Unity as Music

“Live in harmony with one another…” Romans 12:16, NIV

I enjoy concerts. I marvel at how many different instruments in an orchestra can blend together to produce something of great power and beauty. I also thrill at the many different voices that blend together to produce the majestic strains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Whether it is a barbershop quartet or a college choir, the interplay of basses and tenors with altos and sopranos weaves a tapestry more vivid than any skilled needlework.

The harmonious strains draw me in and invite me to become a part of the whole. Perhaps this is why I have always been interested in attempting to make music myself on the guitar and piano. Perhaps I am also being drawn out of myself to be part of something greater. While it is possible to play or sing solo, the music rises to a higher plane when it swells with the chords of harmony.

Harmony is not uniformity. If every voice or every instrument sounded the exact same note, with the same tone and duration, no matter how often it was repeated, it would repel rather than attract the listener. The same is also true if a musician or chorister made music that to them appeared perfectly correct but was not in the same key that all the others were using. The dissonance would be troubling to listen to. While there may be a place for these things in impressionism where the desire is to paint a picture with the music and sometimes that picture is of monotony or dissonance, listening to it is still unsettling.

With this understanding, music can be a wonderful metaphor for church unity. Each of us is endowed with our individual melody. As we search for harmony, we find many different keys. When we find the key that our melody is in, we feel at home and joy fills our hearts. We sing out our melody to add to the harmony, knowing that we have a place in the music and that what we sing will be valued and appreciated. As our skill grows, we learn other keys and can join in the music with more diversity and grace. But in order to do that, we must be in an environment that will allow that growth. If we are allowed to only make music in one key, we may become very good at that one key, but our usefulness will be limited.

For instance, in western music, the keys of C and G are commonly known as “cowboy keys” because many country and western songs are written in those keys. Because C has no sharps or flats and G has only one sharp, they are also easier keys to make music in. Perhaps these keys can be identified with those who first join with the church. Their faith is not complex. There are not a lot of sharps or flats in their experience. Since even the old time saints know how to express their faith in these keys, it is easy to harmonize. And as long as faith remains in this keys, all is well.

However, as time goes on the simple keys develop more complexity. The believer discovers the sevenths and the relative minors that add richness and subtlety to the music. Still, though, all but the newest saints are able to harmonize with these changes. But with continued exposure to the faith community, the believer discovers that those simple keys do not work for every situation. For some reason, there are occasionally dissonances when the music comes. Not understanding the meaning of this, the believers respond in different ways.

Some will simply continue to produce the music as they always have since the beginning. They will either ignore the dissonances or they will emphasize them and insist that they are not part of the proper harmony of belief. The claim that if others would only sing the original melody that they learned then all will be well. But others will follow the counsel of Matthew 18 and go to those they are in dissonance with and seek answers. These will grow in their understanding of the music of the church and will discover that there are other keys. Their experience derived from meeting and praying with these individuals who may have more sharps and flats in their experience will allow them to be able to make music and harmonize in these other keys as well.

Jesus demonstrated this in His ability to reach people and touch their hearts with His love no matter where they were in their experience. He could sing in the key of the impoverished fisherman or the rich but hardened tax collector. He understood the key of the prostitute who repeatedly repented yet kept falling back into her old lifestyle. He understood how to sing in keys that showed dissonance with the popular religious practices of the time. He even used His knowledge to teach His disciples the simple melodies that they would learn and practice until they were able to produce the harmony that ushered in the power of Pentecost.

Jesus knew that harmony can only come through diversity. He called fishermen, a tax collector, and zealots in order to blend them into one harmony that could take His message to the world. He also taught through the out pouring of His Spirit on the Gentiles, that no one owns the Song. All, who are willing to sing, are welcome. This is why it is important that there are those who are growing in the church and learning the other keys. Then those with diverse backgrounds who wish to add their song to the harmony will find those who can sing with them and the harmony will be complete no matter the key. Only those who have experience of the sharps and flats these others have in their song are qualified to help them learn other keys. And only those who can sing those songs can find an answering chord in the hearts of others.

Jesus said, “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” Matthew 11:16-17, NIV It is not enough to make music, we must make music that speaks to others. If the Gospel we share does not speak in notes that others can understand, we will become like these musicians Jesus spoke of. Puzzled why there was no response to their song, they could not understand why. Playing or singing the Song without understanding is the greatest tragedy of all. It not only causes greater dissonance within the body of believers but it also prevents us from harmonizing with those who are singing their life melodies and searching for harmony.

Every heart felt refrain should find an answering, embracing and sustaining chord in the body of Christ. Chords are not monotone. They are made up of more than one note played simultaneously. It is not enough for one person to be singing a melody to draw that searcher into fellowship. It takes harmony in the church to produce that chord of love that draws the lost. And that harmony comes from each person producing a different note, a different part, of that chord in the key that harmonizes with the searcher’s heart melody. Can we allow that difference in our fellowships in order to produce that harmony?



Unity as Music — 3 Comments

  1. Good morning Stephen Terry, at least from where I live. I like your use of music to teach about relationships within the church and I agree with what you say.

    The only thing that I think needs commenting on is your use of Matt 11:16-17. You of course are taking this text out of context. In this incidence I am not objecting to your doing that because your whole article is in the form of a parable and as such you have the legitimate right to use that text the way you did.

    What I would like to point out is that if we use that text within context it gives us yet another valuable lesson we need to learn about music. There was nothing wrong with what the musicians were playing because the musicians were John the Baptist and Jesus Himself (vss 18-19). The problem was with the hearers. They didn’t like anything that was being played and therefore rejected everything.

    The lesson for us is that if we are to be good communicators we first must be good listeners. There are those who are so wrapped up in themselves who feel they have the perfect song and proceed to bellow it out without first taking notice as to what the rest of the orchestra is playing. Even though they honestly feel their music is full of beauty it only becomes “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (I speak from experience).

    Furthermore, if we don’t first listen then we will never know what another member of the body is playing and will never make an attempt to understand why.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tyler. It seems to me that the ones playing the music in Matthew 11 were the "children of this generation." That would not be John the Baptist or Jesus.

      I believe the point I made still holds that they were upset that no matter what Jesus or John the Baptist did they claimed the two were not dancing to the proper tune. They played but did not understand what the music really said about Christ or John.


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