One of my seminary professors once said to our class “Those who lead the music in church are much more important than the preachers. People will forget my sermons but they will sing your songs all week.” The point might be exaggerated, but not much.
As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:
Although Luther did not really consider himself a composer, he sometimes wrote original hymns or created complex choral compositions for four voices that show the depth of his musical knowledge. More commonly, he borrowed music from Catholic composers and adapted or rewrote the lyrics of existing hymns to express his Reformed theology. He even appropriated tunes from the German folk songs commonly sung in the taverns, by workers in the mines, or by children at school, and penned new words that reflected his biblical worldview to accompany these jaunty melodies. He designed his hymns to appeal to the ordinary German: joyful, not overly complex, and easily memorable. He saw them as tools for instructing the young in Christian beliefs and values and reminding the old of what the gospel meant in their lives. Based on his understanding of 1 Corinthians 3:21, “All things are yours,” Luther believed that Christians could appropriate the beauty and power of music and use it to worship God and spread his Word. Some have credited Luther with asking the question, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” He understood music’s power to move the emotions and saw how this could be pressed into God’s service.
On this point—music’s emotional power and usefulness for the believer—he differed from John Calvin and other Reformers. These leaders, in trying to distance themselves from the trappings of the Roman Catholic Church, emphasized austerity and attempted to cleanse their churches of every taint of “popish excess.” They tore down decorations and images, removed organs from their lofts, did away with elaborate vestments, and drastically simplified the singing, all in an attempt to remove any distractions that might get in the way of the centrality of the preaching of the Word of God. Although Calvin was not opposed to music itself, he was suspicious of music’s ability to move the emotions and was wary of the delight and enjoyment it brought, and therefore limited his congregations to unaccompanied unison singing of the psalms in order to maintain a serious focus in the worship service. He did not allow instrumental music in his churches. Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, banned not only Latin choral singing but even the singing of German psalms and hymns.
Luther had a very different perspective. He saw music as an effective method to communicate the truths of Scripture in a manner that could move and stir the soul of every man and woman. Rather than fearing the emotional power of music, Luther saw it as a useful tool in the war against the devil. Because music had such power to lift the human heart, he recommended passionate heartfelt congregational singing as a way of putting the devil in his place. As he once opined, “The devil does not stay where music is”
Which song moves your heart the most?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing;
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not His equal
2 Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing;
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3 And tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro’ 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.
4 That word above all earthly pow’rs,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’
Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Logos Hymnal, 1st edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York: New American Library, 1955.
Eggert, Kurt. “Martin Luther, God’s Music Man.” Lecture at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, November 10, 1983. http://www.wlsessays.net/node/465.
Oberman, Heiko. Luther: The Man Between God and the Devil. New York: Image Books, 1992.
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Let’s explore together!
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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
Order it HERE today.