The Reformers and Church Music: A Biblical Analysis of Their Philosophies -- By: Justin R. Stutz

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 22:3 (Summer 2005)
Article: The Reformers and Church Music: A Biblical Analysis of Their Philosophies
Author: Justin R. Stutz


The Reformers and Church Music:
A Biblical Analysis of Their Philosophies

Justin R. Stutz

M.Div. with Church Music Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation agreed that the Catholic Church needed major changes, but they differed widely about exactly what those changes should be and how they thought the changes should be made. Therefore it is not surprising to discover that they disagreed concerning the style and role of church music. They each claimed to have a biblical philosophy of music upon which they formed their positions. The purpose of this research paper is to examine the philosophies and practices of three of the major leaders of the Reformation—Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. These men represent a comprehensive range of musical philosophies. By choosing these three, the author will attempt to critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of each one, drawing relevant conclusions for the contemporary church.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) believed music was one of the noblest endeavors of men. In 1530 he wrote a letter to Ludwig Senfl in which he stated, “I firmly believe, nor am ashamed to assert, that next to theology no art is equal to music.”1 Luther saw in both the Old and New Testaments, especially in the writings of David and Paul, that music, the Word of God, and theology belonged together. Luther cited texts such as Psalm 96:1, 1 Cor. 14:15, and Col. 3:16 as biblical verification that “faith in the Lord finds proper outward expression through music and song.”2 He noted “that it is good and God pleasing to sing hymns is known to every Christian; for everyone is aware ... of the example of the prophets and kings of the Old Testament who praised God with song and sounds, with poetry and psalter,” and that the prophets used music alone among the arts to express their theology.3 He saw no difference between sung music and instrumental music, observing that

even the Holy Spirit honors music as a tool of His Work, since He testifies in the Holy Scriptures, that through the medium of music His gifts have been put into the hands of the Prophets (e.g., Elisha); again, through music the devil has been driven away, that is, he, who incites people to all vices, as was the case with Saul, the King of Israel. For this very reason the Fathers and Prophets desired not in vain that nothing be more intimately linked up with th...

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