Church Organization and Unity

When presented with this week’s Sabbath School topic, my thoughts first turned to the reformation movement called Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum), also known as the Moravian Church. It is one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world, with its heritage dating back to the Bohemian Reformation in the fifteenth century, in the Kingdom of Bohemia (known as the Czech Republic today). Even after two hundred years of heavy persecution, this movement (which became known as the “renewed Unity of the Brethren”) was still on its feet in a village known as Herrnhut; this Christian community was a remarkable experiment, as well as a major catalyst, for Protestant missions. You may be familiar with the testimony John Wesley gave about the amazing spirit of these people (E. G. White, The Great Controversy, 255).

What you may not know is the more recent history of this denomination. Not too far from Herrnhut is Unity’s largest church in the region. After the fall of Communism in the Czech Republic, this church grew by hundreds of people, and new churches were planted in surrounding villages and towns. However, at the same time, tension grew from within the church with regard to both the direction of the denomination as a whole, and the denomination’s teachings; some thought the tension was something that would pass, but the rift grew.

A radical branch of leaders emerged as the root of this division; they were not merely charismatic, but perpetuated intolerance and totality. This branch became the stronger wing of church leadership, and eventually took over the denomination, pushing the other wing out. Sadly, the new charismatic Unity of the Brethren in the Czech Republic has never fully recovered from this dissection, and has repeatedly been a seat of division as new groups of believers have broken off and left [To all congregations of the Unity of Brethren – a Czech text].

One might question if there was a way to keep Unity from losing its oneness. How can a church organization function in such a way as to prevent painful splitting and a divisive spirit? Are there any conditions that justify dividing God’s church? In what ways is the organization of the church helpful, and in what ways can it be harmful to the unity for which Jesus prayed in His final hours before death (John 17)?

The key text in this week’s lesson guide is found in Matthew 20:26, 27. In this story, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus, attempting to secure her sons a place of honor in Jesus’ coming kingdom. Yet the other disciples were indignant. They were also disciples of the King! It’s no wonder they wanted a place of honor in His kingdom, too.

Jesus used this opportunity to teach one of the most important lessons a disciple can learn; He taught them how to be good leaders, not only humanly speaking, but also from God’s perspective.

In your mind’s eye, can’t you just imagine Jesus gently saying: “So you want to be the center of attention? Do you want to get all of the honor for yourself? Do you want to rule above others? If you indeed strive for honor, here is the secret: true honor comes through shame—the shame of being the last one, the shame of the cross.

By saying this, Jesus set the foundation for what is now called “servant leadership.” The concept of servant leadership has received a lot of attention in recent times—in both the secular world and the Christian world. However, it is not always clear for leaders what exactly it means to be a servant leader. Research shows that pastors who claim their leadership style is “serving” (as opposed to relational, people-oriented, team-based, and goal-oriented) generally have smaller, declining, and less healthy churches (ICM research 2017, 2018). It is clear that these leaders have “missed the mark,” if you will, on what being a true servant leader means.

The concept of servant leadership can be best demonstrated by the Godhead itself. The Triune God is comprised of three, equally powerful beings; yet we do not see them vying for power or attempting to have more control than the others. They set the ultimate example of servant leadership, and also the ultimate example of unity.

With this in mind, consider the following table, which shows the typical patterns of organizations (including the church), as opposed to the patterns we find in the Scripture, represented by the Triune God.

Church Organization and Unity Man-made model Biblical-Trinitarian model The source of unity Human authority Triune God (Matt 28:18-20) The basis for unity Policy/tradition Biblical teaching (John 17) The nature of unity Enforced Voluntary (John 6:37) Optimal goal of unity Uniformity Oneness in diversity (John 17) The head Human (Male) Top leader Christ (Eph. 5:23-27) Shared leadership (Matt 28:19) Agenda Promotion/Honor man Honor Father (Rev. 21:24) Driving force Power/strength/votes Spirit (Zech. 4:6) Motives Fear Pride Love (1 John 4) Humility (Matt. 20:25-28) Form of government Hierarchy Army model Community (Acts 2:41-47) Family model (Eph. 5:23-27) Means of achieving unity Dominion Majority Sacrifice (John 11:47-53) Minority (Luke 13:22-30) Means of preserving unity Control Rebuke Punishment Submission (Eph. 5:23-27) Encouragement (Gal. 6:1) Support (Gal. 6:2)

