Unity and Diversity
By Stephen Terry
Most of us would recognize the beautiful, old hymn “Amazing Grace.” Music like that has tremendous power to penetrate the heart with the message of the love of Jesus. Each note in the beautiful refrain is a servant of its creator. Each one of those servants carries a message. That message combines in the harmony and the melody of the song as all the individual notes swell together in praise and adoration.
Suppose, however, that the first note in the song decided that every other note should serve its creator in exactly the same way. The first note is a quarter note. What if that note succeeded in convincing the other notes that they should serve the creator in exactly the same way…that they should be quarter notes also? We would then lose the parts of the song where a single note is sustained for more than one beat. Since each beat is one quarter, then each note would march in lock-step rhythm from its instrument without the usual varied cadence we delight to hear.’
Suppose the first note was even more successful and convinced the other notes that they should not only be quarter notes but that they should also be the same musical tone as he is. In the key of G, all of the notes would then need to be D notes since that would be the first note of the hymn. After all it is not enough to come half way, continual growth is necessary until perfection as defined by the first note is achieved. With that type of perfection the beautiful hymn becomes a staccato succession of monotone sounds that are neither pleasing or useful for attracting an audience.
God’s people are also like notes in a heavenly harmony. We each play a unique part in God’s anthem of the ages. How can we find diversity in unity that will allow our melody to come forth? Is it safe for us to use one person’s experience as a standard for others when seeking God’s will for our own lives? Perhaps the answers to these questions can help us to understand our differences and bring us into a greater, a universal harmony that demonstrates unity even as it honors diversity.
King David held unity in high regard. He wrote “Behold, how good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” Psalm 133
The “precious ointment” which David writes
of is a symbol for the Holy Spirit pouring out upon the individual consecrated
to God’s service. David had known
opposition from his own family and division in the nation. He calmed discord, anger, and strife with
chords of music. This Psalm refers to
the king’s experience after the rebellion of his own son, Absalom. Though he loved Absalom dearly, and he was
deeply wounded by his son’s death, David “bowed
the heart of all the men of
Paul, in writing to the Ephesians , spoke of the “unity of the Spirit.” Ephesians 4:3 In the second chapter of Acts, we also find a close association between unity and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4
With unity came power for ministry. Alexander Allen, a prison minister, spoke of a young man who went to prison for offenses committed under the influence of alcohol and drugs. His wife had threatened to leave him unless he changed his ways, but when he returned home from prison confessing a faith in Christ, she decided that life with a Christian would be worse than life with a drunken drug-addict, and she left him. They were both only seventeen at the time. The young man was heart broken, but continued to cling to his faith in Jesus. Eventually he untied with a local church through baptism.
One night he telephoned to say that his wife had returned, and three weeks later he telephoned again, at three in the morning, to say that his wife had also given her heart to the Lord just ten minutes before. Since that time, they have taken the area in which they live by storm, giving Bible studies to former schoolmates, neighbors, old gang associates, and to many of the local youth. As a result, a great many have given their lives to the Lord. Once there was unity in the home, the power of the Holy Spirit broke loose. The same can happen in the church.
Ellen White also wrote about the importance of unity. We find in her writings, “It is not a great number of institutions, large buildings, and outward display that God requires, but the harmonious action of a peculiar people, a people chosen by God and precious, united with one another, their life hid with Christ in God.” Testimonies, Volume 8, page 183. Unity is important, but how do we get there? What prevents us from being united?
Could our unity fall apart the same way that the harmony of “Amazing Grace” disappeared? Have we chosen to set our individual experience as a standard for others to conform to? Are we quarter D notes insisting that all others be quarter D notes as well? Once we decide to do that then the next step away from unity is easy. We begin to judge and criticize our brothers and sisters in the family of God. We even encourage others who might conform to our position to do the same judging and criticizing work. This causes far greater destruction in the household of faith than some one who might not be living a perfect life as his brothers and sisters might define it.
From the pen of Ellen White, again we read: “Brethren sometimes associate together for years, and think they can trust those they know so well, just as they would trust members of their own family. There is a freedom and confidence in this association which could not exist among those not of the same faith. This is very pleasant while brotherly love continues; but let the accuser of the brethren gain admittance to the heart of one of these men, controlling the mind and the imagination, and jealousies are created, suspicion and envy are harbored; and he who supposed himself secure in the love and friendship of his brother finds himself mistrusted, and his motives misjudged. The false brother forgets his own human frailties, forgets his obligation to think and speak no evil lest he dishonor God and wound Christ in the person of His saints; and every defect that can be thought of or imagined is commented upon unmercifully, and the character of a brother is represented as dark and questionable.” Testimonies to Ministers, pages 503-504.
Are our opinions so perfect—our understanding of righteousness so complete that we can dare to set our experience as a standard for questioning the motives and activities of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Where does such an attitude originate? Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, page 123 tells us “The effort to earn salvation by one’s own works inevitably leads men to pile up human exactions as a barrier against sin. For, seeing that they fail to keep the law, they will devise rules and regulations of their own to force themselves to obey. All this turns the mind away from God to self. His love dies out of the heart, and with it perishes love for his fellow men. A system of human invention, with its multitudinous exactions, will lead its advocates to judge all who come short of the prescribed human standard. The atmosphere of selfish and narrow criticism stifles the noble and generous emotions, and causes men to become self-centered judges and petty spies.”
Mrs White writes more later on pages 126 and 127 of the same book: “When men indulge this accusing spirit, they are not satisfied with pointing out what they suppose to be a defect in their brother. If milder means fail of making him do what they think ought to be done, they will resort to compulsion. Just as far as lies in their power, they will force men to comply with their ideas of what is right. This is what the Jews did in the days of Christ and what the church has done ever since whenever she has lost the grace of Christ.”
Could this be why Jesus warned us, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Matthew 7:1 To set ourselves up as a standard is to place greater responsibility and accountability upon our own shoulders. We were never meant to bear such a burden. This burden is Christ’s and not ours. If we try to bear it, it will eventually become to great for us, and we will fall under such a burden. We were never meant to be judged as a standard for others. Christ has given us the only standard necessary, and He alone is the judge of that standard. The apostle Paul wrote “But why doest thou judge thy brother? Or why doest thou set at nought they brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one will give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Romans 15:10-13 This is not the only problem with criticism.
Our criticism of others tends to come full circle and return to us, only in greater quantity. When you plant a kernel of corn, you get corn back and a lot more of it. The same happens if you plant trouble. The prophet Hosea called this sowing wind and reaping a whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7) This reaping of trouble is not just external for even our minds become changed by constantly harboring an attitude of criticism. We become narrowed, withdrawn, and selfish—afraid that others will treat us as we have treated them. No matter how old we might be, our minds remain fertile ground for good or evil. They will bring forth abundantly whatever we plant there. No wonder we are counseled, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Phillipians 4:8
How do we break this cycle of criticism that produces such an abundant harvest? How do we restore lost unity? Both the criticizer and the criticized have a part to play, but to play that part they must first surrender to the Holy Spirit’s power to work in their lives. The task at hand is neither small nor easy, the fruits of years of criticism may make the job overwhelming. We need a power beyond ourselves. We need the power of God. Without that power the task may well be impossible, but Jesus assures us that “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Both parties must next surrender to the power of God’s love in their lives and begin to love each other with God’s love. This is the relationship that all brothers and sisters in the family of God can have as a gift from God. What is this kind of love? It is a love that gave the highest price that could possibly be paid for another. All heaven was emptied. The Father held back nothing. While many saw only a frail, human frame on the cross, Divinity bled and suffered there. As Paul said of Christ in his letter to the Colossians, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Colossians 2:9 This is divine love, the love which Christ dwelling in us brings forth. This is a love that did not depend on our good nature or character. We had none. Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church that “we were enemies” but even so “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Romans 5:10 The love of God can reconcile us to our enemies.
Perhaps we feel we could more easily love our brothers and sisters in the church if they would first repent and seek forgiveness of the wrong they have done. If they don’t change aren’t we just wasting our time? Jesus did not say “Repent first, then I will die for you.” Jesus gave himself totally first and as a result all are drawn to him and to repentance by this loving act. As Paul also wrote in the same chapter of Romans, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Jesus does not drive us to Him with a frown of judgment. He draws us with his love. John, the apostle who understood God’s love so well, wrote that “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:17 This is the difference between criticism and love. Criticism drives with a stinging whip, and love draws with tenderness and caring. Are we prepared to give everything we own for that brother or sister we have an issue with? Jesus did. Would you let that person insult you, spit on you, and steal from you without answering back? Jesus did. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within, we can have the love to give as Jesus did.
I like how Ellen White puts it: “When the love of Christ is enshrined in the heart, like sweet fragrance it cannot be hidden. Its holy influence will be felt by all with whom we come in contact. The spirit of Christ in the heart is like a spring in the desert, flowing to refresh all, and making those who are ready to perish, eager to drink of the water of life.” Steps to Christ, Page 77 The spring does not ask, “Is this person worthy to drink my water?” No it gives its water freely and equally to the most vile criminal and the most righteous saint without question. We were created to let God’s love flow in us in the same way.
In the seventh century, King Oswald of North Umbria asked the
brethren of Iona in
God’s wish is for each of us to share his love like that. But what of the injuries we have suffered under the searing heat of criticism? How are we to deal with the pain and suffering we have already felt? Once again, I like how Ellen White writes about it. “If received in faith, the trial that seems so bitter and hard to bear will prove a blessing. The cruel blow that blights the joys of earth will be the means of turning our eyes to heaven. How many there are who would never have known Jesus had not sorrow led them to seek comfort in him!”
“The trials of life are God’s workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our characters. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only his precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, page 10.
The work of the one being criticized is to “rejoice always” and return to others the love of Christ which dwells within. For the love of Christ never leaves us. No matter how “boxed in” we seem to be by our problems and our adversaries, the box is always open on top. The love of Jesus is always available. We should never let criticism or thoughts of vengeance replace God’s love in our hearts. Instead, we can allow the power of his love to flow from above, through our hearts, and out to remove the walls that box us in.
If we have become critical or others, we must surrender to God’s control. We need to cease fighting for righteousness in the church and in our lives. Jesus has already won that battle. We only need to surrender our lives to his control, and allow his victory to enter in. Only when we let Him have it all can the love of God flow freely in our lives. His love is the only means to conquer sin both in our lives and in the church. Criticism will never work. Again from Ellen White: “No one has ever been reclaimed from a wrong position by censure and reproach; but many have thus been driven from Christ and led to seal their hearts against conviction.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, page 129
God intends for us to enjoy unity through diversity. His love allows us to be unique and unified. Criticism can stifle the very diversity that allows us to create a beautiful harmony of God’s love to a hurting world. As Christians we are all growing, and the water that provides the sturdiest growth, the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit is love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“Love never ends…” 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, RSV