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.

 

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Bonhoeffer on Singing

After The Handbasket

Singing the New Song

The prayers of the psalms and the reading of Scripture should be followed by the singing together of a hymn, this being the voice of the Church, praising, thanking, and praying.

“Sing unto the Lord a new song,” the Psalter enjoins us again and again. It is the Christ-hymn, new every morning, that the family fellowship strikes up at the beginning of the day, the hymn that is sung by the whole Church of God on earth and in heaven, and in which we are summoned to join.

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Why We Sing

This article was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador

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.”