The Reformation, Church Reform and Congregational Singing

Last week we celebrated Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door. I am prolonging the remembrance and celebration by a few days, including one more post on another blessing to the church that occurred because of the Reformation.

Though Luther was the one who posted the 95 Theses, there were pre-Reformers (Wycliffe, Hus, etc.) and there were also other Reformers God used in great ways. (Note it was God that used these men in great ways, and part of the reason for these men’s greatness is because they knew that!) Another one of those was John Calvin.

Both Luther and Calvin were not only committed to the authority of the Bible, and because they were committed to God and His Word, they were also committed to the church and its reformation. Note this well: their understanding of and commitment to God, the Bible and the gospel, led them to reform the theology and the practices of the church. This expression captured their commitment that “the church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God” (ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda).

One of the major elements of the church and its practice, its liturgy, that was transformed was music and corporate singing. T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin (London, 1975), 87, notes the following about how its practice was grounded in the gospel and from this biblical/theological foundation it had a gospel-prompted response.

Nothing is more characteristic of Reformation theology, and few parts of Reformation Church activity have been so neglected, as the congregational singing. It was far from being a pleasant element introduced rather inconsistently into a service otherwise ruled by a sombre view of life. We have already seen that in 1537 one of the four foundations for the reform of the Church was congregational singing. . . . We have seen in effect that Calvin placed singing at the heart of his theology of the Church. The reason is not far to seek. To put it with the utmost simplicity: The Church is the place where the Gospel is preached; Gospel is good news; good news makes people happy; happy people sing. But then, too, unhappy people may sing to cheer themselves up.

A few questions to ponder:

  • Is the gospel of Jesus Christ foundational to your theology and practice?
  • Does the gospel form and reform your thoughts and practices?
  • Do you proclaim the gospel in word and live under its authority in life?
  • Do you sing?


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