Singing the Word of God
Johann Sebastian Bach was a Lutheran by profession, a Lutheran by personal persuasion, and a Lutheran in his musical practice. Before he took up his post as cantor in Leipzig, he went through two theological examinations, which he passed by endorsing the Formula of Concord, a statement of faith from 1577 that encapsulated the high points of Martin Luther's theology. The inventory of Bach's books made after his death included two sets of Luther's works (one in German, one in Latin) and several volumes of his miscellaneous writings, along with a number of major works by Lutheran theologians.
Bach stood squarely in the Lutheran tradition, not just in following the substance of Luther's theology, but also in actively building upon what Luther had accomplished as a writer of hymns and a promoter of church music. What Bach harvested was a seed planted by Luther himself.
The dawn of the theological Reformation in Germany was also the dawn of Protestant church music, and the principal agent for both was Martin Luther. Luther's importance for the musical tradition that climaxed with Bach came from three things: his theology of music, his musical practice, and his own activity as a hymn writer.
Luther often expressed the conviction that music was, under God, of supreme importance. In comments he made at meal times, which eager disciples recorded as his "Table Talk," Luther several times described music as "the greatest gift of God which has often induced and inspired me to preach." In his view, God gave music to humanity as a way to impress men and women with the glory of divine gifts.
In 1542, Luther wrote a preface to a collection of funeral hymns. In it he explained what was so important about ...