The Unity of Diversity (Reading Romans 12:3-8)

The Western Church lives in paradox. On one end of the compendium there is a feeling that we must take it upon ourselves to unify the church. In doing so there is a feeling that somehow we must deal with diversity while at the same time creating it. Such ideas have literally caused the church to stand on its head.

In Romans 12 Paul teaches that the reality of the church is that it IS a diverse unity. No one needs to create unity, or diversity, and so on and so on. God has created the church as is. God has not given us the ideal of unity and made it our duty to hasten toward it. God has created unity. Unity is not the ideal of the church it is the reality of the church. Learning to deal with the church “as is” will cause us to return the body of Christ from standing on its head to standing on its feet. If we apply the principle of Paul here in Romans 12, that the church is a paradox, a “diverse unity”, it may cause us to see things quite differently.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: (Romans 12:4-5).”

So how is the church to respond to the unity of diversity?

1. Think soberly of “me.” As I inferred in my last post the only way to deal with the selfish self is to deal with the self. Most people want to deal with selfishness by imploring the selfish to think of others. How can you get someone to think of others who is not first thinking properly about themselves? In this regard, Paul is brilliant. Since most of us cannot see past our nose, a good place to begin is to think soberly about the self is with the self. One’s opinion about the place of others will not change unless one is able to first deal with the proper place of self. Paul implores the believer to think of self against the standard of Christ and according to the measure of faith given to Him by God. Perhaps I will speak more on the topic later this week, or perhaps on Sunday, but the gospel is not only a confrontation with God, but it is a reformation of the self. The gospel has an amazing way of continually introducing “self” to the new you.

2. Instead of trying to reconcile, recognize. If we think soberly of the self we will soon realize the reality of life is that not everyone agrees. Furthermore, not everyone has to agree, especially with you. If Paul is teaching that the reality of the church is that it exists in a diverse unity, perhaps the goal of the church is not to reconcile, but to recognize. When our goal is to reconcile, and when I say reconcile I mean to bring ideas together, it creates chaos. Reconcile most often means to be able to reconcile things to one’s own mind. Each faction appreciates diversity, because diversity is cool. Yet each faction wants to appreciate and define diversity on their own terms. It is kosher to be different as long as in the end we agree with me. Thus Paul dodges disaster by calling us in Romans 12 not to reconcile the diversity of the church but rather to recognize it. We are not the same by divine design. What a sobering thought for the self!

3. Stop focusing on unity and diversity. I know this is a most unexpected answer being that most people in the American church feel that we too must embrace the politico climate and create diversity and unity, but if the church is trying to create diversity and unity it needs to wake up and realize it has missed the boat. The church is already diverse and unified. Paul is teaching that because of the gifts and graces of God diversity within the church is a reality, not an ideal. The church is a diverse unity. Can any of us create a body? God is the creator; the body simply is. The focus of the church needs to be on the unity that already exists in diversity.

I may kindle fire with this one, but perhaps at the very least I will bring more readership and response to this blog. How does Romans 12 apply to the array of evangelical denominations? Many people cannot reconcile in their minds the massive amount of denominations, expressions, and etc. within the Christian faith. They believe this to be an expression of divisiveness. Most believe denominations to be destructive to the point that it undermines the ideal of the church in Christ. But what if denominations are actually an expression of the church’s unity in diversity? There are many ecumenical movements afoot that strive to unify the church across denominational boundaries. Yet according to Paul we are not responsible for the creation of unity within the body of Christ. Unity is not an ideal, it is a reality. I am not sure it is anyone’s responsibility to figure out how Baptists fit with Pentecostals or Arminians with Calvinists. What if instead of working from the presupposition of we must find a way to bring them to agreement we worked from the presupposition that they are in agreement? What if the divine desire is for Methodists to be very methodic and for Charismatics to be very charismatic? What if even the deepest theological differences were a part of the same? Radical, I know. Yet we cut pies into pieces everyday! Yum.

The teaching of Paul here is not that we must take the diverse expressions of the church and make them something other than they are, Paul is saying is that we need to let them be what God has made them to be (this is within the constraints of Scriptural reason of course). The reality is that there also exists within the church those that wish to lead others astray? That is a topic for another day. Yet within the body of Christ we may not agree? But what if even our disagreements are by design? Hmm? And the toe said to the left index finger, “Amen!” Let’s be a body because we have more than proven we are unable to create one!

4. Undefine unity. Unity does not mean “same.” The focus of Paul’s teaching is on what must be done. There are lots of different people to reach with the gospel. In order to reach lots of different kinds of people God has elected to use lots of different kinds of people. For some reason when God reaches lots of different kinds of people through lots of different kinds of people we believe the next task is to “unify” them. What we really mean is that our next task is to “same” them. Unity does not mean “same.” Reaching lots of different kinds of people naturally creates a church full of lots of different kinds of people. Again, Paul’s focus in Romans 12 is on what God has already done to express the unity of the church through diversity. The church should focus on what God has already created and allow Him to define unity in His own terms. It is not our task to create unity. The unity of the church already exists – created, defined, and sustained by an all powerful God.


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