It is often said that Luther restored congregational singing. This is true, but he did more than that: Luther restored preaching to the congregation—a most appropriate activity for lay priests. “If, now, the congregation is to proclaim the divine truth, it must have a sermon worth preaching. This is the reason for the substantial…doctrinal content in many of the Reformation hymns.”
—P. J. Janson, “The Reason We Sing, Reformation and Revival 4.4 (Fall 1995), 19
Johann von Staupitz, Luther’s mentor, asked him once, “Luther, what happens if all this works, if you have your Reformation. What happens to the devotions, and to the pilgrimages, and to the relics, and to all the wonderful things of the Church; and to the marvelous, majestic liturgy, with all of its pomp and ceremony; all these things that we’ve grown up with and that we love so dearly and that are so close to our hearts? What will be left when you’re through?”
And Luther said, “Christ.”
—cited by Michael Horton
I am not ashamed to confess publicly that next to theology there is no art which is the equal of music, for she alone, after theology, can do what otherwise only theology can accomplish, namely, quiet and cheer up the soul of man, which is clear evidence that the devil, the originator of depressing worries and troubled thoughts, flees from the voice of music just as he flees from the words of theology.
The worship of the New Testament…is nothing else than song, praise, and thanksgiving. This is a unique song. God does not care for our sacrifices and works. He is satisfied with the sacrifice of praise. I have no one to sing and chant about but Christ, in whom alone I have everything. Him alone I proclaim, in Him alone I glory, for He has become my salvation, that is, my victory.
What should happen in this house of God is that our Lord Himself will speak to us through His holy Word, and we in turn will speak to Him with our prayers and songs of praise.
—Martin Luther (on the door into the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on the other side of which Luther posted his 95 Theses)
The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.
He has given me everything,
forgiven me everything,
promised me everything.
And I lack nothing except
the faith to believe it.
If it is asked how we can be sure that a tradition of the Church universal is not in fact a corrupt tradition we have the answer of the Reformers: “always in accordance with the Word of God.” The Scriptures are the continual control upon all traditions—universal, denominational, and local.
—Rev. D. H. C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:1 (March 1955):78
Tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. It is traditionalism that gives tradition a bad name.
—Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition Vol. 1,9,65
Tradition is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.
Our society is mixed. In almost every congregation there are folks who want to sing the “old” hymns (i.e., those of revivalism), people who want to sing the “good” hymns (i.e., those that are in good taste), and persons who want to sing “something that moves” (i.e., those songs that have a “beat”). I would submit that none of these is more Christian or more adequate than any of the others. We must learn to think of our Church music in terms of being “good for” whom, not in abstract terms of quality.
—James F. White, “Liturgical Reformation: Sixteenth Century and Twentieth,” in Christian Worship in North America, A Retrospective: 1955-1995, 72
I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. [A man of one book.]
First, there was the insistence on the church as the divine community through which and in which worship is offered to God. We are still far from understanding the full significance of the doctrine of the church in the thought of the Reformers. It is sometimes held not only by the opponents but by the adherents of Protestantism that the Reformation meant the triumph of religious individualism over against the conception of a divine community, continuous and universal. Yet we may read as strong an expression of the priority and centrality of the Church in the writings of the Reformers as in any Roman or Anglican document.
—Rev. D. H. C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:1 (March 1955):72
As much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities. In the early decades of the Reformation, Calvinists broke with Lutherans over several important matters, but one was existentially apparent at every gathering for worship: the singing. Lutherans sang hymns that with considerable freedom expressed their understanding of the gospel (like Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” or “From Heaven High I Come to You”), and they often sang them with choirs, organs, and full instrumentation. Calvinists, by contrast, sang the psalms paraphrased and with minimal or no instrumental accompaniment (like the 100th Psalm, “All people that on earth do dwell,” which was prepared by William Kethe for English and Scottish exiles who had taken refuge in Calvin’s Geneva during the persecutions of England’s Catholic Mary Tudor). However natural it may now seem for Protestant hymnals to contain both Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and Kethe’s “Old One Hundredth,” in fact it took more than two centuries of contentious Protestant history to overcome the visceral antagonism to “non-scriptural” hymns that prevailed widely in the English-speaking world. It was even longer before organs, choirs, and instrumental accompaniment were accepted.
—Mark Noll, “Praise the Lord: Song, Culture, Divine Bounty, and Issues of Harmonization” http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/novdec/9.14.html
O Lord, we are not worthy to have a glimpse of heaven, and unable with works to redeem ourselves from sin, death, the devil, and hell. For this we rejoice, praise and thank you, O God, that without price and out of pure grace You have granted us this boundless blessing in your dear Son through whom You take sin, death, and hell from us, and give to us all that belongs to Him.
One of the most significant accomplishments of the Protestant Reformation was overcoming the monastic understanding of the relations between the life of contemplation (vita contemplativa) and life of action (vita activa). Almost five centuries later, some important segments of Protestant Christianity (especially of the evangelical brand) are still caught in the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular and are operating with a pre-reformation understanding of the relation between (what they term) spiritual worship and secular work. In the context of the reflection on the Christian understanding of worship, it is important therefore to recall Luther’s rediscovery of the Christian calling to active service of God in the world and to reflect on its biblical roots . . .
Christian worship consists both in obedient service to God and in the joyful praise of God. Both of these elements are brought together in Hebrews 13:15-16, a passage that comes close to giving a definition of Christian worship: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise˜the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is please.” The sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of good works are two fundamental aspects of the Christian way of being-in-the-world. They are at the same time the two constitutive elements of Christian worship: authentic Christian worship takes place in a rhythm of adoration and action.
—Miroslav Volf, “Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World” in Worship: Adoration and Action, 203, 207
Martin Luther gave the German people in their own language the Bible and the hymnbook, so that God might speak directly to them in His Word, and that they might directly answer Him in their songs.
—Hustad, Jubilate! Church Music in Worship and Renewal, 243
And the Reformers were clear that in order to control and check the movement of Christian tradition from age to age a norm was needed. That norm was the written Word, and so the Bible was for them the supreme “given” element in the Church and the final authority for all our forms of worship.
—Rev. D. H. C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:1 (March 1955):73
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin has commented that when the average Christian in Europe or North America hears the name of God, he or she does not think of the Trinity. After many years of missionary work among Eastern religions, he returned to find that much of the worship in the West is in practice, if not in theory, unitarian. The “religion” of so many people today is moulded by concepts of God which obscure the joyful witness of the Bible to the triune God of grace. God is conceived of too often as the remote sovereign Individual Monad “out there,” the law-giver, the contract-God who needs to be, or can be, conditioned into being gracious by devout religious behavior or by this or that religious act, be it even repentance or prayer. The Reformers were concerned to sweep away these views of God, but in spite of the Reformation, such concepts are alive and highly influential in our day.
—James B. Torrance, “Contemplating the Trinitarian Mystery of Christ,” Chapter 12 in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, 141
One of the great, and often ignored, contributions of the Reformation was to return worship to the people. Somehow, many Protestants have got the idea that prayer books, with written prayers, responsive readings, creeds and the like are Roman Catholic and medieval. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prayer books were a product of the Reformation and they were written so that the congregation could participate fully in the act of worship.
—Peter Leithart, “Transforming Worship” Foundations 38 (Spring ’97):30