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The Singing Church

One of the ways our Lutheran forefathers (and foremothers!) proclaimed the Gospel and put their faith into practice was through many hymns that they wrote for the Church—and then sang joyfully! Before the Reformation, the involvement of laypersons in the service was minimal; going to church was a “spectator sport,” where the priest did and said almost everything in Latin, which most people did not know. So the Reformers worked to involve the laity more in the services by reading and preaching to them in their native tongue (rather than in Latin) and by composing German hymns that the people could understand and sing.

Since only about 10% of people at that time and in that place could read, oral teaching and hymns were the best methods for teaching the Christian Faith to the average layperson. And it required quite a bit of repetition for people to learn these hymns by heart, so they did not focus on singing a lot of different hymns, but on singing the best hymns to teach the Faith. That way, many people learned the hymns by heart and could sing them in their homes, fields, and at the bedside of the sick and dying. In this way, the Gospel could be on their lips not just on Sundays but all week long!

The hymns written by Luther and his sixteenth-century colleagues, as well as by Lutherans from the seventeenth and later centuries, are some of the greatest treasures of the Christian Church. Classic Lutheran hymns will always be some of the best ones for the Church to sing since they teach what the Bible teaches and don’t get bogged down in sappiness or sentimentalism as many of the hymns written by American revivalists and those who viewed Christianity as more emotional rather than doctrinal. These hymns are thoroughly biblical because they emphasize our sinfulness and the grace of God in Jesus Christ. By regularly singing the best Lutheran hymns in the Divine Service (and at home!), the basic message of Christianity comes through clearly and keeps us focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We are blessed to be part of a Christian community that has been nicknamed “The Singing Church”!

Collect for Reformation Day: Almighty God, gracious Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on the Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


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