Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Diversity of Conformity

"Conform" is a dirty word in America, where individualism has been raised to the place of highest honor. We sing "We R who we R" along with Ke$ha and say "Whatevuh, I do what I want" along with Cartman.

People associate conformity with the church and, thus, perceive the church as dull and boring as homogenized skim milk.

But we've got conformity all wrong. Because we were never supposed to conform to one another. We are supposed to become increasingly like Jesus Christ. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:28-29).

Christian conformity doesn't mean becoming more like Betty Bible and Suzy Sunday School. It means becoming more like Christ.

This is a big relief. Sometimes I look around at some of the wonderful Christian women I know and wonder, "Am I going to start talking like them eventually?" They talk in the sweetest, most melodious, syrupy tones and use words like "heart" and "blessing" every third word.

But no matter how long I follow Christ, it's never resulted in me speaking in a higher pitched voice. Because as we mature as Christians, we don't become more like one another, we become more like Christ. I become increasingly loving, kind, patient, self-controlled, peaceful, and joyful, but I don't turn into a carbon copy of Susy Sunshine because that's not who God created me to be. He already has one of her, and he needs one of me.

This is the great and beautiful mystery of conformity with Christ: As we become more like him, we in fact become more and more diverse. As C.S. Lewis said in the preface to the Great Divorce:

"On the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good."

Lewis' words bring fruit to mind. If God created Brenda as a banana and Jen as a strawberry and me as a pear (true on several levels), then as we become more like Christ, we don't all blend together into a homogenous fruit smoothie, each flavor indistinguishable from the other. Brenda becomes more and more the ripe and sweet banana that she was made to be. Jen becomes more strawberry-like, with that perfect red scent on a spring day. I become better than any Harry and David pear.

Remember Paul's analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. We are each a part of a body, and each individual part is needed. The foot doesn't become less foot-like or the hand less hand-like as it matures in faith. What would be the point in that? We need a hand, and we need a foot.

The key is unity in our diversity: "God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."

Conformity to Christ. Unity in diversity.

As we go deeper in to our knowledge of God, we become more and more the unique facet made to reflect Him. We won't become homogenous "church-goers" who wear khakis and polos and listen to Steven Curtis Chapman. But we will each individually bring God glory in the way he created us to as we follow him.


Julian said...

I really like your analogies. I often think of some ministers on TV, many of whom seem to be cookie cutter images of each other with the permed or dyed hair. They seem to be parodies of real life. It makes me want to run away instead of listening to what they are saying and drawing me closer to God. Many wonder if that is what real Christians are like and if they really want to be in the group. Glad to hear we should be ourselves.

emily said...

I used to be very concerned that I was never going to have that gentle and quiet spirit that the Bible talks about, but that was because I misunderstood the meaning to be more about personality than it is. I now understand that the Holy Spirit is cultivating those things in me, and that I'll probably always still be a chatty cathy.

Elizabeth M. said...

I really loved this post Amber. I just really dig your brain. I have a tendencey to follow, and to commpare and to feel guilty, but what you said about conforming to Christ is so encouraging. I am reading Discipline by Grace by Bridges right now and just read the chapter on discipline in Spiritual Depression by M.L. Jones and I just like how we are to be like Christ and always preach the gospel to ourselves and strive to add to our faith...not feel guilty or judged but encouraged by other believers and focus on Christ. Cool post.