Perspective: Avondale Lecturer's PhD Reveals Keys to Church Unity

Church unity is not about uniformity, but union with Christ; not about knowing, but practicing truth as found in Jesus, an Avondale College lecturer's doctorate reveals. Dr. Wendy Jackson compared the views and practices of Restoration Movement leader Alexander Campbell and Seventh-day Adventist Church pioneer Ellen White to reach her conclusions about achieving unity.

While both Campbell and White believed unity begins in Christ, they understood the methodologies for maintaining unity differently.

Campbell's back-to-Acts model emphasised a comprehensive restoration of New Testament Christianity that "effectively limited the possible authority structures of the church," writes Jackson in her thesis. Campbell saw disunity stemming from the mixing of human opinion with divine authority. He guarded against it by emphasising agreement in the core facts of the gospel, the use of a consistent method of Bible interpretation and the sole use of biblical terminology. The problem, though: "You risk becoming irrelevant," says Jackson.

White's union-with-Christ model emphasizes "the importance of the transformation that occurs in the lives of those who are connected to Christ," writes Jackson. White saw disunity, even that which at first appeared to be associated with theological disagreement, as stemming primarily from disconnection with Christ. She saw connection with Christ, though, as resulting in an understanding of what it means to be a church, what it means to be a Christian and the nature of truth as it is in Jesus. "White expected that experiencing this transformation would make individuals sympathetic to the truths of the remnant, willing to submit to one another and prepared to recognise the Bible as the rule of faith and practice," says Jackson. The implication: it is not about difference in doctrine but about how you deal with that difference.

Campbell and White did agree on one thing: bottom-up rather than top-down authority. "White is very clear about decentralising power," says Jackson. "Authority does not lie in the hierarchical structure and decision should be made locally where possible." White's concern centred more on the importance of order and the character of the leaders within the authority structure rather than on the form of authority structure itself.

Despite using published primary sources from the 1800s, Jackson says her thesis, The unity of the church and church authority, is particularly relevant for the worldwide Adventist Church in 2015. The church voted down a motion that would have allowed each of its divisions to decide for themselves whether to ordain women to the gospel ministry. The vote ended a five-year study characterised by "vigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate," according to the church's flagship journal, Adventist Review.

While delegates at the 60th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Antonio were discussing the ordination issue, church members were interceding in the prayer room. Dominik Zeh / Adventist News Network

"In Scripture, leadership is not about authority, it's about servanthood," says Jackson. She describes the six-hour discussion on the floor of the church's session in San Antonio in July as "a perfect opportunity to submit to each other, with part of the church saying, "We need this now but we realise you don't," and the other saying, "We don't need this now but we realise you do." Instead there was intimidation and triumphalism."

The conferral of Jackson's Doctor of Philosophy comes 25 years after her graduation as a medical doctor specializing in paediatric endocrinology.

Jackson will be awarded her doctoral degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University at year end.

Brenton Stacey is public relations officer, Avondale College of Higher Education.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

And what then is the cause for this obvious disconnection with Christ and what would be the healing?
When Ted Wilson asked for Revival and Reformation, I asked what exactly would we have to turn away from. Repentance from what? Obviously from disconnection with Christ. But we would have to realize this…


The problem is we speak in idioms. Revival and reformation can mean anything we want it do mean. In some parts of Adventism it means getting back to the “pillars” just as they were written in the 1800s - but nobody wants to say that in plain language, so it’s couched in generalities. This brings up a generational disconnect; and for those who actually care what words mean, it leaves them in a kind of limbo. It’s not unlike political speeches with catch phrases that don’t mean anything specific. It also leaves wiggle room that can be used situationally, dependent on who you’re talking to.

Our unity lies in Christ, not what we have made that to mean denomninationally, or individually. The Christian community is about Christ, not all the bells and whistles we attach to worshiping Him.


Unity lies in Christ.
Ok, that is good!
But, what Exactly DOES IT LOOK LIKE in real life???
In the Policies and Procedures of the Church?
In how the Local Church, Conferences, Unions are allowed to conduct business?
That is the huge issue that is difficult to pin down.

Gideon – as you stated, Tolerance is usually perceived as Unity.
When Tolerance is just a dormant Volcano.


