Unity or Uniformity?
A young rabbi observed a serious problem in his synagogue. During their weekly gatherings, half of the congregation stood up when praying, while the other half continued to sit in the pews. One side of the congregation would always criticise the other side, insisting that their prayer tradition was the most correct. The young rabbi had tried numerous ways to bridge this divide but to no avail; and in despair, he sought guidance from the founder of that synagogue, a 99-year-old rabbi.
The young rabbi confided his troubles to the old rabbi, “Please tell me, do we stand up when we pray as a congregation?” The old rabbi replied, “No.”
The young rabbi continued, “Then do we sit down when we pray?” The old rabbi replied, “No.”
The young rabbi uttered, “Why on earth is our gathering a complete chaos?! Half of the people are standing and shouting, while the other half are sitting and screaming.” The old rabbi replied resignedly, “Well, this is our usual style.”
The problem faced by the young rabbi illustrates one of the reasons why it is so difficult for the Christian community to be in unity. We insist on our views, thinking that our opinion is the best and the only truth. Indeed, what does unity really mean?
There are many who have a misconception of the meaning of unity. Some may consider unity in the spirit as unification at the organisational level, or uniformity in form. If that is the case, the uniqueness of an individual can easily be overlooked, and individuals may even be shunned (1 Cor 12:14-16, 21). I am not suggesting that unity is easy to attain; in fact, achieving unity is a formidable task, and the difficulty lies in the fact that each and every one of us is different.
Paradoxically, the prerequisite for unity is our individuality and our different gifts (1 Cor 12;12-13, 18-20). As what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 12:17, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” Only when we have a sober judgement of our roles and our strengths, and are willing to be humble (Phil 2:3) and to offer our unique portion can we be of use by the Lord to build up the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, this is not uniformity, but it is the essence of unity.