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The Church's One Foundation

Full Text

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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 blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

5 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,
may live eternally.

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The text portrays the Christian church as rooted in the Savior, Jesus Christ, through the water of baptism and the Word of God (st. 1). In accord with the ninth article of the Apostles' Creed, we confess through this text that the church is catholic (universal) and united by "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5). As we sing, we lament the "heresies" that "distress" the church (st. 3); although this is a direct reference to the Colenso controversy, the stanza fits many other situations in church history as well. The final stanza ends on a hopeful tone: the church will finally be at peace and at rest.


Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The words from stanza 1, “…she is his new creation by water and the Word” parallel Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Question and Answer 54, testifying that Christ “…through his Spirit and Word…gathers, protects and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.”


Stanza 2 combines two powerful truths: the church is “elect” and the church is from “every nation.” The Canons of Dort I, 7 verifies both of these by teaching that “election is God’s unchangeable purpose by which he…chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race.”


Stanzas 3 and 4 acknowledge that the church will often suffer while she tries to be obedient. The Belhar Confession, Section 5 says that God’s people ought not to be surprised at this; it is to be expected.


Stanza 4 also speaks of the church “waiting the consummation of peace forevermore.” The Apostles Creed professes that we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22, Questions and Answers 57-58 expand on this profession: “…after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forevermore.”


The Church's One Foundation

Call to Worship

God of life,
thank you for calling us to belong to something
so much bigger than ourselves.
Thank you for your church in all times and places.
We pray that all who come to worship today
may sense that the gospel of Christ
is so much bigger than this congregation.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
— The Worship Sourcebook, 2nd Edition (


What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
I believe that the Son of God
through his Spirit and Word,
out of the entire human race,
from the beginning of the world to its end,
gathers, protects, and preserves for himself
a community chosen for eternal life
and united in true faith.
And of this community I am and always will be
a living member.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 54
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

God of the church, your Son prayed that we might be one—
the one body of Christ throughout the whole world.
Fill us with your love, we pray,
that we may be brought to complete unity,
so all may know that you sent Christ
and that you have loved us even as you loved Christ.
We long to see your glory in the church. Amen.
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Sections of this prayer may be spoken in various languages.
Sovereign God,
we give you thanks for calling us your children
and for entrusting us with the care of your creation.
Help us to feel the many textures of your global tapestry.
Unstop our ears, that we may hear
your Word spoken in many languages.
Breathe into us the sweet aromas of life,
that we may taste the fruits of your reign.
Even now, Lord, even in Asia,
so vast, so deeply rooted in tradition;
where your church is small, but where religion is great,
Lord, teach us respect.
Help us learn from those who express faith in you in different ways.
Deepen our understanding of customs that are unfamiliar.
Help us discover new ways to witness in this ancient land.
Even now, Lord, even in the Middle East,
the cradle of the church, the land many faiths call holy,
and now the place where the pain of the cross is so vivid,
where the dry earth is watered by the tears of suffering,
free your people from their warring madness.
Teach us mutual respect, that the captives might be freed
and the frightened might be comforted.
Even now, Lord, even in Latin America,
where your church stands faithfully with the weak and the poor,
where martyrs are made and drugs dictate,
where we are paying for the sins of our past,
bring peace to our neighbors, O Lord.
Tear down the barriers that divide
and build bridges that bring people together for the common good.
Even now, Lord, even in Africa,
where your church grows rapidly,
where faith is exuberant, but where there is famine and oppression,
break the cycle of suffering among our sisters and brothers
and help us to respond to their needs in ways
that bring your message of hope to those who languish in despair.
Even now, Lord, even in North America,
where so much affluence causes so much indifference—
North America, the land with so much to give
yet a land held prisoner by its possessions—
help us to assume the role of a servant, as Jesus did.
Open our eyes to all parts of your creation
even now, Lord, even if what we see frightens us.
And help us to trust you to guide us as we act faithfully. Amen.
[Reformed Worship 16:40]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

The Church's One Foundation

Hymn Story/Background

This well-known hymn arose out of a theological controversy in the mid-nineteenth century. John W. Colenso, Anglican bishop of Natal, South Africa, wrote a book that questioned some articles of the Christian faith, and challenged the historicity and authority of many of the Old Testament books.
Samuel J. Stone, a clergyman in Windsor, England, was one of the people who defended the orthodox Christian faith. He did so in part by publishing his Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles' Creed (1866). “The Church's One Foundation” was his hymn on the article "the holy catholic church, the communion of saints." Stone's text originally had seven stanzas, but he added three more in 1885 for processional use at Salisbury Cathedral.
The text portrays the Christian church as rooted in the Savior, Jesus Christ, through the water of baptism and the Word of God (st. 1). In accord with the ninth article of the Apostles' Creed, we confess through this text that the church is catholic (universal) and united by "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5). As we sing, we lament the "heresies" that "distress" the church (st. 3); although this is a direct reference to the Colenso controversy, the stanza fits many other situations in church history as well.
Composed by Samuel S. Wesley, the tune, AURELIA (meaning "golden"), was pub­lished as a setting for “Jerusalem the Golden” in Selection of Psalms and Hymns, which was compiled by Charles Kemble and Wesley in 1864. Though opinions vary concerning the tune's merits (Henry J. Gauntlett once condemned it as "secular twaddle"), it has been firmly associated with Stone's text since tune and text first appeared together in the 1868 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. However, Erik Routley suggested rejuvenating this text by singing it to ST. THEODULPH.
Sing stanzas 1-3 in parts and stanza 4 and 5 in unison. Support with crisp organ articulation on the repeated soprano tones.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Samuel J. Stone (b. Whitmore, Staffordshire, England, 1839; d. London, England, 1900) attended schools at Charterhouse and Pembroke College in Oxford, England. Ordained in the Church of England in 1862, he became curate of Windsor, a position he held until he joined his father in ministry at St. Paul's in Haggerston, London, in 1870. He succeeded his father as vicar at Haggerston in 1874, staying until 1890. From 1890 until his death he served All-Hallow-on-the-Wall in London, which he turned into a haven for working girls and women. In addition to his collection of hymns, Stone's publications include Sonnets of the Christian Year (1875), Hymns (1886), and Iona (1898). He served as a member of the committee that prepared Hymns Ancient and Modern (1909). His Collected Hymns and Poems were published posthumously.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (b. London, England, 1810; d. Gloucester, England, 1876) was an English organist and composer. The grandson of Charles Wesley, he was born in London, and sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal as a boy. He learned composition and organ from his father, Samuel, completed a doctorate in music at Oxford, and composed for piano, organ, and choir. He was organist at Exeter Cathedral (1835-1842), Leeds Parish Church (1842­1849), Winchester Cathedral (1849-1865), and Gloucester Cathedral (1865-1876). Wesley strove to improve the standards of church music and the status of church musicians; his observations and plans for reform were published as A Few Words on Cathedral Music and the Music System of the Church (1849). He was the musical editor of Charles Kemble's A Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1864) and of the Wellburn Appendix of Original Hymns and Tunes (1875) but is best known as the compiler of The European Psalmist (1872), in which some 130 of the 733 hymn tunes were written by him.
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

How beloved is this hymn? According to the Lutheran Hymnal Handbook, “Archbishop Temple is supposed to have once said that whenever he was called on to visit a country parish, he could always count upon two things: ‘cold chicken and “The Church’s One Foundation.”’”
— Laura de Jong
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