Right on. Both of you.
Those who get closer to having the mind /thought patterns of Jesus will experience more unity.

The Jews learned this the hard way and that is why we see NEH 8:8 in the bible.
Religion/Christianity/the church/SDA is full of idioms, clichés, generalities that are ambiguous, abstract and obscure.

Unity in Christ is just a churchian or institutional campaign slogan.
Those who are immature, with their denominational/institutional loyalty, will struggle with unity until the 2nd coming

Hitler knew how to work the crowds at the Nazi mass rallies yelling with a bunch of superficial/ shallow nationalistic phrases in his speeches. If one ever saw the English or their own language subtitles of his speeches, they would see sweet generalizations/ nothings addressed to those nationalistic fanatics and/or Hitler worshippers of grammar school education level.

This is why competent preachers will exegete and explain the bible portion that they are using during a sermon. Just because it is in English (or your language) does not guarantee that the audience understands the words or meaning of the sentences. Especially with words like justification, sanctification, reconciliation, glorification, salvation…incarnation. *ation, * ation, *ation

Usually SS classes and sermons are cliché contaminated.

Even those who promote or campaign for unity in Christ, connect with Christ, accept Christ, surrender to Christ, focus on Christ…are all over the map as to what it means…or don’t even explain any practical details as to what it means,

There is not real unity…only some level of toleration for short periods of time.
Uganda was evidence of that.

Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

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Kudos to Dr Dr Wendy Jackson!

It is great that Dr Jackson has elucidated for us the source of our unity in Christ! Would that there were a great many more studies into the core teachings of Ellen White!

So often, when Adventist scholars get together to expand their horizons concerning Ellen White they almost solely deal with the doctrine of revelation/ inspiration as it has to do with her life and ministry. An important example of that was the recent *Gift of Prophecy Symposium * held at the SDA Seminary.

Having viewed this symposium almost in its entirity I am thankful for the research done and for the more nuanced understandings reached. But there is so much more to be learnt from the Ellen White writings, apart from how she did it. We should invest much more energy in seeking to understand what she taught. And Wendy Jackson has pointed the way!

Wendy’s dissertation certainly should force us all to question our personal unity with Christ and our fellow believers. And I find her reflections on how such unity may have more positively affected the outcome of the San Antonio GC vote on ordination to be extremely helpful.

Wendy Jackson contributed a very useful chapter to the volume, South Pacific Perspectives on Ordination: Biblical, Theological and Historical Studies in an Adventist Context. This volume was edited by Drs Graeme Humble & Robert McIver. It is published by Avondale Academic Press, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia in June 2015. The title of chapter 9 is “Should Ordination be Considered a Sacrament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? An Evaluation in the Light of the Biblical Data”

In this chapter she asks the question, “Is there a Distinction between the Status of Clergy and Laity?” The understanding of ordination as a sacrament requires that ordination confer an indelible mark or seal on the ordinand. However, there is no NT precedent for believing in such a sacramental view of ordination.In fact, three lines of evidence argue against such a sacramental view of ordination, according to Wendy.

First, since Christ is continuously interceding on our behalf NT christians have no need of earthly mediators drawn from a defined group who are set apart from the remainder of God’s people. Ministry is not restricted to a particular group of super-Christians of superior status. On the contrary, all converts are called to minister according to their particular gifting. As Wendy says on this thread, “In Scripture, leadership is not about authority, it’s about servanthood.”

Second, as Wendy concludes, "Christians [the whole people of God] are rightly called the laos of God. Both words , laos and kleros, are used in ways that signify the Christian community as a whole. The NT context does not support a difference between them… Thus the idea of a distinction between clergy and laity emerged in the post-NT church.

Third, according to Jackson, there is a consistent avoidance of words used for the civil and religious authorities when refering to the ministries of the church. Such words generally implied the ideas of primacy and honour. Thus the NT church did not see a distinction between its pastoral leadership and its other members.

I believe that a simple understanding of such facts as these would have produced a lot less heat and a great deal more light than was evident at the San Antonio GC.


