UNITY IN DIVERSITY
T. Pierce Brown
Most of us are probably aware that this phrase, “unity in diversity,” has been taken by denominational preachers in past years and by liberals connected with the church in recent years to teach the idea that as long as we are united in a common belief that Jesus is the Son of God (even if we are not willing to submit to his authority in all things), we may have diversity in everything else. We may have any church names or affiliations we choose (join the church of your choice), teach any kind of diverse and contradictory doctrines, worship God any way we choose (since everything one does is supposed to be worship), and practice almost anything we wish in the name of religion and it is satisfactory, for we have “unity in diversity.”
Surely these and all related ideas are abhorrent to any person who really loves the Lord and wants to glorify him and surrender to his authority in all things. And many of the brethren for whom I have the most respect have pointed out the error of this concept very forcibly.
However, I want us to consider another aspect of the problem in a different way. Although it is true that when we use a phrase that has been made popular and perverted by false teachers, we need to be doubly careful that we are not misunderstood, we also need to be aware that we should not be “taken hostage” by false teachers so that we are afraid to use words and phrases that express scriptural ideas.
For example, it may be that some are reluctant to teach that salvation is by grace because most of the religious world and many of our brethren have perverted that truth to teach that grace and law are mutually exclusive. The simple truth is that there never has been any way to accept the grace of God except in terms of certain rules (laws).
It may be that some do not teach “total commitment” because some have used the phrase about a situation that involves total commitment to a man-made system of cultic tendencies. The truth is that Jesus taught “total commitment” in many ways. If a man is not willing to give his whole life for Christ, he is not fit to be a disciple. If that is not “total commitment,” I would not know what to call it! I refuse to let some false teacher steal my right to use the idea that I taught long before I heard of “Crossroadism” or “The Boston Movement.” But I need to be careful that when/if I use it, I make clear what I mean.
The same truth should be recognized about many concepts. “Bishop” and “pastor” are terms that refer to an “elder,” and I refuse to allow false teachers to prevent me from using the terms as the Bible uses them. However, if I am interested in communicating truth, I will try to make sure that the person with whom I am using the term understands the Biblical usage of it.
Just because most religious bodies have perverted the term “baptism” to mean “the application of water in some religious rite,” I am not going to cease to use the term “baptism.” And when a person tells me, “The church of Christ does not believe in music in the worship,” I am not going to cease to assert that I do believe in music in worship, and point out that God not only ordained it, he authorized a specific kind.
In my judgment, so it is with “unity in diversity.” Instead of denying there can be any such thing, as many of my beloved brethren do, I intend to admit and teach that I know of no other kind of unity that can exist in a practical way. And when I do that, I believe it can be helpful to do it in a way that shows the falsity of the liberal and denominational use of the term, just as is the case in the other things I have mentioned.
For example, all of nature is diverse. Every tree, flower, plant, bird and beast testifies to that fact. It needs no syllogistic proof. It is a self-evident fact. However, there is a unity in all of nature that speaks of one God, one mind, and one plan. It would be terribly boresome if all of nature consisted of one bare flat rock, stretching from pole to pole!
A building is full of diverse things. Every door, window, roof, room, floor and nail bears witness to it. But it shows one purpose, plan and planner. Every song we sing is a demonstration of unity in diversity. Imagine a song with all tenor notes “do” in the key of c!
The church is and always has been composed only of diverse persons. Peter, John and Paul were about as different as it is possible for human beings to be, yet they were one in Christ. They had “unity in diversity” in the true sense, but they could not have had it if they had been teaching conflicting doctrines and urging people to join different churches. The problem is not that they had unity in diversity, but that a group of liberals have perverted the idea to mean they could and we can teach conflicting doctrines and each is equally valid.
Paul points out the unity and diversity of the human body in 1 Corinthians 12, and just because false teachers have perverted the idea, I shall not cease to teach it as Paul teaches it. In fact, it is my judgment that the very fact that we use the term, and teach the truth about it should make clearer to honest, thoughtful persons the perversions that have been made of the truth.
For example, the fact that the human body is one, with varieties of form and function does not allow the foot to try to destroy what the hand builds up, as the liberal and denominational concept does. It does not allow the right hand to continually move in an eastward direction, while the left hand moves westward.
The oneness between Jesus and the Father for which Christ prayed in John 17 are primarily in four areas. They are in words, works, will and nature.
Note John8:26for the first one. “The things I heard from him, these speak I unto you.” Can you imagine Jesus saying, “I heard these things from God, but since we can have unity in diversity, I am going to say something different and contradictory”?
In John 8:29, he says, “I do always the things that are pleasing to him.” One can scarcely imagine Jesus saying, “God did not reveal that this thing was pleasing to him, but I am going to do my own thing, since he did not say not to, for the Father and I have unity in diversity.” He not only said the words of his Father; he did the works of his Father. When we speak what the Father spoke and do the works he authorized, we can have unity in diversity “even as” Jesus and the Father were diverse in their persons, but unified in their words and works. Any kind of “unity in diversity” that does not involve that is a perverted concept and needs to be exposed.
Even more fundamental is the unity of will and purpose. When Jesus said in the Garden, “Not my will, but thine be done” it was neither an empty phrase, nor a new idea. This was his whole life. If you and I have the same will and purpose as theirs, we can have “unity in diversity” in the Biblical sense. But if your purpose is to worship God as he directs and mine is to worship as I please, all talk of “unity in diversity” in such a situation is so much foolishness.
Perhaps the most fundamental of all is that they had the same nature. As Colossians 2:9 says, “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The marvelous truth is that we can have the same nature. As 2 Peter 1:4 says, “Whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature.” But notice how silly and perverted it would be to talk of unity in diversity if one had not accepted his precious and exceeding great promises on the terms by which they were offered. For example, one man might say, “I know that Jesus said, `He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’, but I intend to get that promise without doing that, because the idea of unity in diversity means we can all get the same thing in different ways.”
The principle of “unity in diversity” allows you to be baptized in a river, me to be baptized in a pond, and John to be baptized in the ocean, but it does not allow you to be sprinkled and call it baptism, me to have water poured on me, and John to be immersed. It allows you to stand when you take the Lord’s supper and me to sit, but it does not allow you to use a peanut butter sandwich and me to use unleavened bread.
Of course I have not exhausted the subject–only the time and space. But remember that if you use the phrases that religious persons have perverted, try to make sure you clarify them. In some cases, it may be better to simply pick other phrases, but in no case should you allow some perversion of truth make you be afraid to teach the ideas and principles taught in the Bible, whatever phrases you may use.