Growing up in a traditional Lutheran church did little for my love of the hymns of the church, even though we sung them every week. The simple reason for this is that hymns take work. In their poetic lines and stanzas is found the theology of the Church, things that cannot easily be summed up in clever catch-phrases or slogans–deep, mystical truths of Christian faith. Over the last year (and especially over this summer), I have been fortunate and blessed to rediscover the beautiful hymns of the Christian faith and their rich teaching.
I say this to provide context and a motivation for what follows, because one hymn’s theology in particular recently got me thinking. It is, “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel A. Stone, a good Reformed hymn if ever I have known one. The full text of the hymn can be found here. One verse in particular stands out to me:
Yet she (the church) on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.
The relationship between the invisible Church and the Godhead described in this verse is something wonderful and beautiful. There is the temptation, I think particularly in 21st-century man, to dismiss mysticism as being entirely irrational (either as a result of the loss of supernatural reality, or possibly even an overly rationalistic view of Christianity), but it truly is not. In the USA, the religion propounded by the media and the majority of the schools is humanism, which of course is at odds with mysticism. With a staggering number of Christians retreating into our self-created subculture (with our Christian music, Christian schools, Christian coffee, etc.), slowly losing the ability to have a reasonable, coherent conversation about our view of the world with those who are not of us, we find mysticism to be predominately relegated to Eastern religions. And yet, the only true mysticism is Christian mysticism, in the sense that, properly understood, it is mystical and wholly true. As the hymn so eloquently points out, this body of believers, the Church — both those living currently here on Earth and “those whose rest is won” — is mysteriously united with the Godhead as a wife to her husband. While I understand that this is so, I cannot understand how it is so, except that God has done it, as is stated in another verse of the hymn: “From heaven He came and sought her, To be His holy bride.” That is the mysticism, that God can work in a supernaturalistic sense to bring about his will in and through me. To quote Francis Schaeffer, who says it all so much better than I ever could,
Christian mysticism is not the same as non-Christian mysticism, but I would insist that it is not a lesser mysticism. Indeed, eventually it is a deeper mysticism, for it is not based merely on contentless experience, but on historic, space-time reality–on propositional truth. One is not asked to deny reason, the intellect, in true Christian mysticism. And there is to be no loss of personality, no loss of the individual man. In Eastern mysticism–for which the West is searching so madly now that it has lost the sense of history, of content, and the truth of biblical facts–there is always finally a loss of the personality. You will remember the story of Shiva, who is one of the Hindu manifestations of the Everything. He came and loved a mortal woman. Shiva put his arms around the woman in his love, and immediately she disappeared, and he became neuter. This is Eastern mysticism. It is grounded in the loss of personality of the individual. Not so in Christian mysticism. Christian mysticism is communion with Christ. It is Christ bringing forth fruit through me, the Christian, with no loss of personality and without my being used as a stick or a stone, either.