Written by Ben Wayman. Media by Taylor Harpster.
Christian unity is not about uniformity, but rather about friendship. Through friendship, we embrace the difference and diversity of another person. This embrace of one another, in our diversity, is the stuff of Christian unity and it is patterned after the nature of God. We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unity in diversity. God makes possible unity in diversity for us, and we experience it most fully as true friendship, modeled after the divine friendship.
Friendship cannot be coercive. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that uniformity is good because it appears peaceful. But all we need to do is recall the famous “peace” the world celebrates still, the Pax Romana, to see that uniformity is not peaceful at all. Remember, it was Roman peace that violently executed thousands of people who would not conform. It was peace and uniformity, Roman style, that murdered Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
And because of this, Christian unity is not about uniformity. It’s not about making everyone speak and look and be the same. Rather, it’s about membership in a diverse community we call the church. It’s about friendship with people who are different than us. Paul describes the Christian community as a body with different parts that look and do very different things, but all the parts are crucial for the proper functioning of the body. Paul teaches us to be Christians – to see all of these different body parts, these different people in our community, as friends to be celebrated (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
This semester I’m teaching Synoptic Gospels, and I am looking at this course through the lens of Christian unity I’ve just proposed. I have suggested to my students that we can see Christian unity – this unity in diversity – as a fundamental characteristic of the Gospels. Why in the world, we need to ask, do we have four stories about Jesus? Why four different accounts of the person and work of Jesus? Why not one Gospel to rule them all?
The early church had the impulse to have one Gospel, especially due to the fact that the gospel authors do not always agree. And Christians today have similar impulses. For those of us inclined to see unity as uniformity, the differences and disagreements between the gospels will be uncomfortable. But for those of us who have come to see that unity is enriched by diversity, we will welcome the different perspectives of the gospel authors that help us know, love and worship God better. One Jesus in four gospels. We want the whole of God, not just a little glimpse with mostly blind spots. We want to embrace diversity because God is too big to be pigeonholed and categorized. God is too big and too good to require uniformity.
This semester, my class and I will read the Bible as people who embrace diversity and difference – acknowledging that this embrace is not only what Christian unity is all about; it’s what the Christian life is all about. Christian unity requires courage. If we’re up for the adventure, we will learn to live in a world that is way too big to be confined by any one person’s preference and perspective. God’s world is fashioned after the God who is both one and three. We can become friends with God and one another if we can learn to live together in all our differences, as one community transformed into God’s likeness.