Jesus wants His disciples to be united, even when there seems to be tremendous differences between them. Both Jesus and his apostles decry division (John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-3).
Unfortunately, the religious world has made up its own, ecumenical kind of “unity in diversity.” The idea is to unite people of widely divergent beliefs by encouraging them to simply “agree to disagree.” To illustrate, the person who believes that baptism is immersion in water is encouraged to have fellowship with the one who believes that sprinkling will do just as well. This is a pseudo-fellowship, thinking that people can share in something they truly don’t share. It turns a blind eye to the source of division. It is not the unity the Bible teaches. Paul pleaded “that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Christianity only acknowledges “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5); it also acknowledges only “one body” and thus one church (Ephesians 4:4; cf. 1:22-23) and only “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5), thus rendering the multiple faiths we see today unscriptural.
There are some differences about which Christians must unite. There must be unity among believers of diverse nationalities, social standings and genders (Galatians 3:26-28). No matter who we are – Asian or Caucasian, black or white, employer or employee, rich or poor, man or woman – those who have “put on Christ” in baptism stand on equal ground before God and each other, worthy of being embraced as brothers or sisters. Only the cross of Christ could bring this about (Ephesians 2:14-16; Philemon 15-16).
There must also be unity among believers with diverse skills and abilities. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth about the miraculous spiritual gifts they possessed, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). The Corinthians should have been united in their use of their gifts unto the edification of the church, but sadly, they were divided. Paul implied that some who had one type of gift where “looking down their noses” at those who didn’t. (An example of this is 1 Corinthians 12:21’s “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’”) He also implied that others, because they didn’t have a certain gift, were jealous and consequently weren’t using the gift they did have. (See verse 15’s “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”) Corinth’s problems still exist today. Some with a particular talent are at times boastful, while some who consider themselves one-talent people are indifferent to their potential. Each of us are important, and we must put each other before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). Otherwise, unity and productivity will continue to allude us.
Finally, there must be unity among Christians with diverse idiosyncrasies. In Romans 14 Paul called for unity among brethren who consciences differed. Some could eat certain meats with a clean conscience, while others could not. Paul told them to “receive” one another and not “despise” or “judge one another” (vs. 1, 3, 14). Now, Paul wasn’t calling for doctrinal “unity in diversity.” He wasn’t calling for believers to accept and “receive” those who came with some extra or anti-biblical teaching or practice (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 John 9-11). Rather, here he dealt with disciples with diverse convictions about matters which inherently weren’t sinful regardless where one stood on the issue (Romans 14:3-4). Today, Christians have varying scruples due to the influence of their parents, culture, etc. The one who is “strong” – whose conscience will allow him to exercise what he knows to be a freedom in Christ because of his stronger biblical knowledge and maturity – is not to run roughshod over his brother whose conscience will not allow him to do the same. The brother who is “weak” in knowledge and spiritual maturity is not to condemn the strong, but is required to “grow in all things” (Ephesians 4:15). That’s biblical unity in diversity.
The body of Christ is a diverse group – believers of different races, genders, socio-economic classes, abilities, and scruples. Yet Jesus desires for us to do all we can to work for unity. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)