The Experience of Unity in the Christian Church

This week’s lesson is brought to us by GoodWord from Walla Walla. To listen to the audio conversation, please visit the GoodWord website.

Host: Alden Thompson

Guests: David Thomas and Jody Washburn

Relevant Verses: Acts 1-2, 4- 5

Leading Question: With reference to unity, how should one assess the NT evidence: Positively? Negatively? Or as a toss-up?

In light of what one finds in the New Testament and in the history of Adventism, I have found one line to be both truthful and helpful: “God’s people have never had their act together for more than a few minutes at a time.”

1. Question: If one considers just Acts 1 and 2, what adjectives might one think appropriate for describing what these chapters depict?

Comment: Words like tumultuous, intense, and marvelous, come to mind as being appropriate for Acts 1 and 2. One moves from the intense spiritual preparation leading up to the Pentecost experience, to the startling gift of tongues, to the conflict with the authorities, to the miracles of healing, to the heart-warming conversion experiences and the egalitarian unity of the community. The record of astonishing events continues through Acts 4, climaxing in a report of the body as “being of one heart and soul” and being “without a needy person among them.” Bur then comes the cold shower of Acts 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

2. Question: How should one respond to the criticism that God was overly harsh in his judgment on Ananias and Sapphira?

Comment: Whatever uneasiness moderns might experience with the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, the young Christian community was not deterred. Not only did the community grow, but miracles of healing multiplied. Acts 5 witnesses to the first of the New Testament prison deliverances. The Jewish authorities wanted to be much more severe with the disciples, but Gamaliel intervened. The disciples were flogged and released.

3. Question: After the selection of the deacons and their efforts to restore egalitarian sharing, what triggered the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem?

Comment: The strong reaction against the preaching of one of the deacons triggered a wave of persecution. “All except the apostles were scattered through the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Thus evangelism continued to nurture the growth of the community, but over a much broader geographical basis.

4. Question: Is it puzzling and/or encouraging to note that the Jew/Gentile tensions that arose over the ministry to the Hebrew and Greek widows as recorded in Acts 6, did not erupt into a full-blown division between the Jewish and Gentile believers?

Comment: The official study guide lists a series of passages that document how the churches in Macedonia and Achaia ministered to the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem: Acts 11:27-30, Gal. 2:10, Rom. 15:26, 1 Cor. 16:1-4.

Summary: Despite apparent setbacks and what would seem like an inevitable division between the Jewish and Gentile believers, it was the Gentile churches who took the initiative to minister to their poor brethren in Jerusalem, a testimony to the leading and healing power of the Spirit in the early Christian community.

Photo by Nightflyer on WikimediaCommons.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I think you have avoided answering the question. Sure the local community had no issue at all with criminal punishment. Everyone must have believed they deserved it. In the Roman mind-set, death by violence was common. Expected. Some battles over 100,000 men, women, children were killed. They lived with death from, disease, poor health, war, starvation, lack of sanitation, and Malaria. etc etc

Perhaps God acts in different ways for different cultures. Killing Ananias and Sapphira in our culture would not spur healthy evangelism. Would it really?

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It is similar to Numbers 25:6-8. Those who consider “God’s love” is separate from “His occasional needful wrath” simply don’t have a full understanding of God’s holiness or love. Ps. 136 ; Ex.34:6,7; Rom.5:9
Both the Israelite and Ananias and Sapphira were doing a travesty against the community and God punished it. “Fear” and respect, awe along with God’s long suffering is the proper view of the “Grace of God.” We are saved from the wrath of God against sin in Christ. Judgment is now “delayed” for a later full outpouring without mercy.

When God tells us clearly that His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:9), why do we insist on viewing and portraying God’s ways as no different to our ways - that God punishes people just like we do, or that God’s ‘justice’ system (including His ‘judgement’) is no different than our human system?

Have a careful look at Desire of Ages pg 761 paragraph 4 which states (in part) “Every sin must meet its punishment urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice”. Take a really close look at what is being said here. Satan is the one who is suggesting that God has to punish or else He can’t be a God of truth and justice. This is a claim of Satan. And what do we know straight from the mouth of Jesus about the validity of Satan’s claims? Satan is the father of lies and deception (Jn 8:44). From Satan’s perspective, God can’t be just if He doesn’t punish. How much of Christianity also believes and teaches that!

