Some people talk about unity; some people live it bearing a powerful witness to others...
Our Greatest Strength (Number 14)
(Which we often see as a weakness)
By Jordan Stephan
In the center of the lobby of the men’s dormitory at Walla Walla University stands a stone monument with a Bible verse engraved into it: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1, NIV 1984).
Adventists would stand firmly against a congregation that didn’t keep the Sabbath. A church that preached an incorrect view of the state of the dead would cause an uproar. But what about a church that is in disunity? That certainly wouldn’t make headlines on the Adventist Review Web site, or would it? If unity in Christ is a fundamental belief of our church, why are we so indifferent when this unity is challenged?
An African Illustration
Few people travel to Africa without taking an opportunity to see the incredible wildlife unique to this part of the world. I’ve had the chance to see many animals while living in Kenya, from regal lions to lumbering rhinos.
Two African animals help make an important point: zebras and ostriches. Undoubtedly, these two animals are not the superstars of African safaris. They’re the animals you delete from your full memory card to make space for more elephant and lion photos. Zebras are little more than pretty donkeys, and it is a proven scientific fact that ostriches aren’t terrifying. But the way these two species interact is remarkable.
Zebras have poor eyesight, but they make up for it with an incredible sense of smell and hearing. Ostriches, on the other hand, have limited hearing and smell, but with their big eyes they have sharp vision. The two animals will often graze in similar areas to help protect each other from predators, relying on the other species for what they lack.
Just as these animals work together using each other’s strengths, so too should we look for strengths in others to strengthen our church as a whole. But does that happen?
If there were a career to be had pointing out flaws in others, many people would bring home a hefty paycheck. (And if you read that and thought of someone in your life, then maybe you would bring home a nice check as well.) In our churches, do we see a certain woman as the one who is best at organizing service projects, or do we see her as the one who leads the worst praise team each month? Does the teenager get encouraged for bringing his friends to church, or do we call him out because those friends have tattoos and earrings? Like film critics and art collectors looking for originals, we are experts at finding imperfections.
What Unifies Us Most
Paul makes the best comparison for what church unity should be like in his letter to the Romans. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:4, 5).1
Look at the circle of believers in your home church. We all know those who are gifted to be the legs, willing to go wherever God asks. Others are certainly chosen to be the eyes, blessed with the ability to see people in need. Some are the ears, able to bite their tongues and simply listen, while others still are the hands, able to fix and heal. And we each have that one friend who proudly claims to be the mouth.
Christ-centered unity does not come when churches cultivate same-minded people with a singular gift. Diversity, rather, is what brings healthy, unified growth. What ties us together is often the very thing we think is tearing us apart: differences.
A Question for You
Do you think the Seventh-day Adventist Church is unified? Yes or no? Many Seventh-day Adventists, especially from my generation, might say “no.” I myself would even have said no before starting this article. But I recently had a conversation with a Roman Catholic student here at Maxwell Academy that changed my perspective.
After discussing Catholic practices that I find interesting, I was curious to hear what he thought of Adventism. Being at an Adventist school, he is required to study our curriculum and attend our Sabbath services. I asked if there was anything about Adventism that he admired. His answer surprised me:
“You guys all seem really close, like a family.”
This conversation served as an eye-opener for me. We can often be oblivious to something about ourselves until someone else points it out. Is it possible that we as a church are more unified than we think we are? The unity of our church has been under attack by some in the past couple years.
The most divisive topics bring with them the most ardent opponents with strong (even extreme) convictions.
I always saw this as a sign of weakness in the church. But this conversation caused me to rethink this stance. If few things are being shaken more violently than our unity, and Satan targets areas where he feels most threatened, then what does that say about our church’s unity? Is it possible that Satan targets our unity because it’s on the brink of being our greatest strength (read John 17:20-23)?
This idea is hard to imagine because we tend to focus on the wrong things. Christian unity is not about agreeing with one another or thinking the same way. We can disagree and still be unified. The point of unity is not to be unified with each other, but rather to be unified in Christ. Ellen White spoke to this when writing about the disciples:
“They would have their tests, their grievances, their differences of opinion; but while Christ was abiding in the heart, there could be no dissension. His love would lead to love for one another; the lessons of the Master would lead to the harmonizing of all differences, bringing the disciples into unity, till they would be of one mind and one judgment. Christ is the great center, and they would approach one another just in proportion as they approached the center.”2
The things that divide us today will soon fade as we look to Christ. That’s true unity, and it can be our church’s greatest strength.
How good and pleasant that would be, indeed.
1 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations have been taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 296.