How to find unity in a really diverse church

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By Mark Ellis

gathering in prayer at Church by the Sea
gathering in prayer at Church by the Sea

In 1st Peter 3:8, the apostle exhorts the church to have “unity of mind,” so the believers can live harmoniously with each other. But how is it possible for people from very different backgrounds, with extremely different personalities and temperaments, to find unity?

Consider our church in Laguna Beach, California, which contains uncommon diversity. We have conservative Republicans, progressive Democrats, people who grew up Roman Catholic, many influenced by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, some from the Vineyard movement, a few like myself who grew up Presbyterian. Many are charismatic, and just as many are non-charismatic.

We have Chargers, Broncos, and Seahawks fans, and we even have sitting within striking distance in the pews — USC and UCLA fans.

How is it possible the church is so harmonious, that we have found so much unity? There is a glue that is stronger than Elmer’s glue, it’s stronger than even Gorilla glue. The glue is God’s love.

As you grow in understanding God’s Word, when are filled with His Spirit, and His love is made manifest in your heart, these differences lose their importance and begin to fall away.

The truth is that God made us different so he could make us one. He delights in bringing unity out of diversity.

You may remember Jesus prayed all night before he chose his 12 disciples, who became apostles. That was a big decision!

In that group he chose Matthew the tax collector. The Jewish people hated tax collectors, because they collected taxes for the Romans. They saw them as turncoats – blood-sucking leeches — who sold out to Rome. Plus, they extorted more money than they should have from the people.

Jesus also chose Simon the Zealot. He was from a political group who hated the Romans, and wanted to overthrow them by force.

Having these two men among the disciples would be like having Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore in the same small group. How could that possibly work?  Did Jesus get that wrong? In human terms it can’t work. But with God’s love working in their hearts, all things are possible.

One of my favorite interviews as a Christian journalist was with two men who could never be friends, humanly speaking. One was a former Palestinian Fatah fighter named Taysir Abu Saada, trained as a sniper to kill Jews. He came to Christ after he immigrated to the United States.

The other was a man named Moran Rosenblit, a former Israeli soldier, embittered against the Palestinians because they killed seven of his best friends. He came to the U.S. and found Yeshua-Jesus, the Messiah, when he lived with a Christian family in Manhattan Beach.

In the Middle East, it is almost impossible for an Israeli to fully trust an Arab. But in Christ, these former enemies became friends. Only Jesus can break down these walls of hostility and bring a unity little known by the world.

So as a follower of Jesus, you should never say about another brother or sister in Christ, “That person is not my type.” We should not form into little cliques, where we only hang with people our own “type.” Didn’t we leave high school so we could get away from cliques?

Jesus wants to break down all these barriers, all these surface differences, so we can discover a kind of unity only possible through his transforming love.

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