Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Unity Does Not Mean Uniformity

Do you know the difference between unity and uniformity? People often get them mixed up.

I can tell you what church people go to, or what denomination they belong to, just by the way they dress or comb their hair. I can also tell you, within sixty seconds or less, what persuasion of theology certain church goers are associated with just by the phrases they parrot. There is a distinct, detectable pattern of behavior, dress code, and terminology that reveals what camp they are a product of. You couldn’t learn this stuff from the Bible itself – you have to be taught it by men, who then attempt to use the Bible to prove their presuppositions. Just listen to them and you’ll hear the same phrases regurgitated over and over again. These disciples are simply the products of men. They are cookie-cutter disciples. This is what uniformity looks like.

Jesus prayed in John 17:21-23; “I pray… that they may all be one…. that they may be perfect in one.” This is a prayer for unity, not uniformity.

Unity means that people are united in thought and purpose (with a focus on God as the common denominator) while remaining unique as individuals as part of the body of Christ. Uniformity, on the other hand, means that everyone looks alike, thinks alike, dresses alike, and agrees on everything. Religion will try to make a clone out of you. Church people will attempt to make you a facsimile of themselves.

Churches will often attempt to create “one-ness” in their ranks by insisting that their members look alike, wear the same hair styles, adhere to certain dress codes, quote the same creeds, prefer the same musical tastes, and believe exactly alike about everything. This may look like unity on the outside, but in reality it is simply ‘uniformity’ (or conformity) held together by force. This is what you call legalism or bondage.

Let me ask you; in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-personality congregation, how do you get everyone to look alike and think alike in everything? When a congregation is made up of different kinds of people, from different backgrounds, who possess different personalities, how do you get everyone to dress alike, talk alike, and think the same? You can’t! Even if you could, it would mean that someone is denying their God-given uniqueness as they conform to someone else’s expectation. This is what churches often strive for in their attempt towards unity – but in reality it is uniformity (or forced conformity).

Unity is different. It means that people can be 'who they are' and live the way God 'wired them to be' while at the same time agreeing to embrace a church’s culture, vision, doctrine, and philosophy. This is called UNITY is the midst of DIVERSITY. This is what makes the body of Christ what it is and gives it strength.

For instance, if I were to attend a Christian church in the Caribbean Islands, the musical style there would probably be Reggie, the drummer would probably have long dreadlocks in his hair, and their doctrine may not be exactly the same as mine. While different, I could appreciate the cultural expression and diversity found within the body of Christ. In fact, I would probably enjoy it – even though that’s not who I am.

Suppose I went to a northern New England state and attended a worship service there – I would probably experience a formal, liturgical church service with a lot of formality and tradition with a strong puritan influence. Again, not my personal preference, but I could appreciate the diversity found in the body of Christ.

Take that same principle and apply it WITHIN a SINGLE congregation. God doesn’t expect that everyone look alike, dress alike, and parrot the same phrases. He expects us to be true to ourselves and to our individual uniqueness, while maintaining unity in the body of Christ (in the midst of our diversity). See the difference?

Churches that require uniformity are actually expecting their people to wear a certain “uniform” of religiosity – something that is only on the surface. Unity, on the other hand, is internal and much deeper.

  • Unity puts freedom first
  • Uniformity puts order first

  • Unity is present when people want to obey
  • Uniformity is present when people are forced to obey

  • Unity spreads through relationships
  • Uniformity suppresses through rules

  • Unity is a warm body
  • Uniformity is a cold machine

Yes, the scriptures call us to be “like-minded” and to be in “one mind and one accord”. This refers to the bigger issues like the mission of the church, doctrinal purity, and peace in the body of Christ, etc. But nowhere does the Bible call us to uniformity. Nowhere. In fact, the Bible embraces diversity.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity (Psalms 133:1)

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)

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