Getting any group of people to agree on a particular idea or action is not always an easy thing to do. People come from different backgrounds, have different likes, different priorities, etc. So getting any group to agree on something can be a major task. As a consequence, the idea of unity within diversity might seem to be an impossible task. Nevertheless, it is a biblical idea, and one that relates particularly to the Christian church. And that means, that it is an idea, that as Christians, we need to learn to embrace.
Now the Apostle Paul was obviously aware of that when he wrote his letter to the church at Rome. Because, in this instance, Paul was writing to a specific church, but one he didn’t know personally. And yet despite that, he knew from experience, that even in Rome there would be a variety of backgrounds, views, and practices, and that the people would need to learn to work together.
So what was it that Paul suggested to the members of the church at Rome? Well, he suggested three things.
The first thing, Paul suggested, was that diversity not uniformity was the mark of God’s handiwork. Indeed, if diversity was apparent in nature and in God’s grace, then nowhere should it be more apparent than within the Christian community. Now the church in Rome, obviously, would have included men and women from the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament and capacity. And as Christians they would have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. But this diversity, Paul suggested, was a very healthy thing. And rather than squash it and make every the same, people’s diversity should actually be encouraged and nurtured.
Secondly, because and by means of that diversity, Paul suggested, that all should learn to co-operate for the good of the whole. Whatever kind of service was rendered in the church, it should be rendered heartily and faithfully—whether it be prophesying, teaching, admonishing, administering, making material gifts, visiting the sick, or performing any other kind of ministry. In other words the diversity of gifts should be encouraged, with the intention of building up the whole.
Then, thirdly, Paul suggested, that there was the imperative of Jesus to consider. And he suggested the need for them to have a deep, unaffected and practical love, reminiscent of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, mutual love, sympathy, and honour within the brotherhood of believers was to be practiced. Furthermore, that love and forgiveness was to be projected outside of the fellowship—not least of all to those who persecuted them or wished them ill.
Now obviously what Paul was promoting was a very high ideal, which should relate to every Christian group. And as a consequence his teaching regarding unity in diversity relates to every congregation, every denomination, as well as the church universal itself.
So when Paul encouraged the church in Rome to strive for unity in diversity, we could say—as students of human nature—that’s not possible, people will never be like that. And in that you may be right. And yet the Christian faith has many high ideals, including how to live and how to have a perfect relationship with the creator. As a consequence, yes, we should acknowledge our faults and failings and limitations, but we should also reach for these high ideals too.
And that means that in our own churches and between our denominations, we need to strive for this unity within diversity. Indeed, we need to encourage each other to use our differences. And we should then use those differences to encourage and build up one another in the faith.
Posted: 22nd September 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis