It has been a while since my last blog on the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and to get us back into that discussion I’d like to point out something that up till now has only been hinted at in previous entries. What I want us to dwell on today is that NT churches presumed and promoted reciprocal diversity.
Now don’t get intimidated by the words here. The idea of “reciprocal diversity” is simply a way to say that churches consisted of all kinds of different people, from different races, different backgrounds, different ages, different genders, etc., who served one another for the benefit of everyone. “Reciprocal” describes things “that complement one another;” or things “given or done in return” for something else. And “diversity” is just another word for “a variety.” So again, the church is made up of different people with a variety of gifts and abilities who all give themselves for the good of the whole group.
This is exactly the picture we see when Paul mentions the “body of Christ” in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-30. Paul presumes (that is, takes for granted) that there are “many” people (however, ‘many’ that might be) who are different in spiritual giftedness.
Consider Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).
And to the Corinthians he says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).
Not only do we need diversity so that the body can be complete, the context of diversity is also the perfect platform for displaying the “one anothers” in the NT, in particular, love for one another (Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10). Church (membership) is a recognizable commitment to love one another regardless of our differences rather than avoid one another.
That means churches were not (properly) formed in order to escape those who are different or who disagree. And though smaller group meetings of similar people can be beneficial, they are not meant to replace entirely gathering with the entire church.
Those who isolate themselves (cf. Proverbs 18:1), or their particular sub-group are not to be commended but corrected. They are potentially guilty of pride, bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, etc., and should be exhorted to avoid “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).