Unity

The idea of unity has been referenced a lot in Adventism lately. At the Adventist Forum Conference this past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time thinking about and discussing the upcoming GC session. It may just be my own myopic and biased view of the situation, but it seems to me that we come into this session, much like our nation, more polarized and separated than ever. This realization led me back to the conversation on unity we’ve been having recently. And as I thought more about the subject, I thought of five things that could help our church become more unified.

1. Remember that we are all the same. Before the cross of Christ, we are equal. In Gal 3:26-29 Paul makes it clear that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female. Yet so many problems churches face are issues of how we try to divide ourselves from each other. It saddens me that our church still has problems with race and gender in light of Paul’s counsel. These types of problems don’t make sense when we all are supposed to be equal before the cross, heirs to the promise, and working toward the same goal.

2. Remember that we are all different. It is true that we are all the same before the cross. But this doesn’t mean that we lose our individuality. Unity does not equal uniformity. We all have different talents and abilities, and we have different conceptions about the best way to go about the work that Christ has asked us to do. Our problem is that we sometimes get the impression that everyone has to be down with the way we want to do something, and if they’re not, they are somehow less of a Christian. For example, everyone should spread the gospel. I agree with that. But everyone should not go door to door and talk with people. Some people do not have that skill, that talent, that ability. In fact, there are some people I wouldn’t want to go door to door. At the same time, I’m not saying no one should do it either. In 1 Cor 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. In that chapter Paul makes the point that we can’t all be the same thing. The body does not function if we all decide to be a hand, or an eye. Each of us has our own role to play, and we can each do what best suits our personalities, talents and abilities, and be of benefit to the church.

3. Realize that we have to let some “doctrines” go. In Acts 15, the church was in crisis. Some Jews started telling Gentiles that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. After much debate they decided to go discuss it with the apostles in Jerusalem. Then, after much discussion, Peter said, “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” His point was that the particular elements of doctrine like circumcision were things that Jews were called to do (and that Jews had not done a good job in keeping the law themselves). Those were not things that Gentiles were supposed to bear. We see the same thing going on in churches today. People attempting make people live by the yokes that God only gave to them. We sometimes cause dissension, discord, and destroy unity in our church because we think we should try to get everyone to live by the rules of life that we think our important, but are really just the things that help us navigate through the Christian life.

4. Speak the truth in love. The last point does not mean that we don’t ever say anything to anyone about the way we live. Unity does not mean that there will not be disagreements. Unity does not mean that we avoid conflict. However, unity is served if we find ways to say difficult things in love to one another. In Eph 4:14-16 Paul talks about not being moved by every doctrine. It’s important that we help each other to live the way God wants for us. But this does not mean we take it upon ourselves to say what needs to be said, in whatever manner we choose. We have hurt so many people, not because we spoke the truth, but because we chose not to speak it in love. My heart hurts for all the youth that I know who left church because they felt unloved and disrespected. My heart hurts for all those who were young in the faith and did not feel the love of Christ from us. I truly believe that we will be called into account for some of the hurtful things we have said to people.

5. LOVE! This is the ultimate point. We have to learn how to better love one another. If you want to know what love is, there is no better place to go than 1 Cor 13. I’m sure all of us are loving people. But I also know that we can learn to love each other better. How many times can I say that I have treated everyone the way Paul calls us to in verses 4-7 of this chapter? Have I always been kind? Or patient? Or unselfish? Or humble and not arrogant? If I’m not these things all the time, then I have more work to do. And that work could be the difference in someone’s salvation. I think it’s worth the effort.

Why is unity so important? I found the answer to that in John 17:20-23. In his prayer for the believers who will come after the disciples (that’s us) Jesus prays for us to “all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Our disunity hurts the very mission we say we uphold. Our lack of unity makes it hard for the world to believe that God sent Jesus to us to save us. We are so quick to blame everything else for the condition of our society and our world. We blame the devil, we blame sinners, we blame theories, we blame politicians. We say, “If such and such would happen, this society would be a better place to live, or people would be more willing to come to Jesus.” I believe that if we would love each other more, if we would be more unified within our individual churches, within our denominations, and amongst denominations, people would be able to see Jesus in us, believe the God sent Him, and be saved.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10239
4 Likes

it is striking how our church seems to be mirroring the polarization going on in society, especially american society…even the emerging threat of the coronavirus pandemic is only adding new fuel to the blame game fire (rush limbaugh is saying that coronavirus is a democratic plot to unseat trump)…it is truly unfortunate that the vote at san antonio was no…whatever we believe personally, i think we would have been much better off had that vote been yes…

in looking ahead to indianapolis 2020, it’s difficult to see that progress towards unity can be made without a change of leadership at the GC level…but one never knows…perhaps we’ll see amazing reaching out to one another with many of the original players still in place…

