Many people today do not recognize the name Harry Emerson Fosdick.
He was an American pastor in the early twentieth century. His preaching ministry was influential, considered most influential in liberal circles for at least two decades. As the “most famed living Protestant preacher” of his day, there’s a lot to say about him and his ministry. As he made his way through the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy of his time, he garnered much support and much criticism, as you can imagine.
Fosdick once said of Methodists, “You Methodists have always been a bunch of wise guys.” Considered to be “the Jesse James of the theological world,” perhaps his most known sermon is “Shall the Fundamentalists Win.”
While you may not be familiar with what made him so loved and despised, you’ve most likely had a connection with his faith. He also wrote hymns. The most well-known hymn is “God of Grace and God of Glory.”
As I read today’s scripture reading, the third verse of that hymn came to mind:
Cure thy children’s warring madness,
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Fosdick wrote this hymn as he contemplated the completion of his church’s new building project. The church was building a multi-million dollar building, funded with Rockefeller money. “God of Grace and God of Glory” was the processional hymn for the church’s dedication service in 1931.
So, let’s consider how this might speak to our faith today.
I imagine there was a lot of excitement for Fosdick’s congregation. But the preacher wanted to be the voice calling the church beyond exciting building projects. If the church was to be God’s church, they would need God’s power–see verse 1 of the hymn. The church would need God’s freedom and strength to accomplish God’s work.
And so the recurring theme of “God of Grace and God of Glory” is that God would:
Grant us wisdom
Grant us courage
God’s church will need both as we pursue God’s calling. The apostle Paul prayed something similar for the Ephesian Christians. He said, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.”
Whatever cultural moments arise for us, we need God’s wisdom to move forward in faithfulness. We must ensure we have not removed Christ as the head of God’s church. The danger is our quickness to affirm Christ’s superiority without examining whether we’re living what we say we believe.
So, we’re back to verse two of the hymn.
God’s wisdom shows us when we are warring with madness. If Christ is ruling our hearts, he’ll show us where and when we’re letting our pride take control of his ministry. And we’ll be able to look past the excitement of ministry pet projects and desires to see the true joy that comes from being the church appointed by God to fill all in all.