The wonder of unity in diversity
By Cheryl Doss
Since kindergarten, where I was given colored paper and scissors and told to make a picture, mosaics have represented for me the challenge of creating beauty out of diverse and dissimilar parts. Unlike my paper creations, which often began falling apart on the way home from school, many mosaics are made of precious stones and have endured for centuries. Some months ago I was with a group visiting Masada, the mountaintop retreat of King Herod the Great. Overlooking the Dead Sea and surrounding desert, the ruins of Masada are a haunting reminder of the suffering and the determination of the Jewish people. As we wandered through the excavated palaces and bathhouses, storage buildings and plazas, we saw numerous mosaics. Still beautiful, made of thousands of bits of stone of many shapes, sizes, and colors, they have survived the ravages of war, vandalism, and time. They are astonishing for their diversity, creativity, and sheer endurance.
The church—indeed, all of creation—reminds me of a mosaic: abundantly diverse, remarkably creative, and blessedly enduring. Think of the food we enjoy every day—so varied in flavor and color and texture. Consider the marvelous creativity and amazing variety in the animal kingdom—lions and anteaters, elephants and orangutans, warthogs and giraffes, and on and on. God’s remarkable creativity is also revealed in the way He made people so diverse—tall and short, all shapes and sizes, brown eyes, black eyes, blue eyes, straight hair, curly hair, wavy hair, and no hair at all. Some of God’s amazing creative ability He has shared with His human children, enabling them to create an astonishing variety of cultures. There are so many different ways of eating and dressing, of living, thinking, and working. The Bible tells us that this creation diversity will endure to the heavenly kingdom. The lion and the lamb will be there, and all the nations of the earth, recognizably distinct as they gather around the throne (Isa. 11:6; Rev. 7:9).
The Hagia Sophia was the greatest church of Christendom for nearly 1,000 years. When the Muslim conquerors of Constantinople turned it into a mosque, the many mosaics that adorned it were plastered over. With the birth of the modern nation of Turkey, the Hagia Sophia became a museum, and the plaster was painstakingly removed from the mosaics. A partially restored mosaic head of Christ in one of the upper galleries is stunningly beautiful. With gold and silver, lapis lazuli, and other diverse and precious materials the artist created a work of enduring beauty that was hidden for centuries behind plaster. How often we too want to plaster over differences, to deny people creativity, to forget the enduring nature of human diversity.
Diversity and Unity
While we easily rejoice in God’s diversity and creativity in nature, variations in people and cultures challenge the unity of the church. Too often this divides us. Human diversity was a challenge in the early church as well. Yet the good news of the gospel, Paul says in Galatians 3:28, is that in Christ these differences are no longer important—“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.” Paul challenges the church to cross every cultural barrier—religions, society, gender—to become one in Christ. The metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 illustrates what he means by this oneness. Just as the body needs its diverse parts (“if the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”),2 just as suffering in one part causes suffering to all (verse 26), just as the weaker parts of the body are indispensable (verse 22), so, Paul tells us, we need to value differences in the church and use every part for the good of all. We need people who look different and think differently. We need creativity and diversity in worship and witness. We need apostles and prophets, teachers, healers, all the varied gifts (verses 27-31). Most of all, he says, we need the greatest gift—the gift of love for all people everywhere (1 Cor. 13).
The Seventh-day Adventist Church reflects the enduring creativity of the world’s diversity. Within our fellowship are people of many languages, cultures, and ethnicities. There are people of distinctive gifts, varied backgrounds, and different ways of thinking. Just as the stones of a mosaic can be individually distinguished yet the picture seen only when all the stones are viewed together, so it is only as we come together in love, accepting the enduring value—indeed, the necessity—of our differences, that we can be one in Christ. Only as we creatively use every part of the body and all the different gifts that God has given His church can we share the good news with “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6) and complete the mosaic of His kingdom.
“At the Concert of the Age,” gospel artists Phillips, Craig, and Dean sing, “the great I AM takes center stage.” A parade of nations will walk by in saris and suits, dashikis and kaffiyehs, and “the kings of the earth bring their glory” (Rev. 21:24). At the Concert of the Age Indians will play their tablas, Pacific Islanders their guitars, and Africans their finger pianos. Americans will be there with their marching bands, Mexicans with mariachi bands, and Filipinos with anklong bands. Chinese will play bamboo pipes, Brazilians will come with accordions, and, no doubt, the Scots will be there with bagpipes wailing.
That is why Seventh-day Adventists remain a world church and why creativity and diversity is so important to our unity. That is why we study and worship, witness and serve in many different ways. We want all people everywhere to be part of that “great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9), praising God on that heavenly Sabbath day. Then together we will be God’s most glorious, diverse, creative, and enduring heavenly mosaic.
1 Small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials arranged to form a picture.
2 1 Cor. 12:17.
Cheryl Doss, Ph.D., is a seasoned missionary and director of theInstitute of World Mission of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She resides with her husband, Gorden, in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.