By Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson
Note: This is the second part (abridged) of a presentation given by Elder Wilson at the Global Leadership Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on Feb. 6, 2018. The complete transcript is available here.
What is real unity? It is something which 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. 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.
There may be a contention that a church organization duly registered as a legal entity is beyond the purview of general worldwide church decisions, the General Conference (GC) or division working policies or model constitutions. The GC Executive Committee, however, with worldwide representation voted:
“The General Conference Working Policy shall be strictly adhered to by all organizations in every part of the world field. The work in every organization shall be administered in full harmony with the policies of the General Conference and of the divisions respectively.”1
Some may argue that the world church has no legal standing to force compliance. Let’s be very clear: the church as a whole, including its individual units, operates on eternal truths, biblical principles, spiritual values, and heavenly ethics far beyond any earthly legal aspects. The church is governed by the leading of the Holy Spirit and the biblical beliefs and mission we accept from God’s hand.
As a result of the power of the Holy Spirit’s leading, the Church, its leaders, institutions, organizations, and members, are motivated by heaven-blessed collegial goodwill engendered by the mission for the Advent movement outlined in God’s Holy Word and the Spirit of Prophecy. Regardless of opinions, there is a submissiveness to God’s leading as expressed in His worldwide church and its deliberations as a representative body from all parts of the earth.
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:
“’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 . . .” (vss. 20-22).
What an amazing request of Christ for us in His last-day Advent movement—a globally diverse group united in Christ and His mission for the church.
The supposition that there can be unity in diversity can be misused to mask true intentions to embark on a path of disunity in the name of diversity. Passages such as John 17, 2 Cor. 13:11, Philip. 2:1-4, and Acts 2:46 do not advocate a “mock” unity, allowing the various parts of the body to do as they wish with a pretense of professed unity.
We read in “Unity in Diversity,” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9): “In loving sympathy and confidence God’s workers are to unite with one another. He who says or does anything that tends to separate the members of Christ’s church is counterworking the Lord’s purpose. Wrangling and dissention in the church, the encouragement of suspicion and unbelief, are dishonoring to Christ. . . . True religion unites hearts not only with Christ, but with one another in a most tender union” (p. 145).
This self-sacrificing spirit and genuine humility born from connection with Christ is what we each need to diminish the tendency in all of us to champion our own opinions and convictions in the face of the church’s voted actions—God’s remnant church on earth.
A Wall of Evidence
It would appear that opposition to compliance of the general body’s actions such as the General Conference in Session or the General Conference Executive Committee functioning as God’s remnant church, on the grounds of “conscience” would face a wall of evidence from Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy indicating that independent thinking must be submitted to the larger body’s decisions.
In The Acts of the Apostles, we read: “There have ever been in the church those who are constantly inclined toward individual independence. They seem unable to realize that independence of spirit is liable to lead the human agent to have too much confidence in himself and to trust in his own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly esteem the judgment of his brethren, especially of those in the offices that God has appointed for the leadership of His people. God has invested His church with special authority and power, which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising; for he who does this despises the voice of God” (pp. 163-164).
And Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, gives profound instructions for us all: “. . . when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body. . . . God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. . . . God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work” (pp. 260-261).
Let’s never forget the true mission of the church as we Reach the World through Revival and Reformation, Mission to the Cities, Comprehensive Health Ministry, Total Member Involvement, and more to finish God’s work through His power. Steps to Christ, page 81, indicates, “The church of Christ is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. Its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” We are to be united in this mission.
Let’s always remember God’s objective of unity in His church as we lift up Christ and His three angels’ messages, “ . . . endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Christ’s power over each of us and His church, and our submission to that power, is of utmost importance in realizing the spiritual necessity of church unity and biblical authority to accomplish God’s mission of proclaiming Jesus’ soon second coming when the culmination of complete unity takes place.
Ted N.C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and on Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Adventist World magazine, https://www.adventistworld.org/church-unity-and-biblical-authority-part-2/
- General Conference Working Policy (2016-2017),B 15 10, p. 73.