The Union Unity Conference, Day 2
by Loren Seibold
Only three presentations today, because of an afternoon field trip to Windsor Castle. The Queen didn’t come out to meet us. Her loss.
What is Jesus saying in John 17?
Roy Adams (PhD)
Teacher, Pastor, Theology Professor (Systematics), Administrator, Author, Associate Editor, Review (Retired)
John 17 is the text most often cited when talking about unity. But in context, he first addresses glorification, revelation, protection and sanctification—all very personal and spiritual concepts—before talking about unity. Unity in this passage is modeled not in organization, but in the oneness of the Godhead.
“This as-if-for-the-first-time reading of the text quickly disabused me of a long standing preconception I had of the chapter—namely, that the subject of unity was its dominant theme. Instead, I came to see that the subject of unity, while very present, does not dominate the passage…”
“The unity Jesus envisioned is patterned after the unity of the deity—’as you, Father, are in me and I in you.’ This places Jesus’ expectation on a level far above that conceived in names like, say, ‘the United States” or “the United Kingdom.’ …The model for this unity is Deity itself. The Godhead. This suggests that it is not an artificial or humanly-engendered reality; not something created by committee actions, council resolutions, or church pronouncements; not something that can be administratively manufactured or contrived. Nor is it a condition to be controlled or enforced.”
“A miniscule 0.3% of the world population [Seventh-day Adventists] are, and about 0.7% of the Christian population. Yet with a deep-seated belief that we have been commissioned with a special, end-time message for the entire planet, including brothers and sisters in other Christian communions. It’s a staggering and, from a human standpoint, insurmountable task, notwithstanding clichéd reports about the message spreading by ‘leaps and bounds.’ If Adventists really believe in the imminence of the parousia, and have even a partial understanding of the magnitude and complexity of the mission, then there could be no question about the need to engage every able- bodied person, every willing talent in the task. To understand the magnitude and complexity of the mission, and at the same time try to erect theological or ideological barriers to full participation in the church’s mission, whether on the basis of class, or race, or age, or gender is nothing short of theological malpractice.”
Ellen White and her Understanding of Unity/Disunity
Wendy Jackson (PhD)
Lecturer in Ministry and Theology, Avondale College
Ellen White doesn’t blame lack of doctrinal agreement as the reason for disunity, but disconnection from Christ and associated attitudes such as pride, lack of love. Doctrine was one of the few features that early congregations had in common. But after organization, unity in doctrine was taken somewhat for granted, and she began focusing on unity of action and purpose. That doesn’t mean that she thought doctrine no longer important, but it wasn’t the center of unity.
- “The idea of uniformity of practice is not envisaged here. Rather, the wish that God’s people should live harmoniously and work together to achieve a common purpose. Working in harmony not only made pragmatic sense, it harmonized with White’s understanding of the church as a voluntary society.”
- “The phrase ‘unity of thought’ arises in three contexts. A call for different ethnic and nationalities to work together under a single sovereign rather than letting national pride prevent united action; working together to find the best methods to mission, and a call to peace and harmony instead of criticizing and tearing other leaders down. In none of these contexts is unity of thought intended to convey uniformity of doctrine or understanding all scripture or all church practices in the same way.”
- “A second factor in the attainment of unity is having the correct attitudes. Even when [those she was correcting] held beliefs which differed significantly from others, or which White herself considered were wrong, she generally says very little about the nature of the doctrine or condemnation of it. However, much space is devoted to the need for the attitudes of the individuals and the need for humility. The most essential attitudes are those of love, humility and teachableness, whereas attitudes of pride, self-centredness, and selfish ambition provide obstacles to unity.”
