MUnquestionably, Martin Luther is best known to the church, the world and to history as a theologian, a passionate preacher of God’s Holy Word, an educator, and a beloved pastor. But he was so much more! Luther was also an accomplished musician and composer. It is not often that we think of Martin Luther as an artist or a musician but he was just as much an artist as he was a theologian. He composed a number of hymns that the church has sung for 500 years and we continue to sing today. With the help of other musicians, Martin Luther composed a hymn book, a number of chorales, and insisted that singing be taught in schools. In the liturgy of the Reformation, it was Martin Luther who gave congregational singing such a vital role in the worship of the church. Congregational singing had not existed in the worship of the church since the close of the fourth century. At that time, church leaders decreed, “If laymen are not to interpret the Scriptures for themselves, they are not to sing the songs of the church.” Against this erroneous notion, Luther declared, “Let God speak directly to His people through the Scriptures, and let His people respond with grateful songs of praise.” Luther often described music as a divine gift and even wrote about the importance of music and song. In the Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniaw iucundae, Luther wrote: “I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone. But I am so overwhelmed by the diversity and magnitude of its virtue and benefits that I can find neither beginning nor end or method for my discourse. As much as I want to commend it, my praise is bound to be wanting and inadequate. For who can comprehend it all? And even if you wanted to encompass all of it, you would appear to have grasped nothing at all … First then, looking at music itself, you will find that from the beginning of the world it has been instilled and implanted in all creatures, individually and collectively. For nothing is without sound or harmony. Even the air, which of itself is invisible and imperceptible to all our senses, and which, since it lacks both voice and speech, is the least musical of all things, becomes sonorous, audible, and comprehensible when it is set in motion … Music is still more wonderful in living things, especially birds … And yet, compared to the human voice, all this hardly deserves the name of music, so abundant and incomprehensible is here the munificence and wisdom of our most gracious Creator.” [Luther’s Works, vol. 53, pp. 321-322] In typical Luther fashion, he had little patience with those who did not understand or wish to understand the beauty of music as a truly divine gift of the Almighty. On the subject of music and song, Luther went on to write these strong words, “A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Luther clearly understood and believed that music stirred the emotions. He was quick to point out that the primary purpose of music is to serve the Holy Word of God and not the other way around. Therefore, in our day, we must be very careful that we do not begin to worship music and forsake the true worship of our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Luther’s view of music in the church was tremendous. He celebrated the organ, while others of his day vehemently opposed it. He wrote hymns and songs when others insisted that only the songs found in Holy Scripture, the Psalms, were appropriate for worship. In his general reform of the church’s liturgy, Luther focused on the importance of the Holy Scriptures and the faithful preaching of God’s Word in the sermon. Yet, he clearly saw and defined congregational singing as an appropriate and needful assertion of faith. He also stressed the singing of the people as a spiritual commentary of the biblical texts as a means of underscoring or highlighting the readings and the Gospel. This is why even in our day the lectionary calls us to focus on hymns that reinforce and complement the readings of the Holy Word. The very words of Luther himself reveal to us the depth of his love for music and song and the vital importance of both in the worship of the church in every age and especially in our day: “I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them … In summa, next to the Word of God the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits … Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created him for the express purpose of praising and extolling God” [Luther’s Works, vol. 53, pp. 321-322]. As we continue to celebrate this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, let us once again challenge ourselves to learn more of our history and our heritage as the children and heirs of the Reformation. May the blessings of Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, continue to reign in our lives and may we earnestly desire to worship Him and to serve Him, the King of kings and the Lord of lords! Praise His Holy Name! Blessings, Pastor Jim

Pastor’s Article – September 2017

500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther & The Importance of Music