#2 Diversity in unity under God

 

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‘In the beginning God

created the heavens and the earth’

~ Genesis 1:1 ~

The charge of ‘monochrome and monotonous’ cannot be levelled against the perfect God’s creation. Instead of dull neutrality, God brings forth a vibrant creation bursting with inherent diversity enacted ‘according to their kinds’. There are similarities: some of creation shares being part of the vegetation or, of belonging to the realm of living creatures. And all of these count as created by God. But with the similarities, there are also differences: there are seed-bearing plants, fruit trees, fish, large sea-creatures, birds, livestock, crawling animals and wildlife. Even within those kinds, the differences spiral like the beautiful twisting and turnings of a gymnast completing their routine so that creation details a kaleidoscope [kalos, beautiful + eidos, form/shape] of diversity.

Humanity includes the same pattern of similarities and of differences. There is sameness. Firstly, like all other things they fall into the category of created but secondly, they make up the kind called humanity, a category uniquely created imago Dei. Within these similarities there is also an initial diversity: humanity consists of man and woman. They are united in being both under God and forming human kind, but they are different in being man or woman. After the initial creation of humanity, the subsequent union of this man and woman sees diversity (the two different) being united (in one flesh) as they are married under God. Thus, diversity is brought together in a way that is for good and for the benefit of what surrounds it, in this case the creation which humanity is to care for.

The creation picture places God as the ultimate uniting setting under which the human race is to properly relate to one another and to the world. Unfortunately, the mirror reflecting that exquisite truth is shattered by humanities sin, and instead of remaining under God, there is a bid for false autonomy. It is the kind of man-made freedom that results in death and destruction as even brother forcefully crushes brother. The Babel incident displays the human heart: a search for human-made and human-centred unity. Together, when united by sinful anthropocentric desires, humanity is as safe as children fiddling with a nuclear bomb. So, for their good and also in judgment, God divides them.

It is from the scattered ruins of the human race that God, in grace, calls a man named Abram.  In Abraham we find a pre-Christ figure of the one who will be a blessing to the many. From Abraham we find a nation saved and called to be God’s people out of all the peoples of the earth. Part of Israel’s raison d’être (besides simply being God’s people) was to be a light to the nations, to show them the One true revealed God, who was in fact also their creator and God.[1] But, instead of shining forth displaying God’s glory, Israel herself is lustfully drawn into the darkness and the witness to God is marred. Israel shows that she neither values the striking worth of her God or the unique relationship she has been privileged with. In this she simply reveals our own sin (Rom 1:21-25). Yet, even in the midst of the resulting judgment, the Old Testament still ends containing elements of hope, both for Israel and the nations.

 

‘It is not enough for you to be My servant

Raising up the tribes of Jacob

And restoring the protected ones of Israel.

I will also make you a light to the nations,

To be my salvation to the ends of the earth.’

~ Isaiah 49:6 ~

The pencil marks of hope take on flesh in the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God. He is the second Adam, the descendant of Abraham and crucially, this Saviour of Israel will stand as the light to the nations (Matt 4:12-17). He embodies the good news of Gentile inclusion in God’s reconciliation plans. His ministry will include the weak and marginalised, the obvious outcasts, all kinds of men and women who this One will serve. He stands (and is crucified) as the One who offers the hope of humanity coming back under the good rule of their Creator.

God’s creation shows a delight in diversity. God’s reconciliation plans show a desire to see the different nations and all kinds of people, gathered under his Son. However in all of this, there is one element of diversity which God detests, one which he absolutely abhors. It is a deviancy called heresy, although in our culture it might better be known as open-mindedness. God is utterly uniform when it comes to truth and will not stand for a diversity of opinion regarding the truthfulness of his existence, of his character, and of his plans in this world though his Son. So in John 4, Jesus invites the Samaritan woman to come worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus is the one who is the only way and truth and life (John 14:6). And likewise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (14:17). Truth is important – what an understatement! – truth is the difference between life and death. Truth confronts the reality of our sin with God’s gracious reconciliation offer: initiated by the Father, achieved in the Son and completed by the Spirit. And, as per Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 (which draws on the relationships within the Trinity) part of how the world will know that Jesus truly was sent by the Father is in seeing different people being united as one in Jesus.

After Jesus’ ascension, the very same Holy Spirit who Jesus prayed for is poured out. With power he accompanies the message of Jesus’ resurrection. It is a truth projected to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 cf Isaiah 49:6) and Pentecost becomes our first major marker of this. In contrast to blubbering Babel, language is being used not to separate, but to have the gospel proclaimed to ethnically diverse people.[2] Peter explains why this is happening: it is so they realise that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved’ (2:21). While in our sinfulness we might set up false parameters, according to God via Peter, there is no distinction that can bar anyone from coming under this salvation. It is in this sense that ‘there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).

‘After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude

from every nation, tribe, people, and language…’

~ Revelation 7:9 ~

Given salvation history, the end-time picture of diversity united under Jesus should run no risk of coming across as a wet fish to the face. It is a diversity epitomised by having the world’s ethnicity, which so readily separates us here on earth, united under the Lamb. There is diversity in unity.  What should we do with this? ‘Oh it’s over-realised eschatology [i.e. you’re looking for heaven on earth] if you expect that to be displayed here’. Well, be consistent then (!) and please resist pursuing things like mercy and justice and even holiness (cf. Heb 12:14-28) this side of Jesus’ return. It is contrived to label a desire for this coming reality to be displayed (as much as is possible this side of Christ’s return) as ‘over-realised eschatology’. The expectation of perfection to come does not dismiss a present pursuit. Instead it allows the present pursuit to be conducted within the secure context of knowing that it will one day be ours in perfection! I.e. go wild!

‘Ok, well, what does this mean for the local church? How does diversity in unity work within the gathering/s of God’s people? Is this for our good? – could this be for our good? – how? And what about the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) which was (is?) all the rage?’[3]

In the next post we’ll look at how diversity might be able to operate within the local church.


[1] Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: a Biblical Theology of Mission (New Studies in Biblical Theology; Leicester: Apollos, 2001), 252–254.

[2] I’ll need to talk about different languages at some point.

[3] A homogeneous unit is a group of people that have, for example, linguistic or ethnic or educational similarities. For a church congregation then it would look like a church made of up people who either look the same, have the same educational or socio-economic levels, or who all speak the same language.

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