Unity Trumps Uniformity

March 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have great friends. Seriously, there are some awesome people that have been a huge part of my life and have really shaped how I think and what I do. These guys are constantly helping me grow in understanding and conviction, while at the same time offering fun and confidence. The funny thing is, I disagree with them. A lot.

In the last few years there has been a bit of an upheaval in the Christian community. New ideas (or new versions of old ideas) and methods have made their way to the forefront and have caused problems among believers. Battle lines have been drawn in an attempt to define political/religious/social/cultural camps. These lines generally help define our circles of influence and comfort. They create safe zones in which we are able to establish fairly conflict-free lives.

For many, their closest circle of friends is made up of people who see the world roughly the same way. They listen to the same music, the same talk shows, and read the same books. Their political enemies and allies lists are basically the same. And when it comes to religious beliefs, they are basically in lock-step.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having friends who think the same way you do. It’s natural and normal to form tribes around common belief and practice. That’s fine.  And I would be lying if I said I didn’t have friends whose ideas are generally the same as mine. I do. But those people aren’t the total picture and often they aren’t even the central figures of my social life.

My closest friends are people who I enjoy spending time with and can converse on a variety of topics on a knowledgeable level. They aren’t the people with whom I most agree. In fact, the conversations with my best friends often involve a healthy dose of debate. While some may think I’m crazy, I really think it’s healthy. But why?

First of all, I believe that biblical unity is experienced in diversity rather than uniformity. It seems that God is more interested in the harmonious working of varied parts than the bland plodding of sameness. Paul is aware of this when he tells the Ephesians to KEEP the unity of the Spirit UNTIL we all come to the unity of the faith. He is expressing a difficult idea that, though we are experiencing the same Spirit, we don’t all have the same understanding and are all needing to grow in the knowledge of the Son of God. It seems God is pleased when I admit that my understanding is finite, and that someone a little different from myself can teach me something. If everyone were absolutely alike, there would be no need for unity. While I do believe there are reasons to separate from some, those reasons are fewer and more rare than we often think.

Beyond unity, my relationships challenge me and my understanding of Jesus and scripture. They ask questions that I don’t ask. They approach things from an angle I don’t. They push me to get outside my narrow perspective and take a fresh look at the Bible, my beliefs, and my practices. Because of those conversations, I am forced to admit that my opinions and impressions are not the final word in determining truth. I have to engage in a whole new way. When the dust settles, I am either convinced to adopt and adapt to new ideas or I am strengthened in my ability to articulate my original position.

Ultimately these guys are my friends because they’re fun, we enjoy time together, and we care enough about our God, His truth, and each other to disagree respectfully. My friendship with them, and their friendship with me, doesn’t come with a lot of strings. We disagree. We might argue. But at the end of the day, we are better people after our talks than we were before. There may never be a day when I convince my friends to come to my position. They may never persuade me to theirs. But in the end, we are all better Christians, better people, and better friends.

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