The Church's One Foundation

Text of my sermon on The Church's One Foundation.

I think most of you know by now how much I love hymns. Whether you’ve heard me talk about them before, or you came to the hymnsing we had a few weeks ago, I’ve not exactly been quiet about my passion for hymns. But for those of you who don’t know WHY I love hymns, let me reiterate the source of my affection for them.

First, hymns are full of Truth. Many of the hymns that are still sung today were written from the 16th century to the 19th century. During this time, literacy was not common; and while the Bible was technically in print, since it was the first book printed using a printing press, Bibles were still expensive and rare. It would have been very uncommon for most people to be able to read the Bible, much less be able to read it on a regular basis as we are able to do today. Hymns were written to take the fundamental Truths from the Bible and share them in a way that people could remember and take with them.
Second, hymns are full of beautiful poetry. Sure, I could stand here and tell you that Jesus is King of Kings, and angels sing to Him day and night, or I could declare with passion: “Crown Him with Many Crowns, the Lamb upon His throne. Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own!” I’m not a wordsmith by any stretch of the imagination, so it fills me up to be able to sing a hymn and let the words of praise, declaration, and command flow through me.

As you can probably guess, I would like to discuss another hymn with you today. Before I do, I just want to take a moment to declare God’s perfect plan here. I started writing today’s sermon a couple months ago, well before Daniel chose to spend the last two weeks having our family meeting regarding the nature of Church, and what it means at the Harvest. When I realized that I would be following that this week with The Church’s One Foundation, I knew God’s plan is at work, as it always is. God is good! (All the time!)

Now I’m going to read through the hymn real quick, hopefully without singing it. As I do, I want to remind you that as Daniel stated, the Church is not just the Harvest Community Church, or the building that we’re meeting in. It is the body of Christ from every corner of the world. I’ll go into more detail, but first, the hymn.

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

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

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 who hate Her, and false sons in Her pale
Against both foe or traitor, She ever shall prevail.

‘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 blessed
And the Great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest

Yet She on earth has 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!

So, let’s start with a bit of context. This hymn was written in 1866 by a priest in England of the name Samuel John Stone. He wrote it in response to a split in the Church of South Africa. The details of the split don’t matter as much as the fact that there was a lot of discord, anger, and outright hatred between fellow believers because of differences in what they believed. In the midst of this struggle, Stone wrote this hymn to remind people that the Church belongs to Jesus, and encourage people by reminding them that the Church will be victorious because of Christ’s power.

Context in place, let’s dig in:

The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord

Starting from the first line, we have a lot of information here to process. First, let’s talk about what we mean when we say The Church. As I said earlier, here, the Church refers to the single collective body of believers that all who follow Christ belong to. This includes all of us in this room, our brothers and sisters at churches across Tulsa, across America, at churches in Europe and Africa, and even those in hidden churches in places where it is against the law to worship Christ. We are all of us part of one body.

How does this one body have strength to operate around the world? The Church has a Foundation. For those of you who don’t know what a foundation is, it is the rock that holds a building up from the ground, and keeps it sturdy and strong. In this building, the concrete you see beneath our feet is the foundation. Because of this foundation, I could walk over to the walls and no matter how hard I push on the wall it will not move. This building is unmovable, unshakable because it has a strong foundation.

In the same way, the Church has a foundation, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have – Jesus Christ.” The Hand by which God created all things, in heaven and on earth, is the one who ensures that the Church can’t be moved; I can’t think of any better news for the security of the Church.

Jesus isn’t just the foundation for the Church; the hymn says: “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord”. He is Lord over the church. What does that mean, that Jesus is Lord over the Church? Thankfully, the rest of the verse provides a clear answer. The next line says:

She is His new creation, by Water and the Word

First, Jesus created the church. In Matthew 16, Jesus says to Peter: “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church […]”. The Church isn’t just something that some people came up with years ago. “Hey, I’ve got an idea, I worship Christ, and you worship Christ, let’s hang out together. While we’re at it, we can talk about the awesome things Jesus said.” While that’s a great idea, it didn’t come from believers: it came from Jesus – He laid the Foundation for the body of believers.

But the body of believers wasn’t just the twelve apostles and no one else. The Church is still growing today, with new believers and new parts to the body. How is this body still growing today? By Water and the Word. The meaning of the Word is fairly simple: The Scriptures. When we meet with others who don’t know Christ to share the Gospel message, we carry Truth with us by means of Scripture. Even if we don’t open the Bible directly in front of them, we share what we’ve learned from Scripture with them, and they learn Truth.

