Some of Luther’s most famous accolades for music came in a preface he wrote to musician Georg Rhau’s Delightful Symphonies (1538). “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. . . . Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate. . . what more effective means than music could you find?” Those unaffected by the delights of music as a bearer of the Word of God “deserve to hear . . . the music of the pigs.”
Luther concludes his preface with a few sentences that could have been written yesterday: “Let this noble, wholesome, and cheerful creation of God be commended to you. By it you may escape shameful desires and bad company. At the same time you may by this creation accustom yourself to recognize and praise the Creator. Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these [colorful word deleted] purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art” (Luther’s Works, vol. 53, pp. 323–24).
The hymnals of Luther’s day contained orders and resources for services and prayers, along with hymns. In fact, it was the Lutheran Reformation, riding on the wave of Gutenberg’s press, that brought forth hymnals. And they’ve been a hit ever since. Some years ago, as the LCMS was working toward a new hymnal, the naysayers commented: “Well, you’re going to have a whole warehouse full of those things.” Even in this digital age, Lutheran Service Book (LSB) has far outperformed Lutheran Worship (1982), which peaked at only a 56 percent penetration among LCMS congregations. Today, LSB is used in nearly 90 percent of the Synod’s congregations. Its electronic version, Lutheran Service Builder, is used widely to assist congregations in printing bulletins. LSB is certainly one of the best-selling books in the history of Concordia Publishing House, with more than one million copies in print.
Luther applied his thoughts on Christian freedom to the matter of worship. Under the Gospel, “a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” Under the law of love, “a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (Luther’s Works, vol. 31, p. 344). There is unbelievable freedom in worship (Gal. 5:1). Yet, as St. Paul teaches, we are to use our freedom in service to our neighbor, and we therefore accept limits to our freedom (Gal. 5:13). It would be irksome or even offensive for everyone to have completely different worship practices and forms every week, though it would not necessarily be sinful. Many would find it irksome and tiring to have no variety in the weekly service. The hymnal allows both stability and variety. To be sure, the freedom we have stretches beyond using the hymnal, so long as what is done in song and liturgy does not confound the Gospel and detract from Christ. We do say, however, that the order of the service should be followed. At the least, the parts of the service should be present.
Why? They hold up Christ and deliver the Gospel. We should not omit a clear confession of sins by the people and absolution by the pastor. We should not ditch the readings. We should and must preach textual sermons, with clear Law and Gospel applied directly to those present. The Lord’s Supper should follow confession and preaching as preparation. We should not be messing with the Lord’s Words of Institution. We are to be responsible in distributing the Sacrament to those who confess that the body and blood that are present and who are in confessional fellowship with us (see Explanation of the Small Catechism, especially Question 305). Exceptions are exceptions, not the rule.