The year was 73 B.C.
Rome was stirred with the news of a vast gladiator army running free through the Italian countryside. For centuries the Romans had held gladiator competitions, pitting men against animals as well as other men. Gladiators were usually drawn from slaves, people whom the Romans captured in their various conquests. Today one of the most iconic and recognizable monuments of Rome are the remains of the Roman Colosseum, where perhaps thousands perished in the name of blood sport.
In the year 73 BC, however, a group of gladiators under the leadership of one Spartacus overcame their masters and began roaming the countryside, liberating other slaves in an armed insurrection. Historians differ on the details, but it is agreed that Spartacus intended to humble Rome’s military might and place the vast Republic on its knees.
At the onset of what historians call the Third Servile War in Roman history, Spartacus and his men won victory after victory, decimating disciplined formations of the Roman legions. The number in his growing army swelled to more than 100,000. Alarmed, the Roman Senate sent army after army to stop this horde, but met defeat after defeat. The Italian peninsula was stricken with terror as the huge rebel army swept through its cities and their defenses, leaving them desolate. Rome was in a panic.
But the tide was about to turn.
For some reason still debated by historians, Spartacus decided to split his forces. This was not a tactical strategy, nor does it seem to have been done to expedite the achievement of their goals. Roughly half the men were split to join Crixus, Spartacus’ second in command. A full 30,000 gladiators splintered off the main group—and, following Crixus, they travelled south. Historians are not sure why the army split up. Some believe Crixus and Spartacus had a falling out. Others believe Crixus was sent to gather food and supplies. For whatever reason, the army split, and in 72 BC Crixus’ men engaged a group of Roman legionaries and were utterly defeated, with Crixus himself slain.
While Spartacus was still able to win a small amount of victories, his success proved to be short lived after the demise of Crixus. The Roman Praetor Marcus Crassus was sent to defeat him, and under Crassus’ effective leadership the Romans crushed the rebellion. Roman slavery and the gladiator games continued for centuries after.
Divide and Conquer
Spartacus’ army of liberation was on the verge of success. But because of bickering and disunity they were demolished and destroyed.
This is Satan’s plan for God’s church—to divide and conquer.
I have to qualify my statement here. Satan uses both disunity and unity to accomplish his ends. He is no amateur strategist, and he fancies himself a worthy opponent for the Captain of the Lord’s Host.
As defenders of the fundamental pillars of our faith, we are very concerned about the counterfeit unity occurring in the ecumenical movement. We should have no unity with Babylon. In the words of God’s servant, describing the integrity of faithful Christians during the great apostasy centuries ago: “If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.” - GC 45
But while Satan has a counterfeit unity, just as he has a counterfeit Sabbath, God’s people are to have true and righteous unity. Jesus prayed in the Garden, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11)
Not long after Christ’s ascension to heaven, the fledgling group of Christians met before Pentecost and were, as the Bible states in Acts 2:1, “all with one accord in one place.” As the statement “one accord” occurs frequently in Acts, this denotes not just a description of a physical location of a group of individuals, but also to their unity with one another in faith and practice. It is interesting to note that “one accord” is also used to describe the unity of those who wished to kill Paul and Silas.
So then, what is the unity Scripture enjoins upon believers? It is oneness with Christ, made possible by sanctification through God’s Word of truth (John 17:17-21). The Scriptures state “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil 2:2), and in the next couple of verses down: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5).
Another inspired author wrote, “The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties—though there will be much of this to do—but union with Christ.” - AH 179
It is, therefore, union with Christ that accomplishes this unity, and which inspires us to be lovingly diplomatic, to manage with wisdom, and to partake of the divine nature to keep our relationships intact and our unity strong. Christ is to be the center of all our transactions in life. And how is this Christ to be known and experienced? “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39).
The Wrong Path to Reform
How, many will ask, are we to deal with growing apostasy in the church? How can we reverse the internal corruption and union with the world presently witnessed in various segments of the worldwide Adventist body?
