What separates a community of believers from all other groups, clubs, organizations, and communities is the divine. It is the divine work of the Holy Spirit that unifies the most unlikely people together. For some, the only reason they can genuinely love and befriend the person sitting next to them at church is because of Jesus. Apart from this, they would naturally find nothing to draw them together.
This is the kind of unity Paul describes throughout the New Testament. Not only among the collective Church, but each individual church.
We have the tendency to see biblical unity as,
All of the people who like polka dots go to the church down the road, all of the people who love pizza go to the church in the center of town, and all of the people who enjoy golf go to the church by the railroad tracks. But we all love Jesus. See, the Church is unified. All of us agree we love Jesus, but you wouldn’t catch me dead at that polka dot church.
But the biblical understanding of unity actually starts with diversity. I think we like to start with the interests, views, and philosophies that would naturally unite us and then find ways to throw some diversity in there. But not too much.
The division we see in the Church today is largely centered on us wanting to find our common ground first, and that is rarely Jesus.
Here are three reasons the Church fails to experience the divine unity God has invited us into.
1. Racial Segregation
By many accounts, our society has made reasonable strides in race relations since the 1960s. Unfortunately, the church has often been delayed in seeing similar changes.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Based on a National Congregations Study (2012), eight in 10 American congregants attend a service where 80 percent of attendees are of one ethnic group or race. These numbers have improved slightly over the last few years, but it’s safe to say that King’s statement still rings true to this day.
Racial segregation is a large contributor to division within the church across congregations and denominations.
I encourage you to look around your church and see the level of racial and ethnic diversity among congregants. Based on the data, it’s very likely 80 percent of your congregation is made up of a single ethnic or racial group.
This is especially alarming if your church doesn’t accurately represent the community in which you are planted. If the ethnic makeup of people in your local neighborhoods and grocery stores doesn’t match the ethnic makeup of your church, then there is likely an even greater level of segregation happening within your church community than in the society surrounding it.
Now, the solution isn’t necessarily going out into the neighborhood to start recruiting people of other racial and ethnic groups to begin attending your church, but we should be mindful of how the structures of our churches are either welcoming or stifling diversity.
When Paul talks about the church in his letter to Galatia, he says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile.” He’s not telling us to ignore these distinctions. Instead, he’s recognizing the diversity of the church and emphasizing it’s not these things that unite us, but Jesus.
In order to see the unity described in scripture, we have to embrace diversity. It’s out of true diversity that we can see the divine unity Jesus speaks of.