Two innovative technologies paved the way for the explosive growth and influence of music on our daily lives. One innovation is recent; the other historical.
We live in the digital age. The masses have immediate and exhaustive access to the highest quality music. This is true in the Christian music arena as well as in the world at large. Digital technology has changed the world!
What few realize, however, is that the historical development of the "tempered scale" serves as the unseen platform upon which the rich diversity of modern music is made possible. In previous ages, composers and performers were greatly limited. Instruments had to be retuned for each key change. By the 18th-century, however, the tempered scale was gaining popularity. Johann Sebastian Bach became an immediate and enthusiastic advocate. The tempered scale is an ingenious innovation, permitting music to be composed in various keys. It provides for seamless modulation from one key to another on a single instrument.
Music is comprised of various sound waves in motion at particular frequencies. In the tempered scale, a skilled piano tuner knows how to stretch the strings in such a way that each note is slightly out of tune with its neighboring note. The notes are tempered in such a way that a precise number of extra vibrations, or beats, is woven into each set of intervals. In his book Piano Tuning and Allied Arts, William White observed, "The peculiar kind of tuning that the piano tuner must do should seem to the highest degree absurd to anyone who does not understand the reason for doing what is done" (Boston: Tuners Supply Company, 1946, p. 28). When tuned to the tempered scale, the keyboard has a full range of musical possibilities and is capable of majestic and harmonious music under the hands of the skilled musician.
This reminds me of the Southern Baptist Convention. You have probably said it yourself, "There is no church like my church." You know this is true if you have ever searched for a new church home. You leave the comfort of a loving church family and launch out into the vast unknown. What do you discover? There is no church just like yours! Each church is unique. Every church has its own personality, its own way of doing ministry, of conducting worship, of evangelizing the lost. Though we share a common faith in Christ and a common passion for Christ, we find very quickly that we are very diverse.
To put it another way, though we are all on the same keyboard, we find that we are slightly out of tune with many others that we know and love. The Lord has created each of us to be unique reflections of His glory and grace. On the upside, both in the local church and in the broader Kingdom, each of us can find great comfort in knowing we fill a unique and special role of service. On the downside, it is the unusual person who does not feel, at one time or another, that somehow he or she just doesn't seem to "fit."
Over the years, I have often heard friends lament, "I just don't know where I fit in the SBC." These feelings are not a recent phenomenon. They cross generational lines and geographical boundaries. When we look at the diversities of methods and approaches to "doing church," we wonder if there is a "norm." Probably not. Perhaps we as a Convention function at our best when we are content to be slightly, but harmoniously, out of tune with each other. The Master is then able to make beautiful music through us — music that a discordant world desperately needs to hear. The lost are drawn to its sound. Souls are saved. Churches are strengthened. The Kingdom advances.
Someone may query, "Is there no standard, no absolute?" Simply put, "Absolutely!" In music, the A above middle-C is tuned to a universal standard. The "A" tuning fork is calibrated to vibrate at precisely 440 beats per second, giving off a pure tone. The "C" tuning fork, the most commonly used, is harmonically set to 523.25 beats per second on the A-440 pitch scale. To be "in tune," every other note in the scale and each instrument in the orchestra must be calibrated to conform to this precise standard.
When played solo, an individual instrument can be tuned to a different standard, can be in tune with itself, and can even sound in tune to the untrained ear. But when it is played in concert with other instruments, its discordant notes immediately grate on even the least sensitive ear.
When we use our own life as the standard against which others are to tune their lives, we are unwise (2 Corinthians 10:12). We may impress our small circle of friends. They may think we are the finest instrument ever played. J. I. Packer, in his 1973 volume Knowing God, made this soul-searching observation: "If one has been given a good bump of common sense one may frequently be able to use this learning to help floundering Christians of less stable temperament to regain their footing and regain a sense of proportion about their troubles, and in this way one may gain for oneself a reputation for being quite a pastor. Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all" (Downer's Grove: IVP, p. 22).
In the Christian life, we have a standard, an absolute. The hymn writer Robert Robinson stated it well. In his hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, he wrote this prayer to the Heavenly Father — "Tune my heart to sing thy grace." We are called by the Lord to tune ourselves to Jesus Christ as He is revealed through the Word. The Apostle Paul expressed it similarly when he bade farewell to the Ephesian elders. He left them with this final word: And now I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32, ESV). God's Holy Word is our standard. The character of Christ in us is the evidence. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is the radiant glow, the harmonic "ahhhh" of His peace.
So, the question is not: "Is everyone in tune with me?" It is not: "Am I in tune with everyone else?" The essential question is this: "Am I in tune with the Holy Spirit according to the absolute standard of God's Word?" Is the character of the Lord Jesus Christ being more fully fashioned in me each day? His design is for me to be tuned to blend harmoniously with those who surround me. So, I ask each moment and each day, is my life, tuned by the Master Tuner and played by the Heavenly Father, contributing to the symphonic wholeness of God's glory?
In our work for the Kingdom this week, may we yield the members of our lives — our hands, our feet, our mouth, our ears, our eyes, our thoughts, our attitudes, our total being — to God. Then, and only then, will we be full contributors to the majestic sweetness of God's grace. May we thrill to the swell of praise that breaks forth when others observe my life in harmonious concert with other believers. Only then will we sound forth the Word of Life with the greatest effectiveness. Only then will we be fully faithful as heralds of the Gospel. Though we may feel slightly, but harmoniously, out of tune with one another, let us be fully in tune with our Lord Jesus.