The Christian doctrine of God is Trinitarian. We believe that God is one. We are monotheists. Yet, this One God has mysteriously revealed Himself to eternally exist as three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God. The persons are not parts of God (i.e., they are not each one-third of God). Nor are they forms, manifestations, or phases of God (i.e., they are not like water, which may exist as liquid, solid, or gas).
This diversity of persons in the unity of God demonstrates a principle importantly known and taught as “diversity in unity.” And we see it reflected all through the creative order. Many different people, one human race. Many different organs, one human body. Many different schools, one university. Many different flowers, birds, trees, etc. You get the idea.
Christians come in many different shapes and sizes. They are supposed to be united. They share common core beliefs and a core ethic that is taught by Holy Scripture. The core doctrines are often summarized by the Apostles’ Creed; the Core ethic, by the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount.
Diversity in Unity can be hard to get right. Christians throughout history have erred in two ways. The ditch on one side of the road is to expect too much conformity–strictly pressing each other into molds of sameness that cannot tolerate diversity. The ditch on the other side of the road is to tolerate too much diversity–allowing beliefs and behaviors that contradict the necessary core so that they are no longer recognizable as distinctly Christian.
If you ask my kids what their favorite thing is about my office at the church, I’d wager they say, “Daddy’s Jelly Belly machine.” These gourmet beans are relatively expensive yet loved by nearly everyone. The range of flavors is staggering with over one hundred flavors available. The quality control is tight, guaranteeing a consistent, pleasant experience: the beans are all the same size and shape, share the same consistency of texture and level of delectable sweetness. Yet, the colors and flavors are incredibly diverse. So diverse, that everyone has their Favorites, their “So-so’s”, and perhaps even their “Yucks!” We don’t agree on this–we all have our own list of likes and dislikes, yet we love the product probably because we’re drawn, on some level, to the principle of Diversity in Unity as Trinitarian image bearers.
If Jelly Belly didn’t insist on conformity of size, shape, and texture–it would never work. If they had only one flavor, they’d be largely forgettable. Christians must insist on unity in essentials. But they must also celebrate diversity in non-essentials. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, love.”
Christians come in all shapes and sizes, and it is fascinating to see how God works in us to make us both more like each other and more different from each other than we were before.
As we draw closer to Christ, and he draws us closer to himself, our mind-sets, value systems, character qualities, behavior patterns, perceptions, and reactions become increasingly like his. Thus we converge on each other, fulfilling Paul’s dictum that mature Christians should take the same view of things.
But knowledge that one is loved makes for the blossoming of individuality, and so every believer who basks in the love of Christ develops an increasingly distinctive flavor (what other word works?).J.I. Packer, “Klaus Bockmuehl’s rich legacy” in Pointing to the Pasturelands, 48 (Link to Scripture reference mine).