A question came to me recently asking for a response in an early issue of this paper. The question: Do you believe that among God's people there can and should be "unity in diversity?"
Answer: Yes. Not only do I believe there can be "unity in diversity," but it is my view that if there is any unity or oneness at all between two or more people it must be "unity in diversity." Or, unity, a oneness, in spite of diversity or differences. Moreover, I do not know how anyone can deny the validity of the idea. It is an indisputable fact of life, about like the fact that one must breathe to live.
The problem is that some preachers have carried this phrase to radical, even absurd conclusions; with extremists at one end saying you can't have "unity in diversity" at all and the other extreme claiming that there are no limitations to its application. It is now used as a label or brand for what some preachers call heresy! Without defining the term, such preachers try to mark and destroy some other preacher by accusing him of believing and preaching "unity in diversity." Thus the words lose their meaning and the expression becomes a name for what these preachers proclaim to be false doctrine of devilish proportions. Having "Packaged" and labeled it for destructive purposes, these preachers use it in their preaching and writing as something to avoid at all cost. They feel no necessity to explain the term or show why someone should be thus "branded," nor why it is such a horrible thing. Preachers are often like that.
Unity indicates oneness, togetherness, being united or being one. Diversity means difference, unlike. "Unity in diversity" is seen in the husband-wife relationship. They are to be no more two, but one (unit, united) flesh. While the two are one, I have no trouble recognizing that there is considerable "diversity" between the husband and wife.
The family should practice "unity in diversity." They are all blood-kin and united by strong ties. Yet in most families there is considerable diversity; many differences that have to be reckoned with. Yet in spite of these differences, often quite serious, they can (at least should) learn to love one another, live and work together.
Even in the great United States of America is a grand example of "unity in diversity." It is a cosmopolitan mixture of many nationalities and backgrounds. Yet we claim, "one nation; under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." If such a high and noble goal can be true of this nation; how much more so that should be the goal -- and practice --of the greatest "nation" or "people" ever brought together from every tribe and tongue, the "holy nation" of God (1 Pet. 2:9)?
Do you recall the words in that stirring song, Onward, Christian Soldiers: "Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers we are treading where the saints have trod; we are not divided; all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity?" Oh! God, if it could be true. Jesus prayed for it -- "that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me...that they may be one, just as We are one...that they may be perfected in unity..." (John 17:20-23). Here is the ultimate in "unity in diversity." God and His Son are used as the supreme example for us to follow. God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, two who are one. And that is held up as our example for "unity in diversity." How shameful and unholy are our multiplicity of divisions, sects, parties, schisms! But, Oh! how sorrowful that there are many who perpetuate and "justify" the divisions! God and Christ -- diversity and difference, but no division, only oneness and unity! So it should be with God's children -- diversity and differences, yes; but no alienations, separations, sects, parties, divisions. We should fear to face God with the horrible mess we have made. The Corinthian divisions are insignificant in comparison to ours.
The greatest example of unity in diversity is seen in what God did through Jesus Christ in bringing together both Jews and the Gentiles. "For He Himself is our peace who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall...make the Two into one new man...reconcile them both in one body... so then you are...fellow citizens..." (Eph. 2:13-22). Paul plainly says that all children of God from among the Jews and from among the Gentiles are "one in Christ." That is a unity made from a diversity as great as any ever known. It can be done. In fact, it has been done! It is not man's doing; it is the work of God through Jesus Christ. It is a reality and there is not one thing any of us can do to change it. We have no part nor lot in its accomplishment. We are the benefactors. Our responsibility in this work of God is to recognize this oneness, accept it graciously, and labor with all our might, in total unselfishness, to preserve and keep it in place and working!
I believe that unity among the diversity of Christians, that is, as individuals, outside of and totally apart from our sectarian church institution, denominational ties, is "given" from the Lord. By that I mean that it is a fact, a reality, that needs only to be recognized and accepted. We are all one in Christ Jesus. It is not our responsibility to try to unite those who are already united in Christ. We are all children of God (Gal 3:26-29) and belong to the same family. We are all brothers and sisters if we have been, in reality, born of the water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5); and there isn't anything we can do to change it. We are all related by "the blood of the Lamb." Hence, we are "blood kin"; and in this sense God has made "of one blood" all who have responded in acceptance of His offer of grace and mercy as did the 3000 on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-41). If you are God's child, then you have me for a brother! Sorry about that, but you are stuck with me.
