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From Blest Be to Bind us together 

The future of our witness as Baptist people depends on our shared life together, writes Andy Goodliff. Though particular hymns have charted our changing relationship with interdependence, recovering them (and embracing new ones) might help 


In a recent article [1] Brian Haymes draws attention to how for a long time it would be common to sing John Fawcett’s ‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in love’ [2] at local church anniversaries, association and Baptist Union assemblies. During the 1990s he found the hymn had largely been forgotten and instead you were more likely to sing ‘Bind us together, Lord, with cords that cannot be broken.’

Haymes reflects on the shift from the celebration of our common life in Christ, a unity that is given, to a prayer that God would unite us because of a lack of ties or bonds between us. Twenty-five years later, neither of these hymns are likely to be part of our worshipping life, whether as a local church, as an association or as a Union – they have fallen out of favour and I know of no song that expresses something similar to have replaced them. We rarely if ever sing about unity, either as something that exists or something that we pray for. [3]

I draw attention to Brian’s observations in the context of the latest Baptists Together magazine on the theme of covenant. For some who were around in the 1990s and for others like myself who have read about it [4], the theme of covenant was also something that many (especially Paul Fiddes, who features in the present magazine) talk about and wrote about a lot. There was a recovery of covenant as a concept from our Baptist history that recognised that as churches, colleges, and associations there was a tie that bound us together in love and purpose, and that this was not an extra, an add-on, but an integral part of our being Baptist in the face of the Baptist original sin of independence.

Interdependence never just happens, it is something that must be worked at and prayed for and intentionally sought

I was also reminded of Brian’s observations as I meet with other ministers who are part of the Southend Area Baptist Network as we gathered this week to reflect on the covenant relationship we established back in June 2014. Were we conscious of the ties that bound us together, or were we still at a point where we were asking God to bind us together?

As we listened to one another, there was sense that both views were true. The Network has established a habit of gathering together, or partnering in mission that was not evident before. At the same time, there was a sense that we still fell far short of the intention behind our covenanting together. We can give thanks for the ties and yet still feel the need to pray bind us together.

The sin of our independence is a hard one to break, in fact, it is impossible to break without the power of the Spirit to free us and unite us (2 Cor. 3.17; 1 Cor. 12.13; Eph. 4.3; Phil. 2.1-2). Interdependence never just happens, it is something that must be worked at and prayed for and intentionally sought. I am one who believes that the future of our witness as a Baptist people in the Southend Area and as a Union lies in a resistance to independence and an embrace of and commitment to our shared life in Christ.

Each of our congregations, whether large or small, need one another, if not today, then tomorrow, to survive and flourish – bind us together Lord – and each of our congregations are already bound in Christ, evident in our practice of baptism, Lord’s supper and reading scripture – blest be the tie that binds our hearts in love.

I suggest we recover both the hymns mentioned above and encourage others on a similar theme to be written. One I have discovered recently is from those modern day Wesleys, Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend. It’s called ‘How Good it is.’ The first verse says ‘How good it is when the family of God / Dwell together in spirit, in love and unity / Where the bonds of peace, of acceptance and love / Are the fruits of his presence here among us.’    

[1] Brian Haymes, ‘Stilling Blessing the Tie that Binds’ in Anthony Clarke (ed.), For the Sake of the Church: Essays in honour of Paul S. Fiddes (Regent’s Park College, 2014).
[2] The hymn has been known as the Baptist anthem. Fawcett was a Baptist.
[3] This reflects perhaps also that we lack a shared hymnody.
[4] I was a mere teenager in the 1990s.

Picture: Gratisography

The Revd Andy Goodliff is minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea

Baptist Times, 29/01/2016
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