(My friend Mark Fairchild, who is a professor of Bible at Huntington University invited me to come give some lectures at his school in Indiana. What follows here is the Forrester Lecture on Diversity delivered Nov. 4, 2009.Kudos to Mark and his colleagues for a good time at Huntington).



Witherington, III



or put another way pluralism, is a difficult topic to tackle from a Biblical
point of view, not least because the Bible doesn’t inherently reify the
category ‘diversity’ in the way that our culture does.  And of course the discussion suffers from a
lack of definition.  What sort of
diversity are we talking about?  Racial,
ethnic, cultural diversity?  Religious
diversity?  Political diversity?  Diversity of views about sexual
identity?  What does it mean to have a
commitment to diversity, not further defined? 
And yet there it is on our money— “out of the many, one”–e pluribus
unum.  But how is that oneness created
out of diversity?   And does the American
vision of how to go about it (liberty and justice and democracy and tolerance
for all) and the Biblical vision of unity cohere, or at least comport with one
another?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Within the Evangelical world there are rumblings about the problems created by ‘tolerance’ these days (see D.A. Carson’s new ‘The Intolerance of Tolerance’), and so it would be good for us to reflect on these matters at this juncture.

further complicates this whole discussion from a sociological point of view is
the fact that diversity is not a category that stands alone.  It is defined over against some sort of
notion of unity or oneness.  Put
philosophically, it is the old problem of the one and the many.  Perhaps you will remember the old joke about
marriage–when the two become one, the only question thereafter is ‘which
one’?  Sometimes it seems in America that we are being asked to choose ‘which one’ when there is a debate involving diverse points of view.  

complicating the matter in the 21rst century is that in America what
seems to come with a commitment to diversity is also a commitment to relativism
and universalism.  Some in the
conservative Christian community have even spoken of the ‘unholy Trinity’–the
intertwined notions of pluralism, relativism, and universalism.  On this showing a commitment to diversity or
pluralism necessarily entails the presupposition that there is no such thing as
absolute truth (all things being relative) and thus that whatever truth there
is requires a commitment to universalism, that all equally have it, or at least
have equal access to it, through whatever religious, philosophical, or
theological system.

Christians cannot simply sign off on the ‘unholy Trinity’, not least because of
their commitment to the holy Trinity and to absolute truth.  So the question for the Christian becomes— what sorts of commitments to diversity or
pluralism and to universalism comport with our commitment to Christ and the
Christian faith?
  Here I think Luke
the chronicler of salvation history has much to teach us, and so
we must turn to him at this juncture.



have had the privilege recently to direct a doctoral dissertation at St. Andrews University dealing with the application
of social identity theory to Luke-Acts. 
Aaron Kuecker, who is now a professor in the upper Midwest in the U.S.
shows in this dissertation just how fruitful such an analysis can prove to be
when applied carefully to Luke’s two volume work.  I will be following and building upon some of
his insights.  But first a few
definitions are in order.

identity theory is a theory about the ways group identity is formed and works.
In some ways it can be set over against theories about how individual identity
is formed, and I need not tell you that in America, individual identity is
exalted to such a degree that sometimes it is hard to even discuss the notion
of group identity. What is it that holds America together beyond a
commitment to individual identity and individual rights and the necessary
system to promote such commitments–i.e. freedom, democracy, so-called free
market capitalism?  A moment’s
reflection will show that ultimate commitments to individualism, especially in
extreme forms makes it difficult, if not impossible to form a group identity.  Luke is already concerned about these issues
in Luke-Acts.  

