“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is His new creation by water and the Word. From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died” (LSB 644 st. 1).
The Church’s One Foundation beautifully captures the Christian faith in its five verses, and while modified and shortened in today’s hymnals from Samuel John Stone’s original 1866 text, the hymn stands just as firm in the Church’s triumph over heresies by way of sound teaching.
“The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (AC VII). On what ground could such a Church be built? Surely, on the only place these are found! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2 ESV). That Word became flesh and that Word, our Christ, is Lord of the Church.
“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV). Our Foundation is the source of all things, for all things were made through Him. All things were made perfect, as He is perfect, but desecrated itself and became unholy and without hope. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 ESV). The old creation, our old Adam, was cut off, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV), and damned itself. But this Foundation brought forth His new creation, the Church. By the power of His Word and the saving grace in His baptismal waters, His Church is born, and to each of us is left the gift.
The Foundation came from heaven and deliberately sought out the Church. It is not by chance when one comes to faith by grace alone. “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8a ESV). Even when the chosen people Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were enslaved in Egypt, it was not they that came to God for help, but God who came down to them to deliver them from their slavery in Egypt. In the same manner, the Lord finds us and never the other way around. “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23 ESV). The Lord has committed Himself to the Church as a husband to his wife to love and care for as oneself. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 ESV). As husband and wife are one flesh, the Lord took on our human flesh when He came down from heaven that He may be flesh with us.
With that flesh came blood, and with that blood came our salvation. “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27c-28 ESV). This covenant is a unilateral move He made for what we could not otherwise attain without Him. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). The Lord bought this Church by His very own blood, and for His Church He died. With the words, “It is finished,” the debt was wiped free and He breathed His last breath before resurrection.
“Elect from ev’ry 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 ev’ry grace endued” (LSB 644 st.2).
God made covenants with the patriarchs and with David, among others. From Abraham would come a multitude of nations, and all nations would be blessed by the one coming from his grandson Jacob, His chosen people Israel. Yet by the Messiah who would come from David, all nations are blessed and the covenant is extended that all may be of the Lord’s kingdom.
Today we hail from Germany, England, Ireland, Mexico and Japan among others in the so-called “melting pot” of the United States. In the one everlasting kingdom these distinctions need not be made. Whether we are citizens of the United States or of any other country on the map, “our citizenship is in heaven” (cf. Philippians 3:20 ESV), and the elect who comprise that kingdom cross all sorts of the national borders on this map. The elect cross not only these physical barriers, but also those of time. The Kingdom was, the Kingdom is and the Kingdom forever will be. Called from all nations, we are all of one nation. “For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9c ESV).
Our salvation is chartered by “one Lord, one faith, one birth,” and there is no other way. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,’” (John 14:6 ESV). Our one Lord is the one who came and died for us. Our one faith in the Triune God is handed us in the Holy Spirit. Our one birth is not the exit from a mother’s womb, but the cleansing renewal in the never-ceasing streams of Holy Baptism. The Church blesses the one Holy Name. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 ESV).
We partake of only food, the food of our salvation, the price paid for us. Christ institutes in the Synoptic Gospels the Eucharist for the forgiveness of our sins, “as often as we drink of it,” giving us this meal to have time and time again. The true Body and the true Blood of our Lord and Savior are in, with and under the bread and the wine at the Lord’s Table. When we come to the communion rails, we join together with the saints from times of old, here with us and across the globe today and those yet to come as we literally and certainly eat and drink the Body and the Blood of the Christ, shed for us as our eternal Passover Lamb offered Himself on our behalf. As often as we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we remember the sacrifice made for us at Golgotha as our mighty yet humble God suffered the worst death the Romans could offer in crucifixion and descended into Hell, the cost that belonged to us. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 ESV).
To one hope the Church presses on with all grace endued to it by that Lamb. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 ESV). “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). The Church’s hope is a guarantee. We hope in the promise of the God who always keeps them. The hope for justification by a price already paid. We persevere and struggle through trials and tribulations in this sinful, earthly world. We face Satan and his temptations every single day as the devil in all his power seeks to lead astray a sheep grazing too far from the rest of the flock, but we have the Good Shepherd to call us back, welcoming us and rejoicing that He has again found us as we are returned to Him in repentance. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7 ESV). Together, in the Church, built on the Foundation that is Christ Jesus, as His bride and as the body of which He is the Head, we flock together and gather in Hos Word and Sacraments, that we may not be led astray and may have the eternal reward provided for us.
“Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her 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” (LSB 644 st. 3).
The world is hostile to the church and it always has been, because the Church is set apart from the world. The Anointed One overcame the temptations of the world and its prince, Satan. The church runs countercultural in a world full of the determination for individual gain and glory. The world runs rampant with the sins of greed, covetousness and lust. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). The Church is given very different instructions, something very strange to those who dwell outside the walls of faith. In a society that tells us that we control our own destinies, that great wealth awaits us if we play our cards right and that our goal should always be to get the top and ascend in the ranks of earthly power in various institutions, Jesus tells us differently. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-45 ESV). We are not called to seek after earthly treasures, but those that are in heaven. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24 ESV). The world hates these teachings against its desires, and by extension, those who hear them.