Almost twenty years ago, Jan Paulsen, former General Conference president, stated during the closing Sabbath convocation in Toronto, "Our very size—internationally, culturally, and politically—and our ethnic diversity pose a formidable challenge in terms of unity” (Pat Gustin in Ministry Magazine, 2000). This statement proves even more relevant for our church today. To maintain unity in our worldwide denomination appears increasingly more impossible by mere human strategies, human means, and by human power.

Interestingly, the Sabbath School lesson guide next brings our attention to Ephesians’ fifth chapter, where Paul talks about the unity of marriage and compares it to the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage is clearly an establishment in which unity is crucial; to become one is the essence of marriage (Gen. 2:24). In our human condition, crises in marriage are common and almost inevitable. Such crises may be due to missing communication, an absence of collaboration, no sense of unity, and/or lack of mutual submission. However, when crises are solved, a marriage may be strengthened, bringing greater unity and harmony to the union. On the other hand, if there is ongoing coercion, pressure, and manipulation within a marriage, the marriage will show signs of unhealthy tension. Additionally, if these dysfunctional behaviors are accompanied by violence, abuse, or even infidelity in a marriage, outside expertise and help is needed. Unresolved crises within a marriage bring pain to all involved parties and many times lead to divorce.

Obviously, divorce and its consequences are not good for marriage. Similarly, removing leaders, conference(s), union(s), or division(s) from our church in the name of unity would not be good for our church organization. Similarly, the division of church offshoots (as seen in the opening example of the renewed Unity of Brethren) is damaging to the church, as well. Disharmony can hardly serve as a means to restoring unity. If Christ is the head of the church, then shouldn’t He and His church also be the source of unity?

The first-century church “was clearly countercultural just in terms of the love and unity it exemplified” (Pat Gustin in Ministry Magazine, 2000). Christians were known as those who were disciples of Jesus (John 13:35). Their unity was indeed the greatest witness to the power of the risen Christ. We can see from history and Scripture that while formal organizations can be extremely helpful, they can also be extremely harmful for unity.

There are lot of “little things” involved in church life, but one Spirit—a Spirit of humility and servitude—can make a big difference; this is true whether we are talking about leaders, teaching, ministries, or mission. True unity in Christ cannot be implemented without His presence and guidance. Additionally, unity cannot be instituted at the cost of violating our conscience. When unity is maintained through use of totalitarian and authoritarian power (as seen in the examples of Unity), it won’t last long. If true unity is to be implemented, we must follow the example of the Triune God (see the Biblical-Trinitarian model in the table above); the greatest of us must be willing to be the least. Following the model of the Godhead leadership, the church will inevitably have shared leadership, which is relational rather than hierarchical, complementary rather than competing, mutually submissive and yet equal, thus demonstrating unity in being, will, and work.

How can we assess if our local church organization leads us to a unity as described in the Bible? Here are some questions that may help us to assess the kind of unity and balance we work with. Does the church organization you are part of:

  • Point members to the Godhead as the ultimate source of life, love, and unity?
  • Help the church members to experience God in their heart?
  • Strengthen the fellowship (loving community) of the believers?
  • Equip the believers to serve the world (to fulfill its mission)?
  • Nurture faithfulness of those who belong?
  • Foster fruitfulness in church ministry on all levels?

Now I challenge you to consider your own place in the unified body of Christ. Many times, it is easy to look to church leadership and expect that cohesion will start at the top and trickle down. However, unity is the duty and responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ. What can you—personally—do to enhance the unity of your local church?

Some food for thought.

Petr Činčala is Assistant Professor of World Mission and Director of the Institute of Church Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary, Andrews University, Michigan.

Photo Vogtshof Herrnhut, seat of the Moravian Church, by Lysippos on Wikimedia Commons

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What can I do to enhance the unity of my local church? Great question.

I’ll be pondering this over the holidays and into the new year.

