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Tuesday: Preserving Church Unity — 29 Comments

  1. Sometimes we take measures to ensure that the world sees a unified church when we know that we have disagreements and arguments among ourselves. We kid ourselves that if we shout loud enough that we are unified, that is how people will see us! Big mistake - they have better eyesight than we give them credit for.

    I was once involved in a workshop for distance students in a secular educational institution. The students had come from all over Australia to the workshop and I had been their distance tutor for about 12 months, and most of them knew I was a Seventh-day Adventist as I was under appointment to Avondale College. At the time the Adventist Church was having some theological issues. During a morning refreshment break, I was sitting next to one of my students who asked me about the issue. After finding out that he was a regular church attendee and knew the "Christian language", I gave him a brief summary of the issue. His response was that is appeared to be a stupid issue to get worked up about. I agreed with him but explained that the church was really a big family and that sometimes we had to sit down and work things out together, just like any family. I then asked what it was like in his Church and he replied, "Much the same!"

    There is no need to hide the fact that we have issues, but it is important that those issues do not cloud our purpose and our relationship with God and one another. We are on a journey and that journey has the same destination. We will have arguments, but the if those arguments help us to grow, that is evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit.

  2. “...more than anything else, our teachings are what unify our church...our unity in Christ is found in our understanding of the truth that Christ has given.”

    No wonder we have so much focus on doctrine and understanding truth rather than on practically living out truth in our daily lives. I am struggling to think of examples in Jesus ministry where doctrines and correct understanding of truth were as paramount in and of themselves.

    What comes to mind instead is that Jesus teaching was not just for the sake of correct doctrine and cognitive understanding, but was rather to unburden people from the impacts of misapprehension about God and what His Kingdom was about, in order that their daily life and living (as members of that Kingdom) was enhanced.

    Am I missing something?

    • I Like this! So easy to say but so hard to do. when we just rely on our own human nature, we fail miserably! People get on our nerves and we just don’t want to be bothered.

      God has to convict us to live what we preach! But when we do... truly believe what we say.. living it is easy!

  3. These words from the author really need a second thought:

    "Again, as Adventists, as people from so many different walks of life, cultures, and backgrounds, our unity in Christ is found in our understanding of the truth that Christ has given. If we get confused on these teachings, then only chaos and division will come, especially as we near the end."

    A lot of times, as Adventists, we seem confused with our own doctrines, principalities or even fundamental beliefs. Much so that, we even struggle with some basic precepts of our faith. Take the "heavenly sanctuary or model sanctuary of Moses", for example, we seem to know all activities and processes that are involved in the various departments of the sanctuary, but when asked the question "why or what the activities or processes are all about or significance of the processes", then all kinds of answers seem to arise, and where they are more than one answer, something is not being understood. We seem to be having a samilar argument today, amongst Adventist on "the state of the dead"; with some in the school of thought that the soul never dies, - in fact the argument is "the soul of the saints never die"- and they quickly justify their statement with Ezekiel 18:20 quote "the soul that sinneth, it shall die..." or Ecclesiastes 12:7, "...and life's breath returns to God who gave it..." It raises a very important question, if amongst ourselves we seem confused with our own understanding, how then can we lead, teach or even deliver the message of truth to the rest of "the nation,tribes and people"?

    As a beginning maybe, we need to do a deep self-examination; then re-edify ourselves so that we can have a unified understanding of our truth; we should further try to understand why our basics are being confused or misunderstood, with an aim to decipher, and reapply to the outsider in a simple, understandable and direct manner so as not to be confused. Seminars to educate ourselves will surely help in talking one message, before addressing to the rest of "the nation,tribes and people". Take an example from Jesus Christ with his disciples; He was with them for years before his crucifixion teaching them and guiding them, but still took them through a 40 day "refresher" just before he ascended to Heaven (Still leaving behind a helper to constantly guide them). In leadership, we should purpose to diagnose and test our own understanding first, get contentious issues clarified and set a unified projection amongst church members. Knowledge and understanding should come to one thing.

