One thing we could learn from the most recent impeachment trial is that America is more divided than ever. We have come to accept that votes on a variety of issues will simply fall along party lines. We wonder if people really focus on the individual positions or policies. Every topic seems to be polarizing. Facebook has become a platform to advocate or denounce hot-topic ideas. And everyone seems to be an expert on the contentious topic-of-the-day.
If we look to the world, we can feel hopeless about how to find ways to move forward when we disagree. But what if God had a different idea in mind for how we work together to come to address difficult and even divisive issues? What if God designed the church as a place of inclusion? What if His goal is that we do not exclude those who don't think just like us but find ways to pursue unity instead?
It starts with understanding that unity and uniformity are not the same. D.A. Carson says it well:
“[The Church] is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together… because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ… They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus' sake.”
Carson's point is that Christians are unified by the most important identifying factor: Jesus is our King. We are His people. Beyond political affiliation and country of residence, we give our allegiance to King Jesus and recognize that we are citizens of His kingdom above all. No matter where we come from and what social, political, or other differences may divide us–we find unity in the body of Christ.
So, how do we promote unity without mandating uniformity?
It may seem like an unsolvable conundrum, but it's not. Being a “body” of believers united in the core truths of the gospel gives us enough to have in common while having enough margin for diverse views and personalities. Promoting unity starts with appreciating the differences represented in the body. Notice how the word “body” keeps coming up. The Bible uses this metaphor of the people of God being God's body to help us grow in unity.
“After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:29-30.
Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul describes how this body all has unique parts and functions, but works together collaboratively to function as a united whole.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. . . . God has put the body together . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Read the passage in its entirety as Paul explains that a body houses diverse parts to serve a single purpose.
Embracing unity does not mean uniformity. Uniformity is about making diverse things identical. Unifying the body is about appreciating how all the different parts work together to serve a singular function.
The strength of the body is that we each have different functions. We each bring something different to the table. We do not all need to be the same to form a whole. We simply need to learn how to bring our unique talents and gifts together to accomplish something greater than ourselves. This “body” metaphor helps us understand that collaboration does not mean we have to have a perfect consensus to move forward. It also doesn't mean we have to reduce our strengths or seek to be well-rounded individuals who are all equally competent. We need to develop well-rounded teams, not necessarily well-rounded individuals. Since we are all “one” in Christ, collaboration is essential for our vitality.
We also have to strive to overcome labels and stigmas that are meant to be divisive if we want to see unity exist. In Paul's day the Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female divides were prominent in culture! It was not something easy to depart from. Yet, the Church was to model a new way to be a society of people where the standard barriers that prevented people from coming together no longer held up. Paul's words in Galatians 3 were something revolutionary at the time:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26, 28
How can Paul say they are “one” immediately after listing polar differences? Because what makes unites us is greater than that which divides us. The social, economic, ethnic, and political factors that separated people in Paul's day are quite similar to our own. They are not the same issues, and yet the same type of divisiveness tries to creep its way in.
Living as a unified people does not mean ignoring our differences. It means acknowledging them and then affirming that what holds us in common is even more important.
And this is where the Church can lead the charge for the rest of the culture. Think about your own unique talents and gifts you bring in to all your team environments: your family, your workplace, your ministry teams. What is your contribution? How can you develop your individual skills to promote unity in your various communities? Consider this week how you can combat division by unifying around a common goal. Let's show how a band of diverse people can perform incredible feats in bettering the world by choosing to collaborate!