Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unity vs. Uniformity

I have a blog post that I started a year ago, edited more last fall, and have still not completed. It says a lot, and I keep tinkering with it, but there's a lot in it that I'm not sure should be posted. There is much of it, however, that can be stated--should be said. And so I shall try.... I realize my perspective is limited, so I'm sure there are things I'm not seeing, but I will add my voice and see where it leads.

When I was in grad school, one of the educational terms that was popular was "multiple intelligences." I'm sure the concept still exists, but I've been out of the field for a while so it may go by a new name. The gist of it is that everyone learns in a different way. It's kind of along the lines of one of those personality tests: Find out what your personality is (strengths/weaknesses) and this will help you know this, that, and the other thing about your life and purpose. With multiple intelligences you take into account that your students will have different ways of processing and learning information. Some may be highly visual learners, others kinesthetic (get them moving and they'll get the concept), others need to hear things, etc. It's a pretty cool concept, and an idea that has stuck with me and become an important part of how I view individuals and situations.

So, to say the least, it frustrates the snot out of me when I am in a situation where there is no room for this diversity of learning styles. And it seems that a key place where this is true is in my local church, a place where one would hope that this truth would be most applied. After all, one of our greatest truths is that we are the body of Christ and "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). All those who follow Christ in all walks of life are part of that body and he is the Head.

The passage goes on to talk about some of the parts:
 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (vs. 15-18)
 I love the way this is put. But it seems that in our striving for church unity--a diverse body working together under the Head, Christ--we get confused and push for uniformity, with all the parts of the body trying to be the same part. We forget Paul's words, "If they were all one part, where would the body be?" (v. 19) We say, "Treat others better than yourself!" which is true enough, but seems to lead to one part assuming it is the wiser, better part, and other parts being forced into the same mold. Instead of seeking to listen to each other and seek Christ's leading in how to handle our diversity, we shove the undesired part away. We forget:
 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (vs. 21-27, emphasis mine)
 Now, my church is not exactly diverse when it comes to ethnic backgrounds. Despite living in a vastly cross-cultural community, my church is still (though 75 years old) pretty much white middle-class. Sometimes I think that's a shame, but I don't regard it as a huge problem. We do have a larger ethnic variety in our children's ministries, school, moms' group, etc. It's just Sunday morning that doesn't fit that category.

What we do have, though, is a multi-generational church, and that's something that I think is vitally important to our strength as a body. And yet in our striving for uniformity (under the guise of unity) we are forgetting our elders and exalting our youth. Not exactly what Paul seems to be pointing out in 1 Corinthians 12. It breaks my heart to see older mature believers being shouldered out and ignored because they are too "traditional" or "critical of current trends." And already I see the effects of that treatment:
  • We are losing mature believers.
  • A number of our childrens' programs are suffering from a lack of qualified, willing teachers and caregivers. (And believe me, we have lots of kids...which means we need lots of teachers.)
  • Our church is suffering financially because those coming in lack a foundational understanding of stewardship and what it means to be committed to a local body; mature believers who were committed and could educate are leaving.
  • Our "worship" service is a bombardment of one style--there is no room for those who learn differently and are touched by God in different ways. There is no place for that still, quiet voice that can speak so very powerfully.
  • Our leadership is struggling to find qualified leaders within the church (goes back to my first point).
  • We have forgotten much of our heritage in the striving to reach the future state (whatever state that is.... Our vision is clouded).
I fear for our church's future, and more personally for my family's future if things continue down this path. There seems to be a great striving for fixing things (every member knows there's a problem; it's just defining it that seems to be the hard part).  Some think that if we evangelize more and all get organized doing that, we'll forget our internal differences and as a result thrive. But this neglects the core health of the body. If we truly unify internally, than we will blast Christ's love to the ends of the earth! We won't need special programs for reaching out to our community; it will be part of our very being. Last year our church participated in an analysis program...but the vision statement that was created by a cross-section of the church has been put aside in a new search for a vision, one created by only a few leaders. They are trying very hard to define our purpose and vision, but this can't succeed unless each part of the body is considered. Pride is a big problem.

I think there is a fear of submitting ourselves to God in prayer and seeing what He wants for us. If our body came together as a whole and we humbled ourselves to ask God for His plan and guidance, we'd find our answer and our unity. We probably would be blown away in shock and awe with the way He could answer. I long to see that!

And so, I'm making a proposal: PRAY! Please pray for my church, for your church. Pray for all who  call themselves followers of Christ that they will treasure the diversity of others in the Body. Pray for those who have not yet found him that they will see him in his followers' unity. Pray for true unity that sees the value of every diverse part and seeks, above all, to exalt the Head, Jesus himself.

Our Head isn't into disrupting the Body function. That's the Enemy's job and he's pretty good at it. Are we going to let him succeed?


  1. Well said, Loren! I appreciate your perspective and the reminder to keep on celebrating diversity in the midst of unity. The Holy Spirit's teaching, through Paul, on the ONE body being comprised of MANY parts should encourage each one of us to be the unique individuals God created us to be. Even as He conforms us into the image of Jesus Christ, He does so without erasing us as individuals or blurring all of us into one Borg-like entity. Unity needs diversity in order to exist; likewise, uniformity needs conformity.

  2. Thanks, Bob. You're so right, too. I've been slowly learning how incredible it is how, as you pointed out, God conforms us into the image of Christ without erasing our individuality, etc. Sometimes I feel like it would be so much easier if everyone thought the same way I did...but that would destroy the beauty of the Body and the powerful way God can work.