5 Likes

Our church will always have problems. It’s part of growth. It is not the problems that matters, it is how problems are resolved that matters. We look towards our leaders for guidance but are limited by our leaders’ problem solving repertoire. Not all leaders are fit to lead, some have their talents in polarizing and dividing even under the cloak of religion. Thus it is time to re-evaluate how effective we choose our leaders. Time to revamp our nominating committee’s mandate.

8 Likes

i tend to think we need a system in which lay members’ votes for leaders factor in more directly…

5 Likes

He is just doing due diligence for the medal of presidential honor he received :slight_smile:

I don’t think that any of the disagreements are problematic, as long as we can find some civilized means to talk through these instead of beating people over the head with a Church Manual.

I think we generally abandoned the idea of leadership being predominantly a motivational strata for various church function. We’ve inverted that relationship, and they became “the workers” that we pay salaries to gobble up a whole bunch of management responsibilities.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this particular strata turns into “the deciders” and be very reluctant to decentralize and delegate certain theological decision-making to localized structures who are more aware of the cultural background to appropriately stratify what’s more and less important in any-given context.

Under corporate context and rules… they are quite literally “the owners of the church” in a sense that they own the church buildings and property, they own all of the revenue and distribution accounts, and structure pensions and benefits they decide for themselves. They hire and pay pastoral staff, which is directly accountable to them and not the church. Their revenue isn’t performance-dependent. And as long as the revenue is coming in, why would they care about changing anything at all in such context?

4 Likes

Go for it!

Actually the revenues are “performance-dependent” in the sense of how effective our leaders can make their church members feel guilty and responsible for delaying the second coming. Not to mention funding their retirement and pension plans.

9 Likes

True, but what does love look like and what does unity look like? Even though Jesus prayed for his disciples to have unity, the Prince of Peace also taught that He brings a sword rather than peace - which will make enemies of those in one’s own household. Should the Christian work for unity at all costs in his/her aim to live in harmony with that prayer of Jesus…or should the Christian “obey God rather than man”? This dilemma can be distressing, to say the least!

Two things I believe we should, in the name of love, stop doing:

  1. Criticizing and publicly calling out individuals by name for decisions that can only be made with the voted support of the global church’s representatives in session. Our problems are systemic and will not be solved by changing out any one particular leader. If the global church membership has a distorted view of the gospel, that point of view will always be represented in their vote.

  2. Quitting or opting out of the struggle for equality, justice, and mercy within our ranks. It is obvious that if the righteous are not present during the vote, the vote itself will be skewed in favor of the unrighteous.

4 Likes

In order to qualify for the GC Presidency, candidates should be literally vetted (extremely careful examination) to check if they have a proper understanding of this simple principle.

Yes, it’s a simple principle, but evidently there are many people who cannot grasp it, cannot learn it. Someone who has difficulty (inability) to understand such a simple concept is not qualified to be the world leader of a Church.

Those who can “love” but cannot understand that, “Unity does not equal uniformity,” will end up loving only their own biases. They should be reminded that, “loving” also includes respecting others’ opinions and beliefs.

I am puzzled seeing that one of the biggest challenges for the next GC session is related to the proper comprehension of what Unity does not equal uniformity" actually means. Maybe it’s a good idea to invite a 5th grader to explain it to the current leaders before the meetings start… :roll_eyes:

7 Likes

Elmer,
This can happen only if the practice of politicking is banished from the Church. I don’t believe this will ever happen. I don’t believe our church is growing, I rather believe the church is actually deteriorating in this sense because of the increase of politicking practices.

Would you agree that, the more the LGT heresy infiltrates in the Church, the more Unity and Uniformity will be presented as being equal?