It is also true as well as Aaron Kuecker points out
in his thesis that at the other end of the spectrum  “Groups [and consciousness of group identity] provide a ready base from which to
create stereotypes, manipulate resources and all too often to cultivate social
barriers that negatively impact the ‘other’. 
All group identities are open to these harmful mutations, but it is not
improbable to suggest that ethnic identity has proved capable of creating some
of the most vexing and intractable cleavages in human society.”  (p. 2 Chapter 1 of Kuecker thesis– N.B. accepted for publication this week by T+T Clark)The examples of ethnic and religious
cleansing in recent history in Bosnia,
Africa and elsewhere are too numerous for us
not to be painfully aware that certain kinds of group or social identities can
be toxic (see M. Volf’s key study ‘Exclusion and Embrace’).   But we need not look overseas
to see what happens when ‘the other’ is stigmatized and stereotyped.  It happens all too often right here in the U.S. and sadly
all too often in the church.  Kuecker
puts it this way.

“But the problem moves even closer to home. Jokes are
told in factory break

rooms. Pulses and paces quicken on poorly lit roads when
someone meets a

passerby who is obviously an ethnic other.  Marriages between people of different

ethnic identities still cause no small amount of angst in
many quarters, not to

mention the difficulties faced by the children of these marriages.
People are frozen

out of neighborhoods, social clubs and schools because
they are ‘not one of us’. In

the USA
at least, the well-known claim that 11 AM on Sunday mornings is ‘the most

segregated hour in America’ remains tragically
true.”  (p. 3 Chapter One).

problem of social identity formation in the church is a pressing one, not least
because all too often a person’s Christian identity is their secondary
identity, and their national or ethnic identity is de facto their primary
identity.   Let me illustrate what I
mean.  On the Sunday after 9-11 in 2001 in
a church in California
an Evangelical minister got up into the pulpit and said “I’m an American first
and a Christian second, lets bomb those ***** back into the stone age.”   When the minister was called on this by one
of his elders as they were leaving the church he was asked “You meant you were
a Christian first and an American second–right?”  To which the minister replied “I meant what I
said.”   Crises tend to bring to the
surface what our real defaults are, what our real primary commitments and
identities are.  And this leads to some
painful revelations.  All too many church
goers seem to have been innoculated with a slight case of Christian identity,
and in some cases it is preventing them from getting the real thing.

complicating factor in using the NT to help us in our quest to deal with and
define diversity is that the Biblical cultures reflect what is called dyadic
personality, namely they are cultures where the group identity is primary, and
the individual identity is secondary. 
This is the exact opposite of our own culture. 

It should have seemed strange to us that those NT
figures have NO LAST NAMES, the very basis of individual identity in our own
culture.  Jesus is Jesus of
Nazareth,  Saul is Saul of Tarsus, and
even Mary Magdalene doesn’t have Magdalene as a last name–she is Miryam of
Migdol, a little fishing village on the sea of Galilee.  In that culture geography, gender, and
generation, and religious commitments largely defined group identity. Where you came from, what sex you were, and
who your father was, were thought to determine your identity from birth. 

Consider the example of Simon bar Jonah.   Bar Jonah is a patronymic–it means ‘son of
Jonah/John’.  But of course Jesus gave
the man a nickname–Cephas–the rock/rocky. 
So we would call him Rocky Johnson! 
But in fact he had no last name in the modern sense.  His identity was defined by who he was
related to— his father.    Of course one could add to your primary social
identity in that world by becoming a Pharisee, or a Qumranite, or a Zealot, but
you did not leave behind that primary social identity in the process. This was
not a matter of conversion. 

Luke however
clearly believes in conversion, and how that changes things when it comes to
one’s previous social identity, however primary.  So a cautionary word— it is hard to build a
modern theory of diversity and social identity out of a document where various
sorts of group identities were already primary. What established identity in
antiquity was not how you stood out from the crowd but rather what crowd you
were a part of, or which ethnic, social, religious, kin group you came
from.   As hard as it may be for us to
understand, most ancient peoples did not believe in conversion or developmental
models of personality. You were born with a certain identity and personality
and though it was revealed over time, it did not develop, and it certainly did
not change.  If you are wondering why our Gospels do not tell much about Jesus as a child or young man (in fact with the exception of Lk. 2.41-52 we hear nothing), its because the Evangelists didn’t believe that early childhood experiences or traumas were all that formative for adult human personality. 

