Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Hymns I love to hear and sing - Jerusalem

I was recently pondering why I enjoy hearing and singing traditional hymns. Even back when I considered myself a combination of an Evangelical and Lutheran Christian, I still had a great appreciation for old hymns. I believe that is one reason why it was easy for me to make the switch to a Confessional Lutheran church; I was so weary of singing "campfire" songs in place of hymns during services. I had already "been there, done that" with the idea that such songs stir up personal emotions or satisfy my soul. Although some hymns do bring tears to my eyes or move me to emotion, the feelings come from grand worship of God and not from myself.

One of my favorite hymns is more of a favorite tune, since the original words aren't scriptural at all, but are more of a story. I first heard the hymn, Jerusalem, in the movie Chariots of Fire. Most of you know that movie is the story of a Scottish missionary to China. I think the movie opens and closes with the popular English hymn, Jerusalem. I still remember the music and the impact it had on me - the huge organ strains and the clear high voices of the children. It furthered my interest in old songs of faith.

When I attended the Urbana Missions conference in 1982, the music director for Billy Graham gave a lecture on the appreciation of old hymns, even those from hundreds of years ago. Considering the direction of the Baptist spin-off churches today and their avoidance of any traditional hymns, this was ironic instruction. He led us through Crown Him with Many Crowns and other old favorites. He had us (us being thousands of students from around the country and world seated in a large stadium) speak the hymn as he explained the deep meaning of each line. He gave us background each hymn writer, so that we could see the author as a fellow Christian who just happened to live during a different period of time. I never sang an old hymn in the same way again. To this day, when I sing a hymn I am confronted with the knowledge that a person who loves God wrote that hymn, maybe even during a time of deep spiritual crisis. Also, the older a hymn, the more time-tested the scriptural validity of the words.

You won't find the hymn, Jerusalem, in my church's hymnal, but I did get to enjoy it once again during Ronald Reagan's funeral last Friday. According to Nationmaster.com, the music was written by Charles H. H. Parry in 1916 and the original lyrics were a poem, "And did those feet in ancient time", written by William Blake in 1804. The poem was based on a combination of old English folklore that Jesus visited ancient England as a teenager with Joseph of Arimathea, and on the bible verse "The hills were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." 2 Kings 6:17. Nationmaster.com says, This is considered to be one of England's most popular patriotic songs. It is variously associated (thereby holding a somewhat unique position) with English and British nationalism, anti-modernism, post-modernism, socialist ideals, and Christianity. Jerusalem is the official anthem of the British Women's Institute, and historically was used by the National Union of Suffrage Societies. The poem was inspired by the old legend that Jesus, whilst still a young man, accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury via the nearby Roman port. Blake's biographers tell us that he believed in this legend." While I don't believe that Jesus did visit England, the sentiment is appreciable.


Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.


While researching this hymn, I found a very moving account of a man's visit to England at the recent turn of the century:

MILLENNIUM
New Year’s Eve, like most late January days in northern England, was cold and overcast. I said that I wasn’t going to get caught up in the Millennium hype but when noon rolled around, there I was in front of the TV set watching the year 2,000 begin on an island in the south Pacific where it was warm and dry.
In our little corner of the world, St. James C of E Church in the village was going to have a Watchnight service at 11:15 and then there was going to be a bonfire in the village. Not exactly the river of fire on the Thames but it seemed a lot more appropriate to end the second Christian millennium than crowded together with a few million people I had never met before.
The service was crowded and started with a hymn I had not sung in years but have always loved. “Oh God, our help in ages past/ Our hope for years to come./ Our shelter from the stormy blast,/ and our eternal home.” It seemed most appropriate.
The Vicar led the service but there was no sermon. Several prayers were read, starting with St. Patrick from the 5th Century and ending with Natalie Webb, a nine year-old from the end of the 20th. Many hymns were sung.
At the end of the service we filed out of the chapel and were given torches for the half-mile long walk to the common where the bonfire would be. The line of torches was irregular but formed a clear path through the Victorian village. There is little doubt that they might have been surprised by the tarmac on the road or the one street light in town, but I’m confident that one of Queen Victoria’s subjects would have quickly understood and joined the procession.
At midnight the bonfire was lit and rather than with a huge commotion, the new millennium came to this corner of Yorkshire with people knotted in small groups, speaking in low voices. While the bonfire burned the groups moved back and forth, between the dark and cold of the night and the light and warmth of the fire. Lights danced on the people, and faces changed from bright celebration to shadowed contemplation. It was hard know if the emotions of the people or the light of the fire caused the changes.
The bonfire burned out and we headed home with two tired girls that we carried inside the house.
In the five months since that night, there have been a few lingering images: the gentleman next to me at church who had obviously indulged in the New Year’s spirits before coming to the service; the mud of the path onto the common; the embracing warmth of the whisky I drank from a flask to toast the new millennium; and those scattered torches moving silently through the village.
There is one thing that has remained very clear. It was more of a feeling than a sight or sound. As the sermon ended we sang one last hymn, Jerusalem, a song many would like to see named the English national anthem. As we sang the words I was suddenly overcome by the enormity of standing on the cusp of the third Christian millennium. Here in England one feels the weight of the centuries all around. Singing that song, a feeling crept into the core of me and I knew that thousands years of history were physically present that night.
This journal entry, written by Vic McInnis, can be found at: http://standrewssociety.tripod.com/vic-052300.htm


