E Pluribus Unum

E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.” Before this was ever on the Great Seal of the United States of America, it was the reality of the church of Jesus Christ. We have been taken from every tongue, tribe, and nation and been made into one city-bride, the church (cf. Rev 21.9-10). Not only have our ethno-cultural distinctions not been a hindrance to our unity in Christ, all distinctions that we have in our personalities, gifts, vocations, and the way we apply biblical principles have not precluded our unity in Christ. Our created distinctions haven’t been obliterated into one amorphous unanimity. Our distinctions have been glorified so that they work together in beautiful unity. Like the colors of a rainbow that can be distinguished from one another but are together more than the sum of their parts, so is the church.

John the Apostle sees the church as a “rainbow city” in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. In chapter 4 he sees a rainbow around the throne (4.3). Then in chapter 21 we see how that rainbow appears: the pure light of the Lamb that is in the midst of the city shines through the various translucent stones that make up the city producing this rainbow around the center of the city. The church in all her diversity reflects and refracts the light of the glory of God, revealing distinctives of God’s glory. Over hear we can focus on the beauty of God in this yellow color revealed in this person or persons. Over there we can see this green color and appreciate its hues. On and on we go through the spectrum of colors celebrating the beauty of our God revealed in us and our particularities.

We are never more beautiful as a church as when these diversities are shining brightly together; that is, in unity. The fact that the sign of the rainbow is used to describe appearance of the city-bride of Christ is not incidental. The rainbow was God’s sign of the covenant given in the time of Noah in which God declared peace with his creation, promising never to destroy it again by a flood. God would look upon the bow in the clouds, remember his covenant, and act according to his promises (Ge 9.14-16). Now the church in Christ Jesus stands as the sign of God’s covenant of peace. He sees us in Christ and acts according to his covenant promises.

But what if there is no peace in the sign of his peace? What if the church, instead of celebrating its diversity, understanding it as a part of the strength of its unity, takes up distinctions as weapons of war? Not only have we given a false witness to the world that looks upon this rainbow church, but we have also been false to our vocation as the world’s intercessor before God. Our lack of unity has the effect of even greater disharmony in the world around us. God has given us a great deal of responsibility, and we need to live up to it.

What this means in our day-to-day lives is that we cannot see the distinctives of others–their personalities, gifts, vocations, etc.–as threats to us. Our sin, many times, causes us to see the strengths of others or just their differentness as a challenge to our weaknesses and, thus, our worth. Because I don’t have his abilities, people probably think less of me. So, what I do is to begin to attack him in order to justify myself. If I can make him smaller, it makes me look better, and, consequently, that means that I have worth. Sin makes diversity a threat.

But what happens when you realize that in Christ you and your created distinctives are justified before God? Your worth is not found in competition with him or her. Your worth is found in the fact that you are made the way you are and you with all of your particularities are redeemed and glorified in Christ Jesus. When we grasp that, then we can rejoice in our non-sinful distinctives, understanding that my gifts serve others and others’ gifts serve me and the church and world. We don’t have to be at war with people who look a little different, have abilities that we don’t, or who apply biblical principles in different ways than we do. We can be free from the bondage of trying to measure up to some false standard of worth and from the animus that sees distinctions as threats.

God has created us in Christ Jesus to live at peace with him and with one another. Be at peace.