Unity vs Uniformity in the Church

unity vs uniformityThere 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. 

unity of the Body of ChristI 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:

 

 


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Comments

  1. Harrison says

    Hello Jeremy, I love what you have said about unity and uniformity. However, their is truth in us that must not be resisted. We must share the fact that Jesus is the Christ the guarantor of everlasting life to those that believe in Him (him) for it. It matters not whether you are talking to a beautiful J.W. or a marvelous Roman Catholic the message is the same you must know that your eternal destiny is safe in the hands of Jesus!

    • says

      Yes, yes. But I can still get along and work toward common purposes in a unified way with those who might disagree with me even on some of the essential issues. As soon as we start shunning certain types of people, it is not too long before we find more and more reasons to shun everybody who disagrees with us on almost anything. At least, that has been my experience…

      • says

        “As soon as we start shunning certain types of people, it is not too long before we find more and more reasons to shun everybody who disagrees with us on almost anything. At least, that has been my experience…”

        Exactly! That has been my very experience as well, Jeremy.

  2. alan says

    Struggle with this, that our divisions are so divisive. Remember Paul saying that there must be divisions so that truth would be seen. But somehow that division which is good for establishing truth seems to be reversed. . . truth is used to pound and divide and the separation becomes fixed. So wish the living presence of the Lord in things was the measure, not the doctrines we derive from truth. In view of the world believing when we are one in truth, so much at stake with holding less to doctrines and more to Christ.

    • says

      Yes, there will be divisions. Sometimes these divisions have good results. Of course, I would think that unity in diversity is always preferred over division. But this is not always possible. I think Paul might have been writing about the reality of trying to follow Jesus in this world, but not the ideal way of following Jesus.

      • alan says

        True unity in diversity would be beautiful but seems rare. Around here seems like 8 – 10 churches in every town yet never seems like they do anything together. Amazing and stupid and deadly that historic points of doctrine that matter little to living should keep brothers and sisters apart. May be the reality, but find in Christ the ideal is not only possible, it’s necessary.

        • says

          Hm. Yes. I wish we could work together more. But each church is afraid of losing its members to the other churches, and if we worked together on projects, who would get to keep any new converts that might result from the outreach? :)

  3. Sam says

    Unity is a two way street. I have no problems with how others vote or how they think about religious or political issues. However, some people become quite irate if I don’t vote and think like them in all things. As with most people, I am a person with limited experience. In my limited experience, however, I have come across few groups more intolerant of lack of uniformity (especially in religious and political beliefs) than are some church groups.

    Within the body of Christ there is wide diversity in many things. If we fail to recognize that, then it is we who cut ourselves off from much of the body.

    • says

      Excellent insight, Sam. Yes. It is strange when we are fine with people disagreeing with us, but they are not fine with us disagreeing with them. I agree with you about intolerant groups. Although, it seems to be religious groups in general, at least … the big 3 religious groups anyway: Christian/Catholic, Muslim, Jewish.

      • Sam says

        Yes, you have more experience with other religious groups, such as Muslims and Jewish. We slightly know only a few Muslims, but many Jewish folks. However, the Jewish people we know are what we think of as “cultural” Jewish people. They grew up in Jewish families. Jewish is their background and culture, but not so much their religion. They don’t use their “Jewish” status to demand certain privileges, and are not “in your face” about them being Jewish, and never throw religion in anyone’s face. Then again, most of them are gay, and like gay Christians and gay Muslims, their religion has not been kind to them, so they aren’t especially religious.

  4. says

    Totally agreed that we should embrace diversity and respect each other whether or not we agree on certain traditions/theological dogmas. When we strive to be UNITED in LOVE, we will notice less of the differences and more of the similarities.
    It’s like noticing a person for the first time because she is a wonderful, caring and gifted soul and not for the colour of her skin or what shoes she is wearing and then you realise, hey…’she’s not that different from me after all.”
    A verse to ponder on. Luke 9:49-50
    “John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” 50But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.””

  5. Clive Clifton says

    It would appear disunity is here to stay. “Your wrong I’m right” mentioning
    JW, RC, Muslims, Jews and numerous other Christian sects in the same breath is a bit odd as until we all come to the Truth in Love through The Truth
    Jesus The Christ there will never be true unity.

    It’s out total lack of love in the world that condems us all to lives of fear in every aspect, land, food, shelter, money, health, relationships, security, employment, education, freedom of speach, travel, leisure, family, freedom to live ones life without prejudice.

    Jesus showed us The Way, is it easy, no, is it doable, yes. Well lets get on with it and stop bleating. Are we willing to be the least in the kingdom, if not why
    not.

    Lets get back to being jealous, envious, hateful, lets continue to fight anyone who is different and has a different way of thinking than ourselves. Lets get rid of all the immigrants or men who shave their head or men who wear their hair long or women who wear short tight skirts and tops with a low neck line. Lets withhold expensive cancer drugs from those who have lived
    an unhealthy life style by smoking, excessive alcohol and food consumption.

    Jesus showed compassion for everyone, what makes it so hard for us, especially us Christians who should no better. Can we possibly live as
    Rees Howells did at the begining of the last centuary. Is there any hope?

    • says

      Clive,
      Yes. I probably should have clarified that our unity is based on a commitment to follow Jesus.

      Of course, there are things we can be unified on with people who do not follow Jesus, for Paul wrote that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, which means that if we find ourselves struggling with flesh and blood, we have been tricked into fighting the wrong thing.

  6. TNelso16 says

    What you said here is all summed up in the scriptures……… “Love God with all your heart,and with all your soul,and with all your strength, and with all your mind ; and love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Jesus (Luke 10:27)

    “My command is this: that you love one another as I have loved you.” ~ Jesus (John 15:12)

    We would all do well to Read Romans chapter 14…especially Romans 14:3-4 and apply it to ourlives and our walk with Jesus !

    Rom.14:3 “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not,and the one that does not eat everything must not judge the one who does,for God has accepted them.”

    Rom.14:4 “:Who are you to judge another mans servant for to his own master(Christ) a servant stands or falls. And they shall stand,for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

    :)

  7. dr4kds says

    I have been thinking about this issue a lot recently. I was raised trinitarian, I know some who are unitarian and just heard of the Jesus’ name viewpoint (sorry to display my ignorance). I suspect that there could well be sharply worded, accusatory “discussions” between these groups. However, I further suspect, that all would agree on the Biblical statement that Jesus is the Son of God. When we go beyond that simple, straightforward statement, we get into division/sectarianism. In discussions that I have had and talking with others who have had similar discussions different groups will use the same “proof texts” to prove their divergent views!

    I wonder if we can agree on what the scriptures say and not spend so much time arguing on what the implications are. If we are each parts of the same body, is it not possible that the Spirit of God applies the scriptures to each of us in an exquisitely individual manner. When we read “Love one another” one may be impelled to visit those in prison, another to feed homeless, others to show grace to those who, like us, do not deserve grace.

    Sorry to go on so long about this and I’m not sure where all this leads. But, it does seem to me that the sectarianism and divisiveness we see in the “Christian” world does little to advance the kingdom of God and gives ample fodder for critics to feed on and use against us.

    Jeremy, if you don’t think this comment is appropriate, feel free not to approve for publication. I just wanted to respond to your cogent blog post.

    • says

      Your comment is fine. Almost all viewpoints are welcome here!

      I wish we all spent more time obeying the Scriptures instead of arguing about them, but sometimes, we argue about them so that we can know what they say, so that we know how to obey. I am still coming to terms on all this myself…. We are all works in progress.

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