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
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'"
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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