History of Hymns: “Christ Loves the Church”
By Corrie Hermans
“Christ Loves the Church” by Brian Wren
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 590
Christ loves the church, with grace beyond all measure.
We bear his name, for all the world to see.
He will not let us go or let us be,
but chooses earthen vessels for his treasure.*
The love of Christ is central to our faith. Without Christ’s sacrifice we would not experience salvation. Brian Wren (b.1936), the author of “Christ Loves the Church,” explores the relationship between Jesus and the church. Each stanza looks at a different aspect of the relationship Christ has with the church and expands upon it. He references Ephesians 5:25 indirectly throughout this hymn: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(NIV)
The first stanza reminds all singers that they are covered by and saved through grace. We are surrounded by God’s love, and we cannot escape it. Christ “will not let us go or let us be”; the repetition of the basic thought in this line shows Jesus’ power over us, and reminds us that Christ chose us to be saved through his sacrifice. The final line references “earthen vessels,” a quotation from 2 Corinthians 4:7.
The second stanza begins “Christ bears all things.” (See http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/590 for the complete hymn.) Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Even our continued corruption and conforming to the values of the world are born by Christ. Dr. Wren’s metaphor – “spinning gold from straw” – a reference to the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale, reminds us of the importance of learning and sharing Jesus’ name. The use of “praying and reforming” in this hymn reminds us that the church has been and continues to be reformed, an important underlying theology of Brian Wren’s hymns, written and understood in a current context.
The Eucharist, the way Christ feeds the church, is the subject of the third stanza. The church is also fed through the sharing of Jesus’ story. It is interesting that this stanza leaves room for “opposition” to the story of Jesus. This reminds us of the importance of Jesus’ death for all, and the importance of us sharing the story with all.
The final stanza begins, “Christ needs the church,” indicating that we are partners with God in fulfilling the church’s mission. The growing intensity found in this stanza reflects the growing intensity of Christ’s need for us throughout the hymn.
According to Dr. Wren, he strives to be inclusive, contemporary, and Trinitarian in his hymn writing. There is never a moment in this hymn when gender is applied to the church or humankind. There are references within the hymn to current theological ideas, and the language used is modern. This hymn is centered on Christ and his relationship to the church.
“Christ Loves the Church” was written in 1986 for the 150th anniversary of High Street United Methodist Church in Muncie, Indiana. Brian Wren dedicated this hymn to this church, and sought out Jane M. Marshall (b.1924), a Southern Methodist University graduate, to write a tune to accompany the text. Her tune HIGH STREET was written for this hymn. It appears only in The United Methodist Hymnal under the section, “God’s Mission.”
Alliteration is an important poetic device used in this hymn. Brian Wren believes the hymns should be read as poetry. When reading this hymn aloud, the alliteration draws attention to certain words, and places more importance on those lines. Each stanza begins with the alliteration between “Christ” and “Church,” showing the relationship between the two.
Brian Wren is one of the most influential hymn writers of his generation. Being internationally published, churches of every denomination sing his work. He was ordained in 1956 in Britain’s United Reformed Church. He holds a B.A and D. Phil from Oxford University. In 2001 he was named a fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He retired in 2007 from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where he was the first holder of the John and Miriam Conant Professorship in Worship. He holds the title of Professor of Worship emeritus at this institution.
Rev. Wren has published at least eight collections of his hymn texts and two additional collections with his wife Susan Heafield, a United Methodist minister. Brian Wren’s hymns appear in virtually every English language hymnal published since 1980. He serves the church universal in many capacities including a parish minister, hymn writer and lecturer.
Dr. Wren has written two influential books on worship; What Language Shall I Borrow? God-talk in Worship: A Male Response to Feminist Theology (1989) and Praying Twice: the Music and Words of Congregational Song (2000) in addition to his books of hymns and prayers.
Corrie Hermans is a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.
*© 1986. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.