What does it mean when we say Water, though? I think most of you were here a few months back when we did the baptism service. We had the swimming pool full of water sitting in the corner there, and we welcomed seventeen new believers to our church body through the Holy process of baptism. So, after a person has learned the Truth from Scripture, then they are baptized as a public declaration of faith, and in this way The Church continues to grow. This is as true here today as has been since the Church was started.

But Jesus didn’t just create the church. Next it says:

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

As most of us know, before He came to earth, Jesus was in heaven as part of the triune God. Paul shares with us in Philippians 2:

Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Think about that for a second: Before He was born on earth, He was worshipped all day and all night, as part of the Holy God, with every luxury and honor deserved and received. He gave that up to spend thirty-three years on earth, before He gave Himself willingly to the cross. He paid the price of redemption in pain and in blood, and received in compensation the life of the Church; our lives.

Why? Why did He suffer such abuse and agony? Because we could never hope to have a relationship with God otherwise. We would be trapped in the pit of sin, doomed to never know Eternal Life and the Peace and Joy that await therein.

This is how Jesus has worked to create, support, and cherish His church. How, then, does the Church respond to His Overwhelming Love? Starting the second verse, we sing:

Elect from every nation yet One o’er all the earth

Most of us have heard the word “elect” before, because we use it all the time when talking about US politics. We elect our mayor, our governor, and our president, that is to say, we choose our elected officials; we select them. Without getting into a deep theological discussion over the concept of the “elect” (though if you do want to have that discussion, I’d be glad to sit down for coffee with you sometime!); without getting into that discussion, the word elect here simply refers to our brothers and sisters in the Church.

The real point is this: As we’ve stated earlier, the Church exists all around the world, in every nation, but it is unified as a ONE body of believers, with a unified purpose, as explained in the next line:

Her charter of salvation: One Lord, One Faith, One Birth

Generally, a charter is a command from the government that allows a company to operate, and describes the boundaries for that operation. The Harvest Community Church has been granted a charter from the State of Oklahoma to exist as a Church. This charter allows us to operate as a body, to own this building, to receive money and to pay bills.

In the same way, the Church has a charter, a grant from God, to continue the work of salvation. The charter says that the Church: must recognize One Lord, Jesus Christ; must be unified in the One Faith that He has died for our sins; and must acknowledge that it is His Holy Birth as a Human that makes it all possible.

First, we need to make sure we recognize that Jesus Christ is the only Lord we have. We cannot worship any other person besides God, and hope to receive salvation. Jesus says in John 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Before that God gave us the Commandment: “You shall have NO OTHER God besides me.” Jesus Christ is LORD.

Second, just as we cannot accept any other Lord over our lives, we cannot have faith in anything else, but that Jesus died for our sins and in His Work, we are made free. James tells us in James 2: “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” It is not enough to accept that God exists, we must also accept the salvation offered to us.

Third, we must accept that Jesus came to earth as a Man to accomplish the work God set out for Him. We know that Jesus is “God with us”, and “God Incarnate”, but why is this important? Only as a Man could Jesus accept the punishment for sins, but only as God could Jesus be free of the Original Sin and accept punishment for all our sins.

This unified focus continues as it says:

One Holy Name She blesses, partakes One Holy Food

The Holy Name here is the precious name of Jesus Christ. This may seem to be obvious, but it is a powerful Truth, and one we must remember. Jesus tells us in John 14: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In Luke, Jesus commanded seventy-two men to go as apostles to other cities, and when they returned, they said: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostle Peter declared to a man who could not walk: “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”, and the man was healed instantly. My friends, the very name of Jesus Christ is sacred, and powerful. With only faith and obedience, we can call upon His name and accomplish great things.

As for Holy Food, this is in reference to Holy Communion. When we take communion, we tell the world about our ongoing commitment to the Christ, and remember the work that He did on the cross. It is an act that every Christian in the world does, and it unifies us as the body of Christ. It is so essential that there is now one Sunday every year when most churches around the world do communion, across every denomination and separation, so that we can be unified in the remembrance of Christ.
And finally, the Church is unified in hope:

And to One Hope She presses, with every grace endued

If you’ve been here at the Harvest for any length of time, you’ve heard Daniel talk about the hope that we have as Christians. This is the expectation that we will be with Christ in eternal peace, that there is more than just this life. But this hope is not just an individual hope, that is, Eternity won’t just be me and Christ, you and Christ. We will all be together, in perfect relationship forever. This is a great hope for the Church, because if we are going to be in unity forever, then we should be able to live in unity today as the Church.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, the word “endued” means to be filled with some characteristic completely. For example, you might look at a star football player and say that they have been endued with athleticism. Taking this, it makes sense that if the Church is unified in Hope, then She would be endued with grace. Not only will each of us receive God’s grace, and be forgiven in our sins, but in unity, we will extend each other grace. Proverbs 17:9 agrees: “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven.”

