“Unity isn’t conformity, but the celebration of diversity.” ~ Kris Vallotton
About 15 years ago, I purchased an original watercolor (pictured above) by a young artist named Sara-Anne Wolgin (Caudle), a member of the church I attended at that time. I liked the painting because it reminded me of two things that were significant to me: (1) the pastor’s mother, whom we all called “Grandma,” had a beautiful garden at the side of her house, with just this kind of not-too-tidy array of diverse plants and flowers; and, perhaps more importantly, (2) our church had held an outreach event the night before, where I saw an amazing display of various gifts & talents flowing together in harmony, which struck me as an equally beautiful sight.
“Under His [Christ’s] direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
[Ephesians 4:16 NLT]
Sometimes church leaders try to organize around a military model - discouraging “individualism” and “independence” in their (mostly well-intentioned) efforts to ensure unity, loyalty, respect, obedience, servanthood - to minimize internal conflict and pursue common goals… Scripture speaks about spiritual warfare – the fact that sin and evil “war against” our new nature in Christ - but the primary model for Christian relationships is family. Words like “soldier,” “war” and “warfare” are used to describe the Christian life just a handful of times in the entire New Testament, while Jesus used the word “Father” (referring to God), “brother” and “sister” (referring to one another, not just biological family) over 60 times in the book of Matthew alone.
In a healthy family, aren’t we glad that our children are different from one another and not little clones, exactly like us in every respect? Isn’t our goal as parents (and leaders) to raise up individuals who can handle God-given freedoms and make good choices? What loving father is offended by his child's questions or continually preoccupied with how his children are falling short of perfection? Do we think this is how God sees and deals with us?
Unity is not sameness, and God is not threatened by our multiple perspectives or points of view. He is willing to answer our questions, comfort us when we feel weak, pursue us in our waywardness, and forgive our mistakes (and we all make them). Of course this doesn’t mean we don’t have any rules, or that we don’t respect leaders – but leaders also need to respect God’s people, and rules can be expressed kindly and clearly, without threatening an individual's God-given identity and freedom in Christ. From the beginning of creation, God has given human beings the freedom to choose His way, or not - so that our love can be a genuine, voluntary response to His.
[For more on related topics, see books & audio teachings on relationships by Danny Silk, available at www.iBethel.org/store - especially Culture of Honor and Loving Our Kids On Purpose.]
In truth, we need our differences – consider the apostle Paul's description of God’s Church as Christ's Body, in which many different parts work together according to His design:
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ...we have all been baptized into Christ's body by one Spirit, and we have all received the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body? Suppose the whole body were an eye -- then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where He wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you." The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you." In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other equally. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. Now all of you together are Christ's body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.
[I Corinthians 12:12-27 NLT]
Various perspectives, personalities, giftings, strengths, even the care with which we handle our "weak areas" - all are necessary and valuable to the overall health and functioning of the whole.
By the way, I recently met a few more members of my spiritual family in Guatemala, and was blessed all over again by the beauty of how God brings together diverse people, gifts & talents, causing them all to flow together in harmonious and loving unity in Christ. Below is a link to my photo album - the captions tell some of what I experienced on this trip (9/16 to 9/24/11). I worked as a translator for the medical team (including a doctor, 4 nurses, and a tax attorney who organized volunteers from upstate NY). Other team members did plumbing repairs at the school, built a house for the family of one of the students, helped teach classes in sewing, crafts, and English. Some were Lutheran, Catholic, charismatic, and… it was a beautiful thing to see.
Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church...It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
[I Corinthians 12:4-7, 11 NLT]