A Seventh-day Adventist leadership summit emphasized that unity is needed to finish the church’s mission of spreading the gospel and overwhelmingly endorsed the unity described by Jesus in John 17.
Unity is a key issue among church leaders as the General Conference, the administrative body of the world church, contends with several units that are not in compliance with voted policies. The General Conference’s Unity Oversight Committee, which is looking into the matter, is to present a document on the next possible steps to nearly 300 church leaders at the Annual Council meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee in October 2018.
Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, opening the 11th annual Global Leadership Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, declared that “real unity … comes from a heart-felt submission to God and to our fellow church members as we work together being instructed by the Holy Word, the Spirit of Prophecy, and the Holy Spirit.”
“The resulting unity far supersedes any privately held convictions after items have been carefully reviewed by the world church and decisions have been taken,” Wilson said in a keynote address. “It far supersedes any legal ‘rights’ that might be exercised. Moral and spiritual obligations to God, to His church, and to His united mission far outweigh any legal or independent opinions of a member or an organization within the general church body.”
Opening the Bible to John 17:20-23, he read Jesus’ prayer for church unity: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as you have loved Me” (NKJV).
“When any organization, as a part of the body of Christ, His church, demands its own way contrary to the will of the entire body, that willful and independent organization is working against God’s wishes for a united church in mission based on John 17,” Wilson said.
Pointing to John 17
Speaker after speaker cited John 17 at the two-day summit attended by 49 church leaders, including division presidents, secretaries, and treasurers, university presidents and professors, and others.
Mark Finley, an evangelist and assistant to the world church president, described Jesus’ prayer as the theological foundation for unity in the Adventist Church.
“All unity has to be based on a theological foundation,” he said in a presentation titled, “Historical Development of Spiritual Unity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
He noted that church cofounder Ellen White mentioned John 17 more than 700 times in her writings. Reading one of those passages, he said, “God’s family on the earth have many lessons to learn in order to answer the prayer of Christ — His last prayer with His disciples before His humiliation. The seventeenth chapter of John, which contains this prayer, comprehends more than any other chapter in the New Testament” (Letter 92, 1906).
Abner De Los Santos, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, underscored that the unity of John 17 is essential in fulfilling Jesus’ command to proclaim the gospel to the world.
“It is only in our unity that the world can see the power of the gospel,” he said in a presentation titled, “The Importance of Church Unity as Exemplified by Christ and His Disciples.”
Other Feb. 6 speakers at the summit, themed, “The Spiritual Necessity of Church Unity and Biblical Authority to Accomplish God’s Mission,” included Ella Simmons and Thomas Lemon, general vice presidents of the Adventist world church, and Duane McKey, assistant to the world church president and is president of Adventist World Radio. Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel to the General Conference and the North American Division, offered a legal perspective.
Church members who long for unity should seek Christ with all their hearts, church leaders said.
“Unity is not what a church or any organization manufactures,” said Larry Evans, assistant to the world church president for special needs ministries. “It is a byproduct of those who personally experience the God of the Bible.”
Near the end of the day, G. Alexander Bryant, executive secretary for the North American Division, applauded the speakers for showing that the Adventist Church is focused squarely on Christ.
“I wish young people in the North American Division could hear what we are saying today about the church being Christ-centered,” he said during a roundtable about training young people to become leaders. “If Christ is not at the center, we have nothing.”
Completing the Mission
From the welcoming remarks of Guillermo E. Biaggi, general vice president of the Adventist world church and summit organizer:
We want to consider and reflect not only on reports from various world divisions and institutions, but also on presentations regarding the important topic of unity and church authority, and how they could impact the completion of the church’s mission.
Ellen White reflects: “Oh, how Satan would rejoice if he could succeed in his efforts to get in among this people and disorganize the work at a time when thorough organization is essential and will be the greatest power to keep out spurious uprisings and to refute claims not endorsed by the word of God! We want to hold the lines evenly, that there shall be no breaking down of the system of organization and order that has been built up by wise, careful labor.” (“Testimonies for the Church,” Vol. 9, pages 257, 258).
We need God’s help through to presence of the Holy Spirit to become visionary and committed leaders who complete the mission to reach 7.6 billion people of our world with the message of hope.