II. Unity and Policy

          Study of Church Governance and Unity  by GC Secretariat           
                          published September 25, 2016


              II.   Unity  and  Policy

   1. The Biblical Doctrine of Unity

    Unity is of central importance in Scripture and is one of the most important doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Two of the Fundamental Beliefs are relevant here. (5)  Belief #12, “The Church,” begins by declaring: 

   “The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.” It is vitally important that the body of believers is a community; we have mutual responsibilities to each other, including “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21 ESV)

   “The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.” It is vitally important that the body of believers is a community; we have mutual responsibilities to each other, including “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21 ESV)

    and “bearing with each other, and forgiving each other” (Col 3:13 NASB), as the apostle Paul wrote (see p 4). These obligations might not exist if the Church were conceived of in Scripture as a state or other polity, rather than a community. But in the New Testament it is not so. As our Fundamental Belief #14, “Unity in the Body of Christ,” states:

The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Ch rist, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children. 


   These are the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official doctrinal statements on unity in the Church.

    As Jesus faced the ultimate trial of the cross, what was uppermost in His mind? It was not His own imminent torment, but the fate of His followers, for whom He interceded with His Father in a long prayer recorded in John 17. “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (17:9). Our Lord was concerned not only for His followers’ safety, but also for their unity, praying: “Holy Father, protect them . . . that they may be one as we are one” (17:11). Jesus also prayed for His disciples through the ages: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (17: 20-21). He wanted the same unity for His future disciples—that is, for the Church; but true unity among His followers is possible only when they are also in union with Him. Jesus prayed “that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (17: 22–23). He depicts unity among His followers as a litmus test: “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” He prayed, stating also that, [end of page 3 ] once “brought to complete unity . . . the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:21, italics supplied, and 23).*

   Christ’s desire, then, for “those who believe in [Him is] that all of them may be one” in the same way the different members of the Godhead are one. That profound triune unity, from which creation sprang, is the quality Christ wants for us, His followers. It is by our “complete unity” and love for each other that the world will know the truth of our claims about Christ and Christianity. ​

   Following the ascension, the disciples in Jerusalem lived up to Jesus’s desires for them as Luke makes clear in the book of Acts. They “continued with one accord in prayer” for ten days and it was then, “when the Day of Pentecost had come [and] they were all together” that they were baptized by the Holy Spirit (1:14, 2:1-4). The disciples’ togetherness is repeatedly underscored in Acts. We are told that the believers ‘continu[ed] daily with one accord in the temple,” that the apostles and their companions “raised their voice to God with one accord” and regularly met “all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch,” and that “among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul” (2:46, 4:24, 5:12, 4:32). Luke indicates that their sense of unity arose from a deep sense of community: believers ate meals together (2:42, 46), shared their money and goods with each other (2: 44-45, 4:32, 34), and worshiped together (Luke 24:53, Acts 2:42, 47, 3:24). Luke links their sense of accord, moreover, to their success in preaching the Gospel. When the believers were united in one accord, eating together, praising God together, and praying together, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved,” and the united believers “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 2: 46-47, 4:31).† 

   Unity was also a constant theme of the Apostle Paul. For example, writing to the believers in Rome, he urged them that, though they might have different opinions about what foods should or should not be eaten, or which days ought or ought not be kept as religious festivals, nevertheless, these things were not important in comparison to belief in Christ’s divinity and saving power (Rom 14 and 15). Paul prayed that God would give the Roman disciples “a spirit of unity as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5-6 NIV). He encouraged the believers of Ephesus “to be at one in the Spirit,” because then they would “be bound together in peace,” then memorably declared: “There is one Body and one Spirit, just as it was to one hope that you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all” (Eph. 4:3-6 Phillips). He enjoined them further: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21 NIV). Similarly, Paul charged the Christians of Colossae: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col 3: 13-14 NIV). 

  It is important to note that the biblical picture is not of uniformity but of unity amidst diversity. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul famously likens the Church to a body with different organs, using that metaphor to emphasize the diversity within the body of Christ and portray it in positive terms (1 Cor 12: 12-27). However, his ultimate point is that the various parts of the body of Christ should act unitedly: “As the human body, which has many parts, is a unity, and those parts, despite their multiplicity, constitute one single body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by the one Spirit into one body, whether we were Jews, Greeks, slaves or free men, and we have all had experience of the same spirit.” He concludes by affirming: “Now you are together the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it” (12: 12-13, 27 Phillips). ​

 The apostle returned to his image of dissimilar people retaining distinctive characteristics yet being united in belief in Christ when writing to the churches in Galatia. Paul makes it plain that salvation applies to all human beings regardless of gender, class, wealth, or ethnicity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 NKJV).

     Footnotes for this section

 Footnote:  ( 5 )   In Seventh-day Adventist Church Yearbook 2016, 6–9;
https://www.adventist.org/fileadmin/adventist. org/files/articles/official-statements/28Beliefs-Web.pdf.


          Continue to next section  2.  Unity in the Writings of Ellen G White  (6)

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Study of Church Governance and Unity - Sept. 2016 3. Role of Policy III - Diversity, Unity and Authority Introduction IV. Authority in Spirit of Prophecy V. Unilateralism VI. Application VII.  Conclusion 2. Unity in the writings of Ellen White