About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
will make me sound old, but as a young Christian Evangelical in the 1950's
and 1960's we were discouraged from fellowshipping with those outside of
our denomination, and why? Baptists
believed in eternal security, Pentecostals spoke in tongues, and Anglicans
were the next thing to being Catholics, or so I was told.
So there we were, all quite comfortable in our own little doctrinal
conclaves. There certainly was
diversity, but not much unity.
the 1990's I explained to my pastor and friend that church is the Body of
Christ. Like our physical
bodies, church consists of individual diverse parts, each with its own
distinct function within the framework of one unified body.
I consider that to be diversity within unity.
My pastor and friend saw it differently.
He maintained that individual diversity disrupts unity.
For him, unity meant submission to church authority and doctrine.
I proceeded to explain to him some history on this issue.
did pray for unity among His disciples (John 17) but He would have
understood unity in terms of diversity because He calls individuals to
specific ministries with distinct spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12,
than 25 years after Jesus prayed for unity fractures are seen in the
church (1 Corinthians 1:12). Partly
due to doctrinal heresy, these divisions worsened over the next 4 decades.
By the end of the first century the structure of church leadership
changed in an attempt to unify the church.
Prior to this a body of elders cared for those in the local
Christian community. Around
100 AD one man rose from this body of elders to become a lead elder.
Submission to him and his teaching was meant to unify the church.
the second century this one lead elder emerged as God's representative to
the people in the church. Then,
over the next several decades this one lead elder gradually became the
people's representative to God. By
then the priesthood of the believer (each individual has free access to
God without a middle man) was pretty much lost. Church
unity was based on the individual submitting to one man and one doctrinal
system. This gave birth to a
Catholic system of church, traces of which migrated into the
a balance between diversity, unity, submission to authority, and the
priesthood of the believer has always been a struggle for the church.
Today's Evangelicals differ from those of my youth in that they
move from one congregation to another with great frequency and ease.
They do so based on personal preferences with little respect for
personal commitments to those Jesus might have joined them to in a local
expression of church. This has
produced great diversity within the modern congregation.
On any given Sunday in any local congregation there are a variety
of personal preferences held by those sitting in the pews which at times
create conflict, disrupting potential unity.
not really doctrine or personal preferences that divide us.
It's our fallen nature that disrupts the healthy balance between
diversity and unity. Our
"me first - I'm right" western world culture permeates the
western church. Our stubborn
refusal to listen (James 1:19) to those to whom Jesus has joined us
inhibits, not only our own spiritual growth, but the growth of the church.
Our defensiveness stifles constructive dialogue that creates an
atmosphere wherein we can mature through the insight of others.
If we could be more patient and kind, less envious, less arrogant,
less self-seeking, less easily angered, and relinquish our records of
wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:3), we'd find ourselves in a healthy state of
diversity within one unified body.
is definitely important. Each
one of us has been created by God with a unique distinctiveness.
Each one of us has been given our own specific ministry in the Body
of Christ. Being forced into
one corporate mold is not Biblical, but neither is ultra individualism
Biblical. Church consists of
individuals with special gifts and callings functioning together in one
as distinct individuals with different preferences, talents, gifts, and
ministries, let us have an open ear to those to whom Jesus has joined us,
not only for our own spiritual health, but for the health of the church.
As Jesus extends grace to us, we should extend grace to others.