Luther In The Pew: Song And Worship -- By: Dennis Marzolf

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 08:1 (Winter 1999)
Article: Luther In The Pew: Song And Worship
Author: Dennis Marzolf


Luther In The Pew: Song And Worship

Dennis Marzolf

Much of the greatest music the world will ever know was composed for the Lutheran divine service. imagine Luther’s amazement to hear a liturgical rendition of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat, Mass in B Minor, Passion Music, Organ Chorales or the hundreds of musical sermons called cantatas that were composed for the Sundays and festivals of the church year! J.S. Bach (1685–1750) was not a genetic fluke in the evolutionary development of the musical art. Martin Luther articulated the ideals of vocation, liturgy and music exhibited in Bach’s life and work more than 150 years before the birth of the greatest musical servant of the gospel.

Luther loved God’s word as the highest treasure and the greatest power in the universe, and, in a typical overstatement, he acknowledged the great power of music:

We can mention only one point, which experience confirms, namely, that next to the Word of God music deserves the highest praise.... Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely the emotions, inclinations and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find? ... Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated with the Word of God as music.1

It is no wonder that the musical art had a certain “pride of place” in the Lutheran liturgy, school and home!

Luther’s love of the musical art was not the chief factor in his “musical” reformation of the service, however. In the first place Luther’s love for the Word of God, and specifically for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith without the works of the law, drew him into a reshaping of the liturgical way of life and worship. In the second place Luther knew of the educational power of melody and rhyme, and it was that educational sensibility that caused him to exploit these arts for the sake of gospel teaching.

Luther and others perceived a variety of liturgical abuses in the Roman services of the sixteenth century. The veneration of the purported relics of the saints, the purchase of indulgences and private masses for the souls of the living and the dead, prayers to the saints, worship services and preaching in a language unknown to many of the people, and legalistic observance of certain rites pertaining to times and seasons take a prominent place on the list of abuses. But all of these culmin...

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