This is a review for The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning.” Although strides have been made within the Church to unify and diversify the Church, there is still much work to be done.
In “The Beautiful Community”, Irwyn L. Ince Jr. breaks down why the Church still faces division today, while also calling us higher to pursue unity and reflect the fullness of God’s beautiful community. I think Ince shows one of the main needs for this books when he says,
“We could argue that too much of the church’s role in the history of America rejected the countercultural message of Imago Dei and we have a lot of catching up to do as people of God in living out its implications.” -Robert L. Ince Jr.
WHERE ARE WE FINDING OUR IDENTITY?
One of the key points the author made to show how the church has become so divisive, meaning that too often we are finding our identity in other things than in God. Ince gives two really good examples of this.
First, he talks about how his own racialized view of the world was out of step with the Gospel.
Another example, the author brings up is a misplaced identity that led to the formation of the Black church. Essentially, the Black church was created in America because of white supremacy. Black people were not allowed to worship with their white brothers and sisters. As a result, the church’s identity was placed more in their ethnicity than who they are as image-bearers. But even in the midst of this sin of racism, God is still able to work and move through the Black church.
When our identity is placed in anything other than God, we do not see other image-bearers as equal to ourselves. This consequently creates division. But, when we see we are all united by the same God, then we can come together to worship and thank God that He made all people equally beautiful.
“The Lord determined the day of my birth, my parents, and my ethnic cultural context (Acts 17:26.) Thus, my ethnic identity is a good thing. It’s just not the thing.” -Irwyn L. Ince Jr.
THE POLARIZATION OF HUMANITY
Another point the author makes for division in the church is what he refers to as “the Ghettoization of Humanity.”
“I’m talking about ghetto as an environment where a group of people live or work in isolation, whether by choice or circumstance and draw their sense of worth and dignity from identification with that community” -Irwyn L. Ince. Jr
We all tend to flock to people with whom we have similarities, whether we realize it or not. But if we are around everyone that thinks like us or looks like us, then we do not get to grasp and appreciate how unique each of us is made. At the end of the day, it is not worldly things that unite us but rather the Gospel and God.
“For He is our peace, who made both groups one, and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.” -Ephesians 2:14
When we all leave our “ghettos”, we have to understand that it will not be easy. We will all have to address the preferences that we have too long held onto, learning to trust one another, as well as listening and bringing about change.
UNITY AND DIVERSITY IN THE CHURCH
In the latter part of his book, Ince touches on what it looks like for the church to applicably become more unified. One way the author points out doing this is by looking back at the New Testament Church.
Prior to the early Church, seen in Acts, ethnic identity/pride was very strong and caused much division. But in the New Testament church, identity in Christ trumped all of that. When worshipping with others, it was not your ethnic identity at the center, but rather Jesus at the center, which brings all of God’s people together.
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28
If we are to be unified within the Church, we must realize that this is not something that happens overnight or something that only we can do alone. Unity is not something we can simply make. We need the power of God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit to work in us and our churches. It is important to invite God into our work and pray for guidance on how we can love each other well and ultimately glorify Him.
“The Spirit does not remove our diversity. Rather he enables us to love, hear, understand, and pursue one another in our diversity.” – Robert L. Ince Jr.
Another way we can intentionally pursue unity is not staying silent when members of our community are hurting. Biblical justice is something we are called to pursue. We can not just call for justice and peace when it only affects us directly because anything that grieves our brother and sister in Christ should also grieve us.
I loved the use of personal examples from various people the author included. Some stories followed a woman feeling like the token “Black person” at her church. Other stories follow along the lines of a person learning and understanding what it truly means to be unified with diversity in the church.
I also loved the practical applications the author gave for how the Church can become united and how real he was in that these changes will not happen overnight.
The author referenced other speakers and books to back up his messages, but sometimes they seemed so frequent or in an awkward spot, it was hard to tell whose point was the author’s or him referencing something else.
The things I have mentioned here are just a drop of the fullness that this book has to offer. I think everyone can take something away from it. Whether you are already pursuing unity through diversity or if it’s a journey you are hoping to begin, this book has great truths and applications for embracing how God has made us differently while staying unified through Him.
This is a call for the Church to resist polarization and joyfully pursue God’s plan for a beautiful community of God.