Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Church's One Foundation"

Although the norm for Sunday worship at Bethany is contemporary, occasionally they do throw a more traditional hymn or two into the mix. This morning they sang for the first time "The Church's One Foundation." I'd sung it many times before and practically knew it by heart, but this was perhaps the first time since my interest in Orthodoxy. I don't know if it sent shivers down anyone else's spine--probably not--but to me it seemed so out of place, not just stylistically but perhaps more so lyrically:
1. 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.

2. Elect from every 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 every grace endued.

3. Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore 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. Mid 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.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
I don't recall ever hearing or singing the third verse, but even these five are shortened from the original version, written by S. J. Stone, a 19th-c. Anglican pastor. The hymn was part of a series he wrote, based on the Apostles' Creed, and was originally titled, "The Nature of the Universal Church, and the Fellowship of the Saints." My initial guess was that it was Anglican or pre-Reformation. Evangelicals these days may occasionally affirm the Apostles' Creed, but they
are not likely to sing songs about actual communion with the departed saints.

For me, it's hard to hear this hymn in an Evangelical context without some cynicism. I try to do everything I do in worship in the presence of the saints and with all the Orthodox sensibility I can muster, which is why it was such a moving hymn for me. But even as I sang, I could not make sense of it from an Evangelical perspective. They do not have one faith over all the earth, except in a very stripped-down, absolute minimum. If they partake one holy food, it is without a common understanding of what that even means.

Of course, there is also much in the song that Evangelicals can affirm without reservation, and that's what saddens me most in such situations. It would almost be easier to deal with an altogether non-Christian religion, where the boundaries are more clear-cut. With Evangelicals, I see the truth that they have, and often their enthusiasm for Christ. I see their love, their service, their outreach, and so many other things about their lives that are on the right track. And in their ideals, I see the Church--it's something that they long for, without knowing exactly what it is or why it seems such a distant reality.

Jesus told the parables of the dragnet and of the wheat and tares, where the Church is pictured by various means as including both the true and the false, the good and the bad, and at the end of the age, it will be sorted out. In the wheat and tares, the servants even ask about uprooting the tares right away, but the master explains that to do so would mean destroying much of the true wheat as well. I can't help but feel like Protestantism has been one big failure to heed these words. By trying to uproot the bad, earthly elements that were found in the Western Church, the Reformers threw out much that belonged. Later forms of Evangelicalism have continued this trend of purity through separation. Even the theology that makes the universal church an abstraction, free from any stain because of how it is defined, or relegates the purity of sainthood to the afterlife--these ideas preserve the truth in an ideal but in the process lose its power for the present reality. The result is something so close, yet so far from what the Church was meant to be.


Anonymous said...

"I could not make sense of it from an Evangelical perspective. They do not have one faith over all the earth, except in a very stripped-down, absolute minimum. If they partake one holy food, it is without a common understanding of what that even means."

You can't make sense of it from an Evangelical perspective because it is not a hymn from the Evanglical tradition. It's origins pre-date Evangelicalism.

Trevor said...

Precisely my point, but the fact that it is often sung in Evangelical churches does provoke a search for some contextualized meaning. Perhaps the only real answer is that no one has ever bothered to think about whether it makes any sense in an Evangelical context, but somewhere along the line someone must have thought it was a good idea to include it in the hymnal.

Anonymous said...

We must return to the moist, soft, warm, Slavonic, obshchina, peasant deity of Mokosh and abandon the urban, reptile, mechantile religion of the Greeks and Jews, who want to turn us all into wolves while we are sleeping so they can suck our blood. We Slavs are just one big extended family with no bounds of ownership, we are embraced by our great thunder father Tsar and our long armed earth mother Mokosh. The Tsar is the most wise thundering high priest of Mokosh. The land is our fertile mother Mokosh who nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us. Plowing is like taking a knife to tear my mother's bosom, then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. Land is loaned, not owned, it is our mother heifer, the great round egg of fertility, which holds the blood of our ancestors in its yolk. No, we must warm the earth with fire and water it so that our ancestors may be with us when our doors and windows are open as the
roots of our tree, whose crown is Perun of Thunder, father of all Tsars. We must sew the scalps of the urban reptile people into a big tent where our ancestors may visit us to be warmed by our fire. Cattle are sacred for we must be as cattle and live in herds and abhor the abomination of individualism. It is the wondrous glory of our women to be white heifers. We must get all humans to be as cattle in one grand obshchina for their salvation. Fear of censure binds all into collective behavior for their can be no individualism or privacy. The Greeks and Jews tried to destroy our great communal bonds, with greed, inequality and competition, but we softly fit into the landscape with equality and brotherhood. Mokosh reveals the weather to those who put an ear to the ground and even greater secrets to those who sleep on the ground. Mokosh always works in circles, wind whirls, seasons cycle, history cycles, the sun is a round blini. Birds make their nest
in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. Moskosh is the big round toilet bowl which whirls us all back home. Any attempt to break the cycle of history by modernization can only result in times of troubles. Turn East and say: "Moist Mother Earth, subdue every evil and unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us nor do us any harm." Turn West and say: "Moist Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power Veles in your boiling pits, in your burning fires." Turn South and say: "Moist Mother Earth, calm the winds coming from the south and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds." Turn North and say: "Moist Mother Earth, calm the north winds and the clouds, subdue the snowstorms and the cold."

Trevor said...

Um . . . OK . . .