Seventh-day Adventists have tended to understand Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1-26 as directly applying to the unity of their church denomination.
We must be united as a church to fulfill our mission to share the three angels’ messages to the world. On this point, there is little contention.
But what about unity with other Christians? How are we to relate to them in light of what Jesus had prayed?
No question, we believe that God has faithful people in other churches besides our own. Besides, the Bible makes it clear that God has His faithful ones, even in Babylon: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues”(Rev. 18:4, NKJV).
At the same time we know that according to the book of Revelation, there is great apostasy among those who profess the name of Christ, and that in the last days many false Christians will unite with each other and with the state in order to bring about the persecution graphically depicted in Revelation 13:1-17. Hence, Adventists always have been very careful about getting involved in calls for unity with other churches, such as seen in the ecumenical movement.
How, then, should we relate to other denominations? Ellen G. White wrote the following in regard to the Seventh-day Adventist Church working together with other Christians, at least on this specific issue: “As the human agent submits his will to the will of God, the Holy Spirit will make the impression upon the hearts of those to whom he ministers. I have been shown that we are not to shun the W.C.T.U. workers. By uniting with them in behalf of total abstinence we do not change our position regarding the observance of the seventh day, and we can show our appreciation of their position regarding the subject of temperance. By opening the door and inviting them to unite with us on the temperance question we secure their help along temperance lines; and they, by uniting with us, will hear new truths which the Holy Spirit is waiting to impress upon hearts.” – Welfare Ministry, p. 163.
Though she was dealing with a specific issue at a specific time, she does give principles that we can follow regarding how we relate to other Christians, especially on the question of uniting around a cause.
First, we can work with them on common social interests. Second, if we do unite with them, we must do so in a way that will not compromise our beliefs or practices. Third, we can and should use this “unity” to share with others the precious truths with which we have been blessed.