As a millennial having been raised in the Adventist church, I think that there cannot be enough discussion on the topic of Christian unity. This subject has unfortunately become surrounded in controversy, especially in the Adventist church, where unity is needed the most. Due to the development of ecumenism; the decisions the Adventist church is facing regarding women’s ordination; and the plethora of different interpretations of Scripture; unity within the church is frequently being viewed as a secondary ideal rather than an absolute necessity. However, I find this view to be highly troubling, since without unity, there can be no church.
Do you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church should be united? If not, then you should ask yourself why not. If you are Adventist, why associate yourself with this denomination if you do not think that its people should be united?
Most Adventists agree that the church should be unified, at least in a theoretical sense. In practice, though, there are many implications about Christian unity that Adventists are afraid to consider. I have observed some Adventists who view the word "unity" as being a buzzword that Satan is using to pervert our church with ecumenist doctrine. Furthermore, I have heard some reference to what Christ said in Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (New King James Version). Occasionally, Adventists have used this verse to defend the situations where they would rather not see unity among church members. If Christ’s message is one of division rather than peace, can we safely defend the need for unity?
From my studies of God’s Word, the idea that unity is unimportant cannot be farther from the truth, especially when I consider what happened long ago in Shinar, at the Tower of Babel. The story is told in Genesis 11:1 – 9:
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
I find the parallels between the story of the Tower of Babel and the present state of the Adventist Church striking. From this story, four points in particular stand out:
- The descendants of Noah convened to construct a tower that reached to the heavens. This convention occurred shortly after the Flood, with Noah’s descendants concerned that God would not keep His promises to save the Earth.
- Noah’s descendants thought that by constructing the Tower of Babel, which was essentially a political utopia, they could save themselves from destruction. This lack of faith in God and desire for exaltation has existed since before time, when Lucifer suggested that he could be a more perfect governor than God. Lucifer proposed a form of utopianism, which was the same philosophy that guided the architects at Babel.
- The Tower of Babel was a religious structure. Traditional images of the Tower of Babel bear a striking resemblance to the ziggurats and pyramids of ancient Mesopotamia and Central America. Also, stories from ancient Sumer, such as Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, refer to a religious tower and confounded languages.
- God saw that mankind ignored His simple plan of salvation, so He confounded the language of the architects, and scattered them across the Earth.
These four points have interesting analogies in the story of God’s present-day church:
- Adventists believe in a doctrinal system that descended from Protestantism and the early Millerite movement. However, despite God’s guidance and miracles, we have begun to lose our focus on His salvation, and have sought to construct our own way of salvation.
- Because of our lack of faith, we have begun to develop our own system of politics in order to save ourselves. We distinguish between Adventist “conservatism” and “liberalism,” as though these distinctions determine who will be saved. We imagine a “perfect” form of Adventism where those on the other end of the political spectrum are not present.
- Adventists have begun to construct our own Towers of Babel, our own religious systems of morals and standards which we believe will save us. In doing so, we have, to a significant degree, lost our perspective on what Ecclesiastes 12:13 calls “the whole duty of man:” fearing God and keeping His commandments (King James Version).
- Because we have lost focus of God’s plan of salvation, and have decided to construct our own way of salvation, God has allowed confusion and division to enter the church.
Some Adventists might be uncomfortable with this comparison between Babel and the Adventist Church. However, this comparison would not be so painfully accurate if our church were following the light of God’s salvation. The truth is that the Adventist Church is now undergoing a state of confusion because God is hoping that we will seek Him.
God wants His church to be united, but He wants us to be united in His salvation and in His mission to save humanity. The Adventist church will never be united should we permit ourselves to develop our own interpretations of what is important for salvation. I believe that God allows for differences in perspective and culture in His church because He wants us to be united by our resemblance to Him, not by our resemblance to each other.
My favorite psalm shows in a beautiful, poetic way that God wants His people to be united:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forevermore. (New King James Version, Psalm 133).
Unity is like the oil that was used to anoint the high priest, Aaron. Exodus 29:21 says, “You shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him." If we are a royal priesthood as it says in 1 Peter 2:9, then we need to be hallowed by the anointing power of unity. Unity is like the dew on Mount Zion, where God commanded the blessing of eternal life. Is unity necessary for eternal life? Absolutely!
It is not under the banner of our own ideologies that we are to be united. We need to unite under the banner of God’s love, which will influence everyone who wants to be a Christian. The Adventist church should not be destroyed by doubtful disputes, but rather be united under the cause of Christ, who commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Obeying this commandment is the mark of a true Christian. Obedence will determine whether we are a part of Babel or Zion.