Chapter 13: UNITY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST


Seventh-day Adventist Believe...

The church is one body with many members, called from

every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are

a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and

nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and

poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are

all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into

one Fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to

serve and be served without partiality or reservation.

Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we

share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness

to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the

triune God, who has adopted us as His children.

--Fundamental Beliefs, 13

 

UNITY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

Jesus, having finished His work on earth (John 17:4),

continued to agonize over the condition of His disciples,

even the evening before His death.

Jealousy led to arguments over who was the greatest and

who would be assigned the highest positions in Christ's

kingdom. Jesus' explanation that humility was the substance

of His kingdom, and that true followers of His would be

servants, willingly giving of themselves with no expectation

of even thanks in return, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears

(Luke 17:10). Even the example He set, stooping to wash

their feet when none of them would do it because of the

implications, seemed to have been in vain (see chapter 15 of

this book).

Jesus is Love. It was His sympathy that kept the masses

following Him. Not understanding this unselfish love, His

disciples were filled with strong prejudices toward

non-Jews, women, "sinners," and the poor, which blinded them

to the allencompassing love of Christ even toward these

detested ones. When the disciples found Him conversing with

a Samaritan woman of ill-repute, they had not yet learned

that the fields, ripe for harvest, include grain of all

varieties, ready to be reaped.

But Christ could not be swayed by tradition, public

opinion, or even family control. His irrepressible love

reached down and restored broken humanity. Such love, which

would set them apart from the careless public, would be the

evidence of being true disciples. As He loved, they were to

love. The world would forever be able to distinguish

Christians--not because of their profession, but because of

the revelation of Christ's love in them (cf. John 13;34,35).

So even in the garden of Gethsemane the main thing on

Christ's mind was the unity of His church--those who had

come "out of the world" (John 17:6). He pleaded with His

Father for a unity in the church similar to that which the

Godhead experienced. I pray "`that they all [His followers]

may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that

they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that

You sent Me'" (John 17:21).

Such unity is the church's most powerful witnessing tool,

for it gives evidence of Christ's unselfish love for

humanity. Said He, "`I in them, and You in Me; that they may

be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You

have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me'"

(John 17:23).

Bible Unity and the Church

What kind of unity did Christ have in mind for the

visible church today? How is such love and unity possible?

What is its foundation? What are its constituents? Does it

demand uniformity or allow for diversity? How does unity

function?

Unity of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the moving force behind church unity.

Through Him believers are led to the church. By Him they are

"all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). These baptized

members are to have a unity Paul described as "the unity of

the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3).

The apostle listed the basic components of the unity of

the Spirit: "There is one body and one Spirit," he said,

"just as you were called in 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 you all" (Eph. 4:4-6).

The sevenfold repetition of the word one emphasizes the

complete unity Paul envisioned.

Calling them from every nationality and race, the Holy

Spirit baptizes people into one body--the body of Christ,

the church. As they grow into Christ cultural differences

are no longer divisive. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers

between high and low, rich and poor, male and female.

Realizing that in God's sight they are all equal, they hold

one another in esteem.

This unity functions on the corporate level also. It

means that local churches everywhere are equal, even though

some are recipients of money and missionaries from other

countries. Such a spiritual union knows no hierarchy.

Nationals and missionaries are equal before God.

The united church has one hope--the "blessed hope" of

salvation that will be realized at the "glorious appearing

of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).

This hope is a source of peace and joy, and provides a

powerful motive for united witness (Matt. 24:14). It leads

to transformation, for "everyone who has this hope in Him

purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).

It is through a common faith--personal faith in the

atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ--that all become a part of

the body. The one baptism that symbolizes Christ's death and

resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6) perfectly expresses this faith,

witnessing of a union with Christ's body.

Finally, Scripture teaches that there is one Spirit, one

Lord, and one God and Father. All aspects of church unity

find their foundation in the oneness of the triune God.

"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There

are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there

are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who

works all in all" (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

The Extent of Unity

Believers experience a unity of mind and judgment. Notice

the following exhortations: "Now may the God of patience and

comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another,

according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and

one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus

Christ" (Rom. 15:5,6). "Now I plead with you, brethren, by

the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the

same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but

that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and

in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). "Be of good comfort, be

of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace

will be with you" (2 Cor. 13:11).

God's church, then, ought to reveal a unity of feeling,

thought, and action. Does this mean that members should have

identical feelings, thoughts, and actions? Does Biblical

unity imply uniformity?

Unity in Diversity

Biblical unity does not mean uniformity. The Biblical

metaphor of the human body demonstrates that the church's

unity exists in diversity.

