Lutherans bucked the trend and both preserved chanting and provided an atmosphere in which congregational song and liturgical music flourished. Even then it was not without some complaint. Bach was too busy on the keyboards for many and some thought that hymnody worked best when accompaniment was simple, plain, and drew little attention to itself. We have all suffered through the mythology of Luther quotes (why must the devil get all the good music) or the equally false idea that he borrowed liberally from pub songs and secular melody (and countenanced it) to obtain suitable tunes to go with early Lutheran hymn texts. Thankfully these have been pretty much exposed as falsehoods and inventions by scholars.
Now, nearly 500 years after Luther, we find ourselves in the midst of music battles within the worship wars. The same old tired ideas of the past have been brought forward again and pressed upon us. Music is neutral. It does not matter what tunes we sing but merely the text within that musical form. So Christian rap and the great Lutheran chorales differ more on the scale of culture (high or low) than value or worth. What foolishness we tell ourselves!
The early Christian hermits were suspicious of music. They knew the power of music to drive, if not overwhelm, the text itself. Chant was kept but polyphony, instrumental music, and congregational song were viewed by these desert fathers as influential as the very words of the music. So Orthodoxy remains sung but absent instrumental accompaniment (especially in contrast to the use of the pipe organ in the West).
Music is more than merely a vehicle for the text. It is itself a medium that communicates values, ideas, and identity. Some would have us believe that music is to the text merely a vehicle to get the words into the minds and out the lips of the people and that it does not matter if that vehicle is a classy and elegant automobile or a lean and maneuverable scooter or motorcycle or a sturdy truck. It matters not if it is a Mercedes or Mazda, Harley or Hummer, luxury sedan or junker. The text is all that is important. If this were the case, we might have less to argue about except culture. But it is not. Music matters and not simply as a delivery vehicle for the text. It imposes ideas, can conflict with the text, has the power to overwhelm the words, and even detract from the content.
For this reason, music must not only deliver the text but serve it -- serve it as its hand maiden (as Luther put it) so that the aims of the text become the aims of the tune as well and what ends up is a comprehensive whole of text and tune working together for the same purpose, to deliver the same message, and to honor the same God. The sad truth is that we choose songs we like not only for what the words say but simply for how it all sounds to us. In fact, sometimes we never know or realize what the words actually say while remaining in love with the sound of the music. Such is incompatible with Christian music, especially hymnody. What distinguishes Christian music is that text and tune become a seamless whole in saying the same thing to heart and head -- at the same time. When and where that happens, music is blessed and made as noble as any servant can be in serving a higher good. When and where that does not happen, it is unworthy of worship, unworthy of our attention, and unworthy of the God whom it seeks to honor.
The danger in the Church today is as much from vehicles headed in a different direction from the Word of the Lord it claims to sing as it is from Christians who refuse to acknowledge the often obvious contradictions between preference and truth. Christian music is NOT primarily about what we like but about what is faithful in words and in music. We have, sadly, become accustomed to presuming that what we like is good enough for God. What we forget is that it is nneither good enough for God NOR for us.