One-voiced Harmony

One-voiced Harmony

I had a conversation with someone recently who challenged me to put more work into harmonization. There are good reasons why I’ve never been invited to sing in a choir, so my failure to harmonize isn’t new, but this time the challenge was theological not musical.

My friend was also a Mennonite pastor. His pastoral leadership is in a more evangelical expression than mine. From time to time his questions suggest he is more comfortable in the evangelical camp than the Mennonite one. He asked what our most meaningful Anabaptist beliefs are. I suggested holding Jesus at the center.
It wasn’t a new thought that I came up with. Palmer Becker’s words that “Jesus is the center of our faith” have often been repeated in MCA churches. It seems he hadn’t read Anabaptist Essentials.

He responded with a challenge. “So,” he asked, “then the elevation of Jesus' words is preferred over the harmonization of all the words? Is that correct?”
Maybe he was just looking for clarity, but I saw it as a challenge. Isn’t harmonizing the voices a better, more faithful reading of the Bible? If this is what he meant, he wouldn’t be the first.

Mennonites love harmony. I’ve had to reassure more than one person that they are welcome in my Mennonite church even if they can’t sing in four-part harmony, and sometimes that person is me. A community worshipping in song with their voices lifted together in harmony is a powerful statement about how we should operate as a community. Even the Mennonite approach to scripture, where every voice matters the same, as demonstrated in the upcoming Anabaptism at 500 project, is a kind of harmonization of voices. Blending voices together has always been an important part of Mennonite Christianity, so none of that was new to me, but how much should we be harmonizing other voices with Jesus?

In response to his challenge, I told a slightly modified version of a familiar Bible story. Taking from the Common English Bible, I said: Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s harmonize all three voices—yours, Moses', and Elijah's.” Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Then I added, “Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the Harmonization. Jesus is how God harmonizes the words.”

My answer didn’t soothe all his concerns. He still struggles with harmonizing evangelical Christianity with Mennonite Christianity. He’s not alone. Full reliance on either voice, or even a harmonization of the two, will ultimately end in failure. Mennonite leaders fail just like Evangelical ones do, just usually with a smaller platform. Altar calls and emotional worship music won’t save our churches, and neither will committee slates and four-part harmony singing. Jesus’ voice is the harmonization of the law, the prophets, and the epistles. We should listen to Jesus’ voice, not harmonize it with others.