By Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson
Note: The following is the first part (abridged) of a presentation given by Elder Wilson at the General Conference Global Leadership Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on Feb. 6, 2018. Elements of the oral style have been retained.
What a privilege for us to be focusing on the one thing that Jesus longed for, as recorded in John 17—unity in His church to accomplish His mission. The theme [for this leadership summit], “The Spiritual Necessity of Church Unity and Biblical Authority to Accomplish God’s Mission,” is a strong reminder of Christ’s desire that His Church might be one just as He and His Father are one.
The sense of unity emanating from the Godhead is overwhelming. God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, are always in unity and accomplish their work together without any difference of opinion—-they are One. They were in unity at creation (Gen. 1:26); at Christ’s baptism (Matt. 3:16-17); at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5); at the cross (Matt. 27:50-54); and on and on. The three persons of the Godhead are always in unity on all decisions they make.
This is why God intends for His church to be in harmony with His will and directions. Psalm 133 shares this hope for God’s people: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! . . . It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forevermore.”
God, speaking through David, expressed His enormous desire that God’s people be in unity. This unity was not some symbolic manifestation of “togetherness” but rather a truly merging of purpose, mission, and duty which comes only from focusing on God’s will. Whenever we depart from this formula, our “unity” will be incomplete and will become disunity.
Our true heavenly unity can be accomplished only as we humbly submit to the instruction of God through the Holy Spirit’s promptings and our understanding of His will through the Holy Writings of the Bible and the inspired counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy. Through prayer and study, God opens the doors for prayerful discussion and heavenly direction, helping His church to know how to move ahead in the greatest task ever entrusted to humans living at the end of time—proclaiming Christ and His three angels’ messages—thus uniting us in heaven’s mandate for the Lord’s Church on earth.
We read in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, page 19, “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.”
Our Greatest Need
Our greatest need is to be still and know our God and His wishes. Many times, in our attempts to accomplish our concepts of what God’s wishes are for us, we fail to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
By attempting to find our own way to unity without being still and listening to God’s leading, we end up in disarray and dysfunction. In the process of listening to God’s will, we must have great respect for Him and His Word, respect for the church organization He has established, and humility to be still and know God’s instructions. Humility is a huge key to unity.
God’s Holy Word reminds us to, “. . . become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace: and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). How important it is to “be of one mind.”
This is also reflected in Philippians 2:1-4: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.”
This “like-mindedness” or “being in one accord” is predicated on the “lowliness of mind” and humility that is so necessary for unity—a submission to the entire church as it makes decisions. Of course, that humility can only come about when we accept Christ’s spirit in us fulfilling the injunction of Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
The early Christian church took this with seriousness and humility of spirit, allowing the Holy Spirit to take full control. The result is found in Acts 2:46: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
Because of their dedication to God and their humility and simplicity of heart, they were in one accord. This is the result of true submission to God and it is what His church will possess as it finishes His great proclamation of the three angels’ messages.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual has some marvelous counsel for each of us about unity.1
“Christians should make every effort to avoid tendencies that would divide them and bring dishonor to their cause. ‘It is the purpose of God that His children shall blend in unity. Do they not expect to live together in the same heaven? . . .Those who refuse to work in harmony greatly dishonor God.’—8T 240. The church should discourage actions that threaten harmony among its members and should consistently encourage unity” (p. 59).
When the Word of God is held paramount and the humility described in the early Christian church is found in our hearts today through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the result will be real unity.
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 April 2018 issue of Adventist World magazine, https://www.adventistworld.org/church-unity-and-biblical-authority-necessary-to-accomplish-gods-mission/
- See pages 23, 59, 71, 120, 127, 167.