Celebrating Our Unity Amidst Our Diversity in the Church
The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace
I recall once doing a leadership conference in the Dominican Republic for both Dominican pastors and Haitian pastors. The first part of the conference was, to say the least, quite eye-opening, as most of these leaders from two different countries sat opposite one another, clearly with deeply settled resentment and disdain toward one another, largely due to conflict between their two countries. As the conference went on, and we began to look in more detail at the content of the Gospel and the nature and purpose of the Church, I noticed a gradual and visible change in demeanors and even uneasiness on the part of many of these leaders.
The passage we were teaching on was Ephesians 2:1-22, where Paul first of all gloriously expounds on God’s reconciling once spiritually dead sinners to Himself through faith in Christ (2:1-10, thus solving the “vertical” conflict between God and men), but then emphasizing that the Great Peacemaker, Jesus Christ, also made peace between Gentiles (the “nations”) and Jews through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, all those who are “in Christ” are now one body, one temple, one church, regardless of ethnicity, social status, or background.
I’m sure this was not a text, nor theological realities, that these leaders had never studied or considered. However, for some of them, this was the first time that the Spirit of God had pierced them to the heart with the great reality that they were sitting in a room with other brothers of like precious faith, and they needed to live out the practical implications of such glorious peace and unity. I can still hear the personal and public testimonies at the end of the conference by some of these men who had been so convicted by their explicit and subtle dislike, and even hatred for other brethren of different ethnic backgrounds, that they repented and confessed their sins to one another, and resolved to move forward for the greater progress of the Gospel in peace and unity through Jesus Christ. By the end of that conference, there was a great spirit of love and “functional” peace that was evident, and has continued to this day.
Paul said in Colossians 3:9-11, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self (emphasis mine) who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” Did you get that? There is a new humanity that God has, and is creating, and that humanity is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now Paul is not saying that there are no differences among God’s people (this new humanity), but that as this new humanity we are not to make distinctions so as to divide ourselves from one another, or ostracize any Christian from another. Christ lives in every Christian by His Spirit, and is exalted among His people, who are now a new humanity, a spiritual family.
This is one great reason I love the church. Because having been vertically reconciled to our Maker through Jesus, we now (horizontally) share an inseparable and unbreakable union with one another. This union in Christ exists regardless of ethnic, social, economic, or any other difference we may have with another fellow Christian. This unity must be “functional,” meaning visibly seen in our ongoing interaction and commitment with one another. This unity is not uniformity, where each person looks and acts the same, but seen in that we learn to appreciate one another’s differences, and where deficient, we seek to help one another grow in Christ.
In light of the wondrous unity and peace established by the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ for all those who believe in His great Name, let us be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and let us celebrate our differences for the exaltation of the name of Christ on this earth that the world may see that the transforming Gospel truly deals with our sin, and all of the evils that result from our sin. Truly, as Paul said in Ephesians 3:10, the church on earth reveals the “manifold wisdom of God.”