This is why Jesus’ call to Nicodemus at night to be ‘born
again’ is such a radical thing, which Nicodemus could hardly imagine.  Early Jews hardly believed in miraculous
conversions to new identities or new personalities.  The
Gospel of Jesus said something dramatic and radical when it came to the
possibilities of human change and how identity was affected by such
change.  Paul puts it this way— “if
anyone is ‘in Christ’ he is already a new creature, the old has passed away”.
 This, friends, was social dynamite then, and
is social dynamite now.   But does one
simple leave the old identity behind or is it transfigured into a part of
something new?   Notice that Paul doesn’t
talk about that new creature standing in isolation–he or she is now ‘in
Christ’.  That is, he or she is part of a
new group a new social identity–we call them Christians.  The individual identity is still secondary
and defined by the group one is a part of. 

is Aaron Kuecker’s theory that Luke, especially in his second volume deals with
the issue of ethnic and religious diversity by suggesting that the Holy Spirit
creates a possibility of assuming a new identity, a new way of being human,
which doesn’t simply jettison the old identity but rather subordinates it to
the new identity.  Jews don’t cease to be
Jews when they become followers of Christ. 
Women do not cease to be women when they become followers of Christ, and
even slaves may not initially cease to be slaves when they become followers of
Christ, because when it comes to
salvation or conversion, God intervenes where you are and takes you as you are,
but what happens is that the new identity becomes primary.

          This I think is exactly what Luke is telling
us in Acts.  Diversity is not seen as the
enemy or a bad thing, but there is a unity a new identity in Christ that
transcends and transfigures it.   Paul
says the same thing when he says in Gal. 3.28–“But in Christ there is neither
Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, no male and female, but all are one in
Christ.”    The oneness in Christ becomes
the primary identity which norms the secondary identity, which is retained but
at the same time redefined in a way that does not impede or interfere with the
primary identity.   We need to consider
at this juncture some examples of how this is so in Acts.


Pentecost narrative is indeed a story about origins, the origins of the
church.  In Luke’s view there was no
church before Pentecost, no Christians in the true sense before the falling of
the Spirit in the Upper Room.  Yes, as
John 20 tells us, Christ promised the Spirit was to come, and yes the disciples
needed to stay in Jerusalem
until the Promise of the Father fell from on high but, no, there were no
Christians before Pentecost.  The story
of Pentecost then is about new social identity formation by pneumatic means,
and about witnessing to the Jewish diversity then present in Jerusalem for the
festival, with hopes of recruiting various new followers of Jesus.

points about the story call for mention. The miracle of witnessing that occurs
is that each person hears the Gospel being spoken in their own language. There
could hardly be a clearer piece of evidence that God does not consider ethnic
and cultural diversity an inherently bad thing. 
Language is the gateway of culture, plural languages plural cultures,
and it has been rightly said that the thing that stands out about Christianity
is that it could be indigenized in any and all sorts of cultures without losing
its own substance or character.  This was
very, very different from most ancient religions. 

          For a Gentile to join early Judaism he or she
must become a Jew.  To become a true Roman
citizen in the second half of the first century one had to adopt and adapt to
the Emperor cult, not just accept Roman laws. 
Ethnicity, culture, language were at the heart of ancient religion, and
Luke is here in Acts 2 speaking of something that brings a new religion to a
people without requiring them to adopt a new language, or give up their ethnic
identity.  This is something novel.  

