Unity isn’t equal to uniformity. The latter centers around individualistic likings, but the former is built exclusively upon Christ (Eph. 4:1-6). This is a significant difference in living out the Gospel in local churches and in other types of partnerships.
Any type of “diversity” in the local church that demands homogeneousness or “acceptance” that imposes uniformity is further evidence how much we need the Gospel in our church. The beauty of the church’s worship isn’t our identical uniformity in style but our diversity, yet with the same message.
Biblical, Gospel-driven unity isn’t the consequence of identicalness. That is, except, of course, when the price of unity at the cost of truth is a bad bargain (e.g., when one must deny the essentials of the Christian faith). Rather, unity results when Christ-ward love interconnects with difference.
Honestly, the price of unity and diversity is you don’t get your way. And if the power of the Gospel is made and shown in making one new man where there was two, what does it say about our churches? And how are shaped by the Gospel if we divide just like society does on a daily basis? Doesn’t there have to be something wrong with the Gospel and how we display it if this is the case?
Our prayer is that our churches would more fully experience the power of the Gospel to bring people together in the Body of Christ. So, let’s get practical. Here are four types of sameness to run away from and four types of Gospel-heavy unity to pursue.
4 kinds of sameness (uniformity) we should avoid
Trying to convert only one type of person or group.
The idea that people come to Christ faster when they don’t have to hop over barriers such as race, socioeconomic class, etc. (For instance, I founded a church called “Church on the Run” trying to reach only runners.) So, we make churches that lower the bar and enable people to come to Christ without seeing any culture shock—encountering anyone but what they are used to.
That thinking is hard to square with what Paul says in Ephesians 2. When you lower the bar for one group, you double it for everyone else. You become all things to one person, not all people (1 Cor. 9:19-27).
Another example: How can a church that only reaches 30-somethings obey what God says in Titus 2:2-5:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Doesn’t Paul see the church that spans generations? How does a church of only rich people obey James 2:1-9 (not to favor the rich but honor the shabby dressed)?
It is a misplaced pragmatism, it seems. I want to see people come to Christ and cheer it on, to be sure, and I appreciate the heart of those trying to reach a particular group (which, missionally speaking, is sometimes your only choice).
God said, though, he will use the love of the church (John 13:35)—the inexplicable example of the church—as it loves across boundaries that no one else in our culture will love across. The English-speaking church that loves the French speakers when no one does is a powerful witness in a community.
These are extra-biblical rules that flatten out unity. If everyone in your church has to make the exact same choice in every extra-biblical, non-essential, and third-level matter, you will do this. They have to get with your program and Jesus’.
We should ask ourselves:
–What rules do people have to keep in order to be fully welcome and united in our church?
–What are the expectations—spoken and unspoken—of members?
–Are they supposed to dress a certain way (suit and a tie or all sandals and ripped jeans and black plastic glasses)?
–Do they have to support a particular political party?
–Do you assume they have to educate their kids in the same way?
–What behaviors are sins are not allowed to struggle with?
Many of these avenues are unstated and invisible to us. Truthfully, no one wants to exclude people. But those rules become apparent who enters into the church and who is welcome to stay.
If all sins are ridiculed (no one can struggle to overcome anything) and everyone agrees on everything, then people who come from a different place culturally (international or just different than you), they realize they must conform or leave. Even in subtle ways, the sermon illustrations I choose, the events we plan, etc. all can affect this.
Christ abolished the law in bringing people together (Eph. 2:15). Let’s not add anything to that that isn’t necessary.
Sameness that reflects the sameness of the area.
If you are a missionary and you are trying to reach a certain people group, yes, you will probably have a lot of sameness. That particular group may not ever be within geographical distance to have it any other way.
But some churches in certain areas look just like everyone else in their neighborhood. Don’t overlook other kinds of diversity—age, economic status and those types of things.
Jesus said in Luke 6:32-36
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
And that’s what we do in our churches. We often love people in our churches that are like us. And this is why most churches are not diverse.
