Tom Roberts

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Associate Editorial

Unity in Diversity

A “red flag” of warning should arise every time we hear some call for “unity in diversity.” Some have even said that the “only kind of unity is unity in diversity.” We need to be very sure we understand what this catch-phrase really means and how it is used.

It is understood that a local congregation is filled with people at different levels of faith and maturity. Some will be babes in Christ, newly converted and needing to learn a lot about New Testament Christianity. Some will be farther along the path to maturity, but still unsure about some doctrinal matters and personal issues. Some will be “perfect” (mature, full-grown, Ephesians 4:13), Christians who have a settled faith and manner of life. Among these members, there will be matters of personal opinion and personal judgment that differ from Christian to Christian. The Bible recognizes this fact and addresses it in Romans 14-15. In the apostolic days, Jewish and Gentile Christians (who came from different backgrounds) had areas of differences in applying their common faith. It should be noted that the differences were sharp and contentious, capable of dividing congregations. The word of God provides the solution to this problem.

The areas of conflict noted in Romans 14-15 had to do with matters that were “indifferent to God” in that God did not bind them one way or another. The specific things mentioned were “meat” and “days.” Of meat, it was stated, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Corinthians 8:8). Thus, one could eat meat and be a Christian and not eat meat and still be a Christian. It did not matter to God.

But if mattered a great deal to some of the Christians! Jewish Christians could not eat “unclean meats” or “meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.” Gentile Christians had no problems with either, since they normally ate pork, etc., and knew that an “idol is nothing” (1 Corinthians 8:4). Gentile Christians could work on the Sabbath while Jewish Christians (who grew up under the Law) violated their conscience by so doing.

These differences between Christians became a test of fellowship even though God no longer bound meats or days (Colossians 2:16). Practices that did not matter to God mattered greatly to these Christians. In their zeal, “weak” Christians were binding where God had not bound and the result was factionalism that seriously affected the fellowship of the local church.

What is the solution to this problem?

Many have suggested that Romans 14-15 allows those who disagree on doctrinal differences to wrap these passages around sinful practices and accept “unity in diversity.” Here, “diversity” would include doctrinal error and sinful practices. Some seek to apply this type of unity to instrumental music, adulterous marriages, social drinking, gambling, etc. Romans 14-15 does not teach this kind of unity.

What the passages do teach is that areas of personal conscience (opinions, judgments) should not divide between brethren. A Christian may hold an opinion about meats or days different from mine and have a practice different from mine while still being in God’s grace. God has cleansed meats (Acts 10:15; 1 Timothy 4:3) and loosed us from the Sabbath. Though I might have a strong personal bias against working on the Sabbath, I cannot bind it on my brethren. Though I might have a conscience problem with eating meats which had been sacrificed to an idol, another Christian (who knew that an idol was nothing) could eat without violating his conscience. In such matters of personal conscience, we may have “unity in diversity.” That is, we may hold diverse opinions that do not violate matters of the faith and still maintain our fellowship with God and our brethren. This principle is important in every local church and every congregation would be fractured into factious splinters without this understanding.

However, unity in diversity that switches from matters of personal faith to matters of revealed doctrine is totally different and we should not confuse the two. Sadly, a number of brethren are failing to make this distinction and pushing for unity in doctrinal matters that violate the “faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

It has been argued that we should accept into our fellowship those who teach and practice error. We should “just accept one another” (Romans 14:1), we are told. But this is an abuse of scripture. Clearly, we should receive one another in areas of judgment and opinion, but we must “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) against doctrinal error.

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Again, we have 2 John 9-11: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” Of these passages, there can be no mistake. We are not permitted to have fellowship with error, or “unity in diversity.”

The next time someone advocates “unity in diversity, be sure you understand what is meant. It can mean “unity with the Devil.”

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