Unity or Uniformity in the Church?

“Part of God’s design for the church is that it should successfully manifest unity in diversity. It was His intent that people with divergent personalities, nationalities, gifts, abilities, tastes, and backgrounds should become unified in Christ without sacrificing personal distinctiveness (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 3:11).”

“Accordingly, God does not view differences of opinion in the area of freedom as a bad thing. The inevitability of such variance of thought is not seen as a flaw in an otherwise beautiful plan. It rather represents one more situation in which the supernatural character of the church, and its observable distinctiveness as a living organism, may be manifested before the world (John 13:35; 17:20-21).”

“What God desires, then, is not uniformity of opinion but unity of relationship (Romans 15:5-7). And so, instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given specific instructions to guide our response to it.” (Dr. Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God).

Relate in unity with those who do not share your convictions

  • Believers are free to establish their own conviction in areas of freedom, but they are clearly not permitted to condemn those who do not share their opinions.
  • If God has not specifically addressed a behavior, custom, activity, or doctrine, we are not allowed to manipulate biblical data to suggest that God has been specific on the matter.
  • On the other hand, a believer is clearly not permitted to ridicule or look down on other believers who feel constrained in areas of freedom.

These required attitudes must become matters of accountability in our Churches.

What about House rules?

An exception to the general guideline on debatable matters applies to those under authority (children under parents, citizens under governors, and members of organizations or institutions).

I call these exceptions “house-rules” or “rules of order.” They cover behaviors belonging to the category of debatable matters in a different way. Unless being ordered to do things that disobey God, those under authority are responsible to submit to the rules established.

For example….

  • Children must obey their parents’ rules even on debatable matters (Ephesians 6:1).
  • College students who choose to attend an institution must abide by the rules of their school even if such rules are not specifically addressed in Scripture.
  • Societies and governments sometimes establish rules of order in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture. Since believers must submit to governing authorities (unless they are being asked to disobey to God), they must obey the laws— even on debatable matters.

It remains wise even in these cases to help those under authority to distinguish house rules from the explicit commands of God.

Important clarification

Groups of believers (like families) are permitted to establish in-house rules. But they are not permitted to judge the spirituality of other believers unless their standards are explicitly required by God.

If parents set standards for their homes in areas where the Bible doesn’t explicitly speak, children are required by God to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). But other families in the Church (who do not share their convictions) should not ridicule them. And more conservative families should not condemn those who exercise freedom on debatable matters.

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Accountability, attitudes of unity, Church discipline, Church growth, Church Leadership, Church membership, Community, Debatable Matters, Difficult people, Elders, elders in the Church, Evil in the world, Grace, Judging others, Life of a pastor, Local Church, Millersville Bible Church, Pastors, Uncategorized, Unity and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Unity or Uniformity in the Church?

  1. Reblogged this on WisdomForLife and commented:

    Good review!

  2. i like how you say it: that God desires unity of relationship, not uniformity of opinion. We say, “we don’t have to agree on everything to be in agreement.” We”re on the same page.

    Yhe genius of your recent posts, Steve, is you get it that we are a church, a corporate reality as well as individual believers. As such, you capture the spirit and essence of the New Testament. Our view is that western culture, especially in the US, has developed into a kind of hyper-individualistic society Soviet culture tried to press it’s people into a hyper-corporate mold. Both are out of balance. The culture of the New Testament is more balanced between individual and corporate realities.

    Nowehre is this more clear than how we read the scriptures. For example, as you know, English has no pronoun for the plural or corporate “you”, Therefore when we read “you” in English Bible translations, we assume “you” singular and apply it to “me,” rather than “us.” For example, “You are the salt/light of the world”, is plural in the Greek. Yet we still sing “This little light of MINE”, and actually believe my little light can light up the world.

    But even a million lights, if scattered and divided, cannot do that. But the church in unity and agreement, can do miracles of grace in our dark world. We can still turn things around in this fight for the Kingdom of God together as a body, a church, a corporate reality as well as individuals.

    I applaud your insight, Steve to get back to the apostolic approach, avoiding the western trap of a “me” spirituality almost to the exclusion of the “we.”

    Your tiitle is one suggested by Charlene months ago, but is still in our “pending posts” file/ I don’t think I could have given this topic the justice you have. I would like to re-post it and credit your blog on our site. Please send me an e-mail and we can chat about it.

    Thanks so much.

    Wade and Charlene.

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