So we have the lie/deception from Satan that God must punish. And then we have the truth embedded within scripture that God does not operate that way - and that He does not need to. What do I mean by this?

God’s justice is restoration-based, not retribution based. That is why justice and righteousness are mentioned throughout scripture in conjunction with each other (eg Eze 18:5-9). God’s ‘higher’ justice is restoration back to what ‘ought to be’, (right-ness). And what ought to be? Punishment? No, but abundant life (Jn 10:10 - Greek zoe).

Yes, God ‘disciplines’ - but discipline does not require the imposition of punishment. The strongest discipline teacher is natural consequences. All God needs to do is to stop restraining the natural consequences of sin. This is what He does throughout the history of the bible. This is the expression of God’s ‘wrath’: releasing people who have set their hearts in a certain direction to the inherent consequences of that direction when they exercise their God-given freedom/choice to resist God’s merciful call to repentance/restoration. God’s ‘wrath’ tries firstly to offer the person the opportunity to be restored to righteousness (right-ness, ‘what ought to be’) and then, if they exercise their free choice to continue doing what seems right in their own eyes, God respects that choice and releases them to the inherent consequences of that choice. See Rom 1:18, 24,26,28 as an example of God’s ‘wrath’ in action and note the triple repetition of the term “God gave them up” or “God gave them over” meaning He actively (not passively) released them to their preferred choice.

In addition, God does not need to punish because sin does that itself. This is why Paul accurately said that the wages (ie inherent associated outcome) of sin is death (Rom 6:23). But the way this verse is typically viewed is as if Paul were saying ‘the penalty/punishment required for sin is death’. Galatians 6:8 and James 1:15 explicitly state that it is sin itself that causes death. This is why the Greek word for sin means to “miss the mark”. Miss the mark of what? To miss the mark of that which is required for abundant life. And the Hebrew equivalent conveys the idea of intentionally, not accidentally, missing the mark - deliberately evading via rebellion (see Rm 8:7). If you think about it, this makes intrinsic sense.

Think about the state the world would be in if God were not restraining the inherent/natural consequences of sin. Consider Genesis 6:5,11,12 as a description of people who were destroying themselves. That is why Jn 10:10 describes the inherent nature of sin, the transgression of the law (meaning the Law of the Spirit that promotes life Rm 8:2) as “steal, kill and destroy” - the Law of sin and death (also Rm 8:2). And what state would the environment also be in? Might the flood be the natural result of sin wreaking its results in creation - of all hell breaking loose?

We mistakenly think that somehow life is inherent to us and that order is inherent to our environment. These are false assumptions. The order necessary to sustain life is only the domain of the Kingdom of God. Anything outside of that can only produce “steal, kill and destroy”. And we forget that God is temporarily suspending the natural consequences of sin enough to give humanity the option of a second chance at eternal life (2 Pet 3:9).

Put all of this together and you have the reality where we can choose either of two options: living in accordance with the principles of the Kingdom of God unto abundant life (our inheritance under the 2nd Adam), or reject that option and ‘live’ in accordance with the principles of the Kingdom of Darkness unto death (our default inheritance under the 1st Adam). Then take a fresh look at John 3:16 and 17. God is desperately trying to encourage us to take the second chance He is offering us so that we can avoid our trajectory to ‘perishing’. That is all He is doing - period. He does not need to punish - sin already does that as part of the package-deal. Imposed punishment is coercion and has been spoken out against as a key objection to the recent GC Compliance policy. God doesn’t punish because it is against His nature and because it is not necessary.

If what I have outlined above is truth, think about the implications it has for what did - and more importantly did not - happen on the cross! But that is a subject for another time…


The issue of Ananias and Sapphira is less the harshness of the punishment than the inconsistency in God’s interactions with man. In the 1st Century God intervened directly to punish the dishonesty. But over the last 19 centuries, no one has been publicly and supernaturally struck down for embezzlement of church funds.

You can actually try this at home. When I was a lad we had something we called “investment”. This was a project of some sorts that the member would embark upon, the proceeds of which were to be donated. So you can start such an “investment” project, and publicly donate your proceeds, but keep back half of them without telling the church. You will not be struck down and killed for this sin. It won’t happen.