The second thing
to note, is that the transformation happens pneumatically, that is it involves
a miracle of speaking in this case, such that each person hears the Gospel in
their own language.  The miracle happens
in the proclaimers in the first instance. The Greek here is clear “we heard
them speaking in our own tongues.   This is not an example of glossolalia or the
speaking in angelic tongues. This is what some of my seminary students
fervently pray for–that the Holy Spirit will miraculously give them fluency in
a foreign language— say, Greek or Hebrew. 

second thing to notice about this story is that conversion is one thing, which
involves repentance and acceptance of the Good News by faith.  Initiation is another thing.  In early Judaism
when a non-Jew became a Jew there was a gradual process whereby one was first a
God-fearer, then decided to become a proselyte and was discipled, and then
decided to accept circumcision, the initiation rite, after which juncture one
ceased to be what one was before.  One
simply became a Jew. Perhaps the largest problem for earliest Christianity was
the debate on whether outsiders needed to become Jews in order to become
disciples of Christ.  This is the debate
at the heart of the Acts 15 story as we shall see and it is the debate which
defined the early ministry of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

in Acts 2 very carefully tells a story about how Jews from the Diaspora as well
as from the Holy Land, came to be followers of
Jesus.  This story is not about the
worldwide mission to Gentiles.  That was
to come later, and at the hands of Paul and Peter and others.  Here the story is about the conversion of Jews
to the following of Jesus. The radical thing is that Peter here, like Jesus is
depicted in John 3, is calling for Jews
to repent and receive the Gospel, which when they receive the Spirit involves a
conversion of sorts, not merely an upgrade. 
The assumption was that they were lost or had gone astray from God. But
a conversion to what?  Would Luke have
called it ‘true Judaism’? Would he have articulated this the same way Paul does
in Rom. 9-11 where he speaks of Gentiles and lost Jews being grafted back into
the one people of God? 

However he would
have theologically reflected on this, Luke does indeed believe there is only
one Savior of the world, and only one people of God, and the way diversity is
dealt with is by a ‘one for all’ and ‘all for one’ sort of model.   The One
however that binds together the diversity is a person, not concept, nor a
commitment to some sort of philosophical idea. 
And more to the point the Spirit of the One transforms the many, such that their primary identity is found
in Christ, and all other identities, are transformed thereby and become
secondary.  Diversity continues to exist,
but it is normed by the One and the commitment to that One.       

for the universalism in this story, Luke emphasizes that the Spirit fell on all
the disciples, male and female, of high or low status (hence the quoting of
Joel 2 here) so that all are empowered to share the Good News, all are equipped
for ministry.  Here of course the ‘all’
in question in the Upper Room are Jews, and what we see here is a continuation
of the theme of reversal found in Luke’s Gospel in which the least, the last
and the lost of Jewish society become the first the most and the found in the
Kingdom. And so Jesus’ ragamuffins, with mere fishermen in the lead, show that
the Gospel is for everyone from the down and out, to the up and in (including a
Zaccheus or a Joanna the wife of Herod’s estate agent, Chuza).  The universalism here is unlike modern
religious pluralism or universalism, it is a universalism up and down the social scale, a vertical universalism which was inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus.  The horizontal universalism, crossing all geographical, ethnic, and cultural boundaries is a tale reversed for Luke’s second book– Acts. 

As Luke will put
it a bit later— “there is no other name under heaven by which one may be
saved”. But at the same time Luke stresses that all persons, not just Jews may and should
and must be saved in and through the Good News about Jesus.   As a result of Pentecost what happened is not
a new batch of radical Christian individuals, but rather the swelling of the
numbers in the Jerusalem
community of Jewish Christians. 
Conversion is into a body of believers, not into splendid isolation much
less eccentric individualism.  Paul was
to put it this way “by one Spirit we are all baptized into the one body” (1
Cor. 12).  It is a new group identity, a
new social identity in Christ that becomes primary, not primarily a new
individual identity. 

next point of entry into Luke’s thinking about diversity is to be found in the
threefold telling of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9,22, and 26. Sometimes the story
of Paul’s conversion is read as if it were the story of new individual
identity. Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul the apostle on Damascus Road. Alas for this theory, the
changing of Saul’s name doesn’t come on Damascus
road or through conversion to Christ. 
The name change happens on Cyprus when
Saul bears witness to a high status Roman named Sergius Paulus.   His identity transformation took place well
before the name change. The former took place when he became a part of a body
of believers in Christ.  

