Unity in Multi-Categorical Diversity in the Church
May 7, 2016
Without in any way wishing to take away from the ongoing conversation about the dire need for the church in North America to focus on attaining unity among ethnic diversity by means of the Gospel, I have long felt the challenge of fostering Gospel-unity and fellowship among existing diverse categories of people groups in the local church.
Having been in ministry now for nearly a decade, I have observed a series of what seem like insurmountable obstacles to uniting diverse members of the church in fellowship. It is incumbent on pastors and church members to pursue growth in specific areas where Scripture calls for spiritual growth and vitality in the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul had this in mind when he charged the members of the church in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus to use the diversity of gifts that God had given them for the building up of the body as a whole (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4). As I survey the landscape of the church in our day, I see four categories--in addition to ethnicity and spiritual giftedness--where there is a need for greater unity among the diversity of members in the church:
1. Socioeconomic. The Scriptures have much to say about the implications of the Gospel on financial diversity in the church. The early church modeled what it looks like for the Spirit of God to work among the people of God of differing socioeconomic standing (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32). One of the great pastoral problems with which the Apostle James dealt in his epistle was the issue of the rich in the church showing disdain for and partiality to the poor in the church (James 1:9-11; 2:1-13). The Apostle Paul also warned against the way in which the rich in the church of Corinth had begun to discriminate against the poor at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:21-22).
The Gospel unites rich and poor when both groups recognize that they need the same atoning blood for the redemption of their souls. When we come to the law concerning ransom money in the book of Exodus, we read, "The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves" (Ex. 30:15). Both rich and poor need the precious blood of Jesus as the ransom price of their souls. The Law of God also revealed how showing partiality to the poor in his dispute (Ex. 23:3) or perverting the justice of the poor in his dispute was wicked in the sight of God (Ex. 23:6). The rich and the poor are to be dealt with by the same need for redemption and the same standard of justice. God shows no partiality in meting out justice to rich and poor.
Unity of fellowship between the rich and the poor is not easily accomplished in the church. The poor of the church must not distance themselves from the rich in the church out of a sense of shame or pride; and, the rich of the church must not distance themselves from the poor in the church out of a sense of superiority or desire for status. In the church, the rich and the poor need one another. After all, the Scriptures reveal the following: "God has chosen the poor of the world to be in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love him" (James 2:5). The rich of the church often have much to glean from the spiritual-mindedness and example of faith from financially impoverished members of the body. By way of contrast, the poor in the church must allow themselves to be cared for by the generosity of the rich in the church. What a beautiful expression of Gospel unity when these things begin to take shape in a congregation of believers.
2. Personality. There is a need for us to pursue unity among diversity of personalities in the church. Herman Banvick once made the astute observation about how God sanctifies and uses individual personalities in the body of Christ. He wrote:
Regeneration does not erase individuality, personality or character, but sanctifies it and puts it at the service of God's name. The community of believers is the new humanity that bears within itself a wide range of variety and distinction and manifests the richest diversity in unity.1
It is far too easy for us to like those who are like us and to grow frustrated with those whose personalities are different than ours.
Additionally, we must never confuse God's standard of holiness with our standard of personality. To do so is a sure recipe for divisive judgmentalism. We are called to love those whose personalities are different from ours--and to use our own personalities to benefit others.
We see the way differing personalities worked to the benefit of the members of the apostolic band. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle John were two men with very different personalities; yet, they often spent time together for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom of God. They ran together to the tomb (John 20:4). One almost gets the sense that they balanced each another out in ministry. No doubt, John admired Peter's boldness. Peter obviously looked on John's affectionate personality with admiration--and at times even sinful jealousy (John 21:20-21).
Our Lord Jesus knit us together into a body of believers with all the strengths and weaknesses of our different personalities. While Jesus had a perfectly balanced personality and a personality that was perfectly sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit in His life and ministry, we--by way of contrast--will always have imbalanced and sin-tainted personalities. We need to learn to bear with one another and pray for one another (Eph. 4:2). I am sure that Simon Peter got a few eye rolls from members of the church, but when he was arrested "constant prayer was made for him by the church" (Acts 12:5). The church needs extroverts and introverts, those who have a natural boldness and those with a natural gentleness--all being sanctified by the word and Spirit of God.
3. Personal Interest. In his masterful 1944 speech, "The Inner Ring," C.S. Lewis explained: "There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only not a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together." The same is true in the church. However, there tends to be a propensity for those in the church to form friendships exclusively on the basis of having similar interests with particular members of the church. When friendships in the church are formed predominantly on the basis of mutually benefiting one another socially--to the exclusion of forming spiritual friendships with others in the church--there is a unity problem that needs to be addressed. This is the essence of the problem of cliques forming in a church.
Segregation in the body on account of interest can also happen when close-knit families choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the body. Members of the church need to intentionally invite into their homes members with whom they do not seem to have similar interests. When this happens, we will usually find that we have more in common with others in the body than we first thought.
This problem can also manifest itself in church members of similar stage of life. The church is full of singles, widows, those married without children, those married with children and elderly. While there is value in churches seeking to create an atmosphere in which singles can spend time together in a focused way, or young married couples can get together and talk about unique aspects of their particular stage of life, church members at various stages of life shouldn't remain segregated because of lack of common "stage-of-life" interest. The members of the church should be reaching out to those in different stages of life than that in which they are at present.
4. Generational. The Scriptures are clear that the fellowship among the members of the church is multi-generational in nature. The older men and older women are called to pour out their lives in service to the younger generation of believers. Paul charged the older men in the church to model godly live for the younger men of the church (Titus 2:2, 6). He then charged the older women to "admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed" (Titus 2:4-5). The younger members of the church need the example and wisdom of the older members and the older members need the zeal, excitement and care of the younger members of the church.
As we work toward preserving unity in diversity (Eph. 4:1) in the church, we will start to see more of the beauty of the Gospel and of the Lord Jesus who has united us to Himself and to one another in His body. Christ is glorified by the realization of this loving unity in the church, and the entire body of believers is benefited by it.
1. Herman Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation (Grand Rapdis: Baker Academic, 2008) vol.4 p. 640
Nick Batzig is the organizing pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Ga and the editor of Reformation 21. Nick writes regularly for Tabletalk Magazine and blogs at Feeding on Christ and the Christward Collective. Nick is also the host of East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards. You can friend him on Facebook or following him on Twitter at @nick_batzig.