Moving on to verses three and four, we find that the subject is very different. The Church is composed of people on Earth, and like any group of people on Earth, the Church has enemies. This is especially true because the Church is unified as Christ’s body on Earth. Jesus makes it clear as He says in John 15:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”

Thankfully, there are several great Truths shared in these verses, to remind us that even in the darkest hardest struggles, there is Joy and Hope from God. Listen again to verse three:

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 who hate Her, and false sons in Her pale
Against both foe or traitor, She ever shall prevail.

First, the Church will not end. She will not be overcome, and She will endure through all things. As I stated earlier, we will all be together in Eternity, and so too, the Church will be everlasting.

But, more than that, the Church faces a very real and dangerous war on this Earth. There are people who have listened to the Lies of the devil and believe the Church is a great evil upon this Earth. There are false prophets who speak the name of Christ, and who twist His words into lies. And the Truth is, there are angels and demons fighting this war supernaturally, all around us.

Great news, though: Jesus is on our side. He stands with us, able to overcome all evil. Ephesians 6 says: “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to STAND FIRM against all strategies of the devil.” In Exodus 15, Moses declares the might and power of Jesus: “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power. Your right hand, O Lord, smashes the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow those who rise against you.” Friends, the King of Kings, who has power overwhelming has strength to overcome Evil, and we are part of His army. His Church will stand firm through the end of time, no matter what happens here on Earth.

We cannot forget that the Church is still fighting this war. Verse four starts:

‘Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of Her war

Now I have never been in a physical war, nor am I likely ever to be. Everything that I know about war comes from TV or books. What I have learned is that the opening statement of this verse is accurate: War is hard work, War is dangerous, and War is chaotic. Whether we recognize it or not, these things are absolutely true of our lives as well, as we fight with Christ against the forces of evil in this world.

Thankfully, in the middle of trying times, the Church still holds Hope for Eternity. Here’s the rest of the verse:

She waits the consummation of Peace forevermore
Till, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blessed
And the Great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest

This is huge news for us, for the Church. It is one of the most important things we can hold on to as believers. This life, this war, our constant struggle with sin, all of it has an end. Peace will be completed, and we will be at rest, forever. We do not know what life will be like in Eternity, but we do know it will be beyond anything we could ever imagine.

When Paul speaks of love in 1 Corinthians 13, he shares this with us as well: “Now [that is, here on Earth] we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then [in Heaven] we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” This is the Good News of the Gospel. Not only have we been saved from condemnation for our sins, not only have we been freed from the power of sin over our lives today, we have been included in the inheritance of Life Everlasting, which will be a life free of Sin, Death, Misery, Sorrow. Instead it will be a place of Rest, Joy, Communion with God and with each other in Perfection and Unity. This is our Hope on earth, knowing that one day we will be with Jesus forever.

We’re not there yet though. There is life here on earth. Listen to verse five:

Yet She on earth has union with God the Three in One
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won

The Church has a relationship with God today, through Prayer. There are people who argue that God created the universe, set it in motion, and left it to operate on its own; that God doesn’t talk to us or interfere in this world. This is not the case at all. We have been given the Spirit to guide us as we walk through this world. Christ is still present any time two or more are gathered. The Father still hears our prayers and acts for us. In turn, we hear God and we respond in obedience.

Not only that, but believers who have gone home already still guide us today, through their testimony and legacy. Hebrews 11 describes many of those who came before, and Hebrews 12 continues with: “Therefore, since we are SURROUNDED by such a great crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, …”. They may be absent from our lives today, but they are not gone; instead they surround us to give us strength and endurance to live the life God has set before us.

Finally verse five finishes with a prayer:

O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee!

Even as we Hope for the future that is to come, we are not perfect yet on Earth. We still sin and fall short of the glory of God. As we do, we need constant Grace to cover us so that we can return to God. With His everlasting Grace, then we will eventually live with Him forever.

It is amazing to me how powerful this hymn is, and how many Truths are embedded in its words. I hope that it is as encouraging to you as it is to me, that we the Harvest Community Church, are part of the greater Church, with strength and power from the Lord God Almighty.

I’ve asked Ethan to play this hymn for us, and as we sing it, I hope you remember that we are part of one body, in unity and in strength; that you remember the work Christ has done for us, his Church; that you remember the work and the danger we face as Christ’s presence on Earth; that you remember the Hope we have waiting for us in Eternity; and that you remember that we are not alone.

Let’s pray.