f The Wittenberg Door: Reformation Hymnody

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reformation Hymnody

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevaling. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Martin Luther (1529)

October 31 is Reformation Day. As we take time to thank the Lord for the recovery of the Gospel, let us not forget the other fruits of the Reformation, such as hymnody. Informed by the recovery of the great truths of Scripture, hymns of the Reformation were Christocentric and theologically astute. They not only aided in worship, but they also acted as a teaching tool. (I used to joke with my former pastor that the hymns protected me from him.)

Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, has a fine tradition of singing Reformation-period hymns during the month of October (see list below). This is not only a fitting means of giving thanks to the Lord for the Reformation, but it's also a reminder of the often overlooked treasures found in our Reformed and Presbyterian hymns.

Jesus is My Boyfriend Music

Hymnody has fallen on hard times. The Second Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, and the Jesus Movement have taken a toll. No longer are hymns theologically informed and centered upon the Glory and majesty of God; instead, the great truths of Scripture that moved the pens of hymnists have been replaced by the man-centered lavender quills of romantics.

Dr. Michael Horton, professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, reflects upon this transition in an article titled, Are Your Hymns Too Spiritual? Here's how the article begins:

The average Christian will learn more from hymns than from any systematic theology. Hymns chart progression from classic hymns of the 17th and 18th centuries (especially those of Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, John Newton and William Cowper) to the Romantic "songs and choruses" of the 19th and 20th centuries. They reflect the shift from Reformation categories (God, sin and grace, Christ's saving work, the Word, church, sacraments, etc.) to Romantic individualism. We sing, "I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, singing in my ear, the voice of God is calling. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own." Or, "He touched me." The number of 19th century hymns that talk about the objective truth of Scripture, and that which God has done outside of my personal experience, is overwhelmed by the number of hymns that focus on my personal experience. It is my heart, not God and his saving work, that receives top billing.

If that was true of the 19th century, the 20th century only exacerbated this emphasis, and the style of the commercial Broadway musical was imitated in songs that elevated personal experience and happiness above God and his glory. Today, the vast majority of entries in the Maranatha, Vineyard, and related praise songbooks are not only burdened with this self-centered and Gnostic tendency, but often contain outright heresy--probably not intentionally, but as a result of sloppy theology. In our day, sloppy theology usually means some form of Gnosticism.

You can read the rest here (subsciption required).

Reformation Hymns

The words for the following hymns were authored in the 16th or 17th centuries.

Hymn and Author
All People That On Earth Do Dwell Louis Bourgeois, William Kethe
All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above Johann Schutz
Now Blessed Be The Lord Our God Scottish Psalter
Ye Holy Angels Bright Richard Baxter
O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord Scottish Psalter
Let us, With a Gladsome Mind John Milton
Praise to the Lord, Almighty, the King of Creation Joachim Neander
With Glory Clad, With Strength Arrayed Tate and Brady's
The Lord's My ShepherdScottish Psalter
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God Martin Luther
Now Thank We All Our God Martin Rinkart, Johann Cruger
O God, We Praise Thee; and Confess Tate and Brady's
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word Martin Luther
Whate'er My God Ordains is Right Samuel Rodigast
O Thou My Soul, Bless God the Lord Scottish Psalter
O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee? Paul Gerhardt, Melchior Teschner
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of All NatureMunster Gesangbuch
Wondrous King, All-Glorious, Sov'reign Lord VictoriousJoachim Neander
Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art Strasbourg Psalter
Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates! Georg Weissel
Comfort, Comfort Ye My PeopleJohannes Olearius, Louis Bourgeois
All My Heart This Night RejoicesPaul Gerhardt, Johann Ebeling

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Blogger God's Guitar Girl said...

Great post. I found you by way of GeorgiaGirl5. I am a church musician who loves both high church and old, old hymns and the contemporary, energetic music. That being said, although I play guitar for our praise band, I am starting to have a hard time living with myself playing these contemporary Christian songs during Sunday morning worship. You really struck home with me when you talked about sloppy theology and self-centered lyrics. I think it's a real indicator of the times.

Right now, liturgical churches are losing congregants by the dozens to the "consumer-driven" performance-based churches. If I hear one more of my "non-denom" friends screech about how their church is a good middle ground and is not partial to any one denomination, I think my hair will catch fire! While I can enjoy and even be enlightened by some of the modern artists, they don't capture for me the mystery of my God, the majesty of my risen Lord, and the power of Jesus to conquer Satan. Why do people insist on rejecting things because they are old or take more than two seconds to interpret and understand???

6:54 PM  
Blogger mel said...

YES, and Amen. Sorry I didn't respond when I first read this post. I quickly went back to my own blog to reference this then didn't get back over here. GGG and I agree ~~ bring back the reverence in the worship of God! My church is about as high-church as an ARP gets, and still there's that "would y'all be quiet? we're before the Throne of Grace here!" Keep on posting ~~ and speaking the truth. God bless.

4:32 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Greetings, Mel and GGG. It’s good to hear from like-minded Christians, and I appreciate your kind words.

GGG, you asked a question I’d like to try to answer:

Why do people insist on rejecting things because they are old or take more than two seconds to interpret and understand???

To the first part, I think it’s the narcissism of the age. We’re obsessed with the here and now, the relevant and the new. It started in the 1960s with the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” The Christian version is, “Who cares what God did in the past! What’s He doing today in my heart?!?!” The second part of your question ties into this . . .

Since the Second Great Awakening the intellectual side of the faith was largely abandoned for the sake of a completely experiential faith. Worshiping God with our mind is “so yesterday.” So once the Christian mind was chased out of the church, the hymns, creeds, and liturgy were found irrelevant to modern sensibilities--and so was thinking clearly about "the faith once and for all delivered to the saints."

I think you might be interested in something I posted last month. It’s on a similar topic:


Thanks for stopping by.

3:05 PM  

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