Do Lutheran Churches Have Music?

Music is an essential part of Lutheran worship. Church singing takes many forms and is expressed in many ways. It is not just about the words, but also about the faith formation and building a community. Singing on behalf of those who can't sing is a way to connect our singing to our prayer.

So, what is Lutheran ecclesiastical music? Lutherans sing because they can, because they have good news, and to build faith and community. Music in Lutheran congregations is more than just one aspect of a worship service; it is a holistic expression of faith in everyday life. It can be seen in the peaceful revolution of 1989 in the German Democratic Republic, where Lutheran churches were catalysts for social change and created their own soundtrack. Hymns are one of the oldest expressions of faith in the Lutheran church.

They found their functionality as vehicles of theology with the arrival of congregational singing in the time of Martin Luther. This was a very exciting and controversial time in the Lutheran Church, which affected not only sacred music and Lutheran practice, but also Protestantism and music in general. The Reformation also made Church music accessible to all for the first time in Western history; hymns were not only sung in church but also at home. Lutheran families used hymns in their daily devotions and informal musical meetings, called Hausmusik.

As I learn more from Lutherans around the world, I find that music is often seen as a compass for the sensitivities, visions, and dreams of a society. Bach's religious services lasted about three hours, with a one-hour sermon and more than an hour of music that attracted both church members and visitors. Many believed that these melodies had no place in the Lutheran Divine Service and considered it sacrilegious for these pieces to be performed within the walls of a chapel. I also had important liturgical experiences in Lutheran churches in Ethiopia, Brazil, and Northern and Eastern Europe. The Lutheran organists of the late 17th century were “preaching from the attic of the organ”, using formulas that appealed to rhetorically minded listeners of the time. Music plays an important role in Lutheran churches around the world.

It is not just about singing hymns or spiritual songs; it is about expressing faith through everyday life. Music has been used as a catalyst for social change and has been used to proclaim hope in secular environments beyond theological doctrine and religious vocabulary. It has been used to build faith and community, as well as to express regret, joy, hope, resistance to injustice, and yearning for freedom.