Uniformity at the expense of unity?
In case you didn’t know, on Friday, the Wilmington News Journal is working with the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association (WAMA) to publish religious articles written by local pastors for the “Religion Page” which created this opportunity.
Volunteer pastors select a calendar month and submit their writings for publication each Friday. However, not all WAMA members participate, for various reasons. Some pastors just don’t like to write, some are too busy, and some prefer not to reduce their thoughts to a permanent written document.
For those of us who write, there is a feeling that we are doing our little part to encourage the reader. It is a chance to serve the community and fulfill our role in promoting God as a priority of life.
And there’s also hope that our latent journalistic ability will finally be unveiled, eventually leading to a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
As there are five Fridays in July this year, I have the privilege of submitting five papers. The focus will be on the following topics: unity, love, truth, pride and forgiveness. You see, our connotation of these qualities may differ from their biblical meaning.
I would like us to examine these differences.
So, for this first week, let’s talk about unity, and to begin with, let’s agree that unity is not synonymous with uniformity.
“Uniformity” is the quality or state of being the same. Not “identical” as in twins, but corresponding in terms of beliefs and values. “Oneness”, on the other hand, is the state of being aligned around a shared and common vision. It means unity in purpose regardless of personal opinion.
You see, uniformity speaks to the absence of diversity; everybody is the same. Unity, however, encourages the inclusion of divergent beliefs in the integrated pursuit of a common cause.
Unity is well described by the cliché “agree to disagree”. People with different points of view find unity when they agree that a goal exists more than their individual differences.
I have sought unity among churches since I became a disciple of Jesus 40 years ago. In a variety of interfaith venues, I have invested my energy in promoting the cause of Christ, lobbying through the very distinct confessional nuances encountered. It seems to me that the main reason for an assortment of churches in almost all communities is the pursuit of uniformity at the expense of unity. Seriously.
The Bible can be dissected, demarcated, and disarticulated to define any desired doctrinal differentiation. Regarding predestination, you can be a Calvinist or an Arminian.
Regarding assurance of salvation, you may be on the Eternal Security camp or a conditional curator. Regarding the return of Jesus, you can be pre-tribulation or post-tribulation (or “pan-trib” as some say, that is, however it is).
People buy churches with doctrines that most closely match their preferences. Their preferences are shaped by interpretation of the scriptures, family tradition, individual history, or personal expectations.
In addition, however, many times God literally places us in a setting that will best meet our need for a relationship with Him.
Either way, I just wish people wouldn’t lose sight of our greater cause, instead of crouching down to defend their doctrines.
Jesus made it clear that the job we have been commissioned to do is to make disciples of all nations, not to show our biblical wisdom or to prove why my church is the best.
Likewise, our amazing nation, which was born out of unity on the basis of love of God and individual freedom, evolved centuries later into the extreme expression of these freedoms and the denial of God.
Across most of America, we have split into divergent groups of people, seeking the comfort of uniformity in our prejudices. We exercise legislated freedoms to nurture division and separate by political party, race, ethnicity, sex (or non-gender), education, wealth, sexual preference, intellect and age.
Would you ever have thought that Americans would split into factions almost hating each other, whether a person wore a mask or took their vaccine? The Lord has mercy.
How did America get from the United States to the divided United States? We have lost sight of why our nation was created. Like many in the church, as Americans we seek uniformity within our individual prejudices instead of unity for the greater universal purposes of God.
Psalm 133: 1 says it this way: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity.”
Jesus said that we should deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. Did you catch this? He said, “deny yourself” (Matthew 16:24). To live together in unity, we must put others before ourselves.
We wish you a safe and blessed celebration of Independence Day this weekend.
Please remember, however, that sometimes the best use of our freedom is to deny our independence in the pursuit of unity.
Dave Hinman is Pastor Emeritus at Dove Church Wilmington. Contact him at [email protected]
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotating basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.