History of Hymns: 'Bind Us Together'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Bind Us Together”
by Bob Gillman
The Faith We Sing, 2226
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14, NIV)
Hymns of Christian unity are essential to the life of the church. Sometimes we are the cruelest to our brothers and sisters in Christ—our siblings in faith. “Bind Us Together” is a story of seeking unity amidst theological and liturgical diversity. Those who are old enough may have had experiences like those of the composer. While the issues that seek to divide us today may be different, the message of unity is the same.
Robert (Bob) Gillman (b. 1946), raised in the East London Borough of West Ham, calls himself “an East Ender.” He notes, however, that he was “not close enough to hear the sound of Bow Bells of Bow Church, which would have made him officially a ‘Cockney’!” (Email, 2020, n.p.). He received his education in the borough, including the local Catholic junior school followed by South West Ham Technical School, finishing his education at Abbs Cross Technical School in Hornchurch. His career has been as a performer, composer, and manager of a printing company.
Bob Gillman was encouraged by his parents to attend nearby Central Baptist Church in West Ham, where he made a profession of faith at age thirteen. He has had a sustained interest in music, including guitar and banjo playing as well as composition. He has authored stories for children, ages 4-7, “Tales of Upchurch Station,” reflecting his interest in steam trains, that encourage children “to be kind and helpful to each other.” His congregational song compositions, including “Bind Us Together” and “Jesus, You’re Terrific,” are in a folk style.
“Bind Us Together” was the result of a revelation in the early 1970s. Bob describes the larger context for the song:
Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, great changes were taking place in churches across Great Britain. Many Christians were experiencing the new spiritual awakening sweeping the land. This became known as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (with reference to the Pentecostal experience of the early disciples) and was evidenced by the presence of the gifts of the Spirit, as listed in the New Testament. Believers were experiencing such gifts as prophesy, healing powers and speaking in tongues, to name but a few. Most Christian denominations were affected, although, interestingly, one of the earliest churches affected was the Church of England at All Souls, Langham Place, and it inspired its minister, Michael Harper, to write a couple of booklets about the experiences he and other people were having, and the biblical basis for it (Email, 2020, n.p.).
In many cases, a local vicar or minister of a congregation, not having received a blessing from the Holy Spirit, was unable to support members of the congregation who were participating in this spiritual movement. Some members of the congregation were seeking changes in the liturgy, incorporating more spontaneity and freedom in the established structures that were, from their perspective, inspired by the Holy Spirit. As a result, a house church movement developed echoing the practice of early Christians. As Bob Gillman notes, since house gatherings were a part of the history of Christianity, “there wasn’t really a lot the traditionalists could disagree with—although some tried to argue against this, seeing it as subversive and a threat to traditional order.” It was out of this broader context that “Bind Us Together” (1974) was composed.
A smaller group was meeting on Tuesday evenings in a home to which Bob Gillman was invited. As he notes, “I was hungry to learn more about what God was doing through this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I was immediately struck by the warmth and vibrancy of the people who came from various churches in the area.” Their unity was solidified by the joy they experienced because of their profound encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Bob Gillman describes the story behind the song:
I was in my 20s and had been writing songs since I became a Christian at the age of 13. One evening in 1974 at Ken and Maureen’s house, I remember a group of us were all praying together; I had such an emotional feeling come over me, and I felt a real need to do something concerning the unity of God’s people. It was then that the words “Bind Us Together” dropped into my mind; they were immediately followed by “With cords that cannot be broken,” and “Bind us together with love.” Also, a tune popped straight into my head, and I stood up and sang it out to share it with everybody. Afterward, Ken said, “Bob, I think there’s more to come.” He was right, but it seemed the Lord wasn’t going to do everything for me, and it took a few weeks of meditation before the verses came to me as well.
Around this time, I was also involved in a multichurch Christian musical, which was on tour in the London area. After one performance, when the choir was sitting around relaxing, I sang “Bind Us Together;” to my surprise, they all joined in. It kind of took off after that, and thenceforth was passed from person to person and church to church. (Email, 2020, n.p.).
Even more to his surprise, Bob received reports in subsequent years from those traveling overseas, bringing back news that his song was being sung around the world. He explains, “Although I’m listed as the composer (published by Thank You Music), I don’t really see it as my song. I was just the mouthpiece God used, and for that, I am truly grateful and blessed.”
This succinct text is undergirded by many scriptural passages. Perhaps most notably is Jesus’ prayer for unity, John 17:22-23: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (NIV)
Ephesians 4:1-6, which might be seen as a sermon on the John 17 passage, describes in more detail the nature of this unity and the qualities of the ones who share this spirit of oneness:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in al. (NRSV).
Gillman wrote three original stanzas; the second and third do not usually appear in hymnals in the United States. The composer notes that others have occasionally added stanzas of their own. The first stanza, available in all sources, paraphrases the final verse of the passage cited above (Ephesians 4:6): “one God,” “one King,” “one body.” The last verse of this scripture passage reminds us that through our baptism, we are all children of God—siblings in faith—because we share one parent. The final phrase of the stanza—“that is why we sing”—articulates a theology of congregational song as a way of expressing and encouraging Christian unity, a message that never is out of date.
Stanza two emphasizes Christ’s redemption, we are “purchased by his precious Son”—perhaps taken from Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NKJV). Because of Christ’s redemption, we were “born with the rights to be clean, / for Jesus the victory is won.” Stanza three echoes the theme of the family of God in stanza one, this time in the second-person voice, “You are the family of God.” He concludes the third stanza with the evocative phrase, “You are the glorious new wine,” a reference to Luke 5:37-38.
Gordon L. Borrer, The Worshiping Church: A Hymnal—Worship Leaders’ Edition, ed. Donald P. Hustad (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1990, 1991), no. 690.
Bob Gillman, Emails to Michael Hawn, April 21 and 22, 2020.
Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Verses marked NKJV are from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.