Jeremy Begbie, in his book Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Baker Academic Books, ISBN 978-0-8010-2695-9, 2007) surveys music in Scripture, in historical worship practice and in contemporary culture. In chapter 4 Begbie examines the use of music in worship by Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli comparing the music and worship philosophies of these sixteenth century reformers.
Among the three reformers, Martin Luther is known as the strongest promoter of music in the church. Although Calvin advocated congregational singing, he was much more restrictive than Luther. Luther and Calvin both agreed on the importance of congregational singing especially since it had been all but lost in the Roman Catholic Mass of their day. It was common at that time for all of the worship music to be performed by professional clergy who played the instruments and sang in the choirs. Both Luther and Calvin wanted to give the worship songs back to the congregation.
Luther encouraged the writing of new hymns and Calvin authorized the paraphrasing of the Psalms for use in worship. Calvin would only allow Scripture texts or paraphrases of Scripture texts for congregational songs. These new Psalm paraphrases were to be sung with no harmony and without instruments (since there are no directives in the New Testament for use of instruments in worship). Luther on the other hand encouraged part-singing (harmony) and the use of instruments in worship.
One of the other well known reformers of the sixteenth century was Ulrich Zwingli who although he was a musician was determined to have no music or singing in worship. In his attempt to model a worship service totally free of any Roman Catholic influences, Zwingli thought that music was distracting in worship so he simply did not have music in his services. Zwingli was known for having the organ dismantled from the Zurich church building where he preached.
Focusing on Martin Luther for a moment, I especially liked a quote from Luther on music and ministers in Begbie’s book:
Music I have always loved. He who knows music has a good nature. Necessity demands that music be kept in the schools. A schoolmaster must be able to sing otherwise I will not look at him. And before a young man is ordained into the ministry, he should practise music in school.
(Martin Luther, Martin Luther Werke: Kristiche Gesamtausgabe, vol. 30:2, Weimar H. Bohlau, 1909, 557, no. 6248 as quoted by Begbi, Resounding Truth, 98)
I would agree that all ministers should have some instruction in music. Why? Luther says because he who knows music has a good nature, but I would go further to say that at some point all pastors will be called on to lead congregational songs. Many pastors serve in churches where finding music leadership can be difficult. There is always the Sunday when at the last minute the congregational song leader is out sick. Since most pastors will at some point supervise a worship leader, it would also benefit them to understand something of what this person is expected to do as a worship leader.
We are diligent to ensure thorough theological training for our pastors (and we should). We should also be diligent to at least give our pastors some practical instruction in congregational music leading and worship planning. If we were to take Martin Luther’s statement seriously about music and ministers, perhaps at the ordination council the young minister should also have to pass a basic congregational music leading test.