Listen to Jesus: “May they [His followers] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:23). Francis Schaeffer called it God’s ‘final apologetic‘ . . . What He meant, I think, was this: how we get along with one another is the most persuasive evidence the Holy Spirit has to work with as He draws people to Jesus. (Larry Crabb, Real Church, p. 122)
There is a difference between uniformity and unity. Uniformity primarily pertains to the mechanics of a community – conformity to the community creed (doctrine), the community chic (decorum), and the community charge (duty). These can be good things and are the ingredients of community. However, they should be servants to unity and not a replacement for it.
Uniformity is rather easy to attain and maintain and as a result, many Christian communities settle for it. Unity involves some uniformity; but unity is more about how I relate to people in my community and especially, perhaps, those who are out of step with my creed, chic, or charge.
“By this all men will know you are my disciples…by your love for one another.” When everyone is uniform in creed, chic, and charge and busies him or herself maintaining these, we seem unified. We can appear unified when we simply do not care about other people and write them off as non-conformists and allow the “younger brother” (Luke 15:11ff) to leave while we remain comfortably uniform. We can appear unified when we choose the comfortable passivity of getting along instead of risking confrontation (and perhaps discovering we were wrong). We can appear unified when we never look beneath the mechanics to the real distance that exists between us, to the “self-protective maneuverings” (Real Church, 122) of the way we relate to one another.
Uniformity can occur without Jesus. “The broad road that leads to destruction” is most likely the way of the religious externalist. You can be uniform without Jesus but not unified because in a uniformity culture my value, my sense of well-being, my standing is a product of how well I am performing in relation to others. If I perceive you are better than I am, I despise you in jealousy. If I perceive you are lagging behind me, I despise you in superiority. But, when do I love you? We need the power of the Cross that creates a new way of relating because it makes us new. As Tim Keller aptly wrote:
The gospel identity gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements. A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance) . . . That means I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do . . . I do not have to be intimidated by anyone. I am not so insecure that I fear the power, success, or talent of people who are different from me. The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. (The Reason for God, p. 181)