          Despite the
claim sometimes made by modern sociologists, Christianity did not give birth to
modern radical individualism, nor was Paul the first modern individual.  No one who, evaluating his conversion, said
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in
me.” (Gal. 2.20), should be seen as the first Western individual and individualist. 

Paul, like other
early Christians, finds his primary identity in Christ and through Christ and
from Christ.  Everything else is
secondary, and of less import.  This is
why Paul can sit lightly with his former Jewish identity, recognizing it as
good, but not as indispensible to being a Christian. Indeed, Paul says that
having become a Christian, he is able to be the Jew to the Jew and the Gentile
to the Gentile, as a missionary practice and tactic (1 Cor. 9).  But this is not a matter of primary identity,
it is a matter of indigenizing the Gospel, and missionary praxis. 

What is primary for Paul is made abundantly
clear in texts like Phil. 3–despite his impressive Jewish pedigree he was
prepared to count all of that as skubala
that is the stuff you poured out the window from a chamber pot), “in order
to be found in Christ” (Phil. 3.9).  This
is not the jargon of the world’s first radical individualist.

story of Cornelius in Acts 10-11 is another telling port of call when we are
trying to understand what Luke has to say about diversity and unity, diversity
and identity formation.  Cornelius is
seen by Luke as the first litmus test, the first test case, of what would be
required for Gentiles to become followers of Jesus.  Would they need to become full fledged Jews
first? Was that somehow essential to Christian social identity?  This story is both remarkable and humorous in
many ways, not the least of which is that it takes Peter falling asleep at
lunch time and having a dream about food whilst he is hungry, for God to get
through to him that God is impartial, and that what God has declared clean
(through the work of Christ and the Spirit) should not be consider common or
unclean by Jews like himself. 

is something of a halfway house example anyway, since he was already a
God-fearer who attended the synagogue (Acts 10.2).  He was then already on the porch of Judaism,
with one foot in the synagogue door.  But
what happened when Peter, having been fortified by the dream to accept his new
Gentile guests in, then agrees to go and be accepted into the household of
Cornelius?  What happened was that God
interrupted Peter’s preaching and the Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family,
and as Peter was to remark, if they have and manifest the gifts of the Spirit,
then they are already accepted by God and are a part of this new community, and
therefore there is no good reason to withhold the initiation rite from
them–baptism.   Conversion in this story
comes before initiation as in the story of Paul himself (see Acts 9), and
baptism is not seen here as the means of conversion but rather a confirmation
that it had indeed happened and these folks were accepted by the
community.  Of course Luke elsewhere is
perfectly capable of talking about initiation before conversion or reception of
the Spirit as well (see the case of the Samaritans in Acts 8, or in the case of
the disciples of John the baptizer in Acts 19).   This new identity in Christ and in the
Christian community is not in the first case created by an initiation rite, a
rite of passage.  It is created by the
Spirit accepted through faith, for the Spirit is the change agent, not water
baptism (see my book Troubled Waters).
  The case of Cornelius then becomes the
thin edge of the wedge which helps sort out the Gentile controversy in Jerusalem in Acts 15, to
which we now turn.


15 makes perfectly clear that there was diversity in early Christianity, not
merely of an ethnic or racial sort, or a social or class sort, but also a
diversity of religious opinions on an important matter. At this crucial meeting
were Judaizing Jewish Christians, here called Pharisaic Christians, whose view
was that Gentiles must become full-fledged Jews in order to be true
Christians–accepting circumcision and the Law’s 613 commandments.  On the other end of the spectrum of the
discussion was of course Paul, who thought that even for Jewish followers of
Jesus, keeping the Mosaic Law was no longer required because of the coming of a
new covenant with a new law–the Law of Christ, which was not simply a renewal
of the Mosaic covenant. 

