Story Behind “The Church’s One Foundation” Hymn
Written by G Njuguna on March 20, 2022
Songs are a powerful means of teaching. The melodies, rhythms, and rhymes that characterize songs make the words easier to remember. The best and most effective songs combine lyrics and music to cultivate feelings that complement the meaning.
All throughout history, God’s people have used songs to teach. We can see this as early as Exodus 15 where Moses records the song Israel sang after crossing the Red Sea. It taught everyone who heard and sang it about God’s character in that great act of delivering his people. In the New Testament, we encounter simple but important truths in the earliest Christian hymns.
The Rev. Samuel John Stone was well aware of the effectiveness of singing when he wrote and published Lyra Fidelium in 1866. As a curate in the small town of Windsor, England, he was aware of his parishioners’ habit of using the Apostles’ Creed in their private prayers. But he was concerned that many of them did not grasp the meaning of what they said. The prose felt too academic, disconnected from the average worshipper, and lacking a devotional spirit.
It was in this context that he wrote Lyra Fidelium, which consisted of twelve hymns, one for each article of the Apostles’ Creed. With each hymn, he included a short “summary of truths confessed” in that article, along with a list of the Scripture passages supporting it. “The Church’s One Foundation” was the hymn he wrote for article 9 of the Creed, which affirms belief in “the holy catholic church” and “the communion of saints.”
“The Church’s One Foundation” is the best known of the twelve hymns in this collection. Louis Benson quotes one English archbishop as saying that “wherever he was called upon to open or dedicate a church, he could always count on two things—cold chicken and ‘The Church’s one Foundation’.”
The hymn’s long legacy undoubtedly owes to the many sweet doctrines it includes its use of the words and concepts of Scripture to express them and its uniqueness in teaching the doctrine of the church. Benson describes it as embodying “practically every doctrine concerning the church [Stone] held most dear (its divine origin, its unbroken continuity, its catholicity, and essential unity, its orthodoxy, its sacramental grace, its communion with God and with the departed saints, its militancy and final triumph).”