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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The faith we sing

How hymns reflect and challenge our beliefs

How hymns reflect and challenge our beliefs.On Reformation Sunday, many ELCA congregations sing Martin Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The lyrics reflect Luther’s theological beliefs about God, the church, the devil and Jesus Christ. He wrote them to teach Christians that they should not fear the powers of the pope, the devil or the princes. Listen to his words:

“We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage! His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 503, 504, 505; Lutheran Book of Worship, 229).

Luther understood that hymns were one of the most important ways to teach theology to people, particularly at a time when most Christians were illiterate. As inheritors of Luther’s rich theological legacy, it’s important for us to reflect on the way hymns shape and challenge our beliefs and how we live out our faith in the world.

While many traditions rely on a prayer book, we Lutherans are drawn to our hymnals. We sing our beliefs, theology and piety. Many of us can easily name a favorite hymn or praise song and recall when it first became important to us—at a baptism, summer camp, Sunday school, or the funeral of a family member or close friend. Hymns elicit strong feelings and memories, and they transport us back to significant times in our lives.


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