In reading A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God recently, I came across a comment about unity in which he used the analogy of one hundred pianos being tuned to the same pitch standard. I’d heard this illustration many times before, but this time I decided to expand on the picture. For starters, let’s change the analogy to an orchestra tuning before a concert.
One could use the illustration to think about unity within a congregation, but for the moment let’s apply it to inter-church unity.
First, let’s look at the term “symphony.” The word symphony derives from the Greek word symphonia, meaning "agreement or concord of sound."
The word orchestra comes from the Greek orcheisthai (to dance), a semicircular area in front of the stage of a theater where the chorus dances. The word has evolved to mean a group of musicians who perform instrumental music using strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments.
We’ve all heard the cacophony of a large orchestra tuning up, and we know that this discordant hubbub is necessary so that each instrument will be tuned to the same standard. The instruments differ in color, shape, size, sound, material composition, and means of producing sound. And this diversity is what makes orchestral music so rich and beautiful.
Let’s imagine that the musicians in the woodwind section really enjoy hanging out together. They love the unique sounds produced by the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, flute, and bassoon. To them, it’s the most important section of the orchestra. And look at the diversity among the instruments they play! They are diverse and they are unified, and before each performance they make sure they are all in tune with each other.
The brass players have similar feelings and attitudes about the trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, and they make sure they are in tune with each other.
The string section comprises over half of the entire orchestra, so the violin, viola, cello, and bass violin players are justifiably proud of their “megasection.” They also tune carefully to one another, and they love spending time with fellow string players.
Finally, the percussion instruments take pride in being the largest and most diverse family of instruments, led by the flagship piano. Percussion instruments keep the rhythm, make special sounds, and add excitement and color. The most common percussion instruments in the orchestra include the timpani, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, maracas, gongs, chimes, celesta, and piano. Some of these instruments can be tuned, and it’s important that they tune to the same pitch.
Here’s the most important thing: No matter how good the different sections sound, and how well they’re tuned to one another, the orchestra will never sound beautiful in concert unless each instrument is tuned to “concert pitch.” The most common modern tuning standard uses 440 Hz for A above middle C as a reference note. Most orchestras tune to a note given out by the oboe, and most oboists use an electronic tuning device when playing the tuning note. Some orchestras tune using an electronic tone generator.
Too much info about orchestras? Probably so, but here’s the point: For the church, Jesus is the absolute standard, or concert pitch, to whom we must “tune” ourselves in order to show the unity in the world that he desires.
But what does this mean? If we are being honest, I think we’d have to admit that much of the music we’re playing is not beautiful. And that indicates that we are not tuning ourselves to the standard. We’re tuning our instruments to other sounds: political views, Covid opinions, secondary doctrinal issues, and favorite causes. And because we think our tuning is the right tuning, we continue to play discordant music, harming our Lord’s reputation.
We tune ourselves to the standard when we keep our eyes on Jesus and hearts aligned with his, learning to obey all he commands and teaching others to do the same, and through this becoming increasingly like him. We tune ourselves to the standard as we engage deeply with the Bible, worship together, pray alone and in community, encourage one another, and serve each other in love.
How can we tune ourselves to Jesus in such a way that the needle actually moves in the direction of greater embodied unity that the world can see? One obvious answer is to pray together – specifically, praying with others outside our congregation, regularly and fervently, for God to make us one. Since unity is clearly God’s will, we can expect that he will guide us, as we pray, into concrete demonstrations of unity in our localities.
We already have notable examples of this in networks like TogetherPDX and Shalom Rockwood. But we want to believe God for a much larger groundswell of prayer partnerships – large and small, formal and informal, in-person and virtual. Those who have participated in such gatherings testify that praying together gives rise to new friendships, collaboration, and unity.
Is God moving you to approach 2022 as a year of growing public unity, rooted in discipleship and infused with prayer? If so, don’t wait for someone else to call the shots; take the initiative to invite others to join you.
As we pray and think and talk and act with fresh focus and energy regarding unity, we can be confident that God will do his guiding and coalescing work among us. We will become a symphony that is music to our Father’s ears and honoring to his Son, Jesus.