(taken from Building Christian Unity, pg. 19-22)
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.
When you look at the universe God created, you see marvelous diversity, for our God is a God of infinite variety. We see God’s infinite variety in history. He uses all kinds of people to accomplish many different kinds of work. Each of our Lord’s 12 apostles was unique, yet they all worked together to serve their Lord.
We see diversity in the Bible itself. The writers were all different, and they used different approaches. You find poetry and proverbs, parables and genealogies, symbols and songs – all of it inspired by the Holy Spirit. The variety of literature in the Bible is fascinating, and it reminds us that our God is a God of variety and diversity.
But when you look at the average local church, you would never believe that our God is a God of diversity. “Services as usual next week” is the expected announcement. For some reason, we are afraid of diversity in our local churches, and so everything is done “as usual.” Dead tradition (“But we’ve always done it that way!“) has replaced the living truth, and the Spirit is grieved.
We have studied two of the four essentials for spiritual unity: humility (Eph. 4:1-3) and identity (vv. 4-6). The third essential is diversity, and this is explained in verses 7 to 12. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ …And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (vv. 7,8,11,12).
Vance Havner used to say that ministries often begin with a man, then turn into a movement, then become a machine and finally end up as a monument. The fastest way to kill a ministry is to demand unquestioned conformity to a leader or even to an organization, for this destroys diversity. This is how cults are born. Wherever there is life, there is diversity.
Why is diversity so important to the unity of the Church?
Diversity reveals the wisdom of God. If you and I had planned the Church, we would have required everybody to be alike. After all, that seems to be the best way to avoid problems and difficulties. But there would be nothing exciting about that kind of a Church. The world looks at a “conformist church” and sees sameness and tameness and is not at all excited about the Gospel. The early church was extremely dynamic because the Christians dared to be different.
Three kinds of people resist diversity in the Church: the immature, the legalistic and the proud. Children do not like change. They want the same blanket and the same bedtime story. Immature Christians are afraid of change. This is why the Book of Hebrews was written – to encourage Christians to grow up in the faith.
Legalistic Christians do not like change. They are rigid conformists, who follow rules and regulations. If anything threatens their legalism, they refuse to yield. That is why Galatians was written – to encourage us to stand fast in our liberty in Christ.
Proud people do not like change. “We’ve always done it this way, so don’t suggest any changes!” Local churches become museums instead of ministries because people are too proud to consider making changes. To be sure, change for the sake of change is novelty, and we do not want that. Novelty may attract a crowd, but it will not build a church. But change for the sake of improvement is progress, and we do want that. My physical body has had to change over the years just to keep me alive! You will not find much change in a cemetery.
The Church needs diversity because diversity balances unity. Unity without diversity is uniformity, and uniformity can become very dead and brittle. We need diversity because diversity also promotes maturity. When you have different kinds of people with different backgrounds and different gifts, you must mature and learn how to get along with each other.
Please note that all of the illustrations of the Church used in the Book of Ephesians emphasize diversity and unity. The Church is a Body (1:22,23), a perfect example of diversity and unity. In Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul compared the Church to a nation, a household and a temple; and each of these illustrates unity in diversity. In 5:22-33 the Church is compared to a husband and wife. The man and woman are different, and yet they share a oneness because of their love and their commitment to life together. The two become one. In chapter 6 Paul wrote about the Church as an army. Soldiers all have different ranks and different tasks, but they obey the same commander and fight the same enemy. There is unity in diversity.
Diversity reveals the wisdom of God. We are not all supposed to be alike, nor are we supposed to minister the same way. As long as we are following the Word of God, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit, we should be able to live together and work together in harmony. “There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord” (I Cor. 12:5).
© 2004 Warren W. Wiersbe
© 1989 by The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).