The Bible’s Viewpoint
Does Christian Unity Allow for Variety?
UNITY in the Christian congregation is vital. Disunity in doctrinal belief would give rise to fierce disputes, dissension, and even enmity. (Acts 23:6-10) The Bible says that “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) Hence, Christians are admonished to speak in agreement and to be united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.—1 Corinthians 1:10.
Are these words and similar Bible passages encouraging strict uniformity among Christians in every respect? (John 17:20-23; Galatians 3:28) Does true Christianity as described in the Bible discourage variety when it comes to individual personalities? Are all Christians expected to fit into some sort of rigid mold?
God Appeals to Us Individually
Some people strongly believe that the Bible is just another tool for arbitrary control of the masses. Granted, it has often been misused that way by some sects. Jesus, however, painted a very different picture of the Scriptures and their Divine Author. He described God as one who has an intense interest in each of his creatures.
At John 6:44, Jesus explained: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.” The verb used here does not suggest that God drags people, against their will. Instead, God gently attracts, appealing to the heart. There is, as one Bible scholar put it, ‘an influence from God to incline the mind to believe.’ The Creator does not view the human family as a faceless mass. He makes an evaluation of individuals and gently draws to himself those who have a heart that is rightly disposed.—Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 21:2; Acts 13:48.
Note how adaptable the apostle Paul was. He recognized the special needs of individuals and acknowledged that certain viewpoints were common to particular nationalities or backgrounds. Then he adapted his approach accordingly. He wrote: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews . . . To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.”—1 Corinthians 9:20-22.
Clearly, Paul did not stereotype people or treat them all in the same way. He gave them this encouragement: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) Yes, Paul and the other Christians had to recognize and respect each person’s uniqueness in order to help him.
God’s Original Design
This respect for a person as an individual continues after one becomes part of the Christian congregation. God’s people do not drown in a sea of complete uniformity and absolute conformity to the preferences of those in authority. Rather, they enjoy a wide variety of personalities and have different abilities, habits, and opinions. The individuality of each one is not viewed as a bother or a nuisance. It is part of God’s original design.
Hence, in the new world promised in the Bible for the righteous, perfection among humans will allow for great diversity. (2 Peter 3:13) Under the heading “Perfection,” the Bible encyclopedia Insight on the Scriptures* appropriately makes the following comments: “Perfection does not mean an end to variety, however, as persons often assume. The animal kingdom, which is the product of Jehovah’s ‘perfect activity’ (Ge[nesis] 1:20-24; De[uteronomy] 32:4), contains enormous variety.”
Insight adds: “Perfection of the planet Earth is likewise not incompatible with variety, change, or contrast; it allows for the simple and the complex, the plain and the fancy, the sour and the sweet, the rough and the smooth, the meadows and the woods, the mountains and the valleys. It embraces the stimulating freshness of early spring, the warmth of summer with its azure-blue skies, the loveliness of autumn colors, the pure beauty of freshly fallen snow. (Ge[nesis] 8:22) Perfect humans will thus not be stereotypes of identical personality, talents, and abilities.”
Concern for Others
However, true Christianity does discourage a self-centered disregard for those around us. The apostle Paul watched closely every feature of his life and conduct in order to avoid stumbling others. He said in his letter to the congregation at Corinth: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.” (2 Corinthians 6:3) Sometimes, we must control our personal desires and put the needs of others above our own preferences. For example, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.”—Romans 14:21.
Similarly today, a person may choose to refrain from consuming alcohol in the presence of one who has a problem controlling his drinking. (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24) This is done, not out of a compulsion to conform, but as a noble act of kindness and love. “Even the Christ did not please himself.” Jesus was an individual, but he did not assert his preferences at the expense of others’ feelings.—Romans 15:3.
Still, one of the most refreshing aspects of true Christianity is its respect for individual freedoms and preferences within the bounds of Bible guidelines. It teaches that God made us to be distinct and unique. At 1 Corinthians 2:11, we read: “Who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of man that is in him?” We try to understand others as much as possible. But this verse implies that we each have a uniqueness understood only by ourself and our Creator. We have a “secret person of the heart” that we reveal as we choose.—1 Peter 3:4.
Unity and Variety—A Delicate Balance
The apostle Paul set a good example of Christian balance. Although having authority as an apostle of Christ, he was careful not to impose his opinion on others.
For instance, Paul had a very strong opinion about the advantages of singleness in this imperfect world. He himself was single at the time he wrote: “Those who [marry] will have tribulation in their flesh,” and, “[a widow] is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion.” The fact that his words became part of the inspired Word of God indicates that there was nothing wrong with his opinion. Yet, he also explained: “Even if you did marry, you would commit no sin.”—1 Corinthians 7:28, 40.
Evidently, most of the apostles were married men, as Paul acknowledged with the words: “We have authority to lead about a sister as a wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas, do we not?” (1 Corinthians 9:5) Christians knew that in this matter they could make choices different from Paul’s and he would still respect them.
Worshipers of God have always been allowed to express their faith in harmony with their unique personality. In fact, God even allowed the Bible writers to use individual style when writing. For example, in all humility Nehemiah wrote his account in the first person. (Nehemiah 5:6, 19) On the other hand, out of modesty the apostle John never once used his own name in his Gospel account and rarely referred to himself. God approved of both styles and had them preserved in the Bible.
Similar examples of balance and reasonableness are found throughout the Scriptures. Clearly, Christian unity allows for variety. Of course, diversity of backgrounds and opinions can lead to disunity when spiritual qualities are lacking. (Romans 16:17, 18) But when we ‘clothe ourselves with love, the perfect bond of union,’ we learn to accept and enjoy the unique personalities of others.—Colossians 3:14.
“Therefore welcome one another,” says the Bible, “just as the Christ also welcomed us, with glory to God in view.” (Romans 15:7) With the help of God’s spirit, Christians can achieve the delicate balance of maintaining unity while enjoying a variety of unique personalities in the congregation.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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The Creator does not view the human family as a faceless mass
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We each have a uniqueness understood only by ourself and our Creator