Unity in Faith: Where Shall We Find the Strength to Carry Us as One Body to the End


(Spectrumbot) #1

How is it possible to find unity in diversity? How can we expect individuals of different ages and gifts with a wide variety of racial, social, educational, cultural, and gender experiences to come together as a cohesive and integrated group? What is the common denominator capable of melding such a collection of entities into one, organic whole that functions together for the well being of the group?

This week’s lesson refers us back to certain specific theological premises (beliefs) that we hold in common as Adventists. On Sunday, November 18, the lesson stressed that, “Although as Seventh-day Adventists we have much in common with other Christian bodies, our set of beliefs form a unique system of biblical truth that no one else in the Christian world is proclaiming. These truths help define us as God’s end-time remnant.” The author very helpfully goes on to point out that “Paul told the Corinthians that the good news” is that through Christ, God reconciled the world to himself. Jesus himself bridged the gap between the sinful world of humanity and the heavenly kingdom of God. Where there was alienation between God and humanity that had been introduced by human choice, all was made at-one again, in harmony, through the Jesus event. The author then states that, “Church unity is thus a gift of this reconciliation.” This is the beginning of his overview of certain of the particular items of belief that we generally share as Adventists, beginning with “the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” The subsequent lessons each examine the distinct Adventist stance on the Second Advent, Jesus’ ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary, the Sabbath, the State of the Dead, and Resurrection.

Each of these are indeed precious doctrines, although it must be acknowledged that, in truth, all Adventists do not understand or observe even these select beliefs in the same way. And for the sake of honesty, it would probably be necessary to note that what is offered subsequently is a short string of proof texts that back up Adventist conclusions on each of these beliefs. Each of these verses points the reader to the conclusion that Adventists have reached on these contended topics. Therefore, the lesson stands as an argument that agreement on key theological items offers the church a basis for unity as well as proof that we are “God’s remnant,” reconciled through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Unfortunately, neither Scripture nor our one-hundred-and-fifty-plus years as a church support these claims. The Adventist Church has experienced large tears in the fabric of its community while clinging to these doctrinal propositions, arguing bitterly on how to understand and observe them.

The better news is that a closer look at Scripture and the cultural understandings of its first receivers do identify the basis for unity in faith. The unifying faith, however, does not start with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but his very life. Jesus’ entire life was dedicated to clearing up millennia of false understandings about God and what was required to be “right” with Him. The faith that unifies us is the faith that God is love, and that Jesus is the most trustworthy representation of and testimony to his inclusive love for this undeserving world. As the author of Hebrews asserts,

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word…” (Heb. 1:1–3).

Jesus’ lived testimony outranks the witness of all the prophets and their writings, the revelation nature discloses, and even the human ability to reason out God’s presence and character, as Jesus is the only one who was with God from the beginning. As the book of John notes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We can add Jesus’ own pronouncement to these observations made by others: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you: and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:25­–26).

It is easy to focus so intensely on the legal aspects of Christ’s death as a payment for the wrongs committed by humanity that we miss the point of both his life and his death. Jesus’ life was the revelation of God: God’s character, God’s intentions, and God’s will for humanity. His death and resurrection are the continuation of the claims that he manifested in his life: that God’s very being is love, and His will is that all humanity live in peace with each other, honoring the creation in which we have been placed, seeing the imprimatur of God on every human being, and treating others as we would have them treat us. Revealing that God is love, and that God’s law is love, Jesus modeled what that law looked like in actual human situations and interactions. It is this faith, that Jesus is the true witness of God’s character, and that God’s will is that we choose to live eternally a life of love in His presence, that draws us together, because love can only be practiced in community.

Of course, it is within community that love is translated from ideology to experience. If we fail to notice that the commandment to love is horizontal as well as vertical, it is easy to fall into the old trap of concentrating on the vertical aspect of Christianity: believing that since God loves me, and I have acknowledged Him as my Lord and Redeemer, gone to church, paid my tithe, and confessed my personal sins and shortcomings, that I am part of his kingdom, just waiting for his arrival. Let there be no mistake: the vertical aspect of Christianity is foundational, and its importance must never be underestimated. Without the experience of God’s love, all our piety cannot hope to “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.” We are bound together by the simple fact that God is the source of all of our lives, as well as our sustainer and redeemer. He is both the author and finisher of our faith, and the daily sustainer of our strength, courage, hope, and joy. It is His voice that beckons us to keep moving towards him. It is his Spirit that moves us past tempting side-roads that lead to destruction and on along the path that brings life. It is God who teaches us how to love, thus preparing us for eternal life in his kingdom.