  4. Phil van der Klift I agree with you,we have taken out a very important component of our beliefs which is the SPIRIT OF GOD: we think what we already know (doctrine) is all there is: is there something new we can learn about the Sabbath? Are we even willing to get more revelation on the Sabbath topic or what we know is ultimate? Let us pray for the Spirit of God

  5. In the recent few years, I have met an increasing number who claim our unity is in “loving” others by accepting their different interpretations of God's word that too often have run contrary to the beliefs held by the church. The supplied texts for today, as well as others that could be cited, teach us differently. For those who do not agree with the beliefs of the Body; find another church that they might find more agreeable. Satan has always worked through teachers of falsehood, and continues today. Anyone without a Sure Anchor will be swept away by fanciful theories that satisfy the itching ears of unbelievers.

    God taught Israel to be very strict regarding His law, and to accept no person who would teach them to disregard His commandments which they were to teach to their children diligently. The scriptures, both Old and New testaments, are clear on remaining faithful to the Truth as God has given it. In Jesus' day the truth had become polluted and mingled with error, which Jesus worked to rescue the Truth from.

    Unity is only found in One Accord. If each is led by the Holy Spirit, all who have the Spirit will be of One Accord. I have yet to find an alternative method to maintain unity.

    • Robert, the key word is "interpretation." When we see the interpretations of those who disagree with us as being in violation of God's Law, rather than just disagreeing with us, doesn't that mean that we equate our mind with the mind of God?

      Do you not see anything wrong with that?

      I know of nothing more sure to create disunity than the conviction that all must see things exactly according to our individual views of truth. Since we are all constituted differently, we are bound to have slightly differing views, and if we insist that others must adhere to the exact truth, as we understand it, we will have conflict.

      We are very blessed in having a Spirit-led woman as one of the founders of our denomination in the person of Ellen White. She was very generous in allowing people to see things differently - even differently from what she had written. And in 1891 she wrote in the December 21 issue of The Review and Herald that

      The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason of all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ. Christ is the center to which all should be attracted; for the nearer we approach the center, the closer we shall come together in feeling, in sympathy, in love, growing into the character and image of Jesus. With God there is no respect of persons

      Did you get that? "The equality of all believers" is the "secret of unity." That implies mutual respect. That implies that if someone else sees things differently than I do, the chances are equal that I might need to grow a little more, rather than the other person. (By the way, that's just a different way of saying what Paul said - that believers are to be "subject to one another" (Eph 5:21), a text just missed in Sunday's lesson.

      So if we are serious about unity, we need to individually focus on Christ and allow Him to develop His character in us. I suspect that that's much more likely to bring unity than exhorting others to do what we think they ought to do.

      There are some role distinctions in the body of Christ, even while we are all equal. Authority is given by the members to humble leaders so that they may lead, and they have the responsibility to exhort, correct, and guard against error. But we need to be a bit careful that we not mistake our own roles. Even Christ spent much more time in positive preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven that is open to all who adopt its principles than in correcting obvious errors. The "correcting" he did was generally in presenting the beautiful truth of the character of God.

        • Okay, I accept that, Robert. You wrote regarding "different interpretations of God's word that too often have run contrary to the beliefs held by the church" rather than "contrary to my opinion." (Actually I did not mean to imply that that's what you meant.)

          However, I find a great deal of variation in interpretation regarding to "the beliefs held by the church" or our "fundamental beliefs." (By the way, the latter were compiled rather casually by a group of leaders. They were supposed to be a summary of what most Seventh-day Adventists believe and were never intended to be a creed or a test of fellowship.)

          I do believe that in too many churches there is a lack of genuine discipline. For that matter, I suspect the problem begins with a misunderstanding of "discipline." Note that the word derives from the word "disciple" and so literally means to "make disciples." If that were understood as the primary role of discipline, rather than punishment, I think more churches would be amenable to practicing it.

          Discipling begins with loving relationships, and in such relationships, the life of mentors is more powerful than their words, though words are also useful. Some churches have a formal mentoring program where each new convert is mentored by an experienced disciple. Such churches don't have nearly the losses after baptisms as those without such programs. But even without a formal program, mentoring will happen in caring churches. However, a formal program is good to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks.

          So what happens when people stray into obviously breaking one of the Ten Commandments? Chances are good that they have no close relationships with experienced disciples. Thus, before setting out to "correct" such erring members, I believe it is of utmost importance that they are visited and mentored in a loving way. The Pastor should *not* be the first to visit because of the "uh, oh!" factor. Rather someone who at least had some relationship with that person should visit and seek to re-establish a genuine relationship without *any* reference to the "problem," and if the erring member brings up the problem, the visiting mentor should listen - a lot - and offer to pray with the person for wisdom, without offering "counsel." Remember that the Holy Spirit is the "Counselor," and another member's job is chiefly to be a mediator to re-unite the person with the Holy Spirit. I believe that when the Pastor does visit, s/he should be dressed casually, not in a formal "judgment" suit (as the erring member would likely perceive it.) Again, the pastoral visit should be informal, asking about "concerns" and offering prayer *without* bringing up "the problem." With such treatment the chances are excellent that the erring member will change and be re-united with the body.

