UPHOLDING THE CHURCH’S UNITY WHILE HONORING OUR INDIVIDUAL IDENTITIES
One of the Christian faith’s greatest virtues is its inclusion of peoples and cultures; all are welcome to believe in the power of faith and accept Jesus as Lord of their hearts. But does the Church, with all its history of internal strife and its multitude of denominations, reflect that inclusion of diversity?
THE TRUTH IS THAT the Church seems to be a fragmented body. The panoply of semi-contradicting doctrines, the variety of ceremonies and the tension among members of different denominations spark suspicion in those outside of the Church and discomfort in those in it. Aren’t all believers supposed to be united? Shouldn’t they all think as one?
To John Koessler and J. Brian Tucker, Christian should be united indeed – but they cannot and should not all think as one. In a clear and methodical way, both authors reflect in the intrinsic individuality of each believer – his personal identity – and how it manifests in the collective of the Church.
This is how All Together Different stands apart from the vast majority of Christian literature. Rather than try to subvert our identity and image with dogma in an attempt to create a sense of forcible and artificial union, this book stirs us to embrace our individuality as part of God’s plan for each and every believer.
According to Koessler and Tucker, three things form the individual identity of a person: divine image, human culture and sinful disposition. The person is created in God’s image, but due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, that divine image is corrupted by an inherent inclination towards sin. This same person is born, lives and dies inserted in human culture and society. These are three things that determine the way an individual sees himself and the world. The authors explain how identity is not defined in a single instance of our lives, but it gradually develops throughout our lives. Identity is also characterized by things such as the person’s physical and mental attributes, relationships and commitments.
Since individual identity is as important to God as it is to the human being, congregation should integrate that identity instead
of suppressing it. Nevertheless, Koessler and Tucker alert to the existence of a second identity – a collective identity, shared by believers and established “in Christ”. By recognizing that connection to the rest of the body of Christ, the Christian is called to reprioritize his identities, being “in Christ” but remaining true to himself. The book goes over some of the main characteristics in the individual identity that may trigger division within the Church such as gender, ethnicity and age, and how these things work positively in the believers’ collective identity. The authors reflect on Paul’s experiences with the church of Corinth and with Philemon and Onesimus, observing in particular how Paul used diversity – the Roman influence in Corinth’s society and the master/slave type of relationship between Philemon and Onesimus – to unite all parties involved.
Lastly, this work talks about the believer as living in the world without being of this world – a “sojourner”, as the authors put it. By living in this world as a sojourner, the Christian identifies with the predominant human culture, but reckons that his citizenship – his way of being as a believer in God – shape his view and his actions. Even though his individual identity may relate to this imperfect world, the believer does not conform to earthly culture and society alone, ever seeking the Kingdom of God through his faith in Jesus.
All Together Different is an excellent work in ecumenism and awareness, with biblical and scientific advice that allows us to understand the relation between individual diversity and the collective union of the Church. This is a book that teaches us how much “this Christian identity […] binds us together, even with those Christians who are unlike us.”