In 1893, an Adventist layman by the name of A.W. Stanton published a compilation of Mrs. White’s statements that seemed to support his position that the Adventist Church had apostatized and become Babylon. He concluded that it was time to stop supporting the organized church financially and to “come out of her.” From history we learn that later that year he dispatched a messenger to meet with Ellen White, who was then in Australia, hoping to get support from her in his work. The money he spent in this endeavor was wasted, as Mrs. White had already written to Stanton once she first received copies of his tracts. The words of her letter say this:
“The Lord hath not spoken by any messenger who calls the church that keeps the commandments of God, Babylon. True, there are tares with the wheat; but Christ said He would send His angels to first gather the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into the garner. I know that the Lord loves His church. It is not to be disorganized or broken up into independent atoms. There is not the least consistency in this; there is not the least evidence that such a thing will be. Those who shall heed this false message and try to leaven others will be deceived and prepared to receive advanced delusions, and they will come to nought…You complain of being treated coldly in Battle Creek. Did you go with a humble spirit to those who are spiritual and say, ‘Will you examine the Scriptures with me? Shall we pray over this matter? I have not the light, I want it; for error will never sanctify the soul.’ Can you be surprised that they would not give you all that confidence you might think they should, after the experience they have passed through? Should not the words of Christ have any weight…In unity is your strength. Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. God hath a church, and Christ hath declared, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). The messengers the Lord sends bear the divine credentials. I have tender feelings toward you, but come to the light, I beseech of you” (2SM 68-69).
In loving tones the messenger of the Lord chastened this well-intentioned yet misguided wayfarer, and sought to bring him back to a proper understanding of truth. She understood exactly what he was thinking, even acknowledging his general disillusionment with the Church. But in the end, truth had to prevail.
Humility the Key
We will meet adversity in the church, adversity that could threaten our very unity, but in the end only a humble attitude will achieve anything in the way of revival and reform. James writes, “Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Ja 4:6).
How can we defend truth solidly and still remain humble? Scripture gives us the answer: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa 1:18). Reasoning together requires a bit of humility. If I know I am right by what I read in Scripture, I need to humble myself and realize that if I am right, studying the Scriptures with those I disagree with should not scare me, even if it involves admitting you could be wrong. Only let the scriptures do that, not any man’s arguments. As Martin Luther echoed during that famous trail in Worms, “Since your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.”
A Lesson from Nature
The end-time shaking is well under way in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many will fall away, like chaff before the wind. The wheat, by contrast, will remain intact, united and ready for the Farmer to bring to the barn. Take note: the tares are also bundled in unity, but burnt. We need to pray for true, godly unity.
Science gives us the example of the honey bee. In Japan there is a certain species of hornet which preys on honey bees. In a matter of minutes a couple of Asian giant hornets can destroy a whole hive of honey bees, with hundreds killed. The hornets, now with access to the hive, then feed the honey bee larvae to its own young. Long ago, because of the demand for honey, Japanese farmers began to import European honey bees into their country, as they produced more honey than the Japanese bees. They could never really establish a growing colony of these European bees because they kept getting killed by the Asian giant hornets. However the Japanese honey bees have developed a strategy that their European counterparts have not yet developed.
When an Asian giant hornet scout locates and approaches a Japanese honey bee hive, it will emit specific hunting signals. When the honey bees detect these signals, about one hundred will gather near the entrance of the nest and set up a trap, keeping it open to draw the hornet further into the hive or allow it to enter on its own.
As the hornet enters the nest, a large ball of about five hundred honeybees surround it, completely covering it and preventing it from moving. The bees in the ball begin quickly vibrating their flight muscles, raising the temperature within the honeybee mass. In addition, the activity of the bees sharply raises the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration within the ball.
Japanese honey bees can generate temperatures of about 46 °C (115 °F), and at the CO2 concentrations they produce, they can tolerate temperatures of up to 51 °C (124 °F). However, the hornet cannot survive under these conditions for more than 10 minutes, resulting in its death. Several bees may die along with the intruder, but the death of the hornet scout prevents it from summoning reinforcements which could wipe out the colony.
Unity of action is the strength of the Japanese honey bees. Will it be ours?