Very few churches are ethnically diverse (from my research, it takes about 20% non-majority culture in your church to be considered “diverse” culturally). We make little or no effort to understand people different than us. We naturally attract people like us.
If we don’t think carefully about how to reach other kinds of people, we won’t. The path of least resistance will be there and we must fight against it or we will end up there.
4 ways to nurture Gospel-driven unity in all kinds of diversity
Deal with the obvious “elephant in the room.”
Maybe you’re not like this. But I tend to get nervous around people different than me. And that is usually the case for most people in most churches.
However, it is okay to admit there are differences and some of those make us uncomfortable. It is not okay to ignore or not willing to face this discomfort.
Talk to any visitor who is not the usually type of person visiting your church and they appreciate the people who made a concerted effort to befriend and welcome them. For some from other countries, it is hard to be part of a church where American patriotism is an assumed part of Christianity. They are thankful for America, but it is assumed it is an “American church.”
Just acknowledging this exists and having conversation about it is encouraging. Just talk about it. Start it from the pulpit, in the prayer ministry, and pray for the international people (and those who aren’t usually part of your church) to serve and love who are different from them. Make it an assumed normal part of your church life.
Promote diverse leadership.
This is huge. We can talk all day abut unity and being equal in the church. But if your leadership team is only comprised of one type of person—ethnicity, business background, race, blue collar, white collar, etc. for example—you will send a loud and clear message that that image is the “first-class” Christian in your church.
Sometimes, we may hold people to a different standard than Scripture holds out. Obviously, people must meet the biblical qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, etc.). We aren’t bending truth for pragmatism.
However, if we expect all of our pastors to have read the same books or be naturally outgoing (or whatever), you’ll get a lot of uniformity. Instead, we need to look at the men of our churches who are qualified to lead our churches. You may find people that weren’t obvious to you and not even considered.
There is a cost to be count to work with people from other backgrounds, cultures, walks of life, and other assumptions. You have to work hard to make sure everyone is on the same page biblically and otherwise.
Yet, price of biblical unity and diversity means you always don’t get your way.
Make sure your church has a healthy understanding of the doctrine of sin.
There’s little doubt that the chief barrier to unity is pride. It causes one group to look down on another group. And pride tempts us to exalt our own forms as normative.
If some people see themselves as sparkly and clean in our churches, they don’t want to sully themselves with someone on the fringe. Maybe they will tolerate them in the church because Jesus loved “sinner” (Mark 2:13-17). But they may never embrace them as a brother or sister—even after demonstrable evidence (the early church to Paul. Thankfully, Barnabas took him in! Acts 9:26-28).
Here’s a modern-day example: The hipster feels way too cool for the straight-laced or the homeschooling crowd. He won’t go to them because they aren’t as sophisticated as he is.
This is not about getting the “good” people to love the “bad” people. Rather, it is to get the good people to realize that they are no better than the bad people. They stand united in their sin and need of a Savior with those who are rough around the edges.
Once that happens, they are free to love people different from them—no condemnation and no judgment. Then there will be real unity—not just uniformity.
Elevate Jesus Christ and his glorious Gospel!
That is, in his life, death, and resurrection because that’s where we find our unity (1 Cor. 15:1-8). And that’s a kind of uniformity we can live with. Everyone uniformly loves and is following after Christ because that is primary and essential.
Ephesians 2:14 says:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
It wasn’t just making peace…but Christ is our peace. Unity and love in the church is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Friend, we don’t want any other kind of unity. We can’t compromise truth. We don’t want unity over a different Gospel. That is mutual treason for Christ. You can’t jettison the Gospel to get closer together. When we do have the Gospel in common then we have a sure foundation to work on.
If you want unity to emerge in your church, you need to exalt Christ and his people. The more Christ is to your people that will be enough to them. Trivial matters will be just that—trivial. The more prominent Christ is in our church, the less prominent other stuff will be. The more the Gospel is the center and shapes our church, the less scary the differences may be.
The world should be able to look to the church as a model for peace and unity, established by truth, never in spite of it.