“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