Posted by: rcottrill | July 15, 2011

In Christ There Is No East or West

Words: William Arthur Dunkerley–pen name John Oxenham (b. Nov. 12, 1852; d. Jan. 23, 1941)
Music: St. Peter (also called Reinagle), by Alexander Robert Reinagle (b. Aug. 21, 1799; d. Apr. 6, 1877)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bill Dunkerley was a successful businessman before he became a writer. With his father, he operated a wholesale grocery business, with branches in Europe and the United States. He traveled extensively in the States, in Canada, and Europe too, and was an expert mountain climber.

When he turned to writing, he left the grocery business behind, and engaged in his new pursuit full time, producing over 40 novels, and 20 books of poetry. Mr. Dunkerley often wrote under the pen name of John Oxenham–a name he took from a sea captain in Charles Kingsley’s adventure novel, Westward Ho! He was a dedicated Christian, and served as a deacon and a Bible teacher in his church, in London.

This is a hymn about Christian brotherhood, and about the service for Christ that flows from that. (It was originally thought of as a missionary hymn.)

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

This is a blessed thought. But I do want to say something more in this article about the politically correct tinkering in some hymn books that has changed “mankind’ to “humankind,” in CH-2, and “brothers of the faith” to “members of the faith,” and “who serves my Father as a son” to “who serves my Father as His child,” in CH-3.

In my view, this is not only unnecessary, it’s silly. Sometimes, words such as mankind, brother, and son, are used in a generic sense. We all know that. And are we to assume that women have so little perception that they aren’t aware that such statements include them? Carried to the extreme, these folks want to alter even the Scriptures, and call God our mother, as well as our Father, so nobody feels left out.

Leaving aside the fact that it is the way Mr. Dunkerley wrote the hymn, there are other reasons why words such as “brother” and “son” should be retained. For one thing, the terms are used extensively of Christians in the Word of God. And if we believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, we need to be very careful about thinking we know better what the words should be.

Examples are too numerous to mention many, but consider the following. The Bible exhorts believers to exhibit “brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10; I Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1). And we are to “love the brotherhood” in the family of Christ (I Pet. 2:17). The Bible also refers to all Christians as “sons of God” (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:6-7).

The writers were guided by the Holy Spirit in this matter. It certainly avoids the clumsiness and complications that would ensue by repeatedly including “sons and daughters,” brothers and sisters. Can you imagine how it would be otherwise?

Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his [or her] brother [or sister] in need, and shuts up his [or her] heart from [him or her], how does the love of God abide in him [or her]? (I Jn. 3:17).

Yes, it may be the masculine terms are meant generically. But there’s another issue too. The Bible refers to believers as both children of God, and sons of God. Those who want to do away with what they see as the “exclusiveness” of the latter, often change them all to “children.” However, the two aren’t precisely the same thing.

We are children of God, brought into His forever family, through the new birth (Jn. 1:12-13). But all born again children of God are also elevated to the position of sonship, at the moment of conversion. In ancient times, sonship meant a recognition of certain adult rights and privileges in the family. In the spiritual realm, these privileges of sonship are ours by adoption (Eph. 1:5). We should revel in both these truths, not blend them into one.

One more thought, before I finish. I sometimes wonder if those who are obsessed with removing all such masculine references from our hymnody (and even from the Bible) may actually have emasculated the Christian faith in the minds of many, leaving it, by default, the province of women and children. What if these references are taken to heart particularly by men? Is that so harmful? We need men! Spiritually robust men of strong Christian character, to lead our families, and provide leadership in the church.

CH-3) Join hands, then, brothers of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.

For a fuller discussion of this issue, I refer you to my topical article Confessions of a Male Chauvinist (Or maybe not!).

1) Christians are one in Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13), yet we are to “endeavour” to make that unity practical and visible (Eph. 4:1-3). What will be involved in this?

2) Christians will not agree on every detail of Bible interpretation, but to work together we must surely have some common ground on the fundamentals of the faith. In your view, what are those fundamentals (the basics on which we must not compromise)?


  1. Well said! We sang this hymn this morning at mass and I was convinced that the dreadful word “humankind” would not have been used in 1908, so I looked up the hymn on the ‘net and sure enough the version in the hymn book, edited by Mayhew, replaced mankind with humankind. Political correctness is infesting the world and it makes me sick.

    • Thanks for your comment. And I agree. There are some rare occasions when a word change is a help, but achieving “political correctness” isn’t one. In a way, the editors are insulting our intelligence. They’re saying that congregations couldn’t possibly understand that Christian “brotherhood,” or Christ dying for all “men,” is intended in a generic sense, and means both men and women.

      Further, these tinkerers often get themselves into a poetic quandary. Change a “man” to “humankind,” or a “thee” to “you” at the end of a line and you may mess up the rhyme. That will necessitate altering the whole line–and maybe, in the process, missing the point of the author. Also, I’ve seen hymns where one or two words are changed, and others are left. So you get a kind of mongrel version, neither old nor new.

      In the majority of cases, it’s best to leave things as they are. If there’s a word that’s not used currently, the service leader can make a brief explanation before we sing. Leaving the old hymns to sound like old hymns has another advantage. It gives Christians a greater sense that we are part of something really big, and we have a continuity with our heritage, going back many centuries.


%d bloggers like this: