August 29, 2009
The concertmaster strolls across the front of the stage, stops in front of his chair, turns toward the audience and acknowledges them with a bow. A smattering of polite applause rises from the midst of Symphony Hall. Their lack of enthusiasm is understandable. After all, this guy is just one of the musicians. The real maestro has yet to appear and the concert has not even begun.
Turning to his fellow musicians assembled on stage the concertmaster nods in the direction of the principle oboist. The oboist reaches down to the floor beside her chair and strikes a tuning bar. A note resonates; the pitch is precisely A-440. The oboist then plays the note on her instrument matching the exact pitch of the tuning bar. The concertmaster, in turn, lifts his violin to his chin and tunes it to the pitch he is hearing from the oboist. Once he is satisfied that his tuning is perfectly matched with the oboe, he nods to the rest of the musicians who begin tuning their own instruments.
Suddenly, Symphony Hall comes alive with the sounds of pure chaos. String players are adjusting their tuning pegs. Woodwind players are lengthening or shortening the joints on their flutes, clarinets, and bassoons in order to match the standard pitch. The brass players are adjusting their tuning slides in order to make certain they are precisely tuned to the rest of the orchestra. Even the percussion section is busy checking the intonation of the tympani and harp. Of course, the only way to be sure your instrument is in tune is to play it, and that is what every musician does. For several minutes the audience cringes as they endure the total dissonance of a hundred different musicians doing their own thing, making their own kind of music, attempting to squeeze in one last practice session of that difficult passage coming up in the first piece.
To the novice concert attendee it may seem like total anarchy. Couldn’t all this have been done ahead of time, backstage, out of earshot of symphony patrons who have coughed up a pretty penny to hear quality music performed by professionals? Unfortunately, fine instruments, when exposed to varying environments and strenuous playing, will constantly go out of tune and be in almost continuous need of adjustment. Without the final pre-concert tuning regimen, a performance by a professional symphony orchestra could resemble a high school band concert.
Speaking of a high school band concert, I remember attending one not too long ago in our hometown. At the end of the performance I was asked by a member of the audience what I thought about how well the students had played.
“I have good news and bad news for you,” I replied. “The bad news is a third of the band was comprised of percussion instruments which drowned out most of the rest of the band. The good news is a third of the band was comprised of percussion instruments which drowned out most of the rest of the band.” After a hearty laugh I went on to explain that the instruments were terribly out of tune and it adversely affected what might otherwise have been a nice concert.
Being in tune with all the other musicians is critical in a symphony concert. And the only way to ensure that everyone’s intonation is synchronized is to have everyone tune to a standard pitch. Otherwise, the chaos heard during the pre-concert tuning will likely continue throughout the performance. Uniformity of intonation also requires the highly sensitive ears of dedicated musicians who have been trained to recognize when an instrument is in tune, and when it is not.
Last Sunday evening during our home gathering someone brought up the subject of the necessity of regularly recalibrating our spiritual lives. My wife, Babs, talked about her experience working in a county laboratory where one individual was charged with the duty of periodically recalibrating all the lab test equipment. Without carefully adjusting the equipment to exact standards the results of various medical tests, including HIV and STD detection, would be in doubt. Others talked about how various engineers had to recalibrate their instruments and airplanes had to periodically have their instruments fine-tuned. That’s when I called upon my experience as a professional musician and shared about how a symphony orchestra “recalibrates” its instruments just prior to a concert.
It’s easy to draw the analogy of the necessity for Christians to regularly recalibrate their lives to the standard of Jesus Christ. Our daily devotions, our weekly gatherings, our prayer groups, participating in the Lord’s Supper, and even our casual conversations with one another all provide opportunities for us to fine-tune our spiritual lives. To ignore the need for frequent recalibrating in our personal lives is to ignore Scripture and our own faulty intonation. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1John 1:8-9. But it was my daughter, Trisha, who elevated the conversation to a higher plane and carried the analogy one step further.
“It’s not just our own lives that need to be periodically recalibrated,” she offered. “The church as a whole needs to be recalibrated, and isn’t that sort of what the “simple church movement” is all about?”
“Wow, Trisha!” I replied admittedly somewhat surprised that something so profound had emanated from my daughter. “That comment was right on. I think the Holy Spirit has just spoken to us tonight.”
“Does that mean we’re going to read about this in one of your upcoming newsletters?” asked someone else precipitating a round of laughter from everyone.
Okay, so our house church knows me all too well and now you know the source of the inspiration for this devotional thought. Please bear with me as I try to elaborate on my daughter’s comment. Over the last few days I’ve been chewing on this subject, trying to digest what I believe the Spirit was saying to us through Trisha. Does the Church really need to be recalibrated? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! And why is that, you ask? I’m afraid the Church as a whole, particularly here in western culture, has grown terribly out of tune.
All too often we have shown ourselves to be more concerned with making our budget than making disciples; more concerned with building temples than building bridges into the community of the unsaved; more concerned with spending the Lord’s precious resources on ourselves than on meeting the needs of those outside the walls of the church; more concerned with increasing membership than increasing intimacy with the Lord and with each other. The bad news is the percussion of our daily lives and the frenetic drumbeat of our seemingly endless programs is drowning out the music of Jesus Christ. The equally bad news is those who need to hear His music the most, the lost and hurting souls living in the community around us, are often more aware of our dissonance than we are.
Before you decide to burn me at the stake for heresy please notice I said the Church as a whole is out of tune. I am well aware that many individual congregations are diligently trying to maintain their intonation in keeping with the standard of Jesus Christ. However, tragically, almost from the very beginning of the Church, the body of Christ has been in near constant need of recalibrating. The epistles in the New Testament are attempts by the Apostle Paul and others to recalibrate a Church that had gone out of tune. The reforms of Luther, Calvin, John and Charles Wesley, John and Alexander Campbell, and many others over the last several centuries were more attempts at recalibrating the Church. In this country the “Back to the Bible Movement” and the Charismatic Movement were more attempts at bringing the Church back in tune with the Holy Spirit. The first and second “Great Awakenings” were spontaneous, Spirit-led, recalibration movements.
I believe the “simple church movement” is another in a long line of recalibration attempts by the Holy Spirit to bring us back in tune with the standard of Christ. We are attempting to simplify our way of doing church so that practically anybody could do it. We meet in small intimate fellowships in homes, restaurants, conference rooms, lunch rooms, or parks rather than gather in large groups in elaborate church buildings. We are implementing a shared leadership style based upon our gifting rather than relying on seminary-trained, professional clergy. We try to maintain our missional dynamism in following the Lord into the harvest field rather than insist on attracting nonbelievers to our own static, same-time-same-place-same-content gatherings. We have discovered that simple structures facilitate reproducibility which, in turn, stimulates the growth of the kingdom. But mostly we just advocate a return to following hard after Jesus and listening to the direction of His Spirit.
If you listen carefully you can hear the tuning bar ringing clearly throughout the New Testament. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1Corinthians 3:11. “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…” – Ephesians 1:22. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” – Matthew 17:5. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – Matthew 28:18. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27.
You might call the Holy Spirit the “principle oboist” of the Church. One of His main functions is to periodically strike the tuning bar and call us to recalibrate to the perfection of Christ. But are we listening carefully for the right pitch or are we too busy playing our own instruments to hear? In the Church, as in a symphony orchestra, two things are required in order to obtain perfect intonation: 1) the presence of an accurate standard, and 2) the highly sensitive ears of dedicated Christ-followers who have trained themselves to distinguish the correct pitch.
I have no doubt but that the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to recalibrate. For some of you, that may involve remaining in the institutional church and working toward individual and corporate re-tuning. Others, like us, once in tune with the Spirit, may be directed outside the walls of the church to impact our communities with the music of Jesus. I’m not trying to tell you how to tune your instrument but rather nodding in the direction of our “principle oboist” and encouraging you to listen. I’m not trying to tell you which string on your instrument is sadly out of tune but rather attempting to help you improve your hearing. And unlike a concertmaster I have no desire to evoke even the slightest smattering of applause. My aim is to help the symphony orchestra of Christ to recalibrate and, beginning with my own instrument, to re-tune itself to the standard of perfection found only in our Maestro.
Don’t be surprised if the recalibration process gets a little messy. When the Spirit calls us to re-tune, our theaters of ministry may come alive with the sounds of pure chaos. Just remember the tuning regimen is essential in order for the upcoming concert to be critically acclaimed. For one day soon, when He is satisfied that His musicians are in tune with Him and with each other, our Conductor will mount the podium and issue the downbeat on the “greatest awakening” the world has ever known. Even now He is waiting in the wings. Even now the Spirit is striking the tuning bar. Are we listening?
Bill, a child of God still recalibrating