Uniformity . . . or Diversity?

God loves diversity. That’s not just a theological ideal, but ecological observation.

I’m sure many of you, like Jenny and me, enjoy watching and appreciating TV shows that illustrate the vast array and diversity of the world. Those documentaries give us the opportunity to marvel at the almost infinite variation and colourful display of wildlife, plants, fish and insects that share this planet with us. I guess you could say we “glory” in the creativity that designed and made this rich diversity of life.

A red eyed tree frog perched on a flower shows the incredible diversity of the created world

God loves diversity, not uniformity. A quick look at God’s creation tells us that uniformity is not what God is after. Uniformity, from this point of view is actually a betrayal of God’s purposes. Across the world one can see that a healthy world is a diverse world. Even the Bible is indicative of this diversity. There are different writers using different approaches. There are parables and genealogies, poetry and proverbs, songs and symbols.  This variety reiterates the reality that God is a God of variety and diversity.

Yet why is it that human diversity proves difficult for us? Why do people so readily object to persons, places and things that are different? Even a quick look at your average local church makes it difficult to believe God is a God of diversity. We struggle over simple things like differences in taste in music, or what we believe, or what we wear. We love to have things done the way we like them and bristle when things are done differently. Moreover, many move on to different churches when they find things no longer to their liking.

Many move on to different churches when they find things no longer to their liking

Sadly too, often we desire the comfort of uniformity rather than the challenge of diversity.  If God had left the planning of the church to us we would have required everybody to be alike and avoided many problems and difficulties. Yet God chose diversity and therefore diversity is important to the church. In fact, right from the beginning (on the day of Pentecost) the church has been made up of people from different cultures, ages, gender, experience and preference. We in Hobart are no different.

I’ve heard it said there are three kinds of people who struggle with diversity in the church: the immature, the legalistic and the proud. While we all struggle with change, immature Christians are afraid of change. Legalists, on the other hand, don’t like change because it upsets their control which is based on conformation to rules and regulations. And the proud people do not like change as it forces them to ask whether things can be done better than they were in the past.

Diversity calls for the immature to grow up in their faith (Heb. 5:11-14), the legalist to not give up their freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1), and the proud to humble themselves and allow God to act in new ways (Acts 7:50-52).

When we aim for uniformity rather than diversity our churches can easily become museums rather than ministries

When we aim for uniformity rather than diversity our churches can easily become museums rather than ministries. Warren Wiersbe (American pastor, speaker and writer) once said, “One of the best ways to promote unity in the Church is to allow freedom for diversity. That may sound like a paradox, but it is true. You cannot have true unity without diversity, for unity without diversity is uniformity; and uniformity can destroy the life of the Church” (Building Christian Unity, pg. 19-22).

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we celebrated our first Combined Church Service. It was a time to celebrate our diversity. At this service the different congregations that make up Hobart Baptist church got together to worship God. This was an opportunity to “glory” in the diversity God has given us. It was an opportunity to remind ourselves that uniformity is not what God desires. It was an opportunity to affirm God is bigger than our individual dislikes and preferences. It was an opportunity to express our unity in Christ despite our diversity. It was an opportunity to encourage each other to maintain and foster the unity God has given us despite our diversity.

As you reflect on the importance of diversity in your fellowship, will you pray with me that God will be honoured, and many will be encouraged to follow Jesus in unity, celebrating his amazing diversity.  

Stephen L Baxter

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