Unity in the body of Christ
By Ekkehardt Mueller
Most people would probably agree that unity is important. Unity has become a well-used motto in politics and religion. There are the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Germans sing in their national anthem about unity. Political parties stress unity. We are familiar with the slogan “United We Stand.” We hear about the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada, the United Methodist Church, and the Uniting Church in Australia, to name just a few. We use illustrations to show how important unity is. Take, for instance, a match and break it. This is easily done, even by a small child. Tie 10 or 20 matches together and try to break them. It is very hard, if not impossible.
Unity is also important for Adventists. In the following we will look at unity in Scripture and, based on what we learn there, will try to apply these key concepts to the Adventist Church.
Unity in Scripture
In Scripture the topic “unity” is often expressed by the term “one.” It is used in a positive and a negative sense.
1. Unity and Creation: In the Creation account God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26).* The next verse states: “God created man in His own image.” There is one God, but in this one God is found a plurality of persons. The unity of the Godhead is clearly stressed in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Verse 5 continues: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” When Jesus was asked, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (Mark 12:28), He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, the Jewish confession of faith. Jesus and His followers also believed in the one God only, however, manifested in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, Jesus based His call to love God and neighbor on the unity of God. Because God is one in three persons, our love toward Him and each other must be undivided. Love of the members of Jesus’ church leads to fellowship and unity. Thus, the source and foundation of unity is found in the Trinity.
God’s unity is reflected in the creation of marriage. Two persons, different in gender, become one in marriage (Gen. 2:24; see Matt. 19:5, 6). The unity expressed in marriage is supposed to be a reflection of the unity in the Trinity. Unity is more than a union of two or more persons of the same kind. Unity does not deny diversity. The miracle of divinely ordained unity is that people with vast differences are joined together and form a new “organism” in which they are considered equals.
2. Unity and the Fall: With the Fall a negative type of unity came about, discussed more extensively in Paul’s writings. After the Fall of Adam and Eve humanity became united in their opposition to God (Rom. 1, 2). All became sinners (Rom. 3). They are united in the foolish wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20, 21). As a result of their sin there is unity in death (Rom. 6:23). All sinners must die. Adam has become the unifying figure of humanity.
3. Unity in Christ: It was through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection that humans regained the option of being freed from the power of sin and from death. In other words, the unity in sin and death has been and will be destroyed for those who believe in Christ and are in Him, the new head of humanity, the second Adam. Through baptism they are added to Christ’s church and flock (Matt. 16:18; Luke 12:32). This unity is primarily a unity with the Lord, but it is also—and it must be—a unity with other believers. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16). In His high priestly prayer Jesus then prayed for the unity of His followers (John 17:11).
These followers of Christ have come and are still coming from various backgrounds. They are different. Diversity must not be denied. But they have been made one through Jesus who has broken down all barriers of gender, nationality, race, status, learning, and what other barriers there may be (Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:26-29). Diversity is important, but unity surpasses diversity. Now believers form one body, Christ’s body, where He is the head (Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:4; Col. 1:18). They use their various gifts for the building up of the church and for its mission (Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 12). Although their functions may vary, they are equal before God who shows no partiality. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Unity for Adventists
Scripture clearly presents the ideal, but churches may be plagued by factions as the church in Corinth was (1 Cor. 1-3). Adventists are confronted by cultural, societal, philosophical, political, and other forces that threaten the unity of the church. What can be done to remain united?
When addressing the Corinthians, Paul points out that unity must be found in the crucified Lord “who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is Christ, it is the Godhead that guarantees unity, and on Jesus we must concentrate. But faith in Jesus cannot be a theoretical construct only. It must include a common message, namely, “truth” (John 17:17) and the sharing of the “one hope” and “one faith” (Eph. 4:4, 5). Unity without truth is sentimentalism, lacking a solid foundation.
Second, following the example of Jesus, who is one with the Father, includes care for believers and various entities of the church, for example, through practical acts of neighborly love and through financial support (1 John 3:13-18; 2 Cor. 8:1-5). Furthermore, it includes working together for the common mission entrusted to this church (Matt. 28:19, 20; Rev. 14:6-12). A common task can help us to soar above our (often) petty misunderstandings, grievances, and differences of opinions.
Unity will not come automatically. We have to be intentional about it (Eph. 4:3). Drawing closer to the One who loves us immeasurably will draw us closer to each other. It reduces distance.
*All Scripture quotations in this article are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Ekkehardt Mueller, a native of Germany, is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.