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Unity in Christ

Penn Hagood

There is much anger and shouting in the world around us. Certain words and concepts are repeated over and over. One particular word encompasses others and has taken root in the culture. That word is Diversity. The cry of the crowd is for “greater diversity,” that “diversity is our strength.” Diversity denotes the division of people into groups based on the differences between them. Current calls for diversity focus primarily on race, sexuality, gender, identity, age, class, and ethnicity.

Greater diversity is said to give strength, and there is a tremendous demand for it in every aspect of society today. To respond, most institutions from government to academia to business now employ Diversity officials. These administrators oversee departments and programs specifically designed to achieve “greater diversity.” Interestingly, an informal survey of such programs demonstrates that there is no apparent agreement on what constitutes a successful level of diversity. This suggests that the goal of sufficient diversity may be illusory. Yet, the calls grow more strident even at a time when society already seems discouragingly divided. 

How should Christians respond to this cultural clamor for Diversity?

First, Christians must know the real meaning of the word. Modern, online dictionaries define diversity as “recognizing differences,” something “composed of different elements,” or “a range of different things,” “a variety.” An internet search for the definition of diversity not only turns up dictionary definitions but also quickly highlights a number of sites purporting to explain exactly “What diversity is.” Clicking these links illuminates that the definition of diversity is itself somewhat diverse. One site describes the definition as dynamic and fluid. It stands on shifting sand. These sites provide no simple definition but instead offer essay length explanations of what is currently meant by diversity. The vagueries and variety of definitions create confusion.

To discern meaning, it is helpful to return to the roots. The word “diversity” is formed by combining two ancient root words: di and verto or vertere. “Di” as a prefix refers to the number two or something separated into two things. Verto or Vertere comes from Latin and means to turn or to bend. Merging these roots creates the word Divertere. This is the basis for modern words like divide, division, diverse, divert, divisive, and diversity. Close etymological cousins of words derived from Divertere are words such as disintegrate, disagree, and divorce.

Drawing from the roots, diversity means to separate from, to turn aside from, to divert, to bend away from, to leave, to digress, to oppose. To divert or diversify a river is to channel its waters in different directions, away from their deep channel. If the waters of a river are diversified enough, they morph into a delta, a wide, swampy, sediment laden area that represents the end of a river. 

Antonyms or opposites of the word “diversity” are unity, community, accordance, agreement, and similarity. 

I.

To which of these is God calling his people? We discover the answer by beginning with the foundations of Christianity, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3.

First and foremost, Christians believe in one God. Jesus affirmed this when questioned by the scribes. He quoted from the Old Testament, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” Mark 12:29-30. Christians worship one Lord, not a diversity of gods.

Hoy Trinity

Second, while God is a triune God, he is three in one. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a plurality of persons, but he is fully and perfectly unified in one essence through the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The early church proclaimed this in the words of the Nicene Creed. “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” Two centuries later, church fathers reiterated this core belief in the Athanasian Creed. “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance…The entire three persons are co-eternal and co-equal with one another, so that…we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” Christians believe that God exists in perfect and eternal relational harmony and unity.

In the same way, one person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both fully God and fully man, fully unified in one being. Scripture affirms this in both the Old Testament and the New. Isaiah foretold the coming of Christ, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6. Luke described his birth, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11. John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:14. Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, “…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 1:3-4. Christians hold to the full humanity and divinity of Christ.

Additionally, Christians believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. This church is a global community of believers on earth and in heaven. It is universal. It is made up of all those who have been redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Lord of all. Through faith in Jesus Christ, believers become brothers and sisters, adopted children, in the family of God. Paul writes, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Rom. 8:15-17.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body. Each member of the Church is a part of the whole body of Christ, unified through him and in him. As members of God’s family and of Christ’s Church, believers are known by only one name. They are Christians. They comprise the fellowship of the Faith. There is no longer any identity grounded in race, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, age, class, or any other earthly division. A Christian is a new creation, born anew as a beloved child of God into the unity of the family of God, able to love one another in true and sacrificial brotherly love.

Paul described the community of God powerfully in Galatians, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:26-28. 

From the very beginning, the Bible speaks of the unity of the human race. Genesis describes all men as descended from Adam and Eve, and specifically states that Eve is “the mother of all living” human beings. As descendants of Adam and Eve, all people are made in the image of God. In his teaching to the Greeks, atop the Areopagus in Athens, Paul stated that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Acts 17:26.

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To seemingly confirm this truth, in sequencing the human genome, modern science discovered that all humans share a high degree of similarity in their DNA, as much as 99.9%. Genetic differences are remarkably slight. The Genome News Network describes it using a book as an analogy. If every human were a book, all of the chapters and all of the paragraphs on all of the pages would be the same. The only difference would be a misspelling on one page for one person and a typo on another page for another person. Our differences are that slight. While humans have gradations of hair, eye, and skin coloring, and other variations, we are all the same species and subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens. In the vernacular, we are all one race, the human race. God is an artist. He creates in magnificent, beautiful, unending variety. Just as each sunset is unique, so, too, is every human being, and yet the same creation.

