Our Legacy Hymn for the second phase of the Building a Legacy in Christ-Crucified campaign, our period of stewardship, is Built on the Rock (LSB 645).1 The hymn was published in 1837 by the Danish Pastor Nikolai Fredrik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872)2. At the time, the Danish church then was pervaded by Rationalism which preached human virtue, but not sin and forgiveness. This led to congregational decline. Early in his career, Rev. Grundtvig embraced historic Christian (and therefore Lutheran) orthodoxy, and his influence is credited with having brought somewhat of a revival to the Church in both Denmark and Norway.3 Despite his later adopting a number of heterodox theological positions,4 Rev. Grundtvig wrote solidly orthodox hymns. Two of them are included in LSB (today’s and LSB 582, God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage, which he considered to be a fifth stanza to Dr. Luther’s A Mighty Fortress).
The hymn melody (C minor) was written by the Norwegian composer Ludvig M. Lindeman (1812-1887). It was published in 1840. It follows the bar form pattern (AAB) of the mediaeval court song. Lindeman repeatedly utilized a style that combined “old peace and dignity” with “simple folksong-like forms.”5
As we prayerfully discern how we might share the gifts God has given us, as our participation in His Kingdom work, it is proper for us to meditate on what is meant by the term “Church.” Our Confessions teach that the Church is the “holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA III XII 2), the “congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered” (AC VII 1), through which God “daily and richly forgives … the sins of all believers” (SC II Third Article).
In Built on the Rock, Rev. Grundtvig has beautifully set those concepts to verse. The first stanza begins with the Scriptural Truth that Jesus has built His Church on the Rock – Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 7:24-27, 16:13-20).6 The second stanza reminds us that we do not grab hold of God through the construction of our church buildings, rather He chooses to come down to us in His Word and Sacraments. He dwells in us by faith in Christ-Crucified for us. He makes us His temple (Acts 17:24-25; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; FC SD III 54). The third stanza further explores the Biblical teaching of Christians as “living stones” through Baptism, being built up into Jesus’ holy Temple, with Him as Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-6). The stanza concludes with the reminder that Jesus dwells even in the midst of only two (Matthew 18:20).7 The fourth stanza picks up on the concept of the Church as the congregation receiving God’s gifts through His unchanging Word and Sacraments (Hebrews 13:8). The fifth stanza wraps up the hymn with a prayer to God that He will use His Church to bring His will to completion – that all will be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; CLC Mission Statement).
Built on the Rock is one of the wonderful treasures of the Church. It is well-suited for the stewardship phase of the Building a Legacy in Christ-Crucified campaign. At Catalina Lutheran Church, God has truly built His Church on the Rock. During times of adversity, He has never abandoned His people in this place. He has made us a congregation in which Law and Gospel are properly preached and taught and the Sacraments rightly administered. He continues to draw the “young and old,” and “above all the souls distressed,” to Catalina Lutheran Church to hear and rest in the proclamation of Christ-crucified for the forgiveness of their sins, and the sins of the world. He has made this our legacy.
We pray to our Triune God that He will continue to build His Church here in Catalina, moving us to give back to Him as He has given to us, that for centuries henceforth until Jesus returns on the clouds, “many in saving faith will come where Christ His message is bringing.” Amen.
- The information on the hymn is taken from the notes by Mark DeGarmeaux in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2019), pp. 807-809
- The information on Rev. Grundtvig is taken from the notes by Mark DeGarmeaux in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2019), pp. 370-371. Also, Mark A. Granquist, ed. Scandinavian Pietists: Spiritual Writings from 19th-Century Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2015), pp. 19-23 and 101-128. Finally, Wilhelm W. Petersen, Warm Winds From The South: The Spread of Pietism to Scandinavian Lutherans, at https://www.blts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/WWP-Pietism.pdf (accessed 28 January, 2020)
- Rev. Grundtvig had a great love for Denmark and her history and literature, and published widely in this area. He thus influenced the development of a Danish national culture and consciousness, to which he saw Christianity as integral. This may have been an additional factor bringing individuals back to the church. Note that from 1523 until 1814, Norway was a part of Denmark.
- Examples include his teachings of a Dominical origin of the Apostles’ Creed, and a distinction between the “written Word” in Scripture, mere written words that tell us about Christ, and the “living Word,” namely the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the Sacraments, which bring Christ to us (see Mark DeGarmeaux’s notes on LSB 582 in Companion, Volume 1, p. 647). Furthermore, Rev. Grundtvig’s followers taught the possibility of the post-mortem conversion of the soul.
- Marion Lars Hendrickson, Musica Christi – A Lutheran Aesthetic (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), p. 143. Also the notes by Erling T. Teigen in Companion, Volume 2, p. 486. Although the notes indicate that Lindeman did not use folk melodies in his 1871 chorale book, others have noted the influence of folk music on many of his hymns. Lindeman also wrote the melody for LSB 435.
- The original Danish text speaks of the Church as “an old house” (et gammelt Huus). Carl Døving introduced “Rock” into his English translation.
- This was a radical concept at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry as the Jews required a group of 10 men above the age of 13 for public worship, see for example Mishnah Megillah 4:3, and Talmud Megillah 23b, both accessed on 29 January, 2020 at https://www.sefaria.org.