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Singing the Reformation into the 21st Century

In 2017 we’ll commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In those five hundred years the church worldwide has produced an avalanche of songs, and in many ways there isn’t a song you can sing that hasn’t been shaped by the Reformation. My first introduction to the liturgical fruits of the Reformation was in the form of a school dinner with two visiting lecturers: Hughes Oliphant Old and Robert Webber. Webber was visiting my seminary on the heels of his Ancient-Future Faith series, and Old was presenting a series of talks on the Lord’s Supper in the Reformation. Throughout that evening my imagination was set on fire as they talked about their love for the early church and how it formed and shaped the innovations of the Reformers. They reminded us that the spirit of the Reformation was deeply communal and contextual, and while the Protestant church is heralded in the unique contributions of namesakes such as John Calvin and Martin Luther, there were hundreds of local pastors creating in their own parishes. As I began work on preparing a service for my own context (Hope College in Holland, Michigan), five Reformational themes directed my curation; sola fide, sola scriptura, sola Christus, sola gratia, and soli Deo gloria.

Five Curating Themes

Catechetical Singing (Sola Fide)

Explore songs and hymns with a catechetical nature. Luther was deeply aware of the formative power of sung worship and the ways in which songs plant the truths of the faith in our hearts. He even wrote a poem extolling hymnals (tinyurl.com/zd96qep). Some of Luther’s first songs were versifications of the Lord’s Prayer (“Vater Unser”), the Ten Commandments (“These Are the Holy Ten Commands”), and the Apostles Creed (“We All Believe in One True God”). Consider singing an actual catechism. You can find metrical versions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism from Scotland and recent attempts to musicalize portions of the Heidelberg such as those by Jeremy Zeyl (tinyurl.com/zu9xd63).

Scriptural Singing (Sola Scriptura)

The psalms were a primary source of song for the churches of the Reformation, but the Reformed Christians also sang canticles (the songs of Scripture outside the psalms) and metrical versions of other Scripture. There has been a wealth of recent groups writing songs verbatim from Scripture (The Verses Project, Corner Room Music, Seeds Family Worship). Make a renewed commitment this year to sing Scripture regularly in your congregations. If you find this difficult, have the children teach them (that’s what Calvin did)!

Christ-Centered Singing (Solus Christus)

While the Reformers abolished much of the Catholic calendar associated with saints’ days, they retained the great evangelical feasts of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. The church calendar, if pastorally guided, is a central resource for celebrating the whole life of Christ. While Christmas and Easter are evangelical High Holy Days, many of us need to bolster our congregation’s celebration of Good Friday, Ascension, and Pentecost and deepen our song catalog for celebrating Christ’s ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit—songs that can be sung all year long. A Christ-centered worship also longs for the unity of the church. A piece or two from the ecumenical community of Taizé is a helpful addition as we pray Christ’s prayer for the church.

Gospel Singing (Sola Gratia)

The tide of new songs that the Reformers unleashed upon the church has not abated in five centuries. From every tribe and tongue the Reformation has touched, a flurry of earthly praise has erupted. From the lyrical genius of the British hymn writers to the virtuosic groove of African American gospel music, the gospel of grace has borne musical fruit! Even as we commemorate the lives of European churchmen of the sixteenth century, we also need to celebrate the voices that adorn the gospel of grace around the globe.

Glorious Singing (Soli Deo Gloria)

As we sing our way into the five hundredth year of the Reformation we need to recapture the glory of God in our worship. A focus on God’s glory is the antidote for the pragmatism that plagues much of North American worship. If our chief end is truly “to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” then we need to consistently remind the church that its worship isn’t meant to be useful. Methodist Bishop William Willimon warns us that “worship loses its integrity when it is regarded instrumentally as a means of something else—even as a means of achieving the most noble of human purposes” (The Service of God: How Worship and Ethics are Related [Nashville: Abingdon, 1983], pp. 42–43, as quoted in Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, p. 54). Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini shows us how worship full of God’s glory should be similar to child’s play: “Liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there. The abundance of prayers, ideas, and actions, and the whole arrangement of the calendar are incomprehensible when they are measured by the objective standard of strict suitability for a purpose” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, translated by Ada Lane [London: Sheed and Ward, 1937], pp. 95–96, as quoted in Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, p. 55). In this year of commemoration, let the children lead and create room for the glory of God to blossom in playful praise.