Additionally, Christianity is contained in one book, the Bible. For centuries, Christians have been known as “People of the Book.” Although made up of sixty-six different books, a multitude of different authors, and written over fifteen centuries in three different languages, the Bible is a completely unified book. The whole of scripture tells the salvation story, focusing on God, his character, his words, and his saving work. God, himself, is the author and authority of the story. Christians believe that this Holy book was inspired, breathed out, by God. His eternal truth, revealed in the pages of Scripture and in the recorded life of his Son, Jesus Christ, endures from generation to generation. The stories of the Bible weave seamlessly together to tell of the redemption of man from Abraham to Jesus Christ to his future coming again in glory. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and promises and showed the way to new life in him. Reading the Bible through the ages, people grow in fellowship with God. It is the standard of the faith under which men and women of all nations and tribes can gather in unity.

Christianity grew because of the final words spoken by Jesus on earth, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19. The disciples obeyed the Word of God, and within a short time the church spread across three continents. The early church in Antioch, where followers of Jesus were first called Christians, drew worshippers from Africa, Asia, and Europe. They worshipped together, in reverence at the power of God, unified in love by their faith in Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Gifts Hand Tree Cropped

The global body of Christians is made up of all sorts of members, with many different gifts. Each gift comes from the same source, the Holy Spirit, and is intended for the same purpose, the building up of the body. Paul explained this, writing, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11-12.

II.

With this firm foundation, the church should carefully consider its response to the strident cultural cries for greater diversity. Like the phrase E pluribus unum, “out of many, one,” God’s grace is offered to all people, who then join together in faith as a plurality to create one unified body. Every Christian is called by Christ to unite all people in the knowledge and love of God, not to divide them. 

Think of a pyramid with Jesus Christ as the capstone. No matter how wide or diverse the base of the pyramid is, when all those below set their sights on Jesus and move toward him, they grow closer to each other as they grow closer to Christ. In this way, one day there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb.” Rev. 7:9.

Jesus Christ died and was lifted up so that he might draw all men to himself. By believing in him, all people can be reconciled with God and reborn to new life in him. When all are reconciled with God and united as children in his family, all divisions will cease. Then, we will see each other truly, not focusing on our differences, but on the beloved image of God, our Father in each of us.

Today’s leaders who are calling for greater diversity are seeking to build an idealized culture of their own making, a human utopia, set apart from God, made in the mind and image of man. This has been tried before, notably in Genesis, in the kingdom of Nimrod, on a plain in the land of Shinar. There, a people declared, “Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” Gen. 11:4. They constructed the tower of Babel as a monument to their own ability and power. Theirs was designed as a city without God. They usurped God’s authority, dethroned him and defied his will for their lives to create their own destiny without him. Just as the serpent beguiled Adam and Eve, the people of Babel ambitiously sought “to be like God.” As punishment, God diversified them. He divided and scattered them. He confused their language. They could no longer comprehend each other nor build a common community. Without God, unity could not hold.

God divides the righteous from the unrighteous and sets the faithful apart from the world. Jesus, also, came to divide those who would follow him from those who rejected him, saying, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Matt. 10:35. While these words may sound harsh, they are actually what is required in obedience to the first and greatest commandment. Our love of God must be so great that our relationship with him comes before any other relationship in our life. A Christian is a new person, reborn into life in the Spirit and a renewed relationship with God. Unity with God must come before unity with men.

But God does not desire division. He divides only in order to draw his people together and separate them from the ways of the world. God, himself, is unified, and he desires unity. In the beginning, he created a union of man and woman as the foundation of his people. In the Psalms of Ascent, King David, a man after God’s own heart, proclaimed the goodness and joy of being among those united in faith as they went up to Jerusalem. In prayer, shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all of his disciples would be united as one, even as he and the Father are one. Paul repeatedly wrote to early Christians in different countries to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. He encouraged them to build up the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers, so that all might attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. 

It is only on the last day, the Day of Judgment, that God will divide all people. He will “separate the evil and the righteous.” His word is “sharper than any two-edged sword” and will divide his faithful from those unrepentant who follow the ruler of this world.

But, as Adam and Eve and all their progeny discovered, there is one in Scripture who perpetually promotes division. The Greek word for him uses the prefix “dias” which is directly related to the “di” prefix in Latin. In Scripture, he is known as Diabellein, “The Accuser” and as Diabolos, the Devil. Jesus called him “the ruler of this world.” He labors to divide men in order to deliberately separate them from God. Diversion, distraction, division, and doubt are among his many tools. He attempted to distract Jesus from God at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and again at the end. His great desire is to dismember the church, Christ’s body of believers, and to divorce them from God.

Open Door Penn Hagood

Photo by Penn Hagod

To re-member Christ’s church requires re-turning to God, remembering his goodness and promises. Remembering his faithfulness throughout all generations reminds us of his great love for his people. God did not send his only Son into the world to die on a cross to achieve greater diversity in the world. The Creator of the universe sent his Son, Jesus, to lovingly redeem all who had turned from him and to reconcile each one to him that they might have eternal life.

The definition of “to reconcile” is to restore union after estrangement or variance; to rid of discord and division, to unite differences. It is exactly the opposite of efforts to diversify.

The call to greater diversity is a siren call. It is not the call of Christ. Jesus’ call is clear. It is to preach and teach the Gospel to people of every tribe and nation and in all the corners of the earth that all may be united in the love of God and of their fellow man. His is a challenging call. It first requires reconciling our own hearts to God, then going out into the world around us, building relationships, bearing one another’s burdens in love, and sharing his good news. When everyone stands upon the same firm foundation, in the family of God, true unity will be there.

The urgency of the call of Christ is great. Christians must not be distracted by the voices of this age or the ruler of this world.