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This was a very pleasant reading. The author’s name clearly reveals that he is Czech.

I liked this article first because it explored part of the history of my own family’s country (everyone in my family but me were born in Ostrava, in the Czech Republic). Actually, I remember my Dad telling me some stories about the “Českých Bratří” (Czech Brethren) since he liked reading history and had some good books about Czech history. He learned a lot about the reformation movement in that area. Jan Hus’ (or Huss) story is fascinating. I am actually reading his bio right now.

Regarding UNITY…, well I guess we have discussed it so much but nothing is going to change as long as Ted Wilson is the GC President. His presidency supports discrimination of women, therefore unity cannot be reached at this time. Maybe after 2020, IF we are lucky and the whole GC team is Repealed & Replaced. Otherwise, this nightmare will continue…


This is a problematic statement because it is applying a homogenous approach to a heterogeneous phenomenon. An amicable divorce is sometimes the best possible outcome in a toxic marital situation and can be far healthier in certain situations than continuing on in a toxic marriage.

Why not just fix the toxic marriage you may wonder? However, I know there will be those who read this and understand from personal experience that sometimes this is not possible. But aren’t all things possible with God? Only when the necessary preconditions are in existence. God works within reality, not fantasy.

So, because the above quote is problematic, so to is the following one for the same reasons:

This quote similarly reflects attempted application of a homogeneous solution to a heterogeneous phenomenon. Consequently, again, there are situations where removal would actually be the healthiest possible outcome.

We need to remember that we live within a sin-infected context (for now) and that doing so unfortunately sometimes limits what is possible - even for God. Before you cry “blasphemy” please firstly consider that the Bible is filled with accounts supporting this assertion. For example, it was God’s intention that OT Israel be the primary avenue through which salvation was extended to all of humanity (Gal 3:8). But that option had to be abandoned due to factors beyond God’s control - namely humanity’s poor exercise of free will.

We too frequently underestimate how big an issue sin is and how much it actually does impair what God would rather have happen. Consider God’s preference in 2 Pet 3:9 and compare with the reality that God also knows in Matt 7:13. God is able to simultaneously embrace the ideal and the real. We humans have much more difficulty doing this and instead embrace ‘fanatsy’ in an attempt to lessen our discomfort.

This in no way detracts from God’s Omnipotence due to Rom 8:28, but it does suggest we need to include reality within our Biblical world view and surrender fantasy - as uncomfortable as that is to do.


People are elected not to be “important persons,” but rather to accomplish important tasks in leading the Church toward expansion and development.

However, if they fail to fulfill the responsibilities of their offices, they should be replaced asap. The best interest of the Church comes first, not the fame of some individual who practices politicking as means of survival occupying a certain position. This is why I say that the Church will be stuck running backwards for as long as Ted Wilson and his minions remain in power.

There is an emergency now that makes “Repeal & Replace” an urgency!!!


People are complex, an amalgamation of genetics, culture, and experience. Along comes a faith system, birthed within the nineteenth century cultural environment, and nurtured by an apocalyptic focus that got support from the turbulence of the twentieth century geopolitical upheaval. Waiting for Jesus to come with angels and trumpets was transferred into a realm beyond the stars where it became a belief, rather than a real-life event. To keep this belief relevant has been a challenge. Today, cultures flow, one into another; and it’s become increasingly difficult to figure out how any group is going to respond to any kind of pitch, whether political or spiritual.

So here we have an administrator of a faith system who’s trying to unravel this cultural pile of yarn in order to weave a cohesive and coherent organization by retreating to its roots firmly stuck in the nineteenth century. The Amish and other extreme groups of other faiths have already placed “no trespassing” signs around their congregations - petrifying them into some time period in the past - horses and buggies instead of automobiles; costumes from some time period in the past, instead of contemporary clothing; manual plows, instead of John Deere. Life is quiet and serene as long as the interstate is a sufficient distance from the farm.

Just like the natives, who used to marvel at the noisy birds that flew over their huts with regularity, are now travelling on these birds around the globe, far from their ancestral homes - followers of faiths that try to keep its membership “down on the farm” are finding it difficult to hold on to the reins. The truth is, no matter what century we live in, our stories are basically the same - we’re born; we survive; and we die. Humanity, as a whole, has the same issues, hopes and fears These are what Jesus came to address.

