WordAlone - Hymns that teach and preach the faith
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Hymns that teach and preach the faith

by Gracia Grindal (Professor of Rhetoric and Hymnologist, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)

Undated


“Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that, admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally even pray. For these are the purposes of the ceremonies. We keep the Latin for the sake of those who learn and understand it. We also use German hymns in order that the [common] people might have something to learn, something that will arouse their faith and fear.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, [XXIV:] The Mass, p 258, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, edited by Kolb/Wengert, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000)

The Lutheran Confessions speak quite clearly about the use of the hymn: it is to teach the faith to the laity. Hymns are to teach and preach the faith so as to “arouse faith and fear.” I read that to mean that Luther and those who came after wrote their hymns in order to help the laity proclaim and teach the faith to their fellow believers. In these hymns we learn the faith, how to preach the law and gospel, and hear the faith proclaimed to us. By writing words in rhymed stanzas to memorable tunes the reformers assured that people would learn the principles of the Lutheran faith.

From that time, Lutheran hymn writers have written hymn texts that help the congregation proclaim its faith. For generations Lutheran hymn writers wrote hymns that helped congregations teach and preach the faith. We as Lutherans are heirs of a vast treasury of these chorales, not all of which are appropriate for use today, but many of which are classics. At the November 2003 WordAlone worship conference I recommended that WordAlone congregations decide on about 30 hymns to hold up as essential for the teaching and preaching of the faith. Someone asked me what my list would look like, and I demurred because I don’t want my list to be taken as THE WordAlone list. The questioner persisted, however, and said that my list would simply be a set of suggestions that she and her congregation could use as a beginning point. So here is a list, from which I have left many of my favorites, but these are classics that express some of the big themes of the Lutheran faith and tradition. My definition of a Lutheran hymn is one that proclaims the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not a text by someone with Lutheran genes. You will have many to add, as I do, but this list may show you how a hymnologist thinks about these things as well. Because everyone learns Christmas carols, I have left them out. Those that are not to be found in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) or With One Voice (WOV) can be found on this website. Click on the hyperlink in the title to open those files

  • German Hymns

    • Time of Martin Luther: 1523-1546

      • A Mighty Fortress is Our God LBW 228/229
      • Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Your Word LBW 230
    • Period of Orthodoxy 1546-1650

      • Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying LBW 31 (Nicolai)
      • O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright LBW 76 (Nicolai)
      • O Sacred Head, Now Wounded LBW 116 (Clairvaux/Gerhardt)
      • Ah, Holy Jesus LBW 123 (Heermann)
      • Now Thank We All Our God LBW 533/534 (Rinkhart)
      • If You But Trust in God to Guide You LBW 453 (Neumark)
    • Pietism 1675-1750

      • Jesus, Still Lead On LBW 341 (Zinzendorf)
    • 19th Century

      • Lord, Take my Hand and Lead Me LBW 333 (Hausmann)
  • Danish

    • Like the Golden Sun Ascending (Kingo)
    • Who is this Host Arrayed in White LBW 314 (Brorson)
    • Built on a Rock LBW 365 (Grundtvig)
    • O Day Full of Grace LBW 161 (Grundtvig)
  • Swedish

    • Jesus, Lord and Precious Savior (Arrhenius)
    • Around You, O Lord Jesus LBW 496 (Franzen)
    • Children of the Heavenly Father LBW 474 (Sandell)
    • Day by Day WOV 746 (Sandell)
  • English

    • 18th Century

      • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross LBW 482 (Watts)
      • O God, Our Help in Ages Past LBW 320 (Watts)
      • O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing LBW 559 (C. Wesley)
      • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling LBW 315 (C. Wesley)
    • 19th Century

      • Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying LBW 31 (Nicolai)
      • O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright LBW 76 (Nicolai)
      • O Sacred Head, Now Wounded LBW 116 (Clairvaux/Gerhardt)
      • Ah, Holy Jesus LBW 123 (Heermann)
      • Now Thank We All Our God LBW 533/534 (Rinkhart)
      • If You But Trust in God to Guide You LBW 453 (Neumark)
  • American

    • My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less LBW 293/294 (Mote)