Saturday, March 8, 2014

Unity or Uniformity?

Is the call for unity within Christ's church the same as a call for uniformity?

This question is an important one because it directly impacts whether or not we even understand what unity is. I'm convinced that a better understanding of unity within the body will lead to an increase in actual unity of the body.

What is uniformity? Uniformity is the demand that everyone in a group thinks and acts the same way. It allows for little to no variation. A good example of this is the military. Everyone is basically expected to think and act the same. If any variation exists, it is both small and inconsequential.

Is uniformity the same as unity? In a word - NO.

What then is unity? I suppose we could come up with a number of definitions. Here's mine: unity is a togetherness of mind and spirit that looks to the good of the group without demanding sameness within the group. Any group of any kind can have unity. The church is only one of many. However, since the church is led by the Holy Spirit, it should be easier for the church to have unity than any other sort of group. How sad it is, then, that the church struggles so much to be united.

One thing that leads to this struggle for unity is the faulty expectation of uniformity. When we look in the bible, we don't ever read demands for uniformity. For example, only a relatively small number of core doctrines must be believed in order for a person to be part of the church. As for what we might refer to as secondary doctrines, there's no demand for uniformity. We appear to have some measure of freedom in what we believe about these. We are never told that unity can or should be sacrificed over non-salvation issue doctrines.

Another issue is worship style. Related to this is music. Frankly, these don't really matter when the church gathers. As far as I'm concerned, just do whatever is edifying in the Lord. Just don't let preferences get in the way of unity.

As the body of Christ, if we are truly looking out for the good of others then we will be united. I might hold many differences in doctrine and/or practice with a brother, but if I am striving to edify him in Christ, then those differences won't really matter. However, if I demand that we believe and act exactly the same way, it will actually drive a wedge between us.

Striving for uniformity leads to division.

Striving for unity leads, not surprisingly, to unity.

In the end we see that unity and uniformity are actually closer to being opposite than the same. Because of this, let's jettison any expectations of uniformity within the family of Christ. Instead, let's live united despite our differences.


jrpv said...

And when he was departed thence, he lighted on Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he saluted him, and said to him, Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? And Jehonadab answered: It is. If it be, give me thine hand. 2 Kings 10:15 [KJV]

But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.
~ John Wesley (1703-1791), scripture text and paragraph four of the introductory section to Sermon 39 Catholic Spirit

Let us observe, for one thing, how different the characters and personalities of true Christians may be. The two sisters of whom we read in this passage were faithful disciples. Both had believed. Both had been converted. Both had honored Christ when few gave Him honor. Both loved Jesus, and Jesus loved both of them. Yet they were evidently women of very different turn of mind. Martha was active, stirring, and impulsive, feeling strongly, and speaking out all she felt. Mary was quiet, still, and contemplative, feeling deeply, but saying less than she felt. Martha, when Jesus came to her house, rejoiced to see Him, and busied herself with preparing a suitable refreshment. Mary, also, rejoiced to see Him, but her first thought was to sit at His feet and hear His word. Grace reigned in both hearts, but each showed the effects of grace at different times, and in different ways.

We shall find it very useful to ourselves to remember this lesson. We must not expect all believers in Christ to be exactly like one another. We must not set down others as having no grace, because their experience does not entirely tally with our own. The sheep in the Lord's flock have each their own peculiarities. The trees in the Lord's garden are not all precisely alike. All true servants of God agree in the principal things of religion. All are led by one Spirit. All feel their sins, and all trust in Christ. All repent, all believe, and all are holy. But in minor matters they often differ widely. Let not one despise another on this account. There will be Marthas and there will be Marys in the Church until the Lord comes again.
~ John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), from his exposition of Luke 10:38-42

Jeremy Myers said...

You have been doing a lot of thinking (and writing) on this, for which I am glad.

As you have been thinking and writing about this, I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on unity on doctrine and theology? Is unity without uniformity possible when it comes to theology?

Eric said...


See my answer in the comments to the post entitled, "What is Unity and How Do We Achieve It?"