How the Reformation Transformed Worship
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For centuries congregations stood throughout the service. There were no pews or benches. Singing was in Latin by a choir. The focus of the worship service was the Mass which was in Latin. Congregational singing remains one of Martin Luther's most enduring legacies. "Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise," wrote Luther. "I am not of the opinion that all arts are to be cast down and destroyed on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics suggest. On the other hand, I would gladly see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him Who has given and created them."
Pastors and Teachers Must Have Skill in Music
Luther himself was a well-trained musician with a fine voice. He played the lute, composed intricate hymns and was well acquainted with the work of the leading composers of his day. "I always love music; who so has skill in this art, is of a good temperament, fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools; a schoolmaster ought to have skill in music, or I would not regard him. Neither should we ordain young men as preachers, unless they have been well exercised in music."
Luther insisted that we are to "praise God with both Word and music." "God has preached the Gospel through music." The common people need to hear and sing the Word of God in their own language, so that they might be edified. (Before the Reformation such singing as had been done in Churches was in Latin and sung by choirs).
Proclaim God’s Word Through Music
"Let everything be done so that the Word of God may have free course." Luther loved to cite examples like Moses who praised God in song following the crossing of the Red Sea, and David who composed many of the Psalms. "Music is a vehicle for proclaiming the Word of God,” declared Luther.
Sing in the Language of the People
Urging pastors to write German hymns based on the Psalms, Luther advised "use the simplest and most common words, preserve the pure teaching of God's Word, and keep the meaning as close to the Psalm as possible."
Discipleship Through Music
Luther wrote a variety of hymns, intended for Church services and for devotions at home. To teach the Catechism, he wrote two hymns on the Ten Commandments, a hymn for the Apostles' Creed, one for the Lord's Prayer and others for baptism and the Lord's Supper. Through these hymns, Luther demonstrated his on-going desire to teach the Faith, especially to children.
A Mighty Fortress is our God
In 1527, during one of the most trying times of Luther's life, (he suffered severe illness for 8 months of that year) with his entire body in pain, the plague had erupted in Wittenberg and he watched many friends die. Then his own son became ill. Even though his wife was pregnant, Luther's house was transformed into a hospital. During that horrific year, surrounded by sickness and death, Luther took time to remember the 10th anniversary of his publication against indulgences. A Mighty Fortress is our God, based on Psalm 46, was composed during this time of severe trial. It has endured as one of the most popular and most translated hymns in history: "And though this world with devils filled, should threatened to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed, His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim? We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure, one little Word shall fell him."
Hymn Singing by the Whole Congregation is Central to Worship
Luther made hymn singing a central part of Protestant worship. He dispensed with the choir and assigned all singing to the congregation. Luther would often call the whole congregation into the church during the week for congregational rehearsals so that the people could learn new hymns. "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." Psalm 150:6
Dr. Peter Hammond
Africa Christian Action
PO Box 23632
Cape Town South Africa
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