Unity in diversity. Yes, there is such a thing. The Lord Jesus wants his disciples to be united, even at times when there seems to be tremendous differences between them. Both Jesus and his apostles decry division (John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:1-3).
Before we discuss this, however, let it be acknowledged that the denominational world generally has made up its own, ecumenical kind of “unity in diversity.” To briefly summarize, its idea is to unite “believers” 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. But this is a pseudo-fellowship, thinking that people can share in something they don’t actually share. It turns a blind eye to the source of division. Or to put it another way, 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 Cor. 1:10). Christianity only acknowledges “one baptism”(Eph. 4:5); it also acknowledges only “one body” (Eph. 4:4; cf. Eph. 1:22-23) and only “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), thus rendering the multiple bodies/churches and faiths of denominationalism to be unscriptural and thus condemned.
There are some differences, however, among believers in which we can – no, must – unite. First, there must be unity among believers of diverse nationalities, social standings and genders (Gal. 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. Consequently, they need to be viewed as standing on equal ground before each other, worthy of being embraced as brothers or sisters, regardless of skin color or what “side of the tracks” they come from. Only the cross of Christ could bring this about (Eph. 2:14-16; Philemon 15-16).
Secondly, 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 Cor. 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 are still with local churches today, even though we do not possess miraculous spiritual gifts like they did (1 Cor. 13:8-10; cf. James 1:25; Rom. 12:2). Those today who have a particular talent are at times proud and boastful, while those who consider themselves one-talent people are indifferent to their potential. Until we cease focusing (in a negative way) on our diverse abilities and start concentrating on the unifying purpose for our having them (to build up the body), we aren’t going to be unified as we ought, and we certainly aren’t going to be productive. We must realize that each of us is important, and put each other before ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4).
Finally, there must be unity among believers with diverse idiosyncrasies. In Romans 14 Paul called for unity among brethren who consciences differed. Some could, with a clean conscience, eat certain meats. Some could not. But Paul told them to “receive” one another, to not “despise” one another, and to not “judge one another” (Rom. 14:1, 3, 14). Now, Paul wasn’t calling for the “unity in diversity” described in our introductory second paragraph. He wasn’t calling for believers to accept and “receive” those who came with some extra or anti-biblical teaching or practice (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 John 9-11). Rather, Paul dealt with disciples with diverse convictions concerning which, no matter which position a disciple took on the issue, did not involve a person in sin (Rom. 14:3-4). Today, brethren have varying conscientious scruples, many times the result of how they were raised by their parents, culture, religion, 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 knowledge of God’s Will and spiritual maturity, is not to run roughshod over his brother whose conscience will not allow him. The brother who is “weak” in knowledge and spiritual maturity is not to condemn the strong, but is required to “grow in all things” (Eph. 4:15). Friends, 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. But the Lord 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!” (Ps. 133:1)