A Discussion paper on Unity and Diversity written for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Doctrine Committee, 1998.

John Roxborogh

1.      There is legitimate diversity that arises out of the goodness of creation. This includes differences of gender, personality, gifting, role, culture and class.
2.      There is diversity that arises out of failure to be who we are meant to be.
3.      We are not agreed which diversity arises out of creation and which out of sin.
4.      Both sorts have to be managed, sometimes in similar ways, whether or not we agree which is good and which is not.
5.      The Presbyterian system handles decision by majority reasonably well.
6.      A test of a democracy is the provision it makes for minorities.
7.      We seek to support our viewpoint with the power that is available to us, whether we see that power as residing in the authority of a majority, or in the authority of our interpretation of constitutional documents, particularly the bible and the Confession, or in the statements of authority figures, or in the failures of those of a contrary point of view.
8.      We belong to a church that holds visible unity to be important. It has worked for union with other branches of the church. Some of that work has born fruit, some has not.
9.      We belong to a church that at times in its history has found some diversity intolerable. There is a tradition of leaving in order to maintain spiritual and physical freedom. At times majorities have made life so difficult for minorities that they have found no other way of ensuring freedom than to leave.
10.  There are minorities within the church, cultural, ethical and theological, who find the views and requirements of the majority difficult.
11.  Minorities who have become majorities have often found it difficult to offer to others the freedoms they once sought for themselves.
12.  We have to make choices about how much diversity is tolerable and of what kind.
13.  People in the bible had experience of unity and diversity. We should not use the unity of the bible cover up the diversity, nor use the diversity to ignore either the existence of principles at the centre or the reality of boundaries that set limits to belief and behaviour.
14.  We need to identify what different groups in the church really want. These may include:
a)      Freedom to find their identity more in their congregation than in their denomination
b)      Space to be themselves within legitimate boundaries
c)      Freedom from having to own, or to be held responsible for, political, ethical and theological views of those they disagree with, particularly those who claim a right to speak on their behalf.
15.  Traditional Presbyterian expressions of unity by means of Confessional basis, organisational structure, and common cultural heritage are no longer adequate even for legitimate forms of diversity. In particular the Declaratory Act, intended to cover theological diversity, is not able to help us very much with cultural and ethical diversity.
16.  It is not yet clear how a more comprehensive basis of association, cooperation and discipline can be formulated.  It may include aspects within the total heritage of those now calling themselves Presbyterian that we have not yet identified and explored.
17.  Presbyterianism has shown an historic willingness to unite with other traditions within the church and even lose its name and structure for the good of the larger church of Christ. It ought not to be unwilling to change itself for the greater Christian good.
18.  The fact that Presbyterianism as a system arose so late in church history suggests that whatever its utility as a way of organising a church it can have no particular claim to being a necessary or a permanent arrangement.
19.  Organisationally and theologically Presbyterianism has related successfully to the modern world of the Enlightenment and the aspirations of the middle classes.
20.  Presbyterianism has yet to show that it is capable of relating successfully to the postmodern world – a world in some ways more consistent with the world-view of biblical times than the cultural and intellectual context in which our present theologies and structures were shaped.
21.  In all its diversity, including that which strains the judgement of some that it is legitimate diversity, there are characteristic theological principles which should not be lost. These include:
a)      The Sovereignty of God.
b)      The Church as the interpreter of Scripture which submits to Scripture.
c)      The willingness to value education, responsible leadership in society, and an informed laity as keys to its mission.
d)      The priority of the Grace of God over the activity of humankind.