The church is God’s family on earth: serving, studying, and worshiping together. Looking to Jesus as its leader and Redeemer, the church is called to take the good news of salvation to all people.
Number 14 of the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church states, in part: “The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to all mankind, and for the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel.” - Seventh-day Adventists Believe (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press© Publishing Association, 2005) p. 163.
But what do we mean by church? Who belongs to the church? The answer to these questions depends in part on our definition of the church.
A church is certainly the local community of believers in Jesus who obey the Lord and who assemble themselves for worship and service. They can meet in house churches or in larger congregations (Rom. 16:10, 11). By church we also mean the building in which Christians assemble. But this is hardly the best definition of the church. The church is about people, not about buildings.
In the New Testament, the church sometimes is referred to as the group of believers in a particular geographical area. So, when Paul addressed the church in Galatia, he referred to many local congregations in towns and villages in that region (Gal. 1:2; see also 1 Pet. 1:1). By church we sometimes also mean a group of people who belong to a particular denomination or who call themselves by a particular name given for their beliefs and heritage.
Yet, all these definitions are incomplete. The church is the people of God all over the earth. And though Christ has faithful followers in various denominations (many of whom will in the final crisis join God’s remnant [Rev. 18:1-4]), this quarter we are going to focus on our church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and what unity in Christ means to us.
Fundamental Belief 14, called Unity in the Body of Christ, states: “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.” - Seventh-day Adventist Believe, p. 201.
The purpose of this series of Bible study lessons is to provide biblical instruction on the topic of Christian unity for us as Seventh-day Adventists, who, now, as always, face challenges to that unity, and will until the end of time.
However, in the Scriptures we find numerous insights and instructions on how to live God’s gift of oneness in Christ. Those insights, those instructions about living out and expressing in our church the unity we have been given, are the focus of this quarter.
Denis Fortin is a professor of theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. Since joining the Theological Seminary faculty in 1994, Fortin has served also as director of the Master of Divinity program (1999-2001), associate dean (2000-2004), chair of the Department of Theology and Christian Philosophy (2006), and until recently, dean (2006-2013).
Lesson 1 September 29-October 5
Read for This Week’s Study: Gen. 1:26, 27; 1 John 4:7, 8, 16; Gen. 3:16-19; Gen. 11:1-9; Gal. 3:29; Deut. 7:6-11.
Memory Text: "Then [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:5, 6, NKJV).
The story of God’s people starts with the creation of humans and their tragic fall into sin. Any attempt at understanding the nature of unity in the church must begin with God’s original plan at the Creation and then the need for restoration after the Fall.
The first chapters of the Bible reveal that God intended for humanity to remain one family. Unfortunately, this unity was severed after the tragedy of sin. In sin alone the roots of disunity and division arose, more of disobedience’s foul consequences. We get a hint of this division in the immediate interaction between Adam and Eve when God first approached them after they ate of the forbidden tree (see Gen. 3:11). Hence, among all else that the plan of salvation will accomplish, the restoration of this original unity is one crucial goal, as well.
Abraham, the father of God’s people, became a key player in God’s plan of salvation. Abraham is depicted in Scripture as the great example of “righteousness by faith” (see Rom. 4:1-5), the kind of faith that unites God’s people with each other and with the Lord Himself. God works through people to restore unity and to make His will known to lost humankind.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 6.
Sunday ↥ September 30
A clear message flowing out of the Creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 is the overall harmony that existed at the end of the week of Creation. God’s final words that all was “very good” (Gen. 1:31) refer not only to aesthetic beauty but also to the absence of any element of evil or discord when God finished making this world and the humans who were to populate it. God’s original purpose in Creation included the harmonious coexistence and interdependent relationship of all life forms. It was a beautiful world created for the human family. All was perfect and worthy of its Creator. God’s ideal and original purpose for the world was one of harmony, unity, and love.
Read Genesis 1:26, 27. What do these verses teach about human uniqueness in contrast to the rest of the earthly creation as depicted in Genesis 1 and 2?
Genesis says that God created humankind in His image, something not said about anything else in the Genesis creation account. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. …’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26, 27, NKJV). Although theologians have debated for centuries the exact nature of this image, and the nature of God Himself, many passages of Scripture present God’s nature as love.
Read 1 John 4:7, 8, 16. How can these verses help us to understand how we were originally created and how this could have impacted the original unity found at the Creation?
God is love, and because humans also can love (and in ways that the rest of the earthly creation certainly can’t), to be created in His image must include the ability to love. Yet, love can exist only in relationship with others. Thus, whatever else being made in the image of God entails, it must entail the capacity to love, and to love deeply.
