PART 23: Strengthening the Church

PART 23: Strengthening the Church- The Liturgy and Hymns … 

During his school years Martin Luther had shown that God had blessed him with musical skills.  He was noted for his fine singing voice, and he loved to play the lute.  As Luther came to understand that justification came by faith alone, he also realized that liturgies that taught that in the Sacrament Christ was sacrificed a second time had to be changed.

As time went on, Luther gave greater importance to the sermon in the church service.  He urged that German be used and encouraged the singing of hymns by the congregation.  Luther himself prepared new liturgies for the Communion service that were Christ-centered.  All changes and additions to the service were made to emphasize the gospel and bring praise to Christ.  He avoided any unnecessary, abrupt changes that would upset the people.  To teach the doctrines of the church, to provide hymns for part of the liturgical service, and to make possible the use of the language of the people in church services, he composed several hymns, including “A Might Fortress Is Our God,”  “We All Believe in One Ture God,” and the Communion hymn “O Lord, We Praise You.”  With Conrad Rupff and Johann Walther, the court musicians, he revised the Gregorian chants to fit the German texts.  His German Mass was used in the town church in Wittenberg for the first time on Christmas Day 1525.  Luther’s changes and his own hymn writing encouraged others to compose music and hymn texts and to produce hymnals.  In a time when other Protestant leaders were destroying pipe organs and banning singing in the churches, Luther encouraged the use of music to teach the Gospel and enable the people to praise God.  Due to his influence, Lutheran churches had hymns for all seasons and festivals of the church year by 1545.  His use of music has inspired many church musicians to revise and compose music that proclaims the Gospel and teaches, while enabling the people to participate in worship through song.  During these years Luther also decided that he would write his own statement of faith so that everyone would be clear about what Lutherans believed and taught.  Not feeling well and thinking he would die soon, he did not want people to argue about his teachings when he was gone.  He also thought his statement of faith would unify the Lutherans when they met with papal representatives at the general Christian council called by the emperor to settle the problems of reform.  When the pope called for a church council to meet in Mantua, Luther, in consultation with several of his associates, wrote his statements after Christmas 1536 and completed the Smalcald Articles in early January 1537.  Following the collapse of negotiations to have the Lutheran princes accept the Roman Catholic position at Augsburg, Germany became more divided.  In November 1530 the Emperor declared that the church property of the Lutherans should be returned to the Roman Catholic Church.  He also renewed the Edict of Worms, which declared that Luther was an outlaw.  In response, in February 1531 the Lutheran princes formed the League of Schmalkalden to defend themselves.  Unfortunately, Luther became very ill and could not attend the meetings where they were to be presented.  When Philip of Hesse criticized the statements, Melanchthon agreed to write other documents that were accepted.  When Luther found out what happened, he carefully edited his own statements in the spring of 1538, and these Smalcald Articles began to be used alongside the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession as statements of Lutheran teaching.  They were a declaration of independence from the Roman Catholic Church.