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Some are trying to differentiate “unity” from “uniformity.” Theirs is a dubious enterprise. By definition both are similar, virtually parallel in concept.
Were you to review your Merriam-Webster dictionary, you would discover the following definition for “unity”: “the state of being in full agreement, the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, and continuity without deviation or change.” And for the word “uniformity”: “the quality or state of being uniform, and the quality or state of being the same.”
These two words are not at odds with each other. Whether I say that a group of people are in full agreement, in harmony, and have continuity without deviation, or are uniform in their thought on something, there’s little difference. There is much more in common than what is different.
Discussion about unity and uniformity is occurring in some circles in the church today—mostly in the context of important theological subjects. Some of the hotter potatoes today are hermeneutics, creation, ordination, and homosexuality.
In some circles it is said that while in the church we strive for unity we do not have to have uniformity of belief in these areas. We can have different beliefs in these areas yet maintain unity in the church. If someone suggests the necessity of unity of belief in these topics, the “we don’t believe in uniformity,” arrow comes flying fast in response! But is it intellectually honest to pit unity and uniformity against each other?
While not everything in the church need be uniform, we should aim for oneness, unity, and yes—uniformity of belief. Without this, our mission will not be accomplished. Paul described this unity as “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The word for unity here is “HENOTETA,” the accusative form of “HENOTES.” It is the direct object of the verse emphasizing “oneness” and “unanimity.” This oneness is found only through the Spirit of God and results in the bond of peace. Peace will bind us together when this oneness of the Spirit exists.
This takes place as Paul describes: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Biblical unity/oneness does not mean uniformity in everything. The church body, which is one, has diversity. We do not have all the same gifts or talents. We are a church made up of and called from every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Thus, we do not have uniformity in these aspects. These differences strengthen the church, and help to build it up.
This diversity does not do away with unity/oneness/uniformity of belief. Diversity of gifts, talents, race, culture, language, nationality, learning, gender, status, etc., does not mean diversity of beliefs. The Apostle Paul makes this evident as he describes this “unity of the Spirit,” as “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). In this sevenfold repetition of the word “one,” which is the same word as “unity” in verse 3, we see one of the biblical descriptions of what unity looks like in the church.
How many bodies/churches are there? One. How many Gods? One. How many Lords? One. How many Spirits? One. How many hopes? One. How many baptisms? One. How many faiths? The answer? Still only one. When it comes to God’s church, its faith and belief, there is oneness. Is there diversity in His church, yes, but it’s still one church, one faith. Diversity in God’s church does not mean diversity of belief. The New Testament Christian church had unity and oneness of belief.
God’s last day church, this great Advent movement, should be like the first century Christian church. God began His movement in oneness of belief; and He will end it the same way. The same Spirit moving all over the earth will light it with His glory.
In these last days, living on the cusp of eternity, God’s church will be composed of a people who share a platform of the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels messages of (Revelation 14). Their lives will be characterized by the observance of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Together they will proclaim to the world God’s invitation to salvation.
God’s last day people will do this together, with unity, oneness, and uniformity of belief, led by the mighty Spirit of God, which will result in peace among us. If we insist that we should have diversity of belief on subjects and doctrines of the bible, peace will escape us. God will have to lay our generation to rest and by His grace save some of us. He will then use another generation who will press together in oneness of belief, so it can unitedly share His last day message to a dying world.
Unity as opposed to uniformity? Insistence that “we don’t believe in uniformity,” preempts collective seeking. The Word of God is clear, and is the ground where operative solutions await the Church.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Mike and Jayne Lambert have served throughout the NPUC, including Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. Elder Lambert is presently pastor of the Stateline and Dayton churches, in Milton Freewater, and Dayton, Oregon.