One of the features of the "Star Trek" mythos that many find appealing is the summary of a Vulcan philosophy exemplified in the expression "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." The earliest portrayal of this is observed in an episode of the original series titled "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" in which a scientist, Dr. Miranda Jones, along with the crew of the starship Enterprise, must deal with the challenges of communicating with an alien being who possesses tremendous intelligence but whose visage normally precipitates insanity in the beholder.
Miranda has an interesting condition which allows her to act as liaison in this scenario: she is blind. The interaction between herself, Mr. Spock of the Enterprise, and the alien ambassador leads to an enlightening revelation regarding the remarkable differences among all life in the universe.
MIRANDA: I know now the great joy you felt when you joined minds with Kollos.
SPOCK: I rejoice in your knowledge and in your achievement.
MIRANDA: I understand, Mister Spock. The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.
SPOCK: And the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.
In recent times, our society and culture seem to have exhibited a kind of obsession regarding perceived issues surrounding some notion of diversity and inclusion. While in many cases secular approaches often focus primarily on outward appearances or results, the Bible, as one might expect, has an interesting perspective on the idea of diversity that addresses the heart of Jesus and the motivations of his followers.
As we observe history and formation of the Church, it may be useful to note its evolution and expansion to encompass constituents beyond its initial scope rooted in the conventional Judaism of the day. The New Testament records in the second chapter of the book of Acts that soon after Jesus's ascension, his disciples experienced a rather unique manifestation of the Holy Spirit during a particular commemoration of the Jewish holiday referred to in Greek as Pentecost. On this occasion, there were apparently a large number of Jews who witnessed the miraculous gift of foreign speech among the disciples.
Thanks, no doubt, to this supernatural display and to the moving sermon by Peter, many of these became some of the first Christian believers beyond the original disciples.
Apparently, while they were all Jews, they originated from different geographical regions (by some counts, at least 16), so they were, as noted in the text, decidedly diverse in their languages and possibly cultural customs as well.
We begin to perceive an embracing of diversity beyond Judaism in chapter 10 of the same manuscript. In this passage, the Holy Spirit guides Peter to
acknowledge and affirm the concept that the gospel message of redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is intended for everyone, including Gentiles.
While this might have seemed like a bit of a culture shock at first, Peter understood and accepted this assertion as being directly from God and took steps to follow through as the Spirit prompted him. Many of us today are beholden beneficiaries of this effort at inclusion.
The Bible goes on to express what might be construed as a culmination of the principle of purposeful variety that extends beyond mere demographic
diversity. The apostle Paul is often fond of the imagery of the human body to describe both the entirety and individuality of believers.
This is the common reference to Christians – singularly and collectively as the Church – being the Body of Christ and members of that Body (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 4:4, and many other references).
What we find, then, is an indication in Scripture that inevitable and authentic diversity melds into a medley of unity in a common faith and purpose.
What many people sometimes overlook is the reality that heterogeneity and harmony are not only two sides of the same proverbial coin, but can apply to both individuals within a group and to the group as a whole. That is, while it can be useful to support diversity within a group itself, multiple groups, especially those within proximity, can exhibit composite diversity between themselves with equally positive and beneficial effects. Thus, individually, we might observe within any given Christian congregation varying degrees of representation from among a community’s population as well as ordained combinations of gifts, abilities, and skills. This is an admirable and perhaps even desirable condition for a congregation to experience, because this can help address many opportunities for service and ministry within a given community.
What may also be useful to realize is that specific local assemblies may, as organizational entities, be particularly equipped or inspired, through common vision and availability of resources, to focus on certain needs or challenges within a community.
The conclusion from such analysis is that just as each individual does not necessarily resemble another, each congregation does not necessarily need to look and operate the same as any other in terms of composition and technique. Perhaps one Church assembly specializes in ministry to the poor while another focuses on formal evangelism and some other attends to the needs and concerns of a particular ethnic population.
Such diversity of roles within the Church at the individual and corporate levels seems like a profound and applicable expression of the principle of "one body, many members" – or as Vulcans say, “infinite diversity in infinite combiations.