Unity or uniformity?

Unity is defined by Merriam Webster as “the quality or state of not being multiple: oneness; a condition of harmony: accord.” Unity is “a totality of related parts: an entity that is a complex or systematic whole.”

Uniformity is defined as “the quality or state of being uniform; having always the same form, manner, or degree: not varying or variable (uniform procedures); consistent in conduct or opinion (uniform interpretation of laws); of the same form with others: conforming to one rule or mode: consonant”

What did Apostle Paul mean when he wrote these often-quoted words? Ephesians 4:3-6 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

As with all Scripture, we must be so careful to understand the context of what God is saying through Scripture and the meaning God wanted the author to convey. To do this we need to keep reading. (By the way “keep reading” is something I am doing a lot these days. I never want to quote just single key verses, but two or three or four verses so I can grasp the full meaning of the Scriptures.) If we keep reading, Apostle Paul writes: Ephesians 4:7,8 “7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”

When we talk about unity in the Christian faith and in Scripture, we are not supposed to be talking about uniformity. If we all become the same, we will be in danger of grieving the Holy Spirit because we are not putting our unique gifts to God’s service. We would not be following God’s plan and God’s purpose so clearly communicated through Scripture. The great adventure that is the Christian journey of faith has a lot to do with knowing what gifts we have been given, understanding and developing those gifts and ultimately putting those gifts fervently into action!

The Biblical metaphor for the Christian community is not a business model. We are not in the “business of saving souls”. That is God’s business, the “master’s business” (read John 15). One Biblical metaphor (not the only one) for the Christian community is the body. 1 Corinthians 12:27,28 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.”

We are the body of Christ. Grace has been given as Christ determined it, in the way Christ distributed it! I do not have certain gifts, I do have other gifts. My joy is to find my gifts, my role and my contribution to the body of Christ, and to facilitate other Christians in finding their gifts, roles and contributions.

Christians are not called to uniformity of procedures, opinions, convictions, manners and conduct. We are called to unity of purpose, unity of mission and unity of faith. Indeed, if we keep reading: Ephesians 4:9-13 “9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

2 thoughts on “Unity or uniformity?

  1. People in UBF will say they aren’t all uniform. Ok, granted, but they are still more uniform than in any other community I ever came across, and UBF creates an atmosphere that promotes uniformity in every way. I remember somebody comparing UBF with a franchise business. The way conference rooms are decorated, the way they preach, the way they pray, they way they read verses from the Bible, the Bible translation used, the way they use titles, they way they marry, clothing, hairstyle, language, all these things are pretty much uniform. Try to handle any of these things differently, and you will see what I mean.

    I remember that we used to have conferences in a Christian recreation centre which had a nice hall with a wooden cross on the front. But every single time when we had a conference there, UBF missionaries would first remove that cross, lock it into the broom closet, and stick their conference title on the wall instead (and then in that same room they would sing how they cherish that old rugged cross). They would also exchange the speaker’s desk with their own desk with the UBF logo on it. All because things needed to be uniform.

    Our chapter leader even let us sing the always same hymn (I think it was “To God be the glory”) every Sunday at the beginning of the service which had to start at the always same but in our country unusual time of 15pm. When I asked why, he explained because every UBF chapter in the world did it that way and he liked the thought that they would all sing the same hymn at the same time (actually in view of the existence of time differences a pretty weak rationale anyway, but that’s what he said to me).

    But if we look at the world around us, it seems that God does not favor uniformity at all. Every planet in our solar system is unique, every species on our world is unique, every single person is unique. God really seems to love diversity.

  2. Chris, yea I used to think UBF chapters were so diverse (and of course there are minor differences and recently there seem to be more superficial differences). Those minor differences were one part of my defense of UBF in the past.

    Then I experienced a city called Detroit. (If any missionary out there wants to know what diversity really is, please come to Detroit!) Our standard [in UBF] was All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name. We almost accused the hymn publisher of blasphemy when we found out we could no longer purchase the old-style hymnbooks, but instead had to buy the new hymnbook where they changed the hymn numbers.

    The franchise idea is pretty close to reality. What was I given as Director of Detroit UBF to start a new chapter? A Federal tax exempt ID number (and I was supposed to open a bank account but never did), some folding chairs (of the same style as what used to be at the center), and some hymnbooks. With that I was supposed to just walk onto campus and find some willing students…