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Hymns and the Way They Shape Theology
Part of the ministry of resourcing is sharing unpublished resources. Pastor Roger Reinhart (Richland & Our Savior’s, Colfax) recently shared “Our Hymns Shape Our Theology.” Roger underscores how formative hymns can be. His article is shared below. The following resources echo similar themes:
- Piece Together Praise: A Theological Journey by Brian Wren (B2152)
- Alice Parker’s Melodious Accord: Good Singing in the Church (B1304)
- Gabe Huck’s How Can I Keep from Singing: Thoughts about Liturgy for Musicians (B1303)
- A Heart Set Free: the Life, Ministry, and Lyrics of Charles Wesley and the Story of a Hymn Writer, Charles Wesley: Hymns of Praise (DVD426, DVD428)
- Amazing Grace: Hymns that Changed the World (DVD393)
Our Hymns Shape our Theology
by Pastor Roger Reinhart
I recently heard someone teaching about the hymns we sing, “Our hymns shape our theology.” I think these words speak volumes about the importance of what we sing at worship. It is important to have a nice melody set in an appropriate harmony. At least as important as having “sing-able” songs is to have words that lift up what we believe about God and God’s relationship with us.
What are the characteristics of a fitting hymn or spiritual song for Lutherans?
It’s about God
God’s love for the world and what God has done for us in Jesus.
It’s not about “I, me, my”
Does the song speak more about God or me? Who is the song really about (look at the pronouns)?
It reflects a “Theology of the Cross”
Life is hard, and in the midst of trouble and darkness God finds us – not a God who has rejected us, but the God who came to die rather than lose us, the God who understands us, the God who is in the darkness with us and for us, the God who loves us just as we are.
It does not reflect “decision theology”
If I know myself to be a child of God, I thank God that God has decided to make me God’s own – it is not mydecision that does this (see Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed in his Small Catechism). Being a Child of God does not depend on my decision, my reaching out, or my choosing. Thanks be to God that in Jesus Christ God has decided for us!
Being Christian is not exclusive but inclusive
We are not “better” or “more loved by God” if we are Christian (not a part of some “in-crowd”), but to us has been given the Good News (the Gospel) that God loves all people and has forgiven us all in the cross of Jesus Christ (we are called together and then sent out by this Good News). “All are welcome in this place,” is the message God sends through us. This gives new shape to our lives, indeed it gives new life!
It is sacramental
Lutherans believe in the “means of Grace” (the ways that God gives us undeserved blessings, saves us). In particular, we include: The Word, Holy Baptism, & Holy Communion. (Again, see Luther’s Small Catechism on “Holy Baptism”, “Office of the Keys”, and “Holy Communion”). Indeed, God is with us all the time – but in the Means of Grace God shows us that God is here for us. Worship itself becomes a sacrament of God’s gifts to us.
It is about Community
This may be most difficult for us. We live in a culture and time where: “It is all about me.” “It’s just me & Jesus.” Even salvation has become an individualistic thing, and much of modern “religious music” reflects this. However, in the Church, we sing in praise of God who calls us together to be God’s people (again, look at the pronouns. Are we singing as a community – “we, us, our”; or am I singing just for me –”I, me, my”).
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and, no doubt a hymn or two even in our ELW can be found that strays from these foundations; but in general these are guiding principles for our hymns and spiritual songs. In addition to a huge treasury of hymns and songs from the past, there are also many beautiful and inspiring contemporary hymns and songs that fit with our Lutheran hymnody. Some are written by Lutherans, of course, but many are written by people of other denominations, as well as from the Christian Church around the world. Our ELW contains a great variety of songs & hymns, old and new. And, of course, there are many more waiting for us to discover, and many yet to be written.
We are very blessed here at Richland and Our Savior’s to have a Parish Worship Committee and now a Parish Praise Band. “Sing to God a new song.” I thank God for these groups who are helping us to sing songs and hymns at worship that will: first, reflect the love of God who comes to us in Jesus; and, second, shape our theology as we worship together.