The world, with all its negative perceptions of the Church popularized in the media, watches on as the Church faces various plagues, enticed by the thought of her downfall. Schisms run rampant as the church on earth is separated by disputes and unsound teachings from false teachers, waging the various sects of the larger flock against one another. The risings of heresies from those same false teachers lead the flock astray and away from the true Gospel presented us by our one and only God that is the Trinity.
“They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:10-11 ESV). In spite of the disunity among the flock, the false teachings that seek to lead the sheep astray and in spite of the persecution Christians face around the world, God assures us in the Church Triumphant and our eternal peace.
Despite all toils still present in the world around us, “our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656 st. 4 vv. 8-9). But why then do these perils still persist? Only because the time has not yet come for the return. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). This hostile world that has made itself the enemy of the Church is powerless over it. The very Foundation of the Church has already overcome everything the world has to throw at it. Even Satan’s most cunning attacks are no match for the Son of God, he who death could not contain. We mourn in this broken world, but we rejoice for this battle is already complete and the result is sealed.
“Through 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” (LSB 644 st. 4).
Despite what many have said about the Old Testament scriptures being outdated, or “overridden” by the New Testament, Christ Himself said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). In Christ’s fulfillment, He did not eliminate the Law, but freed us from its condemnation. The accounts of the experiences of God’s people in times of old remain just as relevant today as they were 4000 years ago. After Moses led the People out of Egypt, they wandered the wilderness for 40 years and, of that generation, only Caleb would ever enter the Promised Land. For Israel, the reaching of the Promised Land was a waiting game that transcended the limits of their earthly lives before it was finally theirs. So too we wait in this broken world for the Promise of the perfect life to come, all saints together with our God. Christ and His Bride are united forever.
As it stands, this is our earthly life is but a second, and all these struggles and tribulations pail in comparison to the ultimate and everlasting glory we will inherit. While war it surely is today, the Church will be blessed to find its everlasting peace in glory.
We live in the last days of this conflict, the war’s climax is long behind us. The war that began perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 years ago had its equivalent of V-Day nearly 2,000 years ago. There was no storming of Normandy and the death toll of this particular theater was one; albeit, that one death was the most important death, and that one death meant life.
With those words, “It is finished,” and that final breath, the victory in this war was secured. Yet like in any of those historic anecdotes from the Civil War and other armed conflicts, the last battles actually still come after victory is declared and the enemy has officially surrendered.
There has not been that rest, that peace, that is set soon before us since before the war began. The Church has at all times been bombarded by the threats of Satan and the world from the outside and from within by the heresies and schisms they managed to plant.
As in our vocations in the workforce, for the vast majority of people, work needs to be done seemingly endlessly from the time we finish our education until the day in our 70s when we have enough money saved up that we can rest from such labors.
So it is with the Church. For all this allotted time, the Church perseveres through the defeated terrors of this world and suffers through all that is targeted for it until the day the mortal lives of the saints end and paradise is had and the day the Lord returns to establish His everlasting Kingdom.
“Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord, save us by Your grace, that we, like saints before us, may see You face to face” (LSB 644 st. 5).
She, the Church, even in this world, has union with God, the Three in One. What other faith can make such a claim? In all other faiths, the divine is something the faith’s adherents constantly reach out for, eager to grasp it, but it always seeming to be just outside of reach. But our God is not like the other gods worshipped by man. Our God is not far off and distant, but here with us, dwelling both among us and within us. Our God became flesh while followers of other gods fall into the trap of trying to become as one of the divine. We can reach God because God has come down to us, shown Himself to us and lived as one of us, and forever will be with us. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ESV). We all have death ahead, but He suffered for us that our death may only bring forth life. Christ gave us His baptismal waters and His Body and His Blood that we may be forever covered by His mercy and frequently consume He who was perfect and sacrificed Himself for us. At the Lord’s Table, we consume the price paid for our sins, our iniquities, our wrong. The Husband of the Church made the ultimate sacrifice for it, and the Bridegroom’s love is never ending.
Likewise, we are forever united with all those faithful ones before us. All believers from the beginning to the end of all times, are gathered together in the one body that is the Church, with Christ at our head. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27 ESV). We have all joined together in the cleansing of Holy Baptism and reclined at the same table at the Last Supper, united in this one body. We all believe in One True God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Regardless of what building we physically dwell in for worship, we are all side by side with those at other congregations, those who came before us, those yet to come and the entire host of heaven that makes up the chorus.
Together, all us people cry out in prayer. We have one request, and only one place to go with it. We have fallen short of the expectations set out for us and we cannot save ourselves, but there lives and reigns One who can. We call to the Lord for our salvation, not by a recognition of our works – for that book is what we damned ourselves with to begin with – but by grace alone through faith alone, as promised in the Scriptures. We yearn and long for the day when we, undeserving as we are, may see our Savior Lord face to face and rejoice as we reside in His Kingdom forevermore.
That day will come. That great fate is sealed. Come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen” (Apostle’s Creed).