In 1666, Dutch physicist Christian Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock, coined the term ‘entrainment’ when he noticed that the pendulums of two clocks mounted on a common board had synchronised. Subsequent experiments duplicated the phenomenon - the adjustment or moderation of one behaviour to synchronise or be in rhythm with another behaviour.
In physics, entrainment theory is the process whereby two objects, vibrating at different speeds when they are separate, start to vibrate at the same speed when they are brought close together. The explanation for this phenomenon is that small amounts of energy are transferred between the two objects when they are out of phase, thus producing negative feedback. As they assume a more stable relationship, the amount of energy gradually reduces to zero.
It seems as if there is a predisposition to unity in the world of energy and matter; or, to put it another way, a natural tendency in creation to cohere. The reason for this, according to the apostle Paul, is Christ.
Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him was created the universe of things in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, thrones, dominions, princedoms, powers – all were created, and exist, through and for Him. And He is before all things, and in and through Him the universe is one harmonious whole (Colossians 1:15-17 Weymouth).
In Paul’s cosmology, Christ is seen as the organising principle, the unifying force, the divine order in creation. Indeed, the whole universe is engaged in a process of unification under the headship of Christ. In Ephesians 1:10 Paul speaks of “God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (RSV).
A classic example is a school of fish swimming one direction and then turning left or right in unison, without the leadership or guidance of any particular fish. It happens spontaneously and simultaneously, as though choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence, invisible to the naked eye. And that intelligence, according to Paul, is Christ.
Another example is a flock of birds flying in a perfect ‘V’ formation. Although a single flock may include hundreds of individual birds, they change direction in an instant, altering their course at the exact same moment. They operate as if they were a single organism, as if they were all hearing and obeying some unspoken command. And that regulatory command, according to the Psalmist David, comes from the voice of God (Psalm 29).
A present state or a future goal
One of the favourite songs of the Charismatic Renewal was ‘Bind us together Lord’. I can remember holding hands with fellow church members and singing the anthem with great gusto, as if we were trying to precipitate the Second Coming! However, unity always seemed to be promoted as a future, albeit elusive goal; an ideal worth striving for, but seldom achieved.
I have since come to understand that unity is our natural state when we choose to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. As such, it has nothing to do with goals or programs or human initiatives. Rather, it has everything to do with humility and obedience.
Jesus prayed that His followers “may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). Paul elaborated on this theme, declaring that “you (Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female) are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
The Spirit of God is not schizophrenic. He will not say one thing to my heart, and something completely different to your heart. He speaks with one mind and one voice. Therefore, if I hear and obey his voice, and you hear and obey his voice, it is inevitable that we will move in the same direction and find that we are travelling on the same path.
Paul exhorted the believers in Ephesus to “endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ because there is but ‘one body and one Spirit”.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
The question is: how can you keep something that you don’t have? How can you maintain something that you don’t possess? The message is clear: unity is a present reality if we will only acknowledge it and walk in it!
Once again, the theme of Paul’s dissertation is oneness: one body … one Spirit … one hope … one Lord … one faith … one baptism … one God and Father. But the practical expression of that oneness is contingent on our understanding of the web of life – our interconnectedness in the Spirit – and the attitudes that such understanding cultivates in our hearts and minds.
The revelation that we are not alone, that we are indeed ‘fellows in the same ship’, that what affects me will inevitably affect you for better or for worse, that life is not linear but exponential, calls for transformational attitudes such as humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance. In an address to the American University in Washington D.C., on June 10th, 1963, President John F. Kennedy declared,
“For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
This speech, delivered at a time when the United States was engaged in an escalating arms race with the Soviet Union and was hurtling towards nuclear war, marks one of the great ‘aha’ moments of human history – a moment of awakening, a moment of awareness, that we are, indeed, one.
The source of conflict
If we are one, why do we spend so much time fighting with one another? James posed this very question in his letter to the Jewish believers in the Diaspora.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3).
The source of conflict, according to James, is selfishness and personal ambition. The same kind of egocentricity that was demonstrated by Lucifer when he disrupted the unity of heaven with cries of “I will … I will … I will” and “I want … I want … I want” (Isaiah 14:12-15).
For this reason, Paul warned the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). Moreover, he exhorted two women in particular, possibly leaders in the church, to get their act together and settle their differences: “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2).
And to the whole church he said, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
For, in the final analysis, we all breathe the same physical and spiritual air. We are constantly inhaling and exhaling, and in the process exchanging portions of ourselves – physical, measurable molecules in the form of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Moreover, we are constantly exchanging energy and information at a quantum level – even if it is just picking up someone’s ‘vibe’ in a passing encounter.
As Paul said, “We have all been made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). May God the Father who is over all, and pervades all, and dwells in all, help us understand the mystery of the unity in which we stand!