- “The fourth factor to the attainment of unity was the avoidance of non-essential issues. Instead, leaders were encouraged to focus on core or vital truths which were clearly understood and with which everyone agreed. … Ellen White’s lists of vital truths (also identified as pillars of the faith, landmarks, or waymarks), and are not always consistent. However, the truths seem to be able to be divided into two main groups. Those which are foundational for Christianity as a whole, and those which she considered the Spirit had led the Seventh-day Adventist Church to understand. These truths included but were not limited to inspiration, salvation, incarnation, atonement, the perpetuity of the law, Sabbath, creation, the Three Angel’s messages, the non-immortality of the soul, the cleansing of the sanctuary, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
“While the disputes surrounding the 1888 General Conference appeared to be doctrinal in nature, White did not attribute the discord to doctrine. Rather, she consistently maintained that the disunity she witnessed was the result of something much deeper. The unchristlike attitudes and actions that flourished in the hotbed of debate were evidence that the disunity was caused by disconnection from Christ. Unity was the personal responsibility of every member of the church, and possible only when all remained connected to Christ who was both the source of truth and the source of unity.”
Dr. Jackson hasn’t yet made her paper available.
Toward a Theology of Unity
John Brunt (PhD),
New Testament Theologian, Academic Administrator, Pastor (Retired)
This paper begins with the assertion that oneness is modeled in God’s unity. The earth as God made it was perfectly unified, but sin tore that unity apart. Paul spoke of the “mystery” of God’s plan, which was “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” and a major part of that is shown in the unification of the Jews and the Gentiles under Christ. A key concept here was fellowship, and several of the biblical case studies had to do with eating together, and maintaining unity by means of fellowship.
- “Paul’s viewpoint is seen in another discussion involving food found in Romans 14-15. Here there is no reference to food offered to idols, but to the fact that some eat only vegetables and some eat meat. There is also some kind of dispute involving days, perhaps fast days. In Rome people seem to be arguing about what to eat and when to eat it. Paul refused to give a single ‘right answer’ to these Christians, but allowed for diversity of practice. He says that believers should be fully convinced in their own minds (Romans 14:5). Probably some would have been concerned that this was precisely the problem. The Roman house churches needed Paul to tell them what practice was correct. They needed him to give them the ‘right’ answer; to get them all doing the same thing; to bring them into ‘unity.’ But he didn’t do it. He did not consider controlling everyone else’s behavior a part of his apostolic job description. He told those who were “more strict” (probably the meaning of ‘weak’ in his context) to stop judging the ‘less strict,’ and he told the ‘less strict’ not to look down with scorn on the ‘more strict.’ Each could continue their own practice. In fact, those who were ‘more strict’ were not to violate their convictions and do what they did not believe was right. And the less strict were not to act in a way that hurt the ‘more strict.’ But this diversity of practice was not to be a deterrent to unity, for unity did not mean everyone doing it the same way, but it did mean welcoming each other even when they acted differently.”
- “According to Paul, Christians must be free to follow their convictions, as long as those convictions are within the framework of God’s will. Idolatry, adultery, bigotry and prejudice are never within that framework. But the framework could include a significant diversity of practice as long as love, mutual respect, and reverence for each other prevailed.”
- “A theology of unity must attempt to understand Paul’s principled conviction, outlined in 1 Corinthians 9, that true unity could only be achieved by allowing for diversity. This is a great irony. Paul knew that trying to force all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, into one mold would ultimately destroy any real chance for unity. It would cause separation. A theology of unity will maintain this ironic tension.”
New idea to me:
“The post-resurrection experience of the early church begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. In a sense this is the great ‘un-Babel.’ The Spirit works to undo the disunity of Babel. As God confused the languages in Genesis 11, the Spirit now allows the message of good news to transcend the various languages so that all can understand, whatever their language might be.”
Liberty in Messiah: The Steep and Narrow Path to Unity
Olive Hemmings (PhD)
Professor of Religion, Washington Adventist University
Religious Freedom: Some Historical Perspectives and Present Applications
Reinder Bruinsma (PhD)
Pastor and Church Administrator (Retired)
Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?
Ray Roennfeldt (PhD)
Professor (Systematics), President, Avondale College
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.