Faith overcomes

The hymn from Sing Praise for 30th December was ‘Faith overcomes’ by Christopher Jones.  To be honest I wasn’t much taken with this hymn, and apart from these two words that start each of the six verses, it doesn’t seem to be about our faith overcoming life’s problems, as the title might suggest. The first four verses, at least, are more a form of credal statement, about the eternal God, Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, his death and resurrection. A creed is important in its own way, but it complements rather than establishes our faith.

The last two verses are more personal, or rather corporate, as a response to this creed. Faith is present in the statements ‘We have not seen, yet now we dare believe’ and ‘we yield ourselves to follow his commands’.

The suggested tune, Highwood, was also difficult to follow, and as I didn’t watch the online video I don’t know whether John used it.  

The Lord is King, he set the stars in space

“The fourth day of creation”
Icon by Betsy Porter (c)

This coming weekend sees the start of the Kingdom Season (from now until Advent) with choices of hymn to match.  So today’s is “The Lord is King” by Brian Hoare.

The first half of each of the first three verses list the ways in which the Lord is King: that he set the stars in space (i.e. is the creator), sent his Son to earth, and sent his Spirit; thus, a Trinitarian structure, although usually in Christian parlance the terms Lord and King refer specifically to Jesus Christ rather than to the Trinity as a whole.

The second part of each verse is an appropriate response: “Creator God, your kingdom stands”, “O Saviour Christ, your kingdom comes” and “Spirit of truth, whose kingdom grows”.  The final verse proclaims praise to the Lord and King from all created things.

In all, the hymn is nicely crafted as a statement of faith, and might well be used in place of a spoken Creed in the Communion service, but didn’t strike me as conveying any original thought.

We believe in God the Father

Wall painting of The Apostle’s Creed dating from 1683
Church of St John the Baptist, Stokesay
© The Carlisle Kid, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Today’s hymn is the last in the series for Trinity week, and the third in a row for hymnwriter Timothy Dudley-Smith.  It’s a paraphrase of the Apostle’s Creed (the shorter of the two forms of the creed usually used in church). The suggested tune is Lux Eoi, by Arthur Sullivan, perhaps better known for his light operas but who also composed some good church music.

The Creed summarises the beliefs of the mainstream churches: those who agree on its wording generally accept each other as fellow Christians, even if they don’t always extend this acceptance to recognising each other’s ministerial orders and sacraments, but that’s another matter.

Although the words refer to all three persons of the Trinity, the bulk of them are about Jesus the Son of God, which probably reflects the difficulty the early Church had in understanding him.  Where people agree on something, often only a short form of words is needed, so “We believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” is short enough to convey what we understand by the Creator.  The “how” of creation didn’t really get debated until long after the Creeds were agreed.

When people disagree on something, however, it usually leads to writing rules down in great detail, so there is much here about exactly what the Church (i.e. the original Eastern church) thought about Christ. We have his sonship of God, born of a virgin by the Spirit, crucified, dead, buried, risen and ascended, and coming again in future to judge us. The Nicene Creed goes into much more detail (God from God, light from light, very God of very God).  If you disagree with this, you’re a heretic. Some churches still find any dissent from this difficult to accept within their ranks; others are more open to debate on those issues (perhaps especially on the virgin birth and the nature of Christ’s future reign).

The Apostles’ Creed simply states in regard to the Holy Spirit that we believe in Him.  This lack of further description of the Spirit’s work compared with the obsession with the detail of the exact nature of Christ’s relationship with the Father, does make me wonder whether the Church Fathers actually experienced the Holy Spirit for themselves?  We will probably never know.

Child of blessing, child of promise

Following on from yesterday’s reflection on our calling in Christ, which was the theme for the Sunday Bible readings as well, the hymn for today is a short one, intended to be sung at the baptism (christening) of a child. In the first verse s/he is named as a child of blessing and of promise, one who is claimed back by God who sent them. In the second, the child is reminded that s/he bears God’s image and is urged to listen to God’s call.

The tune chosen is one normally used for a setting of the Creed (the Christian statement of faith in the three-in-one God), “Firmly I believe and truly”, which is appropriate because the parents and godparents of a child being christened are expected to declare their own Christian faith, usually by reciting a set form of creed. The question of whether young children should be baptised before they can express any personal understanding of God is one that still divides the Church. Many books have been written on the subject but let’s summarise it like this:

One side of the argument is that only those old enough to make a lifelong decision for themselves should go through this initiation rite, and certainly people who are baptised as adults or teenagers say the experience stays with them as a foundation of their faith for a long time. Those who support infant baptism (often known as christening) stress the importance of recognising the whole family as being Christian and having a ceremony to mark an addition to the family and the gift of a child from God, adding that God’s call is not conditional on the person’s response. I see the strengths in both sides of the argument, but what seems inappropriate (to me) is christening the child of parents who are not church members themselves and who have chosen friends as godparents who have no Christian faith themselves either. “Getting the child done” becomes simply a cultural tradition with no real religious meaning. Having said that, it does happen from time to time that the christening ceremony, perhaps the first church service the parents have attended for a long time, can be the first step on a journey of faith for them as they consider what they really meant by joining in with the prayers and creed.

But back to this hymn. The last pair of lines reminds the child (if s/he hears it again later in life, perhaps) to “grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all”. That linking of laughter, song and worship is what’s behind my decision to sing through the hymn book in a year. As St Augustine put it, “he who sings prays twice.” Not all hymns help us to laugh, as they help us respond to all life’s events and emotions, the sad as well as the joyful, but if singing praise to God doesn’t sometimes make us laugh, have we really entered into worship at all?