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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.