The Unity in Diversity Movement
The New Testament is replete with teaching regarding the possibility, nature, and reality of religious unity (Eph. 4: 3-6). The unity or oneness of his followers was paramountly on Jesus' mind in the shadow of the cross (Jn. 17: 20, 21). Moreover, unity or sameness of mind in doctrine and moral matters is enjoined on Christians (I Cor. 1: 10). The "believe what you want to" and "attend the church of your choice" is opposite of the plain teaching of the scriptures relative to unity. Consider Paul's teaching to the church at Philippi:
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phili. 1: 27).
A popular movement began in the denominational world several decades ago called the Ecumenical Movement. The goal of this movement was to unite the divided and fragmented religious world. The movement has fostered and promoted a brand of political agreement to disagree philosophy rather than an honest study and conformity to the scriptures. Churches of Christ have had (present tense included) their brand of Ecumenicalism, known as unity in diversity. Carl Ketcherside was formally responsible for introducing much of the unity in diversity thinking into many churches of Christ during the sixties. A study of the life of Carl Ketcherside reveals a man of perplexities and extremes, from the overly strict at one point to the overly permissive and compromising. Another influential source of unity in diversity surfaced in the eighties, Christianity Magazine. The almost year and one half series by editor Ed Harrell that was designed to defend the teachings of Homer Hailey in his position that the alien sinner is not accountable to God's marriage law, resulted in the popularizing, to a significant degree, of the view that Romans 14 accepts doctrinal and moral deviations. Hence, the plea was made for compromise and acceptance of fallacious teachings for the purpose of so called unity. Perhaps the most instrumental impetus of unity in diversity among non-institutional churches of Christ is Florida College. The days of Genesis one controversy that involved the school in 2000, did much to encourage the live and let live, learn to accept doctrinal differences mentality. The school also produces an important percentage of preaches who work with these churches of Christ.
The proponents of ecumenicalism and unity in diversity play down doctrinal and moral purity. The primary modus operandi of the proponents of this pseudo unity is to charge all that sincerely want to abide in the teaching of the scriptures with legalism. However, the New Testament clearly and definitely requires doctrinal correctness (Jn. 4: 24, 8: 32, Rom. 6: 17, 18, 2 Jn. 9-11).
There can be a limited and qualified sense in which there can justifiably be unity in diversity. For instance, God's people are often multi-cultured, being of many diverse nationalities. All, though, can partake of the "common salvation" (Jude 3). There can be diversity in the education, general backgrounds, and physical appearances. There can also be a number of different gradations present in a local church relative to knowledge and skill attainment (I Jn. 2: 12-14). However, be assured that all within the church universal and, hopefully, the local church have acquired the "minimum" requisite knowledge and conformity to God's commandments. I say this in light of such passages as Romans 6: 17, 18 in which it is stated that one ceases being a servant of sin and becomes a servant of righteousness by "obeying from the heart that form of doctrine." Within the local church, there are many levels of spiritual attainment, ranging from the immature to the mature (Phili. 3: 15-17). The "babe in Christ" lacks the knowledge that the "adult in Christ" enjoys (cp. I Pet. 2: 1, 2, Heb. 5: 12-14).
How, then, can there be unity in such a diversified climate as the local church? The immature and mature are not to be arrayed one against the other. In order for this to happen, there must be some recognition of excellence and preference. Notice the teaching of Paul:
"15: Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16: Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. 17: Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample" (Phili. 3).
It will be observed in the foregoing reading that the two classes consisting of the "imperfect" (immature) and "perfect" can be seen in verse 15. The immature are also assured that they will grow. The imperfect are required to conform to the level of knowledge to which they have already attained (vs. 16). Instead of being in conflict with the mature, the immature are to emulate the example of the mature (vs. 17). This is precisely how the diversified church at Philippi could be and were even required to be united (Phili. 1: 27).