Monday ↥ October 1
The consequences of the Fall were enormous. The disobedience of Adam and Eve started the rupture of a harmonious interdependence between all life forms. Even worse, it started the disunity, discord, and divisions among human beings that exist even today. The disharmony is seen immediately in how Adam and Eve sought to put the blame for the Fall on others (Gen. 3:12, 13). Things have become only worse since.
Read Genesis 3:16-19 and Genesis 4:1-15. What in these verses reveal the results of sin and its impact on the harmonious world God had created?
Adam’s disobedience became the source of many events and consequences that over time affected all of God’s creation. The natural world itself began to suffer from the consequences of sin. Human relationships also were affected. Cain and Abel, two brothers who should have loved and cared for each other, were estranged because one wished to follow his own selfish inclinations instead of following God’s prescribed mode of worship. This estrangement resulted in violence and death. Cain’s reaction, however, was more directed at God than at Abel. He felt angry toward God (Gen. 4:5), and this anger led to resentment toward Abel. Disobedience further ruptured human relationships.
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, NKJV). This evil ultimately led to the Flood and to the incredible devastation of God’s original creation left in the Flood’s wake. But even then God did not give up on the human race but left a remnant, Noah and his family, to start again.
After the Flood, God gave a promise to Noah and his family. The rainbow in the sky would always remind them of His care and promises, of His kindness and mercy (Gen. 9:12-17, Isa. 54:7-10). God instituted a covenant with Noah and reinstated His original plan to have a united human family faithful to Him and His Word.
What are the ways that sin brings disharmony? What choices can you make right now to help restore harmony among those whom your choices can impact in a powerful way?
Tuesday ↥ October 2
Read Genesis 11:1-9. What happened here that makes the problem of separation and disunity worse?
The next events chronicled by the Bible after the Flood are the construction of the Tower of Babel, the confusion of languages, and then the dispersion of people, who so far had spoken one language. Perhaps attracted by the beauty of the land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and the fertility of the soil, some of the descendants of Noah decided to build themselves a city and a high-towered structure in the land of Shinar, today’s southern Iraq (Gen. 11:2).
Archaeology has shown that Mesopotamia was a densely populated region from earliest historical times. Among these people were the Sumerians, who are credited with inventing the art of writing on clay tablets. They built well-constructed houses and were masters in the production of jewelry, tools, and household utensils. Excavations have also uncovered many tower-like temples dedicated to the worship of various deities.
The descendants of Noah who settled in the land of Shinar soon forgot the God of Noah and the promises He had made to never again destroy the world by a flood. Building the Tower of Babel was a monument to their superior wisdom and skills. Their desire for renown and reputation, to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4), was one motive for this building project. “According to the divine purpose, men were to have preserved unity through the bond of true religion. When idolatry and polytheism broke this inner spiritual bond, they lost not only unity of religion but also the spirit of brotherhood. A project such as the tower, to preserve by outward means the inward unity which had been lost, could never succeed.” - The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, pp. 284, 285.
The fall of Adam and Eve shattered the unity of the human race and God’s original plan. It resulted in confusion regarding worship; the widespread dissemination of evil and immorality over the earth; and ultimately the separation of humanity into many different cultures, languages, and races that often have been at odds with one another since.
What are practical steps we can take to help heal the divisions of race, culture, and language that hurt us even in the church?
Wednesday ↥ October 3
The three great monotheistic world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, look to Abraham as their father. For Christians, this association is a spiritual relationship. When called to leave his country in Mesopotamia, Abraham was told that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, NKJV; see also Gen. 18:18, 22:18). The blessing came through Jesus.
Read Hebrews 11:8-19, Romans 4:1-3, and Galatians 3:29. What elements of Abraham’s faith do these texts mention, and how do they relate to the idea of Christian unity? That is, what can be found in these texts that can help us today to understand what a crucial component of Christian unity should be?
As father of all believers, Abraham gives us some of the basic elements central to Christian unity. First, he practiced obedience. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8, NKJV). Second, he had hope in the promises of God. “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9, 10, NKJV). Third, he believed that God would give him a son and that one day his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. On the basis of this response, God justified him by faith (Rom. 4:1-3). Fourth, he trusted in God’s plan of salvation. The greatest test to Abraham’s faith came when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:1-19, Heb. 11:17-19).
The Old Testament describes Abraham as a friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7, Isa. 41:8). His life of faith, his unwavering obedience, and his confidence in God’s promises make him an example of what our Christian lives should be now.
Think about your actions and words over the next few days. In what ways can you seek to make sure that whatever you say or do reflects the reality of your faith?
Thursday ↥ October 4
In calling Abraham to be His servant, God chose for Himself a people to represent Him to the world. This calling and election was an act of God’s love and grace. God’s call to Israel was central to His plan for the restoration of all humanity after the devastation and disunity caused by the Fall. Sacred history is the study of God’s work toward this restoration, and a major component of that plan was the covenant nation of Israel.