The body has many organs, all contributing to the optimal

performance of the body. Each fulfills a vital, though

different, task; none are useless.

This same principle operates in the church. God

distributes His gifts "to each one individually as He wills"

(1 Cor. 12:11), creating a healthy diversity that benefits

the congregation. Not all members think alike, nor are they

qualified to perform the same work. All, however, function

under the direction of the same Spirit, building up the

church to the best of their God-given abilities.

To accomplish its mission, the church needs the

contributions of all the gifts. Together, they provide a

total evangelistic thrust. The success of the church does

not depend on each member's being the same and doing the

same as every other member; rather, it depends on all the

members performing their God-assigned tasks.

In nature the vine with its branches provides an

illustration of unity in diversity. Jesus used the metaphor

of the vine to depict the believer's union with Himself

(John 15:1-6). The branches, the believers, are the

extensions of the True Vine--Christ. Like every branch and

leaf, each individual Christian differs from the others, yet

a oneness exists, since all receive their nourishment from

the same source, the Vine. The branches of the vine are

individually separate and do not blend into each other: yet

each branch will be in fellowship with the others if they

are joined to the same parent stalk. They all receive

nourishment from the same source: assimilating the same

life-giving properties.

So Christian unity depends on the grafting of the members

into Christ. From Him comes the power that vitalizes

Christian life. He is the source of the talent and power

necessary to accomplish the church's task. Being linked to

Him shapes the tastes, habits, and lifestyles of all

Christians. Through Him, all members are linked to one

another, and joined in a common mission. As the members

abide in Him, selfishness is driven away and Christian unity

is established, enabling them to accomplish His mission.

So while there are different temperaments in the church,

all work under one Head. While there are many gifts, there

is but one Spirit. Though the gifts differ, there is

harmonious action. "It is the same God who works all in all"

(1 Cor. 12:6).

Unity of Faith

Diversity of gifts does not mean a diversity of beliefs,

however. In the last days God's church will be composed of a

people who share a platform of the everlasting gospel--their

lives characterized by the observance of the commandments of

God and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Together they

proclaim to the world God's invitation to salvation.

How Important Is Church Unity?

Unity is essential to the church. Without it the church

will fail to accomplish its sacred mission.

Unity Makes the Church's Efforts Effective

In a world torn apart by dissent and conflict, the love

and unity among church members of different personalities,

temperaments, and dispositions witnesses to the church's

message more powerfully than anything else could. This unity

provides incontrovertible evidence of their connection with

heaven and of the validity of their credentials as disciples

of Christ (John 13:35). It proves the power of God's Word.

Conflict between professed Christians has raised disgust

in unbelievers and has been perhaps the greatest obstacle to

their acceptance of the Christian faith. True unity among

believers defuses this attitude. It is a major evidence to

the world, Christ said, that He is their Saviour

(John 17:23).

Unity Reveals the Reality of God's Kingdom

A truly united church on earth reveals that its members

are serious in their expectation of living together in

heaven. Unity on earth demonstrates the reality of God's

eternal kingdom. To those who live in this way the Scripture

will be fulfilled, "How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for

God's people to live together in harmony!" (Ps. 133.1, TEV).

Unity Shows the Strength of the Church

Unity brings strength, disunity weakness. A church is

truly prosperous and strong when its members are united with

Christ and one another, working in harmony for the salvation

of the world. Then and only then are they in the truest

sense "God's fellow workers" (1 Cor. 3:9).

Christian unity challenges our increasingly disunited

world, torn apart by loveless selfishness. The unified

church exhibits the answer for a society divided by culture,

race, sex, and nationality. A unified church will resist

satanic attacks. Indeed, the powers of darkness are impotent

against the church whose members love one another as Christ

has loved them.

The positive and beautiful effect of a unified church can

be compared with the performance of an orchestra. In the

moments before the conductor appears, as the musicians tune

their instruments and warm up, they produce a cacophony.

When the conductor appears, however, the chaotic noise

stops, and all eyes focus on him. Every member of the

orchestra sits poised, ready to perform as he directs.

Following the conductor's leading, the orchestra produces

beautiful, harmonious music.

"Unity in the body of Christ means blending the

instrument of my life in the great orchestra of the

called-out ones, under the baton of the divine Conductor. At

His downbeat, following creation's original score, we have

the privilege of performing for mankind the symphony of

God's love."(*1)

The Achievement of Unity

If the church is to experience unity, both the Godhead

and believers must be involved in bringing it about. What is

the source of unity and can it be obtained? What role do

believers play?