Now the old apologetic response is that God knew the hearts of Ananais and Sapphira, so He won’t kill you for trying out this experiment because He knows your heart that you’re not really trying to deceive the church, but rather searching for truth. But this then assumes that none, zero, zilch of the church embezzlers over the last 19 centuries were as culpable as Ananias and Sapphira - not Tetzel, not the Borgia popes, not those who have embezzled SdA congregations using the Nigeria scam, not anyone involved in the Davenport scandals, none of the “prosperty preachers”, not Benny Hinn whose fake faith healings bilk people out of their savings - no one.

So why did God change? And how to we (or can we) reconcile this observable change with the assertion in Malachai 3:6 that “I am God and I change not.”?


In the case of Judaism itself, much older than Christianity (which is divided in mind-numbing ways), we have three major divisions which include a number of sub-divisions: liberal, conservative and orthodox. The impact of science, rationalism and social-ethical issues which “seem” either touched-on or clearly stated in the Bible, make unity at the “core” level impossible, it sadly seems to me. As an example (one of many), those who think abortion is murder at any stage since conception for any reason (and cite the Bible for their justification), and would deny any choice to women, cannot walk with me on my Christian journey. My path will be different, even if I can see them on their walk from afar while I wish them well. In the end, refusing to allow some freedom and/or flexibility on such divisive issues forces even the closest loving relationships into wariness and silence in the presence of the other.


How does this story impact the notion by some Christians that Jesus is anti-capital punishment?

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God didn’t/hasn’t changed. He is the same God of Ps. 136 & Ex.34:6,7. In the NT we can see that His wrath is delayed. Rom.5:9; Rev. 14:9-12.
It seems one can either accept the OT God or not. The NT God is the same and His wrath is merely delayed in the “times of the gentiles.”

That is the reason God ordained “lawful” governments to administer justice and “secular judgment.” Rom.13:1-7

So, is the final judgment and destruction of the wicked merely “spontaneous combustion?”

Patrick –
“spontaneous combustion” – interesting that you would come to this idea.
I have been attending a Friday evening Jewish service the last 6 year by
taking a handicap Jewish friend to the service.
Psalm 92:9. In the Siddur Sim Shalom 1985 edition it has this translation.
" Your enemies, Lord, Your enemies shall perish;
all the wicked will DISINTEGRATE." [English translation in the book]

When I was sitting there and for the 1st time ACTUALLY became aware of
what it was saying [took a long time] it sounded to my mind that all the atoms
of the human body would just let go of their attraction bonds and go – POOF!
Go into atmospheric gasses – oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and the minerals
fall to the earth.
It might need an “explosion” of some sort to accomplish this. But IF SO, then
there is NO LONG, LONG burning activity of the body to accomplish this, a
little bit at a time as we have been told for over 1500 years. And pictured in
artistic works in museums, churches, Christian religious books, even in the
Great Controversy by Ellen.

I have thought about this for quite a few years, as you can see, but never was
able to find anyone willing to discuss this “alternative view” of the end of sin.
I think they wanted the “fires of hell”.


Actually Steve, I was jesting about a “naturalistic spontaneous combustion”, not one created by God.
It seems Sodom & Gomorrah were rather quick & complete. Consumed…

PS. Dangers in “overstating and understating” what scripture says. I believe.

If one accepts the premise that in the final judgment God “destroys” the wicked, then you must accept the premise or the fact that the Character of God is made up of good and evil. I hope no one believes that!


Is it possible your premise is wrong Leroy? Is it possible that God is righteous and hates sin and iniquity? He destroys those who embrace and won’t repent.
Why is that evil? Righteousness, what God is, simply abhors evil/sin and it’s effects. Is the God of the universe limited by our understanding? Or, is part of our faith that He does all things well? Isa. 45:4-25.

Sorry Patrick. Your observation makes God a human being, not God.

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I’m not sure I’m following you, Leroy87.

Are you claiming a universal salvation? All are saved?

In principle, yes I believe so. Spontaneous self-annihilation is how I would describe it.

In the old song – “You are the potter, I am the clay”
The potter owns the clay, owns whatever is made out of the clay.
If the clay doesn’t do “right”, the potter has the authority to dispose of the clay.
God made humans out of the “dust of the ground”. If the “dust” doesn’t do
“right” God has the authority to return the “dust” to the “ground”.

That’s fine if you see it that way but have you created your own concept of God not given in scripture. Of course someone has that right too but if the real God doesn’t turn out that way is one more wise and noble than Him and detest Him for that?

Leroy, perhaps you can enlighten us with your scriptural basis for natural destruction of the wicked? What is wrong with the texts I supplied?