According to Deuteronomy 7:6-11, why did God call Israel His people? Why did He choose the descendants of Abraham as His people?
God’s love for humankind is at the center of the election of Israel as His people. God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants in order to preserve the knowledge of God through His people and to bring about the redemption of humanity (Ps. 67:2). Yet, it is a supreme act of love that made God choose Israel. The descendants of Abraham had nothing to boast about to claim God’s unmerited love. “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7, NKJV).
It is a strange reversal of values that God uses to select His people. While humans look at power, wisdom, and self-confidence to select leaders, God does not choose the strong and mighty to serve Him but those who sense or acknowledge their weakness, folly, and nothingness, that no one might glory before Him (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Yet, look at the privilege that was theirs: “God desired to make of His people Israel a praise and a glory. Every spiritual advantage was given them. God withheld from them nothing favorable to the formation of character that would make them representatives of Himself.
“Their obedience to the law of God would make them marvels of prosperity before the nations of the world. He who could give them wisdom and skill in all cunning work would continue to be their teacher, and would ennoble and elevate them through obedience to His laws. If obedient, they would be preserved from the diseases that afflicted other nations, and would be blessed with vigor of intellect. The glory of God, His majesty and power, were to be revealed in all their prosperity. They were to be a kingdom of priests and princes. God furnished them with every facility for becoming the greatest nation on the earth.” - Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 288.
What parallels can we find between what God did for ancient Israel, and the calling He had for them, and what He has done for us, and the calling He has for us as Seventh-day Adventists? Bring your answers to class on Sabbath.
Friday ↥ October 5
Further Thought: Ellen G. White, “The Creation”, pp. 44-51, and “The Call of Abraham”, pp. 125-131, in Patriarchs and Prophets.
God’s original purpose in the creation of humanity is also reflected in the institutions of the family (Gen. 2:21-24) and the Sabbath. The Sabbath was intended for all humanity, as Jesus clearly indicated in Mark 2:27, 28. In fact, its universal nature is seen in the Genesis account itself, when God set aside the seventh day, not only before the calling out of Israel as His covenant people but even before the introduction of sin. What a powerfully unifying force the Sabbath could have been if all people had kept it. It was the day of rest God intended to remind the descendants of Adam and Eve of their common bond to Him and to one another. “The Sabbath and the family were alike instituted in Eden, and in God’s purpose they are indissolubly linked together. On this day more than on any other, it is possible for us to live the life of Eden. It was God’s plan for the members of the family to be associated in work and study, in worship and recreation, the father as priest of his household, and both father and mother as teachers and companions of their children.” - Ellen G. White, Child Guidance, p. 535.
Summary: God’s original plan at Creation intended for humanity to live harmoniously and in unity as one family. The disobedience of our first parents caused an interruption in God’s plan. Yet, God called Abraham to establish a people through whom He can keep alive the promise of restoration that is found only in Christ.
By Andrew McChesney, Adventist Mission
Seventh-day Adventist students who wish to become nurses no longer face a Sabbath conflict with the opening of the church’s first nursing school in Bangladesh.The three-story facility that houses the Bangladesh Adventist Nursing Institute was funded in part by a Thirteenth Sabbath Offering and stands on the campus of the Bangladesh Adventist Seminary and College in Gowalbathan Kaliakoir, a town located a two-hour drive from the country’s capital, Dhaka.
“This place will send hundreds of missionaries all over this vast and mighty country, and it will be a blessing from heaven”, Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the nursing school in late 2016. “May God bless this nursing college.”The school, which has room for 100 students, opened for classes in 2017.
The new buildingâ€”with 10 classrooms, four laboratories, a conference room, and other facilitiesâ€”received U.S.$150,000 of its $400,000 price tag from a Thirteenth Sabbath Offering given by church members worldwide in third quarter 2015, said Myrun Ju Lee, president of the Bangladesh Adventist Seminary and College. Another $100,000 came from the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, whose territory of 14 countries includes Bangladesh, and the rest came from individual donors in South Korea.Saw Samuel, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, described the establishment of the nursing school as a remarkable accomplishment that would not have been possible without the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering.
“This is a milestone”, Saw said. “This is the first Adventist health training institute in Bangladesh.”The school also offers local Adventist students the opportunity to study nursing in their own country.
“It is really important for our school here in Bangladesh to be able to have a school of nursing because there is no place where an Adventist young person can go to school to take nursing without having to go to school on Sabbath”, said Kevin Costello, associate executive secretary at the division. “Now we will finally have a facility that will be open and available for them so they can get a nursing degree and honor God on the Sabbath as well.”Thank you for your mission offerings that helped make it possible to open the Bangladesh Adventist Nursing School.
Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, second left, visiting the Bangladesh Adventist Nursing Institute, background.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission. email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
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