As believers, we are called to be unified in Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:14-16 that we who were formerly enemies have not been reconciled to each other because we’ve each been reconciled to Christ. The differences that once divided us no longer are able to do so.
This reconciliation does not wipe away our differences, nor does it mean that we immediately become easy to live with. Yet we are called to unity. This unity is in response to a common relationship with Jesus Christ and it is to be based on honesty about who we are and what we would like to become. Unity is an internal motivation.
Conformity, on the other hand is the result of pressure applied from the outside to adhere to an external standard. In short, it is pressure to appear to be something that we are not. I have seen this pressure in far too many churches.
There are several clues that will give an indication that you have conformity and not unity in a church:
- Watch how the pastor or other leaders interact with church members. If there is an authoritarian tone it is likely a church that practices conformity and not unity.
- Watch how the members interact with each other. If there are some who are accepted and others who are not, then you have conformity and not unity.
- Find out if there is spontaneous ministry happening or if the leaders control all the activities of the church. If the leaders exercise control over body life, you likely have conformity and not unity.
- Watch how well the children that grew up in that church do once they get to college age. If a high percentage of them walk away from Christianity, it is likely a church that practices conformity and not unity.
In a body that practices unity, we are allowed to be the mess that we really are and not try to appear to be a paragon of holiness. Biblical unity allows us the freedom to be honest about who we are and be loved in spite of our flaws.
The danger for those of us who grew up in the church is that we develop a high tolerance for phoniness and sometimes don’t pick up on the dynamics that pressure us to conform. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we respond to the stimulus and toe the line without even thinking about our response. As a result we hold others at a distance and don’t let anyone really get to know us. We can promote conformity without realizing it.
If you find yourself in a church that practices conformity and not Christian unity, the only advice I can offer is for you to flee from that church. Your spiritual health, and that of your family is at risk in staying.
There are churches who get this right. When you find a church that truly practices Christian unity, it may be a little uncomfortable at first. You might wonder if the people are being genuine in their interaction. It may take time to let your guard down.
But, it is worth working through the discomfort and staying in a church that understands and practices Christian unity.