          Somewhere in
between were folks like Barnabas and James who thought that Jewish Christians
should still keep the Law, not least for the sake of being a good witness for
Jesus to their fellow Jews in the synagogues. They did not, however, buy the
view that Gentiles had to do likewise. 
This however created a problem–in order for Jewish and Gentile
Christians to fellowship together at table, would Gentiles have to Judaize for
a period of time?  Or was it really true
that God had declared all clean, even the formerly unclean, as Peter’s vision
had suggested?  It is interesting how
Peter sounds just like Paul when it comes down to cases in this debate in
Jerusalem, however much he may have previously waffled in Antioch (see Gal.

then should be made of James compromise ruling? Was he imposing some Jewish
food laws and sexual conduct rules on the Gentiles?  Many have thought so, and many have also
thought that this was a straightforward contradiction of what Paul believed and
argued for.  In my view, this is not how
the Decree of James should be read.  The
term eidolothuton refers to idol
stuff, more specifically meat sacrificed and eaten in the presence of
idols.  The issue James raises in the
Decree is whether Gentiles could continue to participate in pagan worship in
pagan temples or not. The issue is one of venue more than it is of menu, though
food is involved (see now my essay on this in What’s in a Word?)

James says he is
concerned about the ‘pollutions of idols’ 
which is to say, the negative spiritual influence on Gentiles of eating
in the presence of a false god in a pagan temple.  Hence he tells Gentiles–no more visiting pagan
temples where idolatry and immorality readily take place, where you find idols,
and food offered to idols, and things strangled, and blood, and sexual
dalliance with the servers as well, if not sacred prostitution.  In short, James, like Paul in 1 Cor. 8-10 is
telling Gentiles that whilst they don’t need to keep kosher, they do need to
stay away from the sort of things you find in pagan temples–idol stuff and

As Paul was to
show in 1 Cor. 8-10, he was perfectly happy to endorse and implement this
Decree in Corinth
and elsewhere.   The diversity in
earliest Christianity on this issue proved not to be a deal breaker for James,
Peter or Paul, because the apostles all agreed on the issue of avoidance of
idolatry and immorality, or as Paul was to put it in one of his earliest
letters to a largely Gentile group–“you turned to God from idols, to serve this
living and true God” (1 Thess. 1.9). 
They must not turn back to idols and immorality after their

Paul, in his
letters to his partially socialized, largely Gentile, new Christians worked for
an identity formation that involved neither the allowance of a return to
paganism nor a conversion to Judaism, but a process by which all might be one
in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. 

No longer would ethnic, social, or sexual
identity be primary in this religious group, but nor would it be ignored or
denied. Rather it would be transformed so that it was not the religious determinant in the identity
formation.  Neither ethnic/racial, social
or sexual identity was the sine qua non for being in Christ, nor would most
roles be defined in Christ by such merely human factors. Roles would be decided
on the basis of calling, gifting, graces and the like.  We have ever since had a hard time living up
to this radical notion.  Indeed we
struggle with it strongly in our own day, as the continuing battle over women in ministry shows.  



              There are lessons to be learned from Luke
about the issue of unity and diversity, the one and the many, lessons which
suggest that we must not absolutize diversity as if it were an inherent good in
itself, nor must we make the mistake of dismissing it as if it were of no
consequence in Christ.  The principle of
incarnation– the Word becoming a particular kind of flesh–, and thus the
derivative principle of indigenization is in fact crucial to the Gospel.  Americans do not need to become Israelis to be
followers of Jesus.  Women do not need to
become men to be followers of Jesus (despite the infamous saying in the Gospel
of Thomas that says the contrary).  And
the socially less elite do not need to become elite to be saved.   The principle here has to do with

None of the usual identity
defining social categories–social, sexual, ethnic, racial, class, national have
any salvific import in Christ.  This does
not mean they are of no import, but it does mean they are not requirements for
salvation or redemption. Whatever good there is in human diversity, it is
always a mistake to deify a particular culture or or social or racial
identity and make that the means or necessary pre-requisite for salvation or
for being a true Christian.  Luke would
insist that arguing that way would in no way do justice to the Gospel, the
Gospel of one Savior for all the various social groups in the world.  He is the One out of which the Many can find
their true, their permanent, their everlasting identity— in Christ.