Life is change. We shed our skin and we change our perceptions as we grow physically and mentally. Our unity lies in our humanity. Jesus had a remedy for the divisiveness on this earth - LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD THEM DO TO YOU - no decoding necessary. All differences melt in those words; and they are most easily forgotten when we keep focusing on our own preservation.


And, sadly, the genuine pursuit of Truth became replaced with a focus on preservation and promulgation of 20-something ‘doctrines’ as the distinctive product exclusively sold by the self-proclaimed ‘Remnant’ brand label.


Has the Group taken the time to read “The Bible Brand Promise”?
It is a contemporary take on John 3. But has important instruction for us.
It is EASY to become “Nick”.
When it comes down to it, “Does Jesus reside in local SDA churches?”
Do the members of the local communities where there is an SDA
congregation of believers HEAR from the community – “WE would see Jesus”.
And are we able like Andrew and Philip, introduce them to the REAL Jesus?
Or to the “Madison Avenue” Jesus?

Only "Will the REAL Jesus Stand Up?’ will bring unity in the Seventh day
Adventist Denomination.
Conducting the World Denomination based on the Jesus Method of
conducting business and relationships among His TRUE Disciples.
Want to be a Leader?? Jesus said, You MUST be a SLAVE to everyone.
You must not want to sit at the table with the “Important People.”
Your Goals in Ministry will not be to “Be Incharge” but as a Facilitator to
the Gospel.


Some of the synonyms of the word organise are structure, standardise and categorise. When we categorise we give labels, we distinguish between people or groups. Does the very nature of the organisation of the SDA Church encourage division rather than unity? If the structure of the church does not enhance mission, it needs to change.


I like your stated remedy, “love your neighbor and do unto others as you would them do to you.” And in the article it carries two stated remedies that are also universal as your stated one. “Point members to the Godhead as the ultimate source of life, love, and unity?” “Help the church members to experience God in their heart?” It may be said that all other “remedies” are but an out-flowing of these.

All three sound so easy, but we know from experience, that God is in the details. How often we as humanity let the Devil be in the details instead.

In the WO issue which many articles here address somewhat one-sidedly, very few have asked, if we win and what happens to those who believe the issue differently, and they get ousted? It seems from the way some “talk” here, they don’t care about them, in fact the suggestions are similar to toss them for good, replace and discard.

However, from the brethren who see WO as not biblical, they will not take such drastic action and only with proper procedures adhered to; procedures that allow for consultation, bibilcal discussion, and prayer for unity.

Which group has the love of the brethren in place, seeking what is good for the church, and which group has “I want” and “if you don’t give it to me, look out.”

I don’t see a suggestion to be ousting those who oppose WO. It may be necessary as a shift of leadership, but not in a context of compliance (Inquisition) that was set up to maintain unity (conformity).

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It may take a while because there are so many of them, but go back through the comments for the last year and you will get the meaning of their get rid of them, toss them out, we need to separate, etc.

That could be said for both. Those against WO are motivated by other factors besides the fact that the Bible doesn’t specifically endorse WO. Bt, then, it doesn’t forbid it either - so that’s a draw. So let’s look at motivation. Since the Bible is mute on the subject, the pro and con come from other sources.

The cultures that are against WO draw their opposition from a cultural that degrade women in other ways as well. In many cases, women are considered property - that is unbiblical and anti Gospel. “With God, there is neither male, nor female.” That is biblical. In fact, it’s the Bible that has given women dignity of personhood.

OK. iff “they” win, what happens to our denomination in other areas, where, already, the lack of respect for women in this regard, is driving away young people, who see this conflict as political, having nothing to do with issues of faith. So, we are going to sacrifice the women in our society so those who haven’t caught up to the basic biblical concept of equality, can be catered to - and not for any other reason than to keep the numbers growing - money and the membership, since the less educated in all areas are more easily manipulated.

So what we have is sacrifice in either case - but what for? One, for cultural biases; the other, for equality.