Wow, I'm not the only person to be so moved by the music and lyrics of this hymn. Here are the words to the more modern and scriptural version written by Horatio Bonar in 1858. This is the version sung at Ronald Reagan's funeral last Friday morning -

O love of God, how strong and true,
Eternal and yet ever new;
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought;
O love of God, how deep and great,
Far deeper than man's deepest hate;
Self-fed, self-kindled like the light,
Changeless, eternal, infinite.

O heavenly love, how precious still,
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort and to bless!
O wide-embracing, wondrous love!
We read you in the sky above,
We read you in the earth below,
In seas that swell and streams that flow.

We read you best in Him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.
We read Your power to bless and save,
Even in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light
We read the fullness of Your might.

O love of God, our shield and stray
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in you we rest
Forever safe, forever blest.
We will exalt you, God and King,
And we will ever praise your name;
We will extol you every day,
And evermore your praise proclaim.


Monday, June 14, 2004

The middle part of my faith journey or why I love liturgy and old hymns.- Part II A of faith journey

I credit my parents in bringing me to church and Sunday school on a regular basis. I was raised with liturgy and hymns. I grew up appreciating the sense of worshipping across the ages with the invisible Christian church and of being reminded each Sunday the basics of our faith in God.

In college, I began attending the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meetings. We sang songs that reminded me of the ones we used to sing at summer church camp. We also watched movies that were basically designed to scare people into making a decision for Christ so that they wouldn't go to hell. I attended a local Bible church just outside of town. It was completely independent of any oversight by any governing body, except for the elders of the church. Every service was filled with old Baptist hymns and Bible-based sermons; we were supposed to have our Bibles out and ready with pens and paper during his sermons. This little Bible church was adamantly opposed to a printed service outline or ever having anything resembling a liturgy. The pastor never wanted to be tied down to an order of worship; he wanted to be ready to change topics whenever the spirit moved him. I attended many, many Bible studies at this church.

After about a year and a half, I had seen enough troubling events (pastor refused to take direction from church elders, pastor's life was not in good order, some church members falling in and out of sin over and over again, no governing authority outside of the church, etc.). I began attended the on-campus Lutheran worship center and was comforted once again by tradition. I loved being part of corporate worship, with emphasis placed on God and not on the individual worshipper. Once I got my own car, I began driving to the sponsoring ELCA church to attend services with a natural body of believers - adults, students, children. I still was mostly unaware of any synodical changes going on from the recent merger, as most young adults would be. I finished my college studies while attending this ELCA church, but I did keep attending the weekly campus InterVaristy meetings. I loved getting together with my Evangelical Christian friends to sing and pray. These same friends did not attend my Lutheran church on Sunday mornings, but remained at the little Bible church. This didn't bother me at all. I saw myself as melding my traditional lutheran upbringing with the best of the evangelical Christian world. I was too young and too untrained to see any problem with an ecumenical worldview. I would continue this pattern of buffet-style faith and worship until it nearly drained me of my faith twenty years later.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

My faith journey, part III - Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone

One reason I began this weblog was to begin to put into words my thoughts and experiences in the Christian faith. In particular, I'm trying to write my story of going from being raised a mainstream lutheran to becoming an evangelical who eventually returned to her ELCA church (along with many other evangelicals who were given free reign to change the church) and then finally found a home in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod as a confessional lutheran.

I've already written about being raised mainstream lutheran and becoming an evangelical. Today, with the help of a friend, I was able to put together the third part of my journey: going from the ELCA to the ELS. The middle part of my story covers twenty years, so I'll need some more time to work on that post. It has been very difficult to verbalize my feelings towards the changing ELCA. It complicates my task to learn that the changes in the ELCA go beyond me and my life time:back many, many generations over more than a century and a half.

