“The Church’s One Foundation”
Samuel John Stone – UMH 545
The Rev. Samuel John Stone was well aware of the power of singing when in 1866 he wrote and published Lyra Fidelium (Lyre of the Faithful), a series of twelve hymns, one for each article of the Apostles’ Creed. As a curate in the town of Windsor, England, he was aware of his parishioners’ use of the Apostles’ Creed in their private prayers. But he was concerned that many of them did not fully grasp the meaning of what they said. He believed the mechanical reading of the Creed was too academic and disconnected from the average worshipper, and lacked a devotional spirit.
“The Church’s One Foundation” has become the most popular of the twelve hymns and addresses the ninth article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Holy Catholic (Universal) church” and “the communion of the saints.”
Stone wrote the hymn as much to explain the faith as he did to defend it. The former is readily apparent in the doctrine referenced from the Apostles’ Creed and Scripture verses such as Colossians 1:18, I Corinthians 3:11, and Ephesians 2:20. They remind us that Christ Himself is the center and foundation, and those who build on that foundation are all united in the one holy church.
The concept of defending the faith is a little less obvious and needs some historical context to understand. Observe the text in stanza 3; “Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed…” Did you ever wonder what that verse refers to? Today we most likely read those words as a generic caution against those who bear false witness about the Scriptures or otherwise promote heresy. But in 1866 those words were written in reference to a particular person and situation.
In 1863 John William Colenso (1814 -1883), the Anglican bishop of Natal, South Africa, published “The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined”. This book denied that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, called Joshua a myth, called the books of Chronicles fictitious, and disputed the accuracy of Christ’s statements about Moses. The bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Bishop Gray, supported by 40 other bishops deposed Colenso for his heresy. But Colenso appealed to a secular court and was reinstated, creating a schism in the South African Anglican church that lasted until Colenso’s death.
While controversial at the time, it had no significant lasting impact on the church. It is only presented here to help explain why Stone, a supporter of Bishop Gray, included the text in his hymn. It should be noted that Bishop Colenso was considered a social activist and is credited with performing a significant amount of missionary and advocacy work on behalf of native Africans, particularly those in Natal and Zululand, including translating the New Testament and other parts of Scripture into the Zulu language.
Today “The Church’s One Foundation” is one of our most sung and treasured hymns. It can also be noted that it is normally sung to the tune AURELIA written by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, grandson of Charles Wesley.