To provide a balance between familiar and new songs, some alternative song suggestions have been included. In the e-version you will find additional song links if you hover your cursor over the text and wherever you see an audio  or note icon ♫.

Gathering

Prelude

Opening Song

“Come, All You Servants of the Lord (Psalm 134)” LUYH 924, PFAS 874 

A contemporary take from the Netherlands on the traditional Genevan psalm tune (OLD HUNDREDTH) for Psalm 134. You can find this arranged with two different lyrics: one by Arlo Duba in LUYH 924 and another by Calvin Seerveld on the Psalm Project’s recording (psalmproject.nl).

Call to Worship

In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

The Lord be with you!
And also with you!

God’s strong name is our help.
The same God who made heaven and earth. (Ps. 124:8, The Message)

or

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(Ps. 46:1, 11, NRSV)

Songs of Praise

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” LUYH 575, PH 482, PsH 253, SWM 45, TH 53, WR 71 

A classic German Reformation hymn. Consider using the folk-rock arrangement from Redemption Hill Church of Richmond, Virginia   .

“Sola” Zac Hicks   

A modern worship song that meditates on the five solas. See previous page for the lead sheet.

“Rejoice In All Your Works (Psalm 104)” Wendell Kimbrough   

A contemporary folk arrangement of Psalm 104.

Wendell Kimbrough is one of many young artists returning to the psalms as inspiration for new worship songs. Other artists to check out include Sandra McCracken, The Psalter Project, Celtic Psalms, and Tony Alonso.

“Grace Alone” The Modern Post   

A modern worship song meditating on the Reformation theme of grace alone.

“For All the Saints” LUYH 254, GtG 326, PH 526, PsH 505, TH 358, WR 529,   

Or try Indelible Grace’s retuned hymn version (tinyurl.com/jfkzbcg).

Confession and Assurance

Prayer of Confession

We have come together as God’s family
to pray for the recovery of the unity of Christ’s church
and for the renewal of our common life.
The Lord is full of gentleness and compassion.
In penitence and faith let us ask his forgiveness of our sins.

There is one Body and one Spirit,
and one hope of our calling.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

There is one God and Father of us all,
above all and through all and in all.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

— Extracts from The Book of Common Prayer, the rights in which are vested in the Crown, are reproduced by permission of the Crown’s Patentee, Cambridge University Press.

Songs of Confession and Lament

“My Help, My God (Psalm 42)” Sandra McCracken 
“From the Depths of Woe (Psalm 130)” Indelible Grace   

A retuned hymn based on Martin Luther’s versification of Psalm 130.

Alt. “Out of the Depths I Cry to You on High” LUYH 655, PFAS 851   

Assurance

Heavenly Father,
you have called us in the Body of your Son Jesus Christ,
to continue his work of reconciliation
and reveal you to the world:
forgive us the sins which tear us apart;
give us the courage to overcome our fears
and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will;
through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

— Extracts from The Book of Common Prayer, the rights in which are vested in the Crown, are reproduced by permission of the Crown’s Patentee, Cambridge University Press.

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . . Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.”

— Luther’s Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae iucundae (1538)

Songs of Thanksgiving

“Bless the Lord, My Soul” Taizé LUYH 836, GtG 544, PFAS 646, SNC 256   

This well-known piece from the French ecumenical community of Taizé draws from Psalm 103 and is a wonderful sung assurance of pardon.

Alt. “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” Andraé Crouch LUYH 516, PFAS 643, GtG 535 

Extending the Peace of God

The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Songs of Dedication

“One Kingdom” Josh Davis/Multicultural Network   
“Solas” Frontline Music   

Another modern attempt to musicalize the solas of the Reformation by contemporary worship leader Charlie Hall.

or

“Alabad al Señor/Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117)” LUYH 279, PFAS 741 
“In Christ There Is No East or West” LUYH 268, GtG 317, PH 440, PsH 540, WR 600 
“The Church of Christ in Every Age” WR 623, GTG 320   

Prayer

O God, truly you are a gracious God, inviting our conversation and promising to respond. We thank you that you do not demand that we be alike in our Christian practice, but only alike in our common praise of you. Let our “Amens” echo with saints past, with saints present, with angels, with archangels, and with all the company of heaven. “Amen. Amen. Amen.” It shall be so, according to your holy will, now and forever. Amen.

