The Scandinavian hymn that rocked the world
The prominent Danish historian Nikolai Gruntvig was famous for Scandinavian history and mythology or some of the earliest work on pagan Norse Eddas including his translation of Beowulf (which advanced the progress of the English language). Gruntvig was a great influencer who promoted public education. He was controversial, more so because he was a bishop without a diocese. He was a prolific poet, and he was an ardent hymn-writer. He contributed much to Scandinavian hymnody because he produced the 5-volume “Vocal Works For the Danish Church” in a span of 44 years (beginning in 1837). Gruntvig penned “Built On The Rock The Church Doth Stands” in 1837 and he succeeded in providing a visual of the Invisible Church in the lyrics of the song. In fact, he wrote it as if it were an exposition of the teaching of the Invisible Church. That time, the English warred against Napoleon destroying the Church of Our Lady of Copenhagen Cathedral.
He put into writing the sublime truth that the faith and salvation of believers are not dependent on a church building. Everything is based on faith in Jesus Christ and the atonement he acquired for all our sins. The church building, steeple, altar, and loft could all fall but because Jesus is eternal, the congregation will still worship down the banks of the river or beneath the shade of a tree. The Norwegian US-immigrant Carl Doving translated “Built On The Rock The Church Doth Stands” into English in the Lutheran Hymnary (1913). Doving was a mover in Lutheran churches in Chicago and New York. Dean McIntyre distilled it into a 6-stanza adaptation in the United Methodist Church’s Worship and Song (2011).
The Norwegian composer and organ school founder Ludwig Lindeman composed the music of this song and it was his very first musical hymn output. The melody is in Dorian mode, and it is played like a folk tune, climaxing in line number six. The recommendation is to sing in group harmony, with an exhilaratingly rugged music support.