You may not like me personally; you may disagree with me; you may even regard me as a "false teacher," but if we are both children of God, I am your brother by birth and by blood; and there isn't anything you can do to change that reality. In this kind of situation there will be diversity to be sure; but it is your obligation and mine to "preserve" the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in spite of our diversity.
Let me personalize it with preachers. J.T. Smith is my "blood brother" even if the idea corrodes him! So is Guy N. Woods, Furman Kearley, Tom Warren, Reuel Lemmons, Don Dewelt, Rubel Shelley, and even the likes of (Oh! Woe is me!) Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, and all the Crossroads brethren!! (For the benefit of most readers, Don Dewelt is a well-known leader in the Independent Christian Church.)
Let me move from the fact of the unity (oneness) in diversity of God's children, to a discussion of how this unity of the Spirit is to be preserved. This matter is specifically dealt with by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:1-7. The instruction is clear and covers the ground. As a prisoner in Rome, this unity of the Spirit was heavy on his mind for the disciples at Ephesus and elsewhere.
First, he said, "I...entreat you to walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called," which is another way of saying that we have been called by and responded to the greatest story ever told, the gospel of Jesus Christ. All the redeemed of God, the saved, share in that call and obedience to it (Mark 16:15-16.)
Second, our "walk" (life in Christ), if it is to be worthy, must be "with all humility" which means we recognize our own sinfulness, our unworthiness of such love wherewith God has loved us; and therefore have done nothing to earn or merit the salvation grace has provided. Hence, we were in the same condition as all other sinners -- lost and perishing. Indeed we should have humility.
Third, there is to be "gentleness" toward all others; Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, male or female, rich or poor. We must understand their plight and have empathy for them where they are or have been. As sinners saved by grace, we realize their need for help in gentleness from those of us who have been shown mercy.
I need you to be gentle with me. Perhaps firm, but gentle. I must learn to deal with my brothers and sisters, all God's children, in this manner.
Fourth, our conduct toward others is to be "with patience.'' This is a key idea. Enduring, steadfast, long-suffering, putting up with and loving them in spite of their short-comings, pettiness, ignorance, stubbornness, differences, prejudices, weakness, and failures. You must exercise "brotherly love" toward me in spite of all my faults and failures. "With patience" I must accept you in spite of any such shortcomings you may have. It isn't easy for any of us. It often hurts, disappoints, discourages, wears us down. It sometimes angers and disgusts. At times we want to give up, get out, and separate from such thoughtless, thankless, low, mean, worthless characters! Then I realize that I am usually seeing my own behaviors and life in them. What disgusts and enrages me in them, I can tolerate and accept in myself. How inconsistent. Here should apply that ever-needed guideline that "whatever you want others to do to you, you should also do to them" (Matt. 7:12).
Fifth, "showing forbearance to one another in love." This is what Christ-like "humility, and gentleness, with patience" can accomplish. It means to bear with, or endure, one another. In Col. 3:13, in teaching the same lesson, Paul lays it on us this way: "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another..." Then he tells us how far to go in this matter: "even as Christ forgave you, so you do also." Jesus laid down His life for us.
Sixth, and all of this is done "in love." Rather I suppose this is all the result or work of love. Love, this supreme quality -- defies definition. God is love, the very embodiment and ultimate expression or demonstration of it. At this point I Cor. 13:4-8 needs to be considered to climax the points made. Then there is that supreme mark of discipleship: "By this all men will know that ye are My disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:35).