The Source of Unity

Scripture points out that unity finds its sources in (1)

the keeping power of the Father (John 17:11), (2) the

Father's glory that Christ gave to His followers (John

17:22), and (3) Christ's indwelling in the believers (John

17:23). The Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of Christ" in the midst

of the body of Christ, is the cohesive power and presence

that keeps each segment united.

Like the hub and spokes of a wheel, the closer church

members (the spokes) come to Christ (the hub) the closer

they come to each other. "The secret of true unity in the

church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management,

not a super-human effort to overcome difficulties--though

there will be much of this to do--but union with Christ."

(*2)

The Holy Spirit as Unifier

As the "Spirit of Christ" and the "Spirit of truth," the

Holy Spirit brings about unity.

1. The Focus of unity.

As the Spirit enters believers, He causes them to

transcend human prejudices of culture, race, sex, color,

nationality, and status (see Gal. 3:26-28). He accomplishes

this by bringing Christ within the heart. Those whom He

inhabits will focus on Jesus, not themselves. Their union

with Christ establishes the bond of unity among

themselves--the fruit of the indwelling Spirit. They will

then minimize their differences and unite in mission to

glorify Jesus.

2. The role of the spiritual gifts in achieving unity.

How attainable is the goal of church unity? When Christ

began His mediatorial work at the side of His Father in

heaven He made certain that the goal of having His people

united was not an illusion. Through the Holy Spirit He gave

special gifts particularly intended to establish "the unity

of the faith" among believers.

In discussing these gifts, Paul said, Christ "gave some

to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some

pastors and teachers." These gifts were given to the church

for the "equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,

for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to

the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of

God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the

fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13).

These unique gifts are designed to develop the "unity of

the Spirit" into a "unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:3,13) so

that believers would be mature and firm and "no longer be

infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here

and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and

craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14,

NIV; see chapter 16 of this book).

Through these gifts believers speak the truth in love and

grow up into Christ, the Head of the Church--developing a

dynamic unity of love. In Christ, Paul said, "the whole

body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,

grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its

work" (Eph. 4:16, NIV).

3. The basis for unity.

It is as the "`Spirit of truth'" (John 15:26) that the

Holy Spirit works to fulfill Christ's promise. His task is

to guide believers into all truth (John 16:13). Clearly,

then, Christ-centered truth is the basis of unity.

The Spirit's mission is to guide believers into the

"truth as it is in Jesus." Such a study has a unifying

effect. Yet study alone is not sufficient to bring about

true union. Only believing, living, and preaching the truth

as it is in Jesus brings about true union. Fellowship,

spiritual gifts, and love are all very important, but their

fullness comes through the One who said, "`I am the way, the

truth, and the life'" (John 14:6). Christ prayed, "`Sanctify

them by Your truth. Your word is truth'" (John 17:17). To

experience unity, believers, then, must receive the light as

it shines from the Word.

As this truth as it is in Jesus dwells in the heart, it

will refine, elevate, and purify the life, eliminating all

prejudice and friction.

Christ's New Commandment

Like man, the church was made in the image of God. As

each member of the Godhead has love for the others so will

the members of the church love one another. Christ has

commanded believers to demonstrate their love to God by

loving others as themselves (Matt. 22:39).

Jesus Himself carried the principle of love to the

ultimate at Calvary. Just before His death He extended the

injunction He had laid down earlier, giving His disciples a

new commandment: "`Love one another as I have loved you'"

(John 15:12; cf. 13:34). It was as though He was saying to

them, "I'm asking you not to stand up for your rights, to

see that you get your due, to sue if you don't. I'm asking

you to bare your back to the whip, to turn your other cheek,

to be falsely accused, mocked, derided, to be bruised,

broken, nailed to a cross and buried, if it takes that to

love others. For that is loving others as I love you."

1. The impossible possibility.

How can we love as Christ loved? Impossible! Christ asks

the impossible, but He can accomplish the impossible. He

promises, "`And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will

draw all peoples to Myself'" (John 12:32). For unity in the

body of Christ is incarnational, the unity of believers with

God through the Word that became flesh. It is also

relational, the unity of believers through their common

roots in the Vine. And finally, it is rooted in the cross:

the love of Calvary dawning within believers.

2. Unity at the cross.

Church unity takes place at the cross. It is only as we

realize that we cannot and do not love like Jesus that we

admit our need of His abiding presence--and believe Him when

He said: "`Without Me you can do nothing'" (John 15:5). At

the cross we realize that He did not die just for us, but

for every person on earth. This means He loves all

nationalities, races, colors, and classes. He loves each

equally whatever their differences may be. That's why unity

is rooted in God. Man's narrow vision tends to separate

people. The cross breaks through human blindness and puts

God's price tag on human beings. It shows that none are

worthless. All are wanted. If Christ loves them, so should

we.