The current situation in the ELCA is depressing. In fact, it is beyond depressing to live firsthand in the expansive moral morass. For me, words cannot describe the absolute state of confusion which is glorified there. I personally experienced incorporation of the false teachings of Robert Schuller , use of the Alpha program for confirmation in place of Luther's small catechism , using Baptist curriculum for Sunday School, abandoning formal confirmation classes because kids and their families complained it was too boring, loss of the liturgy for hand-clapping, emotional performances and meaningless songs, the impending vote next year to ordain and bless practicing homosexuals, etc. I knew for five years that I had to leave, but I kept thinking that I owed it to my home church to stay and try to be a positive influence.

Although it was hard to leave after 30 years of membership at my home church, I did it to protect my own salvation and for the benefit of my children. I now experience much joy at the biblical truths preached and practiced at confessional lutheran congregations, such as King of Grace. I know, after 20 years of searching through churches, that there is no perfect church and never will be on this earth.

I was attracted to King of Grace and confessional lutheranism because the Word is faithfully preached and taught. It's strength is turning people to God's Word. I have confidence that Scripture will be the final word on changes made in the ELS. It's grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone and Christ alone - that's what I like about our church. I feel such freedom in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and at King of Grace: freedom that comes from the peace of mind knowing that the Word is being clearly taught to me and my family, not on somebody's whim or interpretation. I know that my husband and I will grow old in this church and see our grandchildren baptized and confirmed at this church.

Since I am an avid fan of the Q&A section of the WELS website (see link below), I am aware of the many divisions in the more conservative Lutheran synods. I don't pretend to understand them and, in fact, I think that the arguers should realize that there are many newcomers to confessional lutheranism who have very little idea what all the fighting is about between WELS/ELS and LC/MS, etc. Not to belittle the arguments, since they surely stem from legitimate complaints, but God has obviously brought many new people into the church since then. I hope to see more evangelicals turn to confessional lutheranism. I also pray that long-standing members are always so patient with those of us relearning scriptural truths. So far, so good!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

An Anniversary of Sorts - Part I of my faith journey

It has been one year since we left the ELCA. This past year has been the most spiritual rich of my life. I have learned so much and yet I feel like I'm just starting.

My life thus far...

My husband and I were raised lutheran (LCA and ELC). We were taught Luther's Small Catechism, memorized creeds and scripture and were confirmed in 10th grade in somber ceremonies. There were a few confirmands who seemed, to me, to be a bit overly religious for our age. The adults were impressed with those kids and had them speak at the confirmation service. After confirmation, we were still strongly "encouraged" to attend church, but at least we didn't have to sit through boring confirmation classes. Being teens, we didn't notice the talks the adults were having about a merger. I remember being told that the ELC had become the ELCA, but it meant nothing to me. I'm sure my mom tried to explain it to me. Our church didn't seem to change to me once we became part of the ELCA. Our pastors seemed old and boring to me, except for Pastor Maynard Nelson. For some reason, I paid attention to his sermons. He was the only one who didn't "preach" about world hunger or social justice; he actually preached from the Bible. It was his ability to preach the gospel that eventually brought me back to that ELCA church after years of searching through the evangelical, baptist and protestant world.

In my second year of college, through the influence of some new friends, I learned that it was "bad" to be lutheran. My new friends told that I needed to be born again. I was vulnerable to this teaching because I had spent the past year and a half listening to false friends who told me that life was just a big party. This turned about to be a lie and brought me lots of heartache. I was now confronted with my unconfessed sins and my friends seemed to be offering me hope of a fresh start. At the time I thought I had become born again through my "sinner's prayer". The one thought that I remember from that night was thinking, "I was taught about God and the Bible, but I thought He ceased to exist years ago and what was described in the Bible was just fiction." I had a very clear sense, all of a sudden, that God was real, He knew who I was and the Bible accounts were real. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't learn for 23 more years that the reason I knew those things was because God's Holy Spirit already existed in me, due to my parents bringing me to the Holy waters of baptism, to Sunday School and to confirmation; and that the only way I could possibly confess Jesus Christ as Lord was because of the Holy Spirit already in me. This one false teaching kept me from peace for 23 years and this very prevalent teaching among campus ministries will put my kids into good lutheran colleges! Still, I was on the right track. At least I wasn't looking for fellowship in the bars! I became actively involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My goal became to rid my life of its sins, praise God, study the Bible and try to convert others. I attended an independent Bible church, because "everyone" knew that independent was best. I told people who asked that I was raised lutheran, but now I was a Christian. When I told my mom that I had become a Christian, she chuckled and asked what I was before. She knew that she had raised me in Christian faith. I think she was just glad that I was seeking God rather than parties. More later...