          But how often do you see such treatment applied?

          Of course, if the erring member persists in following a course in violation of a clear commandment of God, separation from the body has already happened, and the body must acknowledge it by a vote of disfellowshipping that member, followed up by seeking to win him/her back, if possible. (That is, to treat that person as the "heathen" we are trying to win.)

          I believe Christ's vision for the church was for us to be a family - with continuing loving concern and care for each other. I visited one church several years ago where such an atmosphere was palpable from the moment we entered the foyer. (I think our local church is quite warm, but it could be better by following some of the practices of this church in Calgary, Alberta.) In the foyer we were warmly greeted by several people, including the Pastor. I think she kept a special eye out for visitors and members who might be struggling. I observed her hugging and huddling with several members. The atmosphere continued into Sabbath School. The whole church seemed focused on loving relationships. Just before the preaching service, there was a time for prayer requests. But this was handled differently than I've seen it done elsewhere. The Pastor and two elders stood at the front of the church, and those who wanted prayer lined up to see one of the three. Then they received personal prayer and hugs as well. (I think there is merit in the whole church praying for people, and perhaps a mix might be best.)

          The sermon was Christ-centered and, in this case, interspersed with singing. (I understand this was a special Sabbath.)

          Through the announcements in the bulletin and from the pulpit, it was clear that the church is very involved in reaching out to the community. The congregation is a good mix of ages and national backgrounds, and all seemed at ease with each other.

          The potluck was revealing. We happened to be seated next to a woman who had been opposed to this pastor on principle, even before she arrived. This woman was getting ready to transfer to another congregation. But she was won over by the spirit of Christ exhibited by the Pastor and is now an enthusiastic supporter.

          I'm sure that the members in that church are not perfect, and one visit does not tell the whole story by any means. But it seems to me that a first-time visitor is likely to come back and be loved right into fellowship. Considering how Christ spent His life on this planet, I believe that this church adheres to His vision for His followers in a church body.

          Thank you for giving me an opportunity to elaborate.

          • I can only add "Amen" to what you wrote Inge. I agree so much with the need that should proceed discipline(as you defined it) and the true shepherding that could help to keep many from straying rather than feeling they are struggling alone.

            The truths that I am concerned with primarily are those that lead to salvation, which, if perverted, would ruin the chance of being saved by leading the sinner to grasp a false hope. You know, the truths that make us SDA rather than some other where the requirements of the law and gospel are dismissed, if not trampled upon. The first angel displays the Law of God and our accountability if we desire salvation. Simply put, no wicked will dwell with God.

            I agree that the law is only for revealing sin in the life, which is why it must and will lead the sincere to Christ for cleansing and healing. As we grow in grace, the law becomes more glorious and beyond our greatest comprehension in revealing the Divine Nature, and the potential for any believing sinner. Any tampering with these truths can make the difference between life and death. These truths we must guard with sacred diligence, especially in our own lives.

    • "In the recent few years, I have met an increasing number who claim our unity is in “loving” others by accepting their different interpretations of God's word that too often have run contrary to the beliefs held by the church."

      To give an example of what you are referring to, would you mind listing what you have found to be the 'top 5' different interpretations of God's Word that you have heard that run contrary to the beliefs held by the church?

      I am not asking this so I can argue back with you about any of them, I am genuinely interested to know what you see.


      • Very briefly:
        1. Universal Justification(no repentance required)
        2. Christ is not(and cannot be) our substitute
        3. We all died(on the cross with Jesus)for our own sin
        4. We may come to the day of judgment with known sin, and Jesus will cover us with His righteousness(very dangerous error, obviously, perhaps a cousin to "we cannot overcome sin in this life")
        5. There is no trinity

        From both the pulpit and Sabbath School desk on numerous occasions. (the group pushing the first 4 disfellowshiped the group pushing number 5 just recently. I have not attended that church since the end of 2015)

        I am not so concerned about differing views on prophecy, if Christ was like Adam before or after his fall(though I believe it is important), the exact meaning of the 1290/1335 days, is 144,000 literal or symbolic, the king of the north, etc.

