"That They My Be One"
Keeping the Remnant Together
By Ted N. C. Wilson
Beginning with just a few faithful Bible believers in mid-nineteenth-century America, the Lord has abundantly blessed the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today it has grown into a worldwide movement, working in hundreds of languages, encompassing a wide diversity of millions of believers found in 206 countries around the globe.
And while the Lord has certainly blessed us, we also have challenges. Not only do we live in a complex, diverse world, with clashing cultures and rampant secularism, but we must also come to terms with a variety of cultures within the church, varying perspectives on policy, socioeconomic challenges, and other factors. Among these, one of the greatest challenges that we face as a worldwide body of believers is that of unity.
Unity is defined as a state of being united or joined as a whole. It is harmony or agreement between people or groups.
Unity is what God wants for His believers, His church. Just hours before the Crucifixion we find Jesus on His way to Gethsemane, pleading with His Father for unity among His believers, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us. . . . I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23).
Jesus knew the individual strengths and weaknesses of each disciple. We are told that “in these first disciples was presented marked diversity. They were to be the world’s teachers, and they represented widely varied types of character. In order successfully to carry forward the work to which they had been called, these men, differing in natural characteristics and in habits of life, needed to come into unity of feeling, thought, and action. This unity it was Christ’s object to secure. . . . His constant prayer for them was that they might be sanctified through the truth. . . . He knew that truth armed with the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit would conquer in the battle with evil” (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 20, 21).
At first, however, it seemed as if Jesus’ prayer for unity went unanswered. Frightened and ashamed, the disciples fled from their Master as He was arrested and carried away by the mob. After the Crucifixion they were confused, discouraged, and hiding out of fear of persecution. Yet just 50 days later these same disciples were confident and united as “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
How is it that in such a short amount of time the disciples went from being discouraged, divided, and demoralized to being reconciled, confident, transformed? What can we learn from them as we seek to be embraced by the unity Christ longs for us to have? There are at least seven lessons we can glean from the experience of Christ’s disciples.
Seven Steps to Unity
1. The disciples’ confidence and beliefs were based on Scripture. The first thing Jesus did for His disciples after the Resurrection was to open their understanding, “that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). He had tried to do this earlier, but “up to that time the disciples had not comprehended them, for the rubbish of rabbinical lore had hidden the truth from their view” (That I May Know Him, p. 340).
Jesus explained the Scriptures beginning with Moses, David, and all of the prophets, and teaching them how the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise on the third day (see Luke 24:44, 45). Taking each passage point by point, He showed how He was the fulfillment of each prophecy. What a Bible study that must have been!
Jesus continued appearing to His followers in various places during the next 40 days, teaching and encouraging them. By the end of that time, they understood prophecy and its fulfillment, and their faith was firmly grounded in Scripture. They were ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true of us today. To the extent that we see the fulfillment of prophecy in the rise of the Advent movement, and our purpose in fulfilling prophecy—proclaiming the three angels’ messages and preparing people for Christ’s return—we will be ready to receive the Holy Spirit.
2. Their fear of death was gone. Jesus spent three and a half years teaching His disciples the important principles of His kingdom, through both word and example. But they were slow to understand and believe Him. But when they saw their risen Lord, they were much more willing to listen and believe, because He had conquered death. They no longer feared death (or anything else), and this gave them a new boldness in following the call of Jesus (see Heb. 2:14, 15). Even though we have not physically seen Jesus, we can still claim His promise “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
3. They recognized their great need. The disciples began to understand the immensity of the task to which Jesus was calling them. How could they possibly succeed in following the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19, 20)?
Jesus instructed them to begin their work in Jerusalem, the most unpromising field imaginable. They also knew that their fiercest enemies would be the “principalities” and “powers,” “the rulers of the darkness of this age,” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12). They realized that they could succeed only as they depended on a power greater than themselves. We have to recognize our great need and ask God for the gift He has promised.
4. They believed the promise that their risen Lord would be present with them. Ringing in their ears was the assurance that Jesus gave them just before ascending to heaven: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20) and “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (verse 18). It is no accident that the Great Commission is surrounded by these two promises. Before sending them out on what could be seen as only an impossible mission, Jesus assured His disciples that His presence would go with them and that His power would be made available to them.
5. They obeyed Jesus’ command to wait together in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit and to begin their proclamation of the gospel there. The place where Jesus was crucified was probably the last place the disciples wanted to begin their work. But they didn’t scatter; they obeyed. They believed the promise that they would soon be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). When the Holy Spirit came upon them, their efforts were crowned with success. It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that “Christ brings His disciples into a living union with Himself and with the Father. Through the working of the Holy Spirit upon the human mind, man is made complete in Christ Jesus. Unity with Christ establishes a bond of unity with one another. This unity is the most convincing proof to the world of the majesty and virtue of Christ and of His power to take away sin” (Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, p. 30).
6. The disciples were not idle while waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. After Christ’s ascension the disciples were “continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). In addition, for 10 days they prayed with intense earnestness for the gift of His Spirit and the wisdom to lead listeners to Christ.
7. After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples’ overriding ambition “was to reveal the likeness of Christ’s character and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 48). The disciples remembered Jesus’ pure, holy life, and His humble, unselfish service they had witnessed over the past three and a half years, and there was a radical change in their thinking and behavior. No longer did they try to be the greatest; instead they were humble and longed to have the mind of Christ, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant. . . . He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:6-8, KJV). They determined that with the help of His Spirit, no work would be too difficult and no sacrifice too great as they followed in the paths He would lead them. What mattered most was to be like their Master and to win as many as possible to His kingdom.
In the church today many things help keep us together—our common beliefs, policies, worldwide Sabbath school lessons, a closely connected worldwide leadership team, and our wonderful belief in the soon coming of Christ. However, as we have seen from the result of the disciples praying and humbling themselves before God, the real resulting unity was through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same is true for us today. What keeps the Adventist Church together is the Holy Spirit.
As we seek for unity within the church, let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Let’s diligently study the Scriptures, as Jesus did with His disciples, reaffirming the basis of our faith. Let’s earnestly pray for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, who, “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come,” Jesus promised, “will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13, 14).
Then united, let us go in truth and power to a dying world, proclaiming the good news of a risen Savior who is coming soon to take His people home.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.