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January 13, 2006

"Onward, Christian Soldiers"

A question asked in the entry for January 15, 2006, is whether "Onward Christian Soliders, No. 331, from Hymns of the Spirit Two, can be "rescued" for progressive or post-liberal worship. The intent of Hymns of the Spirit Three is to, hymn by hymn, rework each and every hymn from Hymns of the Spirit Two (1937), to make it "singable" today, to the extent that is possible. Hymns of the Spirit Two was originally published by two "liberal" denominations "for use in the churches of the free spirit," it was reprinted a number of times; most recently under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1981 by Beacon Press (the hymnal predates the existence of this "consolidated" denomination, however).

More than any other text, it is clear that what follows subverts (at least in part) the intent of the original, while preserving many of the phrases and words from the original. All feedback is welcome, of course.


Onward, Christian soldiers, crying "war no more!"
With banners of justice going on before.
Christ, the people's teacher, leads against the flow;
Forward through thoughtlessness see that message go!
Onward, faithful soldiers, crying "war no more,"
With banners of justice going on before.

Like a people's army moves the church of God;
Kindred, we are treading where the saints have trod.
May we be united, all one body we,
One in hope and freedom, one in charity.
Onward, faithful soldiers, crying "war no more!"
With banners of justice, going on before.

Crowns and thrones may perish, regimes rise and wane,
But the church of freedom constant will remain.
O trials can never 'gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward, faithful soldiers, crying "war no more!"
With banners of justice, going on before.

Onward then, all people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in this good-will song.
Glory, laud and honor unto God we bring,
This through countless ages earth and angels sing.
Onward, faithful soldiers, crying "war no more!"
With banners of justice, going on before.

Posted by rehurst at January 13, 2006 11:04 PM

Comments

If they sang it this way during the civil war, we'd still have slavery.

My Church in Geneva opposed the Civil War, and World War II. I've said if the Gov had listened to the political nonsense from our Church; we'd still have slavery, speak German now, and no Jews.

Thankfully , there's damn little politics from the pulpit.

And I home the Senate confirms Judge Alito.

Posted by: Bill Baar at January 13, 2006 11:55 PM

Thanks Bill, I never thought my words could ever have such an effect on the course of human history before! What surprises me, though, is that you think my words would only cause those "soldiers" on the side of "right" to cease their struggles, but not those on the side of wrong. I would think those on the side of wrong would be more inclined to listen to the promptings of the spirit. Perhaps I more faith in soldiers, and more faith in the spirit.

More importantly, you may be mis-remembering the originally lyrics. Ms. Baring-Gould was not sending Christian soldiers marching "off to" war, she was having them march "as to" war. The hymn was a extended metaphor of the "Church militant," the objections of those in the liberal churches was not to its message (we could march "as to" war, even in the early 20th century, against child labor, or the robber-baron tycons the ruled the largest industries with an iron fist), but the issue was one of the metaphors employed. Hence my observation that the intent of the hymn has been subverted-- not 180 degrees, but more like 90 degrees, or 60 degrees. A cry, a call, for peace, not in a dogmatic way, but as a plaintive plea.

Posted by: Richard Hurst at January 16, 2006 06:23 PM

Hi. I came across your site. I hope don't change the song, for history's sake. As to the meaning of it, the context is essential. It was to be sung by schoolboys marching to the next village in England; it was not meant as a pro-war song. It is stirring and lovely. And it's a good thing the Allies won!

Posted by: Paul at August 16, 2006 12:07 AM

Today, every Christian in America, should be packin' heat. God gave us the Right to keep and bear arms for a reason: to preserve Liberty and to prevent Tyranny. We haven't listened. Let every God-fearing Christian become familiar with firearms in order to defend his/her faith. So, onward Christian soldiers...in the name of Jesus Christ. For a real weapon for the day, go to http://www.robarm.com and look at the XCR.

Posted by: Steve Noe at December 19, 2006 09:19 PM

Paul, history is of course important; I've addressed what the lyrics of the original actually say in response to Bill (who apparently believes that they are a Christian call to arms, which is not the case, but an extended metaphor about the Church militant). I would also point to the comments of our Mr. Steve Noe, would likewise believes, it would seem, that the original lyrics support his theology, that would seem to support fighting for our faith through arms (semiautomatic and fully automatic rifles, as it would would turn out). The author of our faith, who would have us turn the other cheek, and love our enemies as the ultimate subversion of the dominant paradigm, I'm sure would be shocked to learn this.

I'm sure Mr. Noe would also be interested to know that the Bill of Rights (wherein one might find the Second Amendment) was not granted by God, but in large measure the work of a crypto-Unitarian and Deist by the name of Thomas Jefferson, who would hardly believe in arming oneself to protect traditional Christianity from the infidels. It's disturbing to me that Mr. Noe believes in using my website to push specific weaponry, though (so you'll excuse me if I think that the original lyrics, whatever their intent was, seem to give solace to folks with agendas such as these, and might be edited if they are to be used productively put to use in progressive congregations).

Posted by: Richard Hurst at January 1, 2007 01:35 AM

Of course Unitarian Universalists to this hymntune now sing "Forward Through the Ages," and nothing like this, but perhaps I took the editorial changes too far. I've changed the first sentence back to the original, kept much of the "positive" aspects of the Church militant imagery, and speak more broadly of the church's goals, peace amongst them.


Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With banners of justice going on before.
Christ, the royal rabbi, leads against the flow;
Forward through the ambush see that message go!
Onward, faithful soldiers, onward, we implore,
With banners of justice going on before.

Like a swift uprising moved the church of God;
Kindred, we are treading where the saints have trod.
May we be united, all one body we,
One in hope and freedom, one in charity.
Onward, faithful soldiers, misery abhor,
With banners of justice, going on before.

Crowned regimes may perish, thrones may rise and wane,
But the church of freedom constant will remain.
O trials can never 'gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward, faithful soldiers, dreaming war no more,
With banners of justice, going on before.

Onward then, all peoples, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in this good-will song.
Glory, laud and honor to your God do bring,
This through countless ages, earth and angels sing.
Onward, onward, soldiers, seek peace, war deplore,
With banners of justice, going on before.

Posted by: Richard Hurst at January 1, 2007 01:52 AM

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