Luther’s hymn rings true. Christ arms his servants with spiritual armor, the power of the gospel to save, the authority of the Word of God, and his unflagging promise to build his church. His servants join the battle, but Christ secures the victory. May we find hope not in a hymn, but in Christ’s strength, to which A Mighty Fortress is Our God points.
One of the most celebrated hymns of the Christian faith is Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Drawing upon Psalm 46, Luther’s hymn buoys the spirit by reflecting on God’s unfailing providence, even in the midst of catastrophe and adversity. Luther’s hymn also serves as a reminder of the ongoing spiritual struggle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ.
A Mighty Fortress is Our God is something of a cultural and ecclesiastical mainstay. It has been sung at both royal coronations and state funerals; enjoyed as a celebratory hymn in weddings and featured at services of remembrance, such as at the National Cathedral in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yet, the real meaning of A Mighty Fortress is Our God is reserved for followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The history of the Christian church is largely a history of hardship among God’s people. Whether it be the Apostle Paul’s incarcerations, the early church’s sufferings under Nero, Luther’s flight from papal imprisonment, Baptists laboring for religious liberty, or Jim Elliott’s death at the end of a native’s spear, to follow Christ indeed is the call to take up one’s cross. For Jesus’ sake, God’s people have known ostracism, ridicule, persecution, and even martyrdom.
However, one need not look to history to find signs of gospel challenge; one simply needs to look around. Oppressive regimes abroad and secular thought at home situate the 21st century church in the midst of daunting gospel adversity. The modern era has not alleviated gospel hardship, but in many ways has intensified it.
Full-throated secularism—as witnessed through the rejection of objective truth, sexual libertinism, the disintegration of the nuclear family, declining church attendance, and threatened religious liberty—appears to be gaining ground. The church will have to contend with it.