When I first began attending church services I had no expectations because I had no frame of reference. I walked into my first service, I looked around and didn’t feel like I belonged. There was virtually no one I could relate to: No one looked like me, acted like me, or spoke like me.
I began unconsciously assimilating to those around me; I began to dress, behave, and speak differently. No one ever directly told me to change, but I believed I needed to be the same as them to truly belong.
The truth is that most churches in America should not be all one race, one ethnicity, or anything else homogenous. The exceptions are rural churches with little diversity. But, that doesn’t excuse rural churches to hold tightly to “the way its always been.”
Christians, we need, and are called to, unity, not uniformity.
So, What’s the Difference?
“Unity is not uniform. We’re not called to sameness — we’re called to oneness.” – Propaganda
Uniformity is sameness.
If you prefer uniformity then you will prefer external factor: people that look the same, act the same, talk the same. Uniformity prefers those that are the same because it’s easy and comfortable.
But, you don’t have to actively seek uniformity to prefer it. Most people subconsciously and unknowingly prefer people that are like them. Quick test: Who are your closest friends? Do they, for the most part, look the same, act the same, and talk the same?
Unity is oneness.
If you prefer unity you will prefer internal factors: people with genuine faith in Christ, with a purpose of love for people and glorification of God, and people who live out Jesus’ mission to make disciples. These internal factors surpass and eclipse the external factor.
Aiming for unity is not only more loving to the world, but its mirroring God’s work of making us united in His Son, Christ Jesus.
United in Christ
The family of God is united in Christ, but Paul reminds us who we were, who God has made us, and Who holds us all together.
Who We Were
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Ephesians 2:11-12 (emphasis added)
We were excluded from God’s people, foreigners (not Israelites), without hope, and without saving faith in God. The Ephesians, those who Paul was writing to, were Gentiles so they were literally divided From God’s chosen people. We, like the Gentiles of that time, did not have any hope because of our lack of access to God. We had no hope. We were all sinners…. but…
Who God Made Us
But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.
Ephesians 2:13-16 (emphasis added)
We did not deserve anything from God because we have all sinned. Our sin separated us from God. But, by His enormous grace, He brought us near. He gave us peace with Him and all people by the death and resurrection of Christ, uniting people from all around the world. God made us united to each other and reconciled us to God through the cross.
Who Holds Us United
He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:17-22 (emphasis added)
So, how we remain united? By our cornerstone, Jesus. We are being made together, in all our diversity, into a temple for the world to witness God’s Spirit. Holding together us, the temple is our Savior, Lord, God, and Cornerstone. He holds us all together.
Challenges For You
1. Seek Out Friendships
It’s not enough to know people who are different from yourself. Being acquaintances if not enough and media depictions are not enough.
For most people, seeking out friendships with someone of another race, ethnicity, and//or socioeconomic status is not going to happen naturally. Most people drift towards people who are like them and eventually there is tangible evidence of uniformity. That’s why we all have to seek out friendships with “the other.” Are we willing to love and seek out friendships? If so, unity can be seen.
2. Read, Listen to Diverse People
Look at your bookshelf, music playlists, and podcasts. Are they mostly, if not completely, homogenous? If so, you need to branch out and hear from other perspectives.
I’ve found that reading and listening to a diverse group has helped me be more compassionate, understanding, and loving. If you won’t hear people out, you’ll miss out on a wide range of lessons we need to learn. If uniformity is more important than unity, you’ll limit yourself on opportunities to love the world. We all have a lot to learn, so read and listen with increasing humility.
3. Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
In uncomfortable situations and conversations, we need to stand firm. We need to stay in that discomfort instead of running away.
If we stay in our comfort zones we will stifle our growth and we are being unfaithful to God’s calling to make disciples across the world. Refuse to run away when discomfort confronts you. If you are willing to uncomfortable in your efforts to build unity, you can show light to the world. God will be displayed when you stay and learn from others. Simply: get comfortable being uncomfortable.
At the end of the day it comes down to this:
God has made us one, not the same.