There is much talk today about diversity. Diversity is being held up by our culture as a primary virtue. The more diversity that there is, the better. Yet, making diversity the goal has had an unintended consequence; we have sacrificed unity. The motto of the Untied States of America is “E Pluribus Unum”, out of many one. We used to regard America as the great melting pot, where people from diverse backgrounds could come together around common hopes and dreams. Whether that was ever really true, today we have become a nation divided by our diversity, not unity in our diversity.
The Church has always struggled with the issue of diversity and unity. From the very beginning, the solution that the Church came up with was to strive for uniformity. In other words, to be accepted as a genuine believer in Christ, a person had to conform to all the Jewish laws and requirements. This caused a major split between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. It came to a head at the first Jerusalem council, where Paul and Barnabas made the case for unity in Christ over uniformity. (Acts 15)
Paul articulated the true ideal of unity, in Christ, in both his letter to the Galatians and to the Colossians.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11
Paul was not denying our diversity, but raising our unity, in Christ, above all of the things that would naturally divide us. In fact, Paul often used diversity as a tool for sharing the Gospel.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Throughout history, the Church has struggled with the conflict between unity and uniformity. Up until the time of the Reformation, the Church lived under the banner of uniformity. Everyone had to conform to the norms and traditions of the Church, or be excluded. The Reformation ushered in a time of great diversity in the Church, with which we are still living.
Today, we are struggling to regain our unity in Christ, without negating our real diversity. We don’t want a generic, lowest common denominator church, where unity for unity sake is the banner. Neither do we want a rigid, legalistic church, where uniformity is the expected. What we want is genuine unity that allows for honest disagreement, without causing divisions.
Paul set the standard for us in Romans 14:1-8. Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. The essence of this passage has been summarized in this way. Unity in essentials, Freedom in non-essentials, Charity in all things.
Satan is working overtime to fragment the Church. He is effectively sowing the seeds of conflict as the moral and social battles of our society have filtered into the Church. Uniformity excludes and keeps people away from Christ. Diversity for diversity sake divides us into smaller and smaller camps that are ineffective in reaching others for Christ. The goal is real unity that knits a diverse group of people together, in a miraculous way, under the banner of Christ. True “E Pluribus Unum” can only be achieved through humble submission to Jesus Christ.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”