At this juncture I should tell you a story of how indigenization should and should not be done. Some years ago I was asked to preach at a worship service in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.  I was honored to do so, and it was in fact the first joint service bringing together the Indebele and the Shona Christians in that city. Now these two tribal groups had been converted to Christ by two very different missionary groups and missionary practices. One set of missionaries had tried to Westernize these Africans and so they dressed more like Westerners and sang Western hymns though in their own language. The other tribe by contrast came to the service in their native garb, and sang and danced to Christian tunes they had themselves written, with African rhythms and rhymes.  Which of these two examples could not be accused of imperialism, or the imposing of Western culture on Africans? Only the second I am afraid. It would be hard for the former tribe to distinguish between Western culture and Christianity, but not so difficult for the latter tribe.  All here were Christians, but some were practicing Christianity in a more indigenous way than others.  It is the beauty and miracle of Christianity that it can be indigenized without loss of spiritual identity, without loss of theological and ethical substance across all cultural boundaries.  We always need to find ways to make that happen.

            Luke would tell us equally that our secondary identity as Americans, or males
or females, or belongers to one subculture or another is not of no importance.
There is indeed a goodness to diversity, perhaps especially in the body of
Christ.  Luke does indeed dream a big
dream of a community that is a rainbow coalition of races, genders, ethnic
groups, social statuses.  But their
oneness is not created by a mere common commitment to diversity and its potential
goodness nor is it created by the fact that we are all human.  That oneness is created by the Spirit of God
who transforms and transfigures our previous identities.

Luke would tell us as well, that in Christ we are not called to radical individualism,
rather we are called to a new group identity as our primary identity— to be ‘in
Christ’, in the body of Christ.  This is
a timely emphasis for us, perhaps especially for low church Evangelicals or
Protestants who have such a hard time creating community without it splintering
and dividing, or nurturing family without it becoming broken in pieces.  At the end of the day Luke would insist that
every Christians’ primary family is the family of faith (the body of Christ),
whereas one’s physical family is entirely secondary to that primary family.  Luke would call us to a day where what the
phrase ‘family church’ means is a church that knows how to be a family to one
and all who are a part of it, not merely an entity which nurtures nuclear or
physical families. 

‘E pluribus unum’
says the coins of our realm,  ‘out of the
many one’.  But this philosophy suggests
that group formation happens mainly through human effort, as our metal is
tested, so to speak.  But what the Bible says is that from the One the many can
find their eternal identity in community, when he comes by his Spirit to
indwell us.  And this is an identity not
found in a mere common commitment to diversity or respecting difference, though
both of those values are worth affirming. 

Luke tells us that the earliest Christian social identity involved the
following–” They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was
filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the
apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in
common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone
as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the
temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and
sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the
people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
(Acts 2.42-47). 

Luke would tell us that this
sort of identity forming and culture making enterprise should still
characterize the church today.  Unity in
the midst of diversity,  unity which
transforms without eliminating diversity, unity as a more primary value than diversity
or a commitment thereto, these are the values of Luke.  In my judgment they should be ours as well.  
If it is true we become what we admire, then it is time for us to admire Christ
more, emulate him more and share his vision of unity that transforms and
transfigures diversity so that social, sexual, ethnic, racial, class
differences no longer chiefly define us, nor do they any longer divide us from
one another.   

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