When Christ predicted that His crucifixion would draw all

to Him, He meant that the magnetic drawing power of Himself,

the greatest of sufferers, would bring unity to His body,

the church. The vast gulf between heaven and us, the gulf

that Christ crossed, makes the small step across the street

or town we must take to reach a brother insignificant.

Calvary means, "Carry each other's burdens" (Gal. 6:2,

NIV). He bore the entire burden of all mankind, which

crushed out His life so that He could give us life and set

us free to help each other.

Steps to Unity

Unity does not come automatically. Believers must take

steps to secure it.

1. Unity in the home.

An ideal training ground for church unity is the home

(see chapter 22 of this book). If we learn wise management,

kindness, gentleness, patience, and love with the cross as

its center, at home, we will be able to carry these

principles out in the church.

2. Aim for unity.

We will never attain unity unless we conscientiously work

for it. And we can never complacently consider ourselves to

have attained. We must daily pray for unity and carefully

cultivate it.

We should minimize differences and avoid arguing about

nonessentials. Instead of focusing on what divides us, we

should talk about the many precious truths on which we

agree. Talk of unity and pray that Christ's prayer will be

fulfilled. By doing so we can realize the unity and harmony

God wants us to have.

3. Work together toward a common goal.

The church will not experience unity until, acting as one

unit, it is involved in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus

Christ. Such a mission provides an ideal training for

learning harmony. It teaches believers that they are all

individual parts of God's mighty family and that the

happiness of the whole depends upon the well-being of each

believer.

In His ministry Christ melded together the restoration of

the soul and the restoration of the body. And when He sent

His disciples on their mission He insisted on a similar

emphasis: preaching and healing (Luke 9:2; 10:9).

So, Christ's church must carry on both the work of

preaching--the ministry of the word--and medical missionary

work. Neither of these phases of God's work is to be carried

out independently or become all-absorbing. As in Christ's

day a balance, working together in harmony, should

characterize our work for souls.

Those involved in the various phases of church work must

cooperate closely if they wish to give the gospel invitation

to the world in a powerful way. Some feel that unity implies

consolidating for efficiency. However, the body metaphor

indicates that each organ, large or small, is important.

Cooperation--not rivalry--is God's plan for His worldwide

work. Thus unity within the body of Christ becomes a

demonstration of Christ's unselfish love so magnificently

revealed at the cross.

4. Develop a global perspective.

A church is not exhibiting true unity unless it is

actively building up God's work in all parts of the earth.

The church should do everything it can to avoid national,

cultural, or regional isolationism. To achieve unity of

judgment, purpose, and action believers of different

nationalities must mingle and serve together.

The church must take care not to foster separate national

interests, which would harm its united, worldwide thrust.

Church leadership should operate in such a way as to

preserve equality and unity, taking care not to develop

programs of facilities in any one area that must be financed

at the expense of building the work in other areas of the

world.

5. Avoid attitudes that divide.

Attitudes of selfishness, pride, self-confidence,

self-sufficiency, superiority, prejudice, criticism,

denunciation, and faultfinding among believers contribute to

disunity in the church. Often a loss of the first love in

the Christian experience lies behind these attitudes. A

fresh look at God's gift in Christ at Calvary can renew love

for one another (1 John 4:9-11). The grace of God mediated

by the Holy Spirit can subdue these sources of disunity in

the natural heart.

When one New Testament church developed the problem of

disunity, Paul counseled the church to "walk in the Spirit"

(Gal. 5:16). Through constant prayer we are to seek the

guidance of the Spirit, who will lead us into unity. Walking

in the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy,

peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

gentleness, and self-control--which is an effective antidote

to disunity (Ga. 5:22,23).

James spoke out against another root of disunity: basing

how we treat individuals on their wealth or status. In

strong terms he denounced such favoritism: "If you show

partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as

transgressors" (James 2:9). Because God is impartial (Acts

10:34), we should not give deference to some church members

more than to others because of position, wealth, or

abilities. We may respect them, but we ought not consider

them more precious to our heavenly Father than the lowliest

child of God. Christ's words correct our perspective:

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of

mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40, NIV). He is represented

in the person of the least, as well as in the most blessed

of members. All are His children and hence equally important

to Him.

Just as or Lord, the Son of man, became a brother to

every son and daughter of Adam, so we His followers, are

called to reach out in unity of mind and mission in a

redemptive way to our brothers and sisters from "every

nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6).

 

References

1. Benjamin F. Reaves, "What Unity Means to Me," Adventist

Review, December 4, 1986, p. 20.

2. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville, TN: Southern

Publishing Assn., l952), p. 179