Yet, it is this very vision of the God who dwells with us in love (the vertical dimension of faith) that binds us to our co-believers (the horizontal dimension of faith). It is the recognition of our utter dependence upon God’s graciousness for our lives, and that he has pledged to be with us as our counselor, guide, and strength, that unites us with all others who have begun the journey with Him. If others lack wisdom in some areas, fail to meet the mark of spiritual maturity, stumble and fall, and do not reach all the same theological conclusions, then they, as growing Christians, are in the same boat that we are, dependent on God to finish the good work which he began in us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16–17). The acknowledgment that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), helps us see others as our brothers and sisters in need of the good news of God’s love and victory over the powers of destruction. Ultimately, we are bound together through our faith in a loving and beneficent God who spared nothing to redeem us from our sins and the fate that awaited all of us as we stumbled blindly into a valley of death. We gather together in acknowledgment of His beneficence and our equality before his throne of sacrifice and grace. We kneel before Him, overcome by amazement and gratitude that although we are but sinners, He “died for us” (Romans 5:8).

It is at this point that it becomes helpful to know a bit about the cultural mazeway experienced by Jesus’ peers. It was a very political and hierarchical world of the rich and the poor, the influential and the powerless, masters and slaves, the free and the bound. While women’s fates were largely the by-product of their fathers’ and husbands’ skills, fortunes, and savvy, for a male, successful navigation through life required constant vigilance and perspicacity. It required an accurate knowledge of the social landscape, of who had the power to disperse favors or inflict punishment, a keen attention to the winds of social and political fortune, and long memory of debts owed and debtors. It was, above all else, a culture of benefactors and beneficiaries. This was a milieu in which kings, emperors, great lords, and Caesars possessed the power to make covenants with their underlings, stipulating what the vassals would do in response for the lord’s continued protection, benefaction, and favor. The covenant, which could be initiated only by the powerful, required that its recipients recognize the favors granted by the lord from his gracious beneficence to a group that he had arbitrarily decided to favor. It was expected that the subjects, in recognition of the unmerited goodness bestowed upon them by their mighty protector, would honor him ritually and extoll his praises, pledge their fealty to him, follow his bidding as dutiful servants, and seek to do his will. Their part of the covenant required that they understand themselves as the benefactor’s servants; their humble response was to see that his intentions be carried out. Favor could disappear as quickly as it had been granted. It behooved the vassals to do all in their power to abide by the stipulations decreed by their sovereign lest the protection they were enjoying be rescinded, leaving them at the whim of enemies, the caprices of the gods, and/or the dark forces of the spirit world. Therefore, the ordinary populace longed to know the will of the most powerful god, so that they could pledge their loyalty to him, honor him appropriately, and perform his will.

Throughout the Bible, one can trace the theme of God as the Great Benefactor of Israel, making a covenant to which the people acquiesce, and then fail to keep. Yet, despite cultural expectations, God does not abandon or avenge Himself on Israel. Instead, He follows their insubordination with warnings and then corrective measures, with more evidence of his unfailing love and promises of reconciliation and a rewriting of the covenant on their hearts. When one understands this cultural tradition of the covenant between a benefactor and his subjects, the theme can be easily recognized all through the Christian gospels and epistles. The Great Lord, Master and Creator of the Universe, Source of life and Provider of Healing, is our Benefactor: “From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

From the declarations of the authors of the New Testament, God has come to earth in the body of Jesus, to make known clearly who He is and what he asks of his subjects: Love. Indeed, Christ’s followers will be identified by their love for each other (John 15:12). This is Christ’s command on his final evening with his disciples. Whatever else they may have grasped or failed to comprehend during their three years under his tutelage, and whatever else they may not be ready to hear (John 16:12), this point they cannot miss or misapprehend. It is not relayed in a parable nor obscured in a mystical saying or proverb. It is straightforward: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…you are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12, 14). In this section of John, Jesus goes on to tear down the great wall that separated the benefactor from the vassal, stating that his followers are no longer simply servants, but friends of God, and even more, heirs along with him: “…And to all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

As friends of God, as brothers and sisters of Christ, their commitment to God’s will is not lessened, but strengthened geometrically. Those who walk the Way that leads to eternal life will serve (as Jesus did) as healers and redeemers to the wounded inhabitants of the earth: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). He sent them as one in unity of purpose: to declare the gracious provisions of the Great Source of Life for the restoration of wholeness and love to a dying planet. One purpose, as children of God, to model the truth that love is stronger than death and all the powers of darkness. One purpose: to demonstrate that the law of God is the Law of love; the only law that will satisfy God’s intentions for us and bring about the peace, security, joy, and unity that humanity craves.