If all of God's children would begin to really practice these instructions, close our ranks, end our needless divisions, remove our walls of separation; get rid of our hindrances, we could shake up the world and turn loose a power that could have vast revolutionary effects for good in the world. If we would but recognize who we are and the unity -- "brotherhood" -- in Christ that is ours, we could see the church (God's people) literally "move mountains" in finding peace among ourselves and in reaching the lost with the gospel of Christ. But we must also be free from "every encumbrance" and the human arrangements "which so easily entangle us," if we are to "run with endurance the race that is set before us." Indeed we need to fix "our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith," rather than upon the wisdom and will and ways of men. We must be free from all our various institutions and functional units; free from our heavy financial burdens of church buildings, Family Life Centers, recreation halls (places to eat, drink and be merry!); preacher schools, so-called "Christian schools," colleges; church staff, the professional, hired "pulpit ministers;" the control of the Eldership as a corporate Board of Directors; and the use of the building as the center of our life and service, the headquarters for each so-called "local church unit," and our official meeting place. These are all unnecessary. They are burdens and "weights" that the early disciples never had. The proliferation of such human arrangements will continue if "the people in the pews" do not wake up, realize what has happened to them, and stop paying the tab (financially) for all these denominational trappings!
Sixth, Paul adds the clincher: "being diligent to preserve the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace." This is the way that the world may believe that God has sent Jesus as the Savior (John 17:20-22). Our divided state is a curse and makes a mockery of our claim to follow Christ. This is a vital matter that requires diligence, watchfulness, and effort. It is your personal responsibility and it is likewise mine. It is done on an individual basis, with each one of us doing her/his part.
Note that we are to "preserve" ("keep") this unity or oneness of the Spirit. We are not required to establish it, arrange or affect it. In fact, we can't do that. Only God through Christ could do that and He did it once for all time.
We should stop trying to have all the "unity meetings" between the Church of Christ Church and the Independent Christian Church, for example. You can't unite organizations, institutions, or denominations. Even if you could do so it has absolutely nothing to do with "the unity of the Spirit." It is a waste of time and an effort in futility. Neither the Church of Christ nor the Independent Christian Church are Bible things; about them you read nothing in God's word. Neither of them is in or any part of God's will.
The Lord did not establish either of these institutions. He did not die nor shed His blood for any organization or institutional functional unit. Jesus isn't concerned with uniting these human organizations, with their respective clergy system, operational set-ups, buildings, creeds, employees, schools, colleges, papers, Board of Directors, Elderships, programs, etc. All of this is from man, not God. You can't unite such. You might affect some kind of amalgamation; which would likely be worse than what is there already.
We don't need to hold unity meetings to bring about or accomplish unity among or between God's children. God has already taken care of that through Jesus Christ. It is already in place. It is our role, individually -- starting with you and me -- to recognize, accept, strengthen, smooth, and "preserve" it. It cannot be destroyed! But it can fail because it is not "preserved" in its effects and results. Our job is to keep it in working order; as smoothly as possible. It is not easy to do. Hence, the reason for Paul's specific instructions about how to do it.
It is all done on an individual by individual basis, not any kind of corporate or institutional basis. In Eph. 4, Paul is not trying to instruct a corporation; an institution, or organization- a denomination -- about preserving the unity of the Spirit. The Church of Christ denomination and the Christian Church denomination should both recognize and honestly admit what they are. Stop denying the obvious. Not even God can work with such creations of men to unite them.
If we would free ourselves from our institutions -- local, universal, or otherwise -- forget them and meet as Christians, disciples of Christ, children of God -- all members of that one family bought by the blood of the Lamb, we could likely find how easy it is to recognize and accept one another. Come out of the Babylon of denominations and church structures and organizations, my brethren, and stand before God and each other as nothing more than a saint, disciple, Christian, a redeemed one, brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, and a new day will dawn for God's people in the world. Problems and differences will be reduced to manageable size -- personal and individual; and we can accept one another even as Christ has accepted us. He accepts us only as an individual, not as members of some church institution.
But, brethren, you can't unite institutional churches (the structured organizations). They are not from God. Organized religion, institutional church structures are detriments, not helps. Curses, not blessings. From men, not God.
Can we, should we, have unity in diversity? May God help us to realize that there is no other way. In fact, this is what it is all about; how to live together as His children, with our differences, as one (united) so that the world will believe that God did send Him as our Savior and Lord. It is far from easy, but it can be done. I know it can be done because Jesus prayed for such and ordered it of us. He did not pray for nor ask the impossible.
In this great Ephesian passage we know the divine prescription for "preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
"Now may the God of patience and consolation grant you [each child of God] to be like-minded toward one another, according to Jesus Christ, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15:5-6).
May God help us to do His will. -- CAH