It’s easy to point out divisions within Christianity, to criticize those who we think are wrong, to bemoan the lack of unity within the Church and to focus on the divisive disagreements that define our discussions. But it’s important to remember that, despite our constant bickering, we do have something in common and that, like it or not, we are part of the same family. Each of us, despite our differences — or perhaps because of them — has an important role within Christianity.
In 1 Corinthians 12.27, Paul writes: “Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it.” This verse sums up two crucial aspects of Christianity: community and individuality. The first half of the verse draws attention to our shared identity in Christ — the “you” is plural, addressing the entire community of believers. It is only as a group that we are the body of Christ, it is only together that we are able to fully function as God intends.
But the second half of the verse singles us out as individuals — each one of us is a unique and crucial member of that larger body. We are not subsumed by the whole, but retain our individual identities. Christianity isn’t about losing yourself in the larger group, it’s about being who you are and contributing to the larger group.
John Shore puts it this way:
Of all the things that becoming a Christian means — or is supposed to mean, anyway — one of them is not getting absorbed into the giant Borg of Christian Conformity.
Exactly the opposite is true, in fact. God desires you to be more of who you are, not less. God made you exactly the way you are. And God is more than aware that you’re the only person in the history of the universe who is anything even vaguely like you.
Christianity, properly lived out, beautifully balances the dynamic between the group and the individual. As a group we have unity in Christ, as individuals we each have a special role to fill in that group.
It’s easy for this relationship to get out of balance, to either forgo our relationship with the larger body of believers and try to go it alone or else to let our personal characteristics be downplayed — or even be erased — by that larger body. We need to strive to keep both our individuality and our community functioning in harmony, each aspect contributing to the well-being of the other and each furthering God’s plan.
How do we do achieve that harmony? Not by worrying about our personal shortcomings and not be worrying about the shortcomings of the Church, but by focusing instead on our unity in Christ. This doesn’t mean ignoring our failings entirely — it’s still important to critically assess our personal and corporate expressions of faith. But at the end of the day we need to remember that despite our differences we are all still one body, and that each and everyone one of us meaningfully contributes to the proper functioning of that body by being who God created us to be.