As he said when he poured out his heart to the Father on the eve of his arrest:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but of all who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in You, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20–23).

In the last few years, the Adventist church has struggled valiantly with the question of unity and diversity. Some have concluded that the answer is enforced conformity, while others look to deeper commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy. We may be overlooking the powerful message of Scripture: unity only comes by being bonded in the purpose of demonstrating the reality of God and the power of love through our own lives with each other and our larger community. I pray for the day when Paul’s words to the Ephesians can be applied to us:

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints (Eph. 1:15) … But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near to the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (Eph. 2:13,14, 19–22).

I pray with him that “Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17). And I pray that we may stop looking elsewhere for anchor points to hold us together, when, as Paul has said, he begged us

to live a life worthy of the calling to which we are called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:1–6).

What more could we possibly need for unity in faith?

Dr. Ginger Hanks Harwood, who has taught religion at Pacific Union College, Walla Walla University, Loma Linda University, and La Sierra University, has retired to Northern California. She continues to study the Scriptures and religious practices in their original cultural context in an effort to understand the what the manuscript authors and the hearer/participants would have understood when passages were read initially that we might miss now as we read them from our own context.

Photo by Nico Benedickt on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9243

(Patrick Travis) #2

.>> The unifying faith, however, does not start with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but his very life. Jesus’ entire life was dedicated to clearing up millennia of false understandings about God and what was required to be “right” with Him. The faith that unifies us is the faith that God is love, and that Jesus is the most trustworthy representation of and testimony to his inclusive love for this undeserving world. <<

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
1 Cor.2 :1-5 NASB <<

2 problems I see in your article.

  1. You avoid making the main thing the main thing.
  2. You seem to not realize the Remnant is not the SDA church as one body but all who cling to Jesus in harmony as their Justifying Savior. That is the “invisible body of Christ” never to be separated!
    Regards

(Steve Mga) #3

Fulcrum 7 has an amazing article written by a Pastor which is REALLY out of
character for most of their articles.
This pastor writes how, because of the influence of a close pastor friend, he
began to preach Jesus to his congregation.
He changed his whole Evangelistic Program toward the community.
He began Preaching Jesus Only in his evangelistic series.
And stated that the difference was phenomenal.
You will have to read it for yourself.


(Sirje) #4

These Adventist teachings, while unique and unifying because of their uniqueness, are actually superfluous to the core Christian message Paul preached. Take them away, and you still have, “Christ and Him crucified”. What actually do all these unique teachings add except exceptionalism of the Adventist denomination - seems a little self-serving and not at all inviting as the Gospel commission advertises itself to be. I don’t suppose we really care about UNITY in its broader sense, as with the entire Christian community…do we? What does that say?


#5

Shaking hands and greeting with “Happy Sabbath” doesn’t cut it.

"Several months after the attack, in a short interview published in the Review, J. J. Nortey, then president of the African-Indian Ocean Division, said that as many as 99 percent of all Adventist workers in the Mugonero region—among them pastors, hospital personnel, and mission employees—were killed. In total, an estimated 10,000 Seventh-day Adventists died in Rwanda in barely three months.

Even more alarming in the aftermath of the genocide, however, is the fact that Adventists were not only among the victims. On February 19, 2003, Pastor Ntakirutimana was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to 10 years in prison for complicity in crimes against humanity. The Tribunal found that Pastor Ntakirutimana, together with his son Gerard—the head doctor at the Adventist Mugonero Hospital—aided and abetted Hutu killers, going so far as to order the removal of church roofing so that Tutsis would have nowhere to hide.