        Does that help?

        • Well, Robert, the first four points do sound rather worse than the fifth. Seeing our pioneers had significant differences on the fifth, it would seem to be a mistake to make that a test of fellowship.

          However, I have sufficient experience with persons misinterpreting and then misstating the first point that I am hesitant to take your word for the "no repentance required."

          I am familiar with the teaching that Christ's prayer, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" covered all of mankind, and the Father most surely answered the Son's prayer in the affirmative - long before you or I or anyone else repented. In other words, we were effectively "justified" before we repented. The pardon was signed in blood by Christ Himself. All that was lacking was acceptance on the sinner's part, and all that it implies.

          I wonder whether that's what you term "universal justification (no repentance required)."

          Note that in the statement above, a part is "lacking" in order for justification to be effective. It is reminiscent of a famous incident in US history in the 1830's:

          In 1833, the Supreme Court ultimately weighed in on the issue, ruling “A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.” From "Can a Person Refuse a Presidential Pardon?")

          Of course, it is quite clear in Scripture that there is no salvation without acceptance of the pardon that Christ obtained for all. Acceptance necessarily also acknowledges acceptance of responsibility/guilt (confession) and repentance in its very act.

          The bottom line is that whether one believes in universal justification at the cross that only needs to be accepted or believes that one is justified only *after* confession and repentance may not make a lot of practical difference.

          I tend to think the belief I spelled out is in harmony with the character of God as demonstrated in the rest of Scripture, particularly in the writings of Paul, who wrote, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) God always takes the initiative and encourages us to respond, rather than waiting for us to take the initiative in order for Him to save us. He even provides the repentance needed to respond. (Acts 5:31, 2 Tim 2:25)

          Just for reference:

          That prayer of Christ for His enemies embraced the world. It took in every sinner that had lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time. Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God. To all, forgiveness is freely offered. “Whosoever will” may have peace with God, and inherit eternal life. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 745)

          Does "forgiveness freely offered" mean that forgiveness already exists in the heart of God, or does it mean that it will be produced after repentance? Does the pardon exist before it is accepted, or not? Whichever way you choose to believe, will not make you an apostate in my eyes. 🙂

          • Inge, there are varying degrees of how #1 is interpreted and taught, and I was told directly that no repentance was required to be forgiven, since "we were all forgiven at the cross" for every sin we would ever commit. The only condition given by which one could be lost is to "reject Christ", but how that was done was never clearly defined by them. I believe it was mostly directed at those who claim to be atheist.(?) This point of not needing repentance was made very clear, though I could hardly believe they were saying it, and that's just one point.

            I believe the disfellowship of those promoting #5 was due to the statement of our fundamental beliefs and the recommendation of the church manual. But you would need to ask them yourself since I have had no communication for 3 years now.

            I personally have no serious issue with #5 as a test, but Phil wanted 5 examples 😉 and #5 arose and caused a major disruption in that congregation after I was gone, though I learned of it through emails asking my opinion. I did not get involved, having moved 3 time zones away. I also had learned that those pushing #5 were very vocal and relentless. I've seen this over other matters(the church is Babylon, what happened to our tithe?!!, etc).

          • For further comment...

            Yes, the offer is universal and holds no restriction based on gender, race, language, wealth or it's lack, status, etc, with the only condition of acceptance. The means of acceptance is faith, which is an action(more than just a nod) that for sinners is seen in repentance, which was Jesus' core message("go and sin no more", "repent and believe the gospel") which, if followed, would lead to the sanctified life, which the rich young ruler thought too costly.

            I believe that the fact we are judged according to our works reveals the results true faith must bring to any who exercise this faith, adding to it; "virtue...knowledge...temperance...patience...Godliness...brotherly kindness...charity(agape)".

            I can understand your hesitance to take my word, as I was to believe they actually were believing it, much less even saying it. But after many months trying to dialogue, I was told enough times. As I mentioned, it varied depending on whom you talked with. After talking with some, they were not so sure of their belief either.

            The saddest part was why they believed as they did. Because E. J. Waggoner said so. This coming after he had left the church. Too long to explain why they took his word over scripture and even Ellen, but that's what I was told on more than one occasion. When I asked them to simply prove their belief from the Bible only, none would do it, and even admitted they couldn't, stating "I don't know the Bible that well yet...".

            The scriptures are our only safeguard.