The secret to unity begins with how we view ourselves within the body and how we view others. In regards to ordaining women in ministry we need to ask ourselves if we truly respect women and see them as equal to men. The key verse that addresses this is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” All disunity in a church can be traced back to the simple truth that too often we act selfishly and consider ourselves better than others. The Bible underscores the importance of “unity” and “oneness.” Unity with others is “good” and “pleasant” (Psalm 133:1). Unity is absolutely essential because the church is the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), and a body cannot be in disunity or disharmony with itself. If disunity occurs, it essentially ceases to be a body and becomes a disjointed group of individuals. Jesus’ plan for His church is people unified in the faith.

If we are to make meaningful progress in preserving the oneness that God in Christ gave us, we must allow the Bible to teach us what God and Christ do for everyone, men and women, when, in faith, we are baptized into Christ. We must allow the New Testament to teach us the concept of unity. The necessity should be obvious. When our concept of unity declares that in the name of unity we split, separate, and divide, something is seriously wrong with our concept.

Most importantly, as Christians, we are to see one another in the light of the cross. Fellow Christians are those for whom Christ died a horrible and painful death so that He might exchange His righteous perfection for their sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). How can we not extend to them the love, compassion, and grace of our heavenly Father? How can we demean, criticize, and defame those covered with the precious blood of Christ? Were we not slaves to sin when He called us, hopelessly lost, dead in our own transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)? But we are now slaves of Christ, slaves to righteousness, and as slaves of the Master, the task before us is not to quarrel and demand our needs be met but to reflect His grace and love to those who are also His by His mercy. A church full of such people enjoying their “common salvation” will be a true, biblical church unified in, and earnestly contending for, the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).


This is the kind of real-time, incredibly relevant research that the SDA church needs. Hopefully it will help to shine a little light in the present darkness.


In order to meet accreditation standards, the Board of Trustees at Loma Linda was restructured ro include more lay persons with careers related to the discplines taught at the University. As an Adventist dentist and and academic officer I accepted appointment. At the first board meeting an issue came to a vote. I voted no. the Chair a Vice President of the Genersl Conference said “Tom, we have never had a no vote before. Would you like to Change
your vote?” I replied, No. I am able to live with the result, and with the fact that I lost. I cannot live with conformity just for the sake history. later at a break, I returned to my seat a little late. during that short span the chair took another vote. then turned to the Sec. And said please record a unanamus vote, then turned and smiled at me…I smiled back. I soon learned that the full board was only in compliance with accreditation standards. the executive committee of the board met the day before where the decisions were made. Never the less it was a great learning experience for me. Tom Z


Soon to be Dr. Jackson hits the nail on the head: how we deal with each other in disagreements over biblical meaning. I have said from the beginning of this last five years of debate on WO that God doesn’t particularly care if a woman He has called to the gospel ministry has the rite of laying on of hands and receiving a title of “ordained” or not. (He calls and gifts whom He will, when He will and where He will.) What He has cared deeply about is how we have handled the controversy. And, frankly, we have not handled it well. We have clashed over something that isn’t definitive on the point of WO without the humility to see that lack of definition. We have taken up our personal opinions and have pushed the agenda. It has become an idiological slugfest. It has God’s notice to be sure. He has shown thee O man what it good and what the Lord requires: to love mercy, to do justly and to walk humbly with thy God.


Oh God, we deal with each woman in the meadows of disagreements over biblical meaning. The knolls of yesterday God care women of hallow and willing the rite of rights titles of gospel ministry called “ordained”. From the beginning God doesn’t particularly care men ordained in Black sheep skin of weak blot out Godly women He called gifts how dare what Masonic cold chilling stone age they men of thieves who steal years the tears of a widows’ mite rite called “ordained” those so young so dear, were forced to die, the widows’ smite in the ageless men practicing lies called definitive men doctrine practicing war sophisticated lies the battle red flag of blood swayed in smoked-filled 60th General Conference Session of Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Antonio hall amidst the cries of young and old women whose “ordained” were nullified by male camaraderie strong expediency.

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Having known Wendy for some 25 years, and seen her discard her medical career in favour of a theological profession, and being aware of significant involvement she has had in ministry, I have to wonder, how long before such a woman is ordained.

Great PhD topic, Wendy. Timely and relevant. If only TW had the academic capacity to be one of the assessors, the learnings might make a difference to the SDA church at the level it is most needed.