Back in the dark ages, before I had ever heard of a Seventh-day Adventist, I spent four years at Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University) in Bellingham, Washington, majoring in music education. Just before graduation I dropped out of school because I knew that teaching music was not what I wanted to do. And to be honest, neither was it a career for which I was fully qualified.
I did (and do) love music, and I enjoyed the privilege of conducting our church orchestra on occasion. As they warmed up their instruments, but before they actually began to play, I always asked our pianist to play an A note. If you’ve been to a symphony you’ve noticed the concertmaster do this. The rest of the members of the orchestra can then tune their instruments to that A.
It is critical that everyone be in unison with that particular note. That note binds them all together. Once musicians begin to play we hear the joyous sound of many different notes, with alternate rhythms and varied harmonies. These variations do not create discord or disunity: just the opposite. We hear far richer sounds as each section plays uniquely, but with great purpose. And the singular act that makes it all work is that they all have tuned to A.
I love my church. But I hear a disturbing sound from it today. It is a grating and troubling sound that tells me we are simply not in tune with one another. As it continues I hear various sections of the orchestra try to play over the others, as if by volume alone they can make their fellow musicians cave in to their noise. And noise it is, for it is certainly no longer music.
I am reminded of when those who survived the Babylonian captivity were allowed to return to Jerusalem and finally begin to rebuild the Temple. For a time, there was great excitement and anticipation. But as the building began to take shape there was discord.
“With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:11-13).
There was too much focus on the structure, and not enough on the goal. They could see the form. But they were not sufficiently contemplating the purpose of the structure, which was to house the presence of God Himself.
How, then, do we get back on track?
First, as an individual I have to make a personal commitment to the Composer that I will play my part, not as a soloist, but as part of the greater body. I am only part of a masterpiece, but my part is critically important. Joining with the other parts we make music that brings joy to heaven.
Second, we all need to appreciate the varied instruments, talents, and sounds that come from other members of the ensemble. We don’t all sound the same. We don’t all use the same motions or talents, but we are much better for it. I want to respect the calling and gifting that has been done by God to bring each participant to their place.
And one more truth stands out: we must be tuned to the A. Unity does not come as a result of a conductor’s demand, but rather as a result of each performer’s acknowledgment of the one true note.
What is our A? It’s certainly not for everyone to play the same instrument, nor is it that we all play the same line, same tune, or same rhythm.
For me, my A is the atonement. That certainly incorporates our picture of Christ as high priest as well as sacrificial lamb. If we are not in tune with that as our key note, the one note that binds the whole body of Christ together, then we are simply making noise.
I pray that those who lead this awesome, orchestrated body will clearly sound an A and encourage all members, in all their diversity, to be allowed to play their individual parts.
Marvin Wray is a retired pastor who lives in Grass Valley, California.