October 29, 2013


“Glorify Thy Name
Glorify Thy Name
Glorify Thy Name in all the earth”

The Spaniard to my left speaks not a word of English, yet still he reverently frames the English syllables projected on the screen. To my right, the warm, sweet tenor of the Romanian beside me soars above my travel-weary baritone. Just ahead, a chorale of German pastors is anchoring the bass line with Reformation profundity. At the keyboard, an Italian smiles in awestruck wonder at the rich harmonies produced by 400 worshippers from 20 nations speaking 18 languages.

“Glorify Thy Name in all the earth”

It’s difficult not to think of Pentecost on a morning like this, even though the room where we are gathered is not at all upper, and no tongues of fire have yet been seen. As we worship with each other, journeying through five major languages in each hymn, we leave the plains of Babel behind. Even when we don’t fully understand each other or comprehend the phrases we sing from the screen, there is no confusion. In its own and multilingual way, worship yields a unity of purpose that otherwise often eludes us.

There is in all of this a lesson for the church—a heaven-sent reminder that the Spirit is alive and among us, that we have not been left as orphans. At a moment in the history of this movement when divisions, real and imagined, threaten to rend this remnant people into so many smaller remnants, we need the lesson learned wherever worship truly happens.

For unity, like happiness, is rarely found by seeking it—by squaring up, reciting our differences, and pretending we can then live with some lesser, grayer truth, or worse yet, outright ambiguity. Our DNA as Adventists rebels against the mushy indistinctness that seems called for when we try to manufacture unity in committees or consensus statements. I do not want the truth on which I stake my life to be the product of some wordsmith, nor, I think, do you. The harder we work to achieve unity, the less we like the outcome, for we sense that we have only papered over the crevasse, not bridged it.

At the core, we often doubt that the one whom we have framed as our opponent could love the Lord as much as we do, take His Word as seriously as we do, or be as loyal as we deem ourselves to be. Our native arrogance must first be dismantled by the admission that the “other” knows the Spirit too—hears His voice, obeys that voice, and walks the narrow path on which we naively thought we were journeying alone.

The unity for which our Savior prayed comes mostly from indirection, or rather, redirection. Unity is well-nigh impossible without trust, and trust will happen only when I learn something new and winning about you. When I hear you sing to Jesus; when I say amen to passionate prayer in a language other than my own; when I see tears swimming in your eyes as you rejoice in the ocean of God’s love, then—and maybe only then—will the walls of my wariness come down.

Worship is the great corrector of our divisive foolishness, the tonic for the discord into which we naturally fall, a cure for inharmonic living. In these contentious times we cannot overemphasize it or make too much of it. Even when the words are foreign or unfamiliar, we grow up into Christ by getting down upon our knees with those who don’t look like us, or speak like us, or share our theological preferences. Even when the song is new or the tempo not our customary march, we are much nearer heaven—and each other—than before we began to praise the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NKJV).1

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, RSV).2 If this church will hold together, it will be through worshipping the Lord “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1, NKJV), the Lord who also stands between us.

  1. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.