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The Church's One Foundation

 

“The Church’s One Foundation”  Standing squarely within the English Victorian tradition of churchly song, this hymn bears all the hallmarks one would expect from that cultural milieu—a tune which is solid rhythmically but lilting melodically and a text which juxtaposes good and evil, right and wrong, black and white against one another. 

          Samuel Stone (1839-1900) published this hymn in Lyra Fidelium, a collection of twelve hymns, each devoted to one statement in the Apostles’ Creed, this being associated with number nine, “I believe. . . in the Holy Christian Church.”  Its scriptural precedent is Ephesians 4: 4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  Samuel Stone had been distressed by some of the heresies that had plagued the Anglican Church in the late 19th century, particularly from a certain South African theologian, John Colenso, who had questioned the historicity of the Old Testament.  Stone’s hymn is meant as an affirmation of the Church Universal, likewise a longing for a Church unified in doctrine and practice, “. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.”  (Ephesians 2: 20) 

          The previous hymnal, Lutheran Worship, grievously omitted stanza three with its wrenching, vivid imagery:  “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, Yet saints their watch are keeping;  their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”  The previous Commission on Worship excluded this stanza because, in their view, the referred-to phrase of the Apostles’ Creed refers to the Church Universal, “. . . to which belong only those true believers who, by the working of the Holy Spirit, have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ and His vicarious atonement.  Hence omitted here. . . “By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.’”  Obviously, heretics and schismatics are not members of Christ’s Church, although they may appear in the guise of “sons within her pale.”  Yet, “The Church’s One Foundation” is not the creed and, like a sermon or tract, is able to usurp liberties in order to exegete and proclaim what this Church Universal truly is. 

          Christ has not yet returned, and we still live under the hope of the resurrection and Christ’s return.  This has been promised us, but the promise will only be fulfilled on the Last Day.  We certainly must be aware of the tribulations experienced by denominations and church bodies now.  The Anglicans are close to a split, with the faithful wishing to disassociate themselves from the current heresies.  The fundamentalists, it seems, seem to produce preachers who have a penchant for embroiling themselves in personal failures and spectacular lapses of judgment.  And the Roman Catholic priesthood has managed to tarnish its image whereby priests are often amongst the least trusted members of society.  Let us not even mention the mega-church “evangelicals” who have forsaken the preaching of law and gospel in order to proclaim a falsely-joyful version of works righteousness, a theology of glory, which extols our work for God and reduces His gift to us to secondary status next to the glamour and glitz of their Sunday morning productions.  Indeed, these problems, depressing as they are to ponder, are not new.  The Church has been through them before and, whilst we certainly do not wish to urge complacency, we must keep in mind that God guides His church in spite of the best efforts of some Christians, our Old Testament lesson this morning evidencing this fact when God says, “’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’. . . I will set up shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”  (Jer. 23: 1, 4)  The integrity of the Christian Church, then, is not dependent on the success of its human components.

          We must always continue to fight for proper doctrine--law and gospel preached clearly whereby the Holy Spirit may work as He has promised.  We must continue to promote practices which, whilst they can vary somewhat in style, always promote Word and Sacrament rather than simply entertain us or tickle our latest cultural fancy.  At the same time, we must realize that we cannot solve these problems and, indeed, they will be with us until “. . . the consummation of peace forevermore, till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.”

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

For All the Saints

 

“For All the Saints.”  This hymn, written by William How in 1864, encompasses the theme of All Saints Day which, although technically falling on the first of November, we celebrate today.  All Saints is a celebration in which we recall the true unity of the Church, characterized by Paul in I Cor. 2 as “. . . those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  One’s eternal membership in the Church is secured by the fulfillment of the command to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 38-39.)  The Church, then, is comprised of people either past, present, or future, who profess Christ and who are baptized and as a result are vessels of the Holy Spirit.  (There are arguably exceptions to the command to “be baptized,” as the story of the thief on the cross will attest, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.)  The Church is Lord of Life congregation, and it is also the other faithful, confessional churches throughout the world, or, as Luke writes in Acts, the Church extends to “all who are far off.”

            Christian orthodoxy has always characterized the two-fold nature of the Church;  it is both “visible” and “invisible.”  Obviously, the visible Church is comprised of those who attend Word and Sacrament worship, and it is manifest in our church buildings and in our various “ministries.”  Yet, as stated previously, the Church extends far beyond that both geographically and in time.  And, not everyone who is an outward member of the Church is truly a member of the true, invisible Church, as we read in Matt. 7: 21, “Not everyone who says to me [Jesus], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” 

            The easy commercialism of modern society encourages a type of rugged individualism suggested by advertisements which proclaim, “You deserve it,” “Just do it,” etc.  The Church, often harmfully influenced by society, tends also to think with a similar theological myopia.  We may become so concerned with our own tasks and busy-ness (which we may call “ministry”) and “our” successes and failures that we lose the perspective of the Church Universal comprised of “All the saints who from their labors rest, all who by faith before the world confessed. . .” (stanza 1)  In the words of Jesus, we are the “branches,” Christ is the “vine.”  (John 15: 5)  Today we pause to remember the other “branches,” separated from us by geography and/or time, but part of the Church nonetheless.  We remember, in the words of stanza 2, that Christ only “. . . was their rock, their fortress, and their might, [He] their captain in the well-fought fight.”  This common doctrine and faith echoes Eph. 2: 20:  “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.” 

            All Saints Day generally, and this hymn specifically, 1) encourages us in our daily life and 2) reminds us of the vast scope of the Church Universal.  We are encouraged that we, too, will eventually conclude the “race” which is our earthly struggle to achieve, through Christ, the “crown of gold;” we also remember that the Church and its concerns is not limited simply to the four walls of our church building or even our Christian home.

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

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