          • Oh, didn't answer the last question about forgiveness/pardon.

            Let's say Major Market advertises FREE BANANAS! The bananas are there, waiting, whether you come and get them or not. But if you don't come and get them, you will never enjoy them with your breakfast.

            The "bananas" were ready before "Let there be Light" was spoken. Believe it?

    • Robert, I’m wondering if you’re talking about the 2300 day prophecy and it’s true meaning or possibly the interpretation of revelation eight, or even the vision in the cornfield. I believe there is great room for interpretation in some of those prophecies!… Royce

      • Royce, I have yet to find uncertainty when I study prayerfully the Word of God. Still, I acknowledge there are differing conclusions on many passages, such as those you cited. None of those are of real concern to me. I am referring to fundamental beliefs that comprise our core message for the world. Our very foundation is under attack by Satan, who is a liar. Any who choose to remain under his power are at great risk for his clever deceptions and many snares.

  6. This lesson is calling leader and elders to keep their faithful responsibility. Paul emphasis was in the keeping of the doctrines and teaching pure. The lesson says that if there is confusion then with it comes chaos. For the time will come that the lack of sound doctrine will create chaos and confusion and eventually people will create their own unsaved and unequipped leader.

    Why is it than our leaders and elders are allowing false and contrary doctrines in our churches? Many churches are keeping Christmas threes in the church for the sake of decoration I know what Ellen White said about but I know and adhere to what God declared in Jeremiah 10:3,4 For the practice of the people are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest , and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Our leaders and elders must keep the faith and commands of the Lord. They are there to teach, exhort, rebuke and protect the does said the Lord

    • Julie, whether or not to have Christmas trees in churches is a debatable point. It depends on how they are used. But either way it is not "allowing false and contrary doctrines in our churches." The Bible doesn't address Christmas trees. The issue is much more subtle than that. Am I to assume that you don't agree with what Ellen White says on the subject? (See the topic, "Shall We Have a Christmas Tree," beginning on p. 482 in the Adventist Home.)

      Now the making of idols that is mentioned in Jeremiah 10 is an altogether different matter. I am glad to read that you are not participating in making idols of wood or metal, covering them with gold and silver, dressing them in violet and purple and worshiping them as gods. And if idol worship is being introduced into your local church, most certainly the leaders should address the issue.

      You don't say from where you are writing, so I wonder in what part of the world this is happening, as I've not heard of it.

  7. You wrote:

    For those who do not agree with the beliefs of the Body; find another church that they might find more agreeable.

    Hmmn. I am not entirely sure about that advice Robert. Once those people have left the community of believers they are far less likely to be engaged in interaction that could change their beliefs. I agree that if the disagreement reaches the stage where it is divisive then a more draconian solution may be necessary, but among the church members I know, there are several "different interpretations". They are not preaching those beliefs, but their comments in discussion show where they stand. We should always leave room for people to grow their faith, and at the same time, remember that we may need to grow as well.

  8. Maurice, I would think you are aware of our instructions for those who refuse to follow the teachings of the church? After the proper efforts to reconcile are rejected, those persons are to be removed from the fellowship for the good of all. (See Matt 18:15-20, and Titus 3:10,11) You may also study this in the Church Manual.

    By allowing those who oppose the church's teachings to remain, more will be subverted by their doctrine. We have seen too much of this because the church wants to "love" rather than discipline as Jesus taught us to do, and does Himself(Rev 3:19). We have guidelines to follow if we truly follow the Lamb of God.

    Do you have a superior plan than what Christ has given His people to follow?

    • Yes I am quite aware of those instructions, and I know that sometimes it has to be done. But as with any discipline, patience and kindness should temper our actions. I learned the hard way as a teacher and parent that reactive discipline often closes doors that are difficult to reopen. To counterbalance your point, I remember the parable of the wheat and tares. I am not saying that we should do nothing. It is important that we think through what we are trying to achieve through discipline and not just react to the situation.

      • Are you assuming that others are just reacting, or are you aware of such cases? I have only witnessed the utmost care and concern exercised while those involved labored prayerfully for reconciliation when some had fallen into temptation. I've only seen 3 cases that needed to be brought before the congregation.

        • I am glad you have only witnessed the utmost care and concern. I worked for the church for 43 years and as I have said many times, I have seen both the best and worst of church disciplinary action. Yes, I have seen reactionary discipline and the pain of it is papable.


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