About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Diversity Within Unity


This 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.    


In 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.       


Jesus 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, Ephesians 4:11).   


Less 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.


During 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 Protestant Church and still linger to one extent or another today    


Finding 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.  


It's 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. 


Diversity 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 unified body.                


So, 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.   


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