But the Ntakirutimanas were not the only Adventists who sided with the killers. In regions with large numbers of Seventh-day Adventists, the killings were just as bad as in the rest of the country. “[T]here were church-going people seen in the mobs, cheering…those who did the killings,” Nortey reported. Today, jails in Rwanda hold large numbers of Adventists who have been implicated in the genocide. According to one high level church official I spoke with at the Union office in Kigali, not only Adventist lay members but numerous Adventist pastors have been convicted by Rwanda’s village level gacaca courts for their role in genocidal crimes against humanity. During the genocide, he told me, some Adventists maintained their Adventism by scrupulously resting from killing on Sabbaths."

https://spectrummagazine.org/node/2716


#6

Here is where unity exists.

The Spirit is rejected in many ways.


#7

Current Adventist unity is so superficial. and fractured.

Most unity = institutional and like a religious club.

Unity in Christ is just a fantasy, fanatic cliché.

The Adventist church is bearing the consequences of inept, irrelevant teaching methods.

Until there is a radical reformation of them…the discord will only worsen.


(Sirje) #8

Methods? You can have great methods, but poor message. If what we keep doing and saying what we’ve beenndoing and saying, and expecting a different outcome - well, you know…


(Michael Wortman) #9

I find it interesting and puzzling that the Adventist church is now very interested in unity and yet simultaneously opposes ecumenism.


#10

The current methods warp or obscure the genuine message. Poor homiletics result in poor message.


#11

This portion is crucial to genuine unity.

Adventists have 7000 waking minutes a week to make decisions and competing interests on politics, news, sports, entertainment, WO. IJ, LGT, Ford, Chevy, Honda lead to discord not ACCORD. 70-140 minutes, weekly, at a SDA religious pep talk or chew out service won’t counter the world and carnal nature.

Time for all conferences to get a wake up call, heads up, reality check.


(William Noel) #12

Unity comes not from allegiance to a human creed, list of doctrines or following a dynamic human leader. It comes from having a living, energized and empowered individual relationship with God in the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who unified the early church and who Jesus wanted His all who believed in Him to follow. Without any centralized leadership, separated by great distances and limited by slow communications the churches thrived and the power of God was seen working miracles, signs and wonders through the believers that caused the church to grow at a rate not seen since then. So I think perhaps one of the greatest blessings God could give believers is to tear-down the bureaucracy that has grown large so we will be forced to learn to depend directly on God.


#13

William,

Let’s think this through. Your post has merit. How are Adventists dependent on the bureaucracy in such a way that is detrimental to a strong relationship with God/Spirit?


(George Tichy) #14

Then the was THE ONE PROJECT…

When some of those guys running the TOP were “visited” by a couple of BRI members, they were asked two questions:

  1. Which Jesus do you believe in?
  2. Who is the small horn in Daniel?

Yes, these were the questions asked by “The Envoys” to those who then felt threatened by the Denomination for promoting the TOP. And they decided to shut down the Project, certainly because their jobs were in jeopardy.

Now they have announced the resurrection of the TOP. This will be interesting…

https://atoday.org/the-one-project-gathers-again-and-at-plans-a-gathering-next-year/?fbclid=IwAR0kBawV19f0XttM39Xxf5xDMF6AGYUGaq0nRRkmxi7G0TRe99Mi0ggSAe4


(William Noel) #15

For decades we’ve been taught that church leaders are in their positions because God wants them there, so their views are authoritative, thus their opinions are better informed and more authoritative than those of mere members. As a result a large percentage of the church membership have become passive on church issues and the natural growth of bureaucracy has been allowed to continue unchecked.


(Kim Green) #16

Can’t you see the dog chasing its own tail…which comes first- the dog or its tail?


(Kim Green) #17

"As a result a large percentage of the church membership have become passive on church issues and the natural growth of bureaucracy has been allowed to continue unchecked."

This is true. There also has been a general dampening of creativity because Adventists have traditionally loved their “programs”…nothing new or innovative. Members have looked to the church to produce these which can be endlessly reproduced.


(Kim Green) #18

“Ecumenism”…perhaps the difference between this and “Unity” is purely semantical at this point and time.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #19

One can get a clearer view of Christsinity from the likes of Stott and F.F. Bruce than one . Can get. From The Sabbath School Quarterly et al. Adventist writers and editors take an elitist view that soils the global intent of the Cross.


#20

The SS guide has to be relevant to the rookie SDA.

What I find, more & more is the unbalanced concept of salvation which is influenced by evangelical bible corruption