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Ref­or­ma­tion His­tor­i­cal Reflec­tions: Luther and Music

Luther was no stranger to music. At the early age of 14, Luther was in a children’s choir. Luther had a beau­ti­ful tenor voice. Dur­ing his school years, Luther pre­ferred the study of music over other school sub­jects and became a skilled per­former and, even­tu­ally, a skilled com­poser. Luther’s most pro­duc­tive hymn writ­ing began in Decem­ber of 1523. By late 1525 Luther had writ­ten 24 of his 36 hymns.

In 1526 Luther and other reform­ers were con­fronted with a chaotic sit­u­a­tion in the Sax­ony churches. Church vis­i­ta­tions by Luther revealed “deplorable con­di­tions” empha­siz­ing the need to improve wor­ship ser­vices. A sig­nif­i­cant need in the church was met by Luther’s empha­sis on hymnody. Luther wrote twelve of his hymns from 1526 to 1543, some with the assis­tance of associates.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (“Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott“) is one of the best known and loved hymns by Luther. He wrote the words and com­posed the melody some­time between 1527 and 1529, based on Psalm 46. It is fre­quently called the “Bat­tle Hymn of the Reformation“.

Luther had a lot to say about music. He regarded music and hymns impor­tant for the devel­op­ment of faith. “I place music next to the­ol­ogy and give it the high­est praise.” “Music is an out­stand­ing gift of God … and youth should be taught this art; for it makes fine, skill­ful peo­ple.” He believed that music is an endow­ment and a gift of God, not a gift of men, and that music dri­ves away the devil and makes peo­ple cheer­ful. “Beau­ti­ful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agi­ta­tions of the soul; it is one of the most mag­nif­i­cent and delight­ful presents God has given us. The Devil hates music because he can­not stand gai­ety. My heart, which is so full to over flow­ing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

Luther’s hymns are not meant to cre­ate a mood; they are meant to con­vey a mes­sage. They are a con­fes­sion of faith, not of per­sonal feel­ings. They were writ­ten not to be read, but to be sung by the whole congregation.

The Lutheran Church — Mis­souri Synod does not have a defin­i­tive doc­tri­nal state­ment on music, but the synod’s Com­mis­sion on Wor­ship has cri­te­ria for the eval­u­a­tion of hymns and songs. The Com­mis­sion bases its approval pri­mar­ily on the text of the hymn. For exam­ple, does the text present Jesus as the Sav­ior? Does it speak of the tri­une God? Does it express the reveal­ing gra­cious will of the Father? How Lutheran Church — Mis­souri Synod churches con­duct the Divine Ser­vices reflects what we believe, teach and con­fess. Our synod seeks to ensure, through the eval­u­a­tion of hymns and songs, that our faith is strength­ened and con­tin­u­ally based on the Word of God.

As we gather for wor­ship to sing of the Word in hymn and song, remem­ber that we join our song with angels, archangels and all the com­pany of heaven together before Christ, who has come to His peo­ple to bless and to save them through faith.

This year, 2017, is a year pre­cious to all Luther­ans: the 500th anniver­sary of Luther’s blessed dis­cov­ery of the Gospel and his rebel­lion related to the beliefs and cel­e­bra­tions of the Roman Catholic Church. This arti­cle is part of a monthly series cov­er­ing top­ics and his­tor­i­cal events lead­ing up to Octo­ber 31, 1517, the date of the post­ing of the 95 The­ses on the Cas­tle Church doors in Wit­ten­berg, Ger­many. It is repub­lished, with per­mis­sion, from the Rocky Moun­tain Dis­trict, LCMS.

Saint John’s Library Update

If you have a chance to visit the library at Saint John’s you will find sev­eral new books on the shelves! They include:

Gen­e­sis for Every­one, Part 2 by John Goldin­gay, Church and Min­istry by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, The Life You Crave: It’s All about Grace by Michael W. New­man and Chil­dren in Cri­sis: A New Com­mit­ment, a com­pi­la­tion of arti­cles edited by Phyl­lis Kilbourn.

Also added to the library are nine­teen titles in the People’s Bible Com­men­tary series pub­lished by Con­cor­dia Pub­lish­ing House: 1 Chron­i­cles, Ezekiel, 1 and 2 Samuel, Judges/​Ruth, 1 and 2 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans, Num­bers, Deuteron­omy, Exo­dus, Daniel, Luke, Hosea/​Joel/​Amos, 1 and 2 Kings, Leviti­cus, Ecclesiastes/​Song of Songs, 2 Chron­i­cles, Proverbs and Philippians/​Colossians/​Philemon. There are also three new titles from the Tyn­dale Old Tes­ta­ment Com­men­tary series: Obadiah/​Jonah/​Micah, Job and Leviticus.

Thanks to Pas­tor Net­tle­ton for get­ting these books added to our library. We now have a solid lay-​focused com­men­tary for each book of the Bible in the library’s ’Bible Study” section.

Joyce Hart vol­un­teers every Wednes­day in the church office and has been cat­a­loging and man­ag­ing the church library.

Ref­or­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion: For­give­ness is Free — But Not Cheap

Ref­or­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion: Crux Sola est Nos­tra The­o­log­ica

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