The Church’s One Foundation: A Hymn for the Reformation

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died. (ELW 654)

By Rob Durocher, Deacon
Minister of Worship and the Arts

One of the greatest hymns in our heritage of faith, ‘The Church’s One Foundation’, was written in the 1860’s by an Anglican parish priest and hymnodist, The Rev. Samuel Stone, near London, England. His great hymn was born out of a passionate defense of not only the poor and vulnerable, but also of his faith when halfway around the world a controversial Bishop in South Africa, John Colenso, was openly questioning Moses’ authority of the first five books of the Bible. While Bishop Colenso was officially rebuked and disciplined, his controversial views on Biblical authority and the articles of the Apostle’s Creed reverberated throughout the Church of England and the Anglican church in many countries causing confusion amongst the simpler worshippers of many parishes. Stone (Born in 1839) was also known to be a little menacing due to his athletic build and sometimes not so gentle way of dealing with inequity, including his confrontations with those he felt bullied and took advantage of others but his passion for defending the vulnerable never escaped his convictions and way of doing things.

Samuel Stone’s response to this controversy was to write a series of hymns in a volume called the Lyra Fidelium, Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostle’s Creed, written to teach and to encourage his congregation to hold fast to the truths of our faith in the face of controversies. ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ was written to embrace the ninth article of the Apostle’s Creed, I believe in the holy catholic church . . . because as Samuel Stone saw the church being ‘rent asunder by heresies oppressed’ with someone else’s confusing doctrine, he wanted his flock and the flocks of surrounding churches to continue to find comfort and surety in what the Apostle’s Creed taught them as a spiritual device in navigating throughout life and deeper faith. He hoped that these hymns would help people to better understand the creed that they recited each time that they gathered but seldom understood. He hoped that they would hold up the conservative side of the controversy that was rocking the church. Of his Lyra Fidelium “The Church’s One Foundation” remains the only hymn that continues to be loved and widely sung!

Stone’s burning desire and conviction was for the church to remain unified as a temporal body here on earth in the midst of spiritual controversy. In his hymn, Stone connects the church on earth with the church triumphant. (Yet she on earth has union with God the three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.) He believed that the saints in heaven are encouraging the church by keeping watch as controversy within the church raged on below. This imagery continues to be meaningful today as we, too, see certain divisions in the church, in our world, through racial and political divide and brokenness in our lives. Stone’s conviction and preaching was that the church should rest alone on the Lordship of Jesus Christ and not the distractions and messes by the interpretations of men.

Originally, ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ had seven verses, while we only include five verses in our hymnal one of the original verses left out is:

The Church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend.
To guide, sustain and cherish, is with her to the end.
Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale
Against the for or traitor she never will prevail.

Samuel Stone based his hymn of 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And his continual reference to the unity of Christ and the church as ‘she’ or ‘her’ implies an intimate relationship expressed in the image of the bridegroom and the bride where Christ is the bridegroom and we, the church are his bride. (Mark 2:19, John 3:29, Matthew 22:1-14)

‘The Church’s One Foundation’ became extremely popular not only in the United Kingdom but throughout much of the world as it was translated into many languages to be sung by millions of believers throughout the world. At a conference of Anglican Bishops in England known as the Lambeth Conference in 1886, this hymn was selected as the thematic hymn for its historical meeting propelling Stone to become a prolific hymn writer although ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ is the only one that remains with us today.

The hymn tune for ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ was composed by London born Samuel S. Wesley (born in 1810) who was the grandson of beloved hymn writer Charles Wesley. The hymn tune is called AURELIA, the Latin word for ‘golden’ was first written as the tune for the hymn ‘Jerusalem the Golden’, but was chosen as the hymn tune for ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ at the 1868 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and continues to be the hymn tune that we so love to sing today and throughout the world.

In reflection, there is no doubt that we as the Bride of Christ struggle to reflect the love of Christ to the world in being faithful witnesses in a time of COVID-19, loss of jobs, income, some who mourn the loss of loved ones, disrupted relationships of family and friendships and the pain of so many divides in communities and in churches we still long for all to see peace and unity found in the living hope that we know in Christ. We are built on a firm foundation that is Christ Jesus and one day we will see ‘the night of weeping become the morn of song rejoicing in the brilliant presence of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!

1 The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the word.
From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

2 Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation one Lord, one faith, one birth:
one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

3 Though with a scornful wonder this 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.

4 Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war,
she waits 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.

5 Yet she on earth hath union with God, the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
Oh, blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord, save us by your grace,
that we, like saints before us, may see you face to face.

 


Join us for Reformation Sunday, Oct. 25

 In-person contemporary worship in the Faith Center, 9:27 am
Online traditional worship in the sanctuary, 11 am

 

 

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