Unity, Diversity, & Oneness
President, Michigan Conference of SDA
One of the last prayers of Jesus before the Cross was that his disciples would be one in Him, even as He and the Father were one (John 17:21).
Yet, the New Testament predicted a great apostasy within Christianity. Revelation shows the great red dragon pursuing the woman, the symbol of the remnant church, who keeps the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. In contrast, the vision reveals another woman called Babylon who is the mother of harlots. This, as we understand, is false Christianity with its many divisions.
So we can reasonably conclude that Jesus and the disciples never believed that the outcome of His ministry would be a united Christianity at large. But He did believe in a united remnant.
This remnant is made up of many different nations and cultures. So it would be natural for broad discussion to take place regarding “unity in diversity” amongst Seventh-day Adventists. But what do we mean by this phrase? How does our definition differ from Babylon’s notion of “unity in diversity”?
Jesus understood oneness on the basis of two things. First, Jesus petitioned the Father to sanctify the disciples through the word of truth. In other words the Spirit of truth would employ Scripture to mold the church into oneness with Christ and one another.
The second was for Christ to be one with His disciples, just as He was one with the Father. He prayed; “I in them [disciples], and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17: 23).
We should note how the mother of harlots, who sleeps with the kings of the earth, unites her daughters. Even though they are all related to each other through the mother, they all have different fathers. While she raised them to hold on to certain core practices, the rest of their beliefs are as diverse as their spiritual fathers. In contrast, the faithful woman keeps the commandments of God and has the faith of just One–Jesus.
When “unity in diversity” is applied to the disciples of Jesus, it cannot mean diversity regarding the teachings of the Word of God. Here the church must stand united. Take away the unity of doctrine, and you really have no mission. Diversity cannot become an excuse to negate the commandments of God.
Yet, there may be diversity on how the principle is applied. For example, let us take the New Testament command to dress modestly. The clothing in India, Africa, and North America may be very different. Certainly all cultures will have immodest choices. But the Bible doesn’t demand that all clothing be alike, only that it be modest. So Christians may wear any cultural clothing they like as longs as it is modest. Such diversity does not overthrow the principle of modesty, but supports it.
However, to use the expression “unity in diversity” as a means to embrace cultural positions, which are contrary to Scripture, is to promote a delusion called pluralism. Pluralism, within the church context, assumes that unity can be maintained by giving credibility and support to different competing beliefs and practices.
Babylon has already embraced this, but it is not the oneness for which Jesus prayed.
Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church is faced with this temptation. Will we as a church choose faithfulness to Scripture or concede to cultural norms? The pressure to conform to cultural standards burdens the church in many ways. At the end of the day, should we endorse pluralism for the sake of unity?
The church faced a major issue at its last General Conference (GC) session. After a careful and thoughtful process and with representatives from all over the world, it essentially voted not to allow the ordination of women. The motion asked for a vote based on the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. The vote supported position one of the Theology Ordination Study Committee. That position makes it clear that the issue is not about the value or equality of men and women, but about faithfulness to the divine order given in Scripture. Some, of course, disagreed with the vote. That is to be expected. But for the sake of unity in the church, there comes a time for institutions, entities, and their leadership to surrender their opinions and practices.
Sadly, there are some unions and entities that are defying the vote of the GC Session by refusing to bring their practice into harmony with the vote of the world church on this matter. So now the issue is no longer about ordination, but rather the unity of the church.
Ordination to the office of a minister is no small matter to the world church. It is one of the essentials to its organization. It is the responsibility of the GC to define the qualifications for that office on the basis of Scripture. And it is the responsibility of the unions to see that those qualifications have been met.
If every union or conference acted unilaterally and assumed the same authority of the GC in session, unity would be impossible. If a local church, conference, or union decided to act contrary to the church manual or the voted actions of the GC, then it would threaten the unity of the body.
The Annual Council with nearly 315 delegates, is made up of GC officers, union presidents, administrators from our educational institutions, and laity from around the world. It functions as the executive committee for the world church between sessions. It should come as no surprise that they voted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 to start the process of addressing the issues of noncompliance. The document is designed to cover any noncompliance issue, not just ordination.
Fundamental to religious liberty is the “right of association.” This simply means that everyone has the right to start and maintain their own church with its unique doctrine and teachings. Religious liberty means the individual can voluntarily choose to belong or not to belong. They also have the right to leave and form their own group. But they do not have the right to force their pluralistic ideas on the body unless the group agrees to it.
The action recently voted means that the church leadership, empowered by the Annual Council, has an open door to start addressing the issue of noncompliance. It will be a patient, redemptive, and longsuffering process. One can only hope and pray that those supporting this opposition will have a change of heart. If not corrected, there are consequences of insubordination to the worldwide body.
The world church is faced with two choices: (1) allow noncompliance to go on, and thereby dismantle the unity and practice of the church; or (2) stand firm on the vote of the GC Session and preserve the integrity and oneness of the church. Redemptive discipline can be painful and filled with tears! Yet, any organization that cannot or refuses to discipline itself is doomed to failure.
No one wants dissension or animosity. While people’s different convictions in the church may be patiently endured, they cannot be allowed to undermine or disrupt the faith, practice, and teachings of the church. The utilization of shrewdness or political maneuvering to undermine the collective decision of the church body is unchristian and cannot be accepted. Church discipline, rightly done, is not persecution; but rather, it embodies the pursuit of principled love, not sentimentalism.
Pluralism is the death knell to the theology and mission of the church. During the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus was offered the kingdoms of this world without the pain and suffering of the cross. He refused.
Those proposing a pluralistic path to oneness, instead of disciplinary action, are advancing a delusion. This will not result in the accomplishment of the church’s mission, nor preserve its integrity as the remnant church, or deliver us to our ultimate hope of the Second Coming.
Only the oneness of Jesus can overthrow the seductive temptation of pluralism. Unlike Babylon the path of the faithful remnant church will be painful and bloodstained.
But the good news is that the path of Christ’s oneness and unity ends in glory!
NOTE: Below you'll find a link to a post by Elder Ted Wilson on Facebook. He addresses several criticisms of the unity document referenced in the above article, and answers questions about the role of unions and their organizational relationship to the GC. He also discusses the phrase "kingly power," within the current context. I believe you'll find the post informative. Here's the LINK.
 http://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/theology-of-ordination-position-no.-1. This was the position supported by the vote of the world church.