Singing in the Church

People tend to believe what they sing which makes singing in the church of utmost importance. The message of a song becomes internalized by those who sing it thoughtfully and wholeheartedly. Martin Luther understood this and so often extolled the value of music and singing—especially congregational singing—in the church.

In the foreword to a 1538 symphony by Georg Rhau, Luther wrote,

Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions—to pass over the animals—which govern men as masters or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found—at least, not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel me to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find?… After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both world and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.1

The Christian faith sings. We have reason to sing—to express the truth of God in Christ in ways that give vent to our raised affections as we contemplate them. Sadly, few subjects provoke more angst and reveal more misunderstanding than the place of music and singing in the church. What we should sing, how we should sing and why we should sing are questions that must be addressed in the light of Scripture. God has spoken plainly on such things in His Word, admittedly, not always to the extent and in the sort of detail that we might wish, but sufficiently and helpfully.

This issue of the Founders Journal is given to the topic of singing in church. It is a topic worthy of study. Heaven will be filled with praises directed to our Lord through song. All those who look forward to that eternal dwelling place, and who want to live submissively to Scripture today, should heed the call to “Shout for joy to God,… sing the glory of His name” and “give to Him glorious praise” (Psalm 66:1-2).

1 Martin Luther, Works, (Fortress: Philadelphia, PA, 1965) 53:323-24.