There has been at least 50 years of “biblical discussion and prayer”. They will keep praying and discussing until the answer comes back as a booming voice from heaven, agreeing with them. That’s not going to happen.


This is the main problem:

  1. The anti-WO discriminators insist in imposing their preference on everyone else - no tolerance. Create an inquisition team, and burn those who dare to oppose discrimination. Steal the Unions’ current authority and transfer it to the GC.
  2. Those who support WO , the anti-discriminators, say that things should stay as they are in terms of the Unions retaining their current power to decide on ordination issues. Those who don’t like women ministers don’t have to attend churches that elected having them.
  3. For as long as discrimination against women is imposed to the whole Church body, the problem will remain because there will always be defenders of civility and decency and respect toward women who will not silence their voices.
  4. It’s a shame that a Church that is supposed to be founded on Christian principles is morally so corrupt at its top administration (GC) that it maintains discrimination of women being practiced all around the world with absolutely no respect to those who oppose such a shameful practice.

There is a big difference between these two groups. Any accusation that the WO supporters want to kick out the discriminators is false. I have never seen such a suggestion being given either here or anywhere else.

The fact is that the supporters of WO do not care if those who discriminate want to keep their practice in their communities or churches. Just keep doing it! Who cares if somewhere in Mungamba or Nabunda (in Africa) or in Chuchuinha da Serra (in Brazil) the men discriminate against their women. Let them keep their stone-age cultural status!

But, they should not be deciding what other communities, who decide to be more civilized, can or cannot do.

Besides, it’s good to keep in mind that ordinations is NOT a biblical/spiritual issue, though discrimination IS! Can’t people see the obvious implications of this difference???


George –
It doesn’t matter.
IS POWER. Or should say, LOSS of power if women get in the mix.
There is the I"M IN CHARGE HERE!! attitude.
NOT the Biblical servant leader attitude which Jesus tried to instill in His
disciples, and which Paul hammered away in his letters.


Steve, what I don’t understand is how can a person who was converted to the Christian faith support discrimination? Shouldn’t the Christian faith produce a different fruit? What is the loophole, the flaw in the power of the Word to convert?


What Adventist female pastor has ever said this? Are you acquainted with any female Adventist pastors?


I will only answer two, your first point, as the others draw from that, and the second paragraph.

You say “That could not be said for both.” When have you heard Wilson for instance rant and rave like a petulant child in anything remotely like someone else has done at a certain NAD meeting?

And a very important point which I have addressed at other times comes out in your stating that the “Bible doesn’t endorse WO on the one side, but doesn’t forbid it either - so its a draw?” Coming from that false premise you can ask the next questions with the reference to Galatians 3:28.

There was a time when we took the Bible, the word of God as our standard. If it said we could or should do something, then it was understood that we could or should. Because that is no longer our standard, we now say without thinking anything of it, “it doesn’t exactly say we can’t.” We have lost the whole world of difference between the two mindsets.

One or two atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins believe men have a promiscuous gene that somehow excuses the desire men have for rape, etc. He also believes that love is better described as lust, and a few other things not worth mentioning. (He is still married I believe???) So if the laws of the land are changed to excuse rape (because we are supposed to have this gene and can’t help ourselves) will it be okay to rape now? I hope you answer as I do, with a definite NO.

We can make excuses after excuses because something like the Bible doesn’t say we can’t, therefore we can; but God will not be fooled with such theology, or exegesis if you like.

Referring again to Galatians 3:28. I’ve drawn others attention to the fact that this verse, and those surrounding it have nothing to do with church leadership. It is a salvation text - Who can have salvation freely offered to them. I draws a broad, but basic description of humanity. Read the words again: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

To be sure, look at the surrounding verses. Does any of them mention who is recommended to be a church leader? Or do we find the text saying as it continues on in verse 29, that all humanity who is in Christ is an heir of promised salvation? The overall theme of Galatians is the difference between striving for our salvation through law keeping, and being “in Christ” so that His character can be interwoven into the Christian’s life.

I don’t know why my brethren of the WO persuasion fail to see the misuse of this Galatians text.

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What is it about women that disqualifies them from being in the pulpit; or leadership? (From the Bible)

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