8 Likes

Maybe those 5th graders could be in charge of counting votes as well. This seems to be above everyone else’s pay grade.

6 Likes

Jeremy,
Apparently the Coronavirus is also exacerbating mental illness. Even in those who are not affected by the virus… :roll_eyes: :innocent:

7 Likes

It is known as CDS. COVID-19 Derangement Syndrome. Treatment is reassurance. For more information, log on to:

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/t0225-cdc-telebriefing-covid-19.html

2 Likes

Oh, this has already been taken care of. The 3rd graders will be in charge, just in case…:wink:

3 Likes

The whole women’s ordination issue which is causing dissension, dismay and dysfunction in Adventism is based on cultural / tribal / patriarchal attitudes so pandemic and prevalent and pervasive in the third world countries where we have successfully proselytized.

The GC voting on this issue is not biblically / theologically based but is governed by the miserable medieval misogyny still manifest in many of these non Western countries.

Frankly, I see no future remedy as innate, primitive, attitudes are difficult to change.

The Methodist church is now engaged in an amicable / friendly division, whereby hateful, hurtful homophobic congregations are being allowed to exit, taking their church buildings / structures with them, and even being given a generous financial inducement to leave.

Those Methodist congregations wishing loving inclusivity for their gay / lesbian children are more than happy to divest themselves of congregations majoring in shunning and shaming of gay children.

Of course the Methodists, now successfully dealing with homophobia, decades ago, confronted misogyny, when they started ordaining their clergywomen in 1956— SIXTY FOUR YEARS AGO !

UNITY over ordaining our clergywomen, will never be achieved in Adventism.

I predict that eventually, the congregations / divisions / conferences willing to demonstrate true equality to their female members, will happily split from those practicing discrimination / bias / bigotry / chauvinism.

After all, on any given Sabbath morning, no matter where on the planet, SDA church pews are occupied by more women than men. Why should this majority face petty discrimination ?

Let us, like the Methodists, give these bigots financial inducements to leave !!

“UNITY “ can never be papered over when overt discrimination is the ruling paradigm.

1 Like

I remember the constant calls for unity within the SDA church when I was a member. It was basically a buzz word telling those who didn’t fall into line with the status quo of those in charge to abandon their opposition. The church takes great stock in wanting to protect freedom of conscience outside the church in the secular world when it comes to separation of church and state. But within, the nonconformists are threatened by noncompliance committees demanding compliance or else, or else, or else…………….

3 Likes

That will never happen in the SDA church. Ninty-five percent of the membership live outside of North America, but the worldwide church’s financial survival depends on the contributions from members in North America.

The current impending split in the Methodist Church over ordaining gay clergy, is being pointed to by some in the SDA church as one reason to oppose WO. I’ve heard some claim that the argument in favor of WO is the same one that will be used to argue for acceptance of gay clergy. LBGT’s are blamed for the moral demise of society already, so we are the automatic default victims here to blame by mysogomists and homophobes in the church.

I think the GC session in Indianapolis should convene with playing Elvis Pressley’s “I’m all Shook Up” album.

3 Likes

Tom Loop,
Your point is well taken that the NAD membership’s tithe / contributions support the entire world SDA outreach, even though the NAD membership is a tiny fraction of the whole.

It would be interesting to poll the NAD membership to discover what percentage favor WO.

If the majority favor their clergywomen being ordained but are stymied in implementing this policy, maybe that would be the tipping point for the NAD to separate itself from the main church body, thereby having freedom to ordain.

Or at the least, use their huge financial leverage, to demand change.

1 Like

Do you remember that the GC decided to poll the world church by asking each division president to send them a vote as to whether their unions prefer WO or no WO? Very scientific. :roll_eyes::roll_eyes::roll_eyes:

2 Likes

Harpe,
No I have no memory of such a poll.

However if such a poll was taken,
were the actual parishioners in the pews
polled, or was it just a “ seat of the pants “
impression by the division presidents ?

And were these poll results ever disclosed in
a transparent manner?.

Well, at least I was able to sell them a bridge!!! :innocent: :innocent:
Yes, they thought they deceived the whole world with that completely fake poll. They have no shame offending people’s intelligence, do they? :thinking: :open_mouth:

1 Like