and sometimes the songs I listen to just uplift me.  I sing along if I’ve learned the words and just have a good ole time.

I have a new favorite:  I Got Saved by Selah.  Selah always has good music and I have several of their CD’s.  They have a Traditional Hymns CD that is wonderful.  Their arrangement of “There is Power in the Blood” is fantastic.  Anyway, I digress.

This song takes me back to my childhood when my Aunt Viola took us to a gospel sing at a local arena or theater.  All this song is missing is the really low bass.  Otherwise, it’s a wonderful song.  I love the line “I’ve Got Jesus, How could I want more?”