— Prayer from North Community Lutheran Church, Columbus, Ohio Include this copyright line when using this prayer in your worship service.

Hearing God’s Word

Song of Preparation

“Speak, O Lord” LUYH 755   

or

“O Word of God Incarnate” LUYH 757, GtG 459, PH 327, PsH 279, TH 140, WR 670 

Scripture Reading

Psalm 46

Prayer for Illumination/Collect

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

— Extracts from The Book of Common Prayer, the rights in which are vested in the Crown, are reproduced by permission of the Crown’s Patentee, Cambridge University Press.

Sermon

The Presbyterian Mission site has a helpful litany that weaves Psalm 46 with a singing of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” that would make an excellent option for a hymn festival version of this service (https://tinyurl.com/zv54399).

Songs of Response

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” LUYH 776, GtG 275, PH 259/260, PsH 469, TH 92, WR 507   

There have been many attempts to musicalize this iconic hymn from Luther. This is a wonderful folk-pop arrangement from worship leader Stephen Gordon of Grace & Peace Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky: tinyurl.com/zd5ntl2.

The early Reformation built its initial repertoire on the word of God and hymns that taught the fundamentals of the faith. Here are two modern musical versions of the Apostles’ Creed:

“This I Believe (Creed)” Hillsong 
“The Apostles’ Creed” Music by Mindy Deckard   

Table and Response

Song of Simeon

“Lord God, Now Let Your Servants Depart in Peace” Greg Scheer   

Calvin included the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) in his Lord’s Supper liturgy. It was one of the New Testament canticles that many Reformers included in their earliest song collections.

or

“Now May Your Servant, Lord” LUYH 935, PsH 216   

Communion Song

“Remembrance (The Communion Song)” Matt Maher and Matt Redman   

A communion song from Catholic contemporary worship songwriters Matt Maher and Matt Redman

Prayers of the People

Consider finishing your prayer with this collect for unity from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty Father,
whose blessed Son before his passion prayed
for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one:
Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit,
that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— Extracts from The Book of Common Prayer, the rights in which are vested in the Crown, are reproduced by permission of the Crown’s Patentee, Cambridge University Press.

Singing the Lord’s Prayer

“Our Heavenly Father” arr. Hope College Worship 

Both Luther and Calvin made attempts to musicalize the the Lord’s Prayer. Here is a text by Scottish hymnodist James Montgomery that was recently recorded by the college ministry at Hope College.

or

“Abana alathi fi ssama/Abana in Heaven” LUYH 911, PFAS 1049 

A choral arrangement arranged by Greg Scheer is available through GIA.

or

“The Lord’s Prayer” LUYH 917 

Professing our Faith in Song

“With One Heart” King’s Region (feat. Josh Davis)   

Today more than seventy percent of the world’s Protestants live outside of the original geography of the Reformation. This song from Multicultural Worship Leaders Network is a wonderful sonic picture of the unity the body of Christ finds at the table—and it lends a bit of southern-hemisphere festiveness to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

“Reformation Hymn (We Will Trust God’s Word Alone)”   

A new hymn from Bob Kauflin (Sovereign Grace) and Chris Anderson meditating on the five solas, written specifically for Reformation celebrations this year. See p. 19 for the music.

“Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”

— Rule VII of John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing.”

Sending

Songs of Sending and Dedication

“Make of Our Hearts” Hiram Ring   

This simple Scripture song is a wonderful call for unity rooted in the words of John 15.

or

“God, the Father of Your People” LUYH 927, PsH 322 

Doxology

“Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow” LUYH 965, PH 591/592, PsH 638, TH 731, 732, WR 34/44/147 

Consider this version (tinyurl.com/jqv3exz) from Fuller Seminary, a global celebration of praise singing the traditional doxology.

Benediction

Go in peace as the reaffirmed church of Jesus Christ.
We go to be his body in a broken world.
May the grace of God and the love of Christ go with you. Amen.

From Liturgy as Life — Journey, William B. Oden, 1976 © William B. Oden. —The Worship Sourcebook, Section 9.1.21, p. 360. Used with Permission. Congregations to use at no charge in non-commercial ways in worship and education.

Postlude