There has been a huge push toward unity in the church over the past 40 years or so. People are tired of the numerous divisions and splits that seem to occur with increasing frequency within the church. And while some of our divisions involve important issues, such as whether or not Jesus was truly divine (He is) and whether or not God loves gays (He does, of course), a lot of church division seems to occur over stupid stuff, like what kind of music to play on Sunday morning, whether or not there should be donuts in the foyer, and what color the new carpet should be.
Personally, I don’t think all church splits are a bad thing. I don’t think that deciding to leave one group of people so that you can join with a different group is always bad. To some degree, this is just the way life is, and sometimes, these sorts of reorganizations are simply one way of keeping the peace. When we view all different denominations and types of churches as parts of the universal Body of Christ, we begin to see that we are not in competition with one another, but are simply different parts of the same Body working in unison toward a common goal. I’ve written about this before in my post: The Church is Broken? Nope.
Of course, there does not always seem to be a whole lot “unison toward a common goal.” Instead, there is a lot of name calling, finger pointing, back stabbing, and heretic burning. I fully admit that I have engaged in a fair bit of this myself over the years. And I sometimes still do. I’m guilty too.
But here is what I am trying to come to recognize: Unity is not the same thing as uniformity.
I believe we can have unity within the church without uniformity. In fact, since there can never be true uniformity in all things, the only way to achieve unity is to recognize, accept, and celebrate our diversity.
Maybe some quick definitions are in order.
Unity vs Uniformity
Unity is when we are one. We are of one mind, spirit, purpose, mission, and goal.
Uniformity is when we all believe the same thing and practice the same thing. We are uniform in our beliefs and behaviors.
I think that in general, all Christians everywhere are in unity. We have one Spirit, the Spirit of God. We have one purpose, to glorify God. We have one mission, to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. We have one goal, to lift up the name of Jesus and live like Him in this world.
Yet despite this unity, there is no uniformity whatsoever on how to do these things, what it looks like, or where and when to do these things.
Just take the “gospel” we are supposedly in unity about. Regarding the gospel, we cannot agree on the the definition and message of the gospel we are to proclaim! We cannot agree on who gets to proclaim it, or to whom it should be proclaimed, or what should happen after we proclaim it. There is even disagreement in some circles on what we should wear when we proclaim the gospel and what Bible translation we should use. Let’s be honest: It gets quite ridiculous.
Unity Without Uniformity
I think it is possible — even desirable — to have unity without uniformity.
It is possible to have unity within the church only if we give up on uniformity. Unity is a Godly goal; uniformity is not.
I can be happy that that certain members of my Christian family like Southern Gospel music even though it makes me want to cut my ears off. I don’t think that they should like my kind of music (which is pretty much no music at all) to be real Christians, and I hope they can extend the same grace toward me despite our lack of uniformity.
Similarly, though I am not a big fan of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and calling that “church,” I know that for many people, this is an important part of the way they follow Jesus. Since this used to be essential for me as well, I understand where they are coming from, and can be in unity with them regardless of our differences in how we try our best to follow Jesus. I hope they can extend the same grace toward me despite our lack of uniformity.
I could go on and talk about my Calvinist friends, or those who think women should be silent in church, or those who vote democrat. I may disagree with these perspectives quite passionately, but in the end, I choose to put aside my differences and love others for the sake of unity in Christ, not expecting them to become a clone of me, and hoping that they do not expect me to fall into step behind them.
It is exactly this unity without diversity which best expressed the love of Jesus, and which paves the way for us to invite the world into our midst. The world, I believe, wants to follow Jesus, but they are not sure they want to become “Christians.” If we can open up our arms and say, “No problem! There is room among Jesus followers for all kinds of Christians,” this sort of loving unity would go a long way in glorifying God, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ, and living like Him in this world.
So do you want Christian unity? Begin by recognizing, encouraging, and celebrating our immense diversity.
This post was part of the April Synchroblog, where various bloggers all write on the same topic. Below is a list of the other contributors this month:
- The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides
- Caris Adel - Emotional Pacifism: Laying Down My Weapons
- Ty Grigg – Speak Truth
- Jon Huckins – Gay Marriage, World Vision, and a Unified Church?
- Mark Votava – Faith Presence in the Parish
- Mary at Lifeinthedport – let us meet in the borderlands
- Michael Donahoe – Healing Divisions in the Body of Christ
- Juliet at Still Learning – A Catholics Love Letter to Evangelical Women
- Dago at Scripture Insights – Jesus the Divider
- Glenn Hager – The Lowest Common Denominator
- Sarah Quezada - Standing on Church Bridges
- Doug Webster – Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
- Michelle Van Loon – Bridging the Divide
- Happy at Simple Felicity – are we there yet?
- Travis Klassen – The Church: Coming, Going, or Being
- Bec Cranford - Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity
- Teresa Pasquale – Bridging the Divide: Translating Between Dialects, Culture Contexts, and Heart Stirring
- Miguel Labrador – I might be willing to reconsider church hierarchies, if…
- Paul Meier – Healing the Divides Begins Within
- Liz Dyer – You Can’t Get There From Here
- K.W. Leslie – Humility
- Kathy Escobar – 10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them
- Loveday Anyim – The “non-Gospelized Rituals” of Pentacostalism
- Caedmon Michael – Bridging the Divides
- Carly Gelsinger – “Church Shopping” at the Wrong “Mall”: A Story of Easter Sundays
- Mallory Pickering – A Splintered People
- Pastor Edwin Fedex – Tearing Down Fences and Building Sidewalks