The church at Corinth and Romans 14 matters. It seems inevitable that when a serious study of unity in diversity is launched, the matter of the divided church at Corinth and Paul's teachings found in Romans 14 are injected by some, apparently thinking that such matters endorse political unity. It is pointed out that the church at Corinth was badly divided and yet they are referred to as the "church of God which is at Corinth" (I Cor. 1: 11, 11: 18). Hence, there can justifiably be many divergent beliefs and practices and still be pleasing to God, some deduce. It is beyond me how some arrive at this just mentioned conclusion. I Corinthians is replete with warnings, rebukes, and sharp reprimand (I Cor. 5, 6). It must be admitted that God has a time frame relative to repentance (Rev. 2: 5, 16, 21). However, such has really little relevance to man's responsibilities in the consideration of unity. If Corinth had not repented, would they have remained the church of God? They certainly would not have (2 Cor. 1, 2, 12). It will also be realized that instead of Paul joining in with the Corinthians and ignoring their problems, Paul very plainly taught them what they needed to hear and urged them to obey the teaching (cp. I Cor. 5: 1-7). Rather, then, than serving as a model for unity in diversity, the example of Corinth stands antithetical to such teaching of compromise. In fact, it was to the church at Corinth that Paul wrote:
"For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you: and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (I Cor. 11: 18, 19).
Those approved, I submit, would stand out from those advocating and practicing sin because the approved would be standing against false doctrine, rather than blending in and co-existing (sinful unity in diversity). The very converse, I might add, than what the teaching of unity in diversity promotes.
Some take Paul's statement to the believers at Rome, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations" and "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at naught thy brother?" to mean doctrinal and moral concession (see Rom. 14: 1, 10). Into the context and climate of Romans 14, they place women preachers and elders, mechanical music in worship, and all sorts of teachings not authorized by the New Testament. Be it known, however, that Romans 14 is only and exclusively addressing matters of doctrinal and moral indifference (Rom. 14: 14). Matters such as the eating of meats as opposed to herbs only and the observance of certain days above other days (Rom. 14: 2-6). The text presents two classes of members, the weak and the strong (Rom. 14: 1, 15: 1-3). Paul admits that brethren who have a problem with eating meats do not have authority for their belief and that such scruples are not part of the kingdom of God (Rom. 14: 17). He warns them not to bind their views or opinions on others and exhorts them to mature (Rom. 14: 20; 2, 5). As long as these brethren did not teach their views and grew in the faith, the strong were to allow them time and the right to personally exercise their subjective faith (Rom. 14: 15, 22, 23). When Romans 14 is exegetically considered, it offers not even a semblance of teaching that some call unity in diversity. Moreover, Romans 14, just as the church at Corinth, teaches the very opposite principles that are congruous with true unity in believing and practicing the same thing (I Cor. 1: 10).
True unity, the kind for which Jesus prayed, is attainable (Phili. 1: 27). The necessary oneness of truths is presented in God's word (Eph. 4: 3-6). However, selfishness, willful ignorance, and rebellion must be laid aside (I Cor. 1: 10-13).
Advocating and effecting a unity that is physical (all simply meeting under the same roof while spiritually divided), political, and secular (unity in diversity) is not the answer. The answer is respect for the scriptures, consideration for each other's spiritual attainments, and a constant movement toward maturity (I Cor. 3: 1-3). In stead of including every sinful teaching and person (unity in diversity), there is to be exclusion (2 Thes. 3: 6, Tit. 3: 10). Preaching must be applicable and germane, exposing all manner of sin and urging repentance (2 Tim. 4: 2-5, Acts 20: 27). Let us not forget that Paul enjoined, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4: 3). However, it was this same apostle Paul who taught in example and teaching, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" and " withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (Gal. 2: 11; 2 Thes. 3: 6). Since unity is predicated upon the truth, there must be loyal defense of the truth, not compromise and situationally altering the truth to placate errorists and sinners (Phili. 1: 7, 17, 27, Jude 3). The unity of God's people is to be of the same kind of oneness that exists between the Father and the Son. In closing, please consider Jesus' prayer: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word: That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in my, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn. 17: 20, 21). (Click on, "An Exchange on Unity in Diversity" and "Achan, a Study of Mutual Responsibility to read more.)