Everyone Sunday morning when I was kid, we would watch “The Gospel Music Jubilee” while getting ready for church. Following that show was a classic, “Davy & Goliath” with its theme song, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I can still hear it now with its blaring instrumentation, especially the pipe organ.
The Reformers didn’t just protest; they sang. The Protestant Reformation didn’t just give birth to preaching and writing, but it inspired music and unleashed song.
Perhaps the greatest evidence that the Reformation released real joy in freeing captives from the bondage of man-made religion is that its theology made for such a good marriage with music. The Reformation sang.
Battle Hymn of the Reformation
Leading the way not just in word, but in song, was Martin Luther. He wrote nearly forty hymns, many of which he composed not only the words but even the music. His most famous, of course, “A Mighty Fortress,” often is called “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” The song embodies with strength and gusto the very spirit of the Reformation, breaking free from the flaccidity and poverty of medieval theology with rich God-confidence.
The hymn takes its inspiration mainly from the first two verses of Psalm 46, along with the refrain of verses 7 and 11.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear . . . (Psalm 46:1–2)
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7, 11)
Psalm 46 opens with God as “refuge and strength,” and the battle hymn opens with God as “mighty fortress” — literally, a strong or unshakable castle. Line three is “help in trouble”; stanza three is “we will not fear.”