The term unity flies around liberally these days. Another widely referenced term is equality. These terms are linked together on a regular basis intimating they are similar. In fact, they are not evenly matched, as there are many distinctions between these two words, one of which is the focus. Equality means just that – equal. If I have equal pieces of pie I have at least two pieces of pie with the same weight, size, ratio of crust to filling, dollop of whip cream, etc. The focus is on the items being compared. People often associate equality with an ideal situation; this is not always true. Parts of a healthy body are not equal, but rather thrive in a perfectly balanced, unified environment. This balance provides harmony of movement and direction and outlines the summative foundation for health, which is to focus on the whole, not on individual organs or functions. If the heart – as important as it is – demanded the same treatment as the brain the result would be fatal for the entire body. Another evident difference between the two words is that equality compares internally and unity looks outward. Equality by its very nature requires internal comparison. Comparison seeks to attach measurements and values. This naturally leads to identifying levels of values, which lends to labeling one thing more desirable and another less desirable. Paul understood the folly of internal comparison when he wrote, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Matthew Henry’s (2002) commentary on this verse identifies the reality supported by scholarly studies (Dovidio & Fiske, 2012; Silvia, 2012) that biases play a key role in observations and as a result our judgments are shaped by the labels of the world around us rather than truth alone. This is fodder for error and cannot be the mode of operation of a Godly individual or organization.
However, for those who are quick to throw equality out with the bath water it must play a vital role in Christianity:
The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ. Christ is the center to which all should be attracted; for the nearer we approach the center, the closer we shall come together in feeling, in sympathy, in love, growing into the character and image of Jesus. RH December 22, 1891
Equality is measured through the eyes of our Leader, not in comparison to each other. We do not need to compare internally – as that is God’s job alone – but rather focus on Christ and we will fulfill the plan and purpose God intends for His church.
An interesting phenomenon I have observed finds many people have no issue pointing to a group and identifying it as disjointed or unequal. Few become uncomfortable in pointing out which subsections in the group are causing inequality. Some even consistently point out individuals as disruptive. Interestingly enough, the disrupters are always outside of those who point the fingers. The fact is you and I make up “us” – you and I cause disunity. I choose to not seek Christ as the center of my life or come together with fellow believers in the image of Jesus. I choose to disrupt the body of Christ and disruption is the antithesis of unity.
The fourteenth fundamental belief of the Seventh-day Adventist church references the body of Christ and the many members that must work in unity to “serve and be served without partiality or reservation” (“Fundamental Beliefs,” 2012). Service without reservation rarely equals equality, which raises a difficult point for what place equality has in the Seventh-day Adventist church. A search for the term “equality” in multiple Bible versions (ESV, ASV, and KJV) finds one verse that holds a word that is consistently translated as equality: 2 Corinthians 8:14. Paul uses the word equality to ensure that Christians did not feel they must aim for the top to be considered valuable, but rather should seek to serve those around them to ensure the burden is equally distributed to fulfill the true purpose of Christianity.
This concept proves hard for individuals. I admit this causes my eyebrows to raise a few notches, as I am not particularly interested in putting in a lot of work without providing apparent meaning to the whole. Recently I heard a statement that caught my attention: a group cannot be corporately what it is not individually. In essence, the sum cannot make up for what is lacking in the parts. A quick deduction identifies individual effort and interest as key to the group’s success. This is where I take heart. The bottom line is that each individual must take responsibility for his or her own participation and integrity and God adds the meaning. Ellen White agrees with this assertion and provides a natural progression and fail safe when facing disunity:
Here is the only safeguard for individual integrity, for the purity of the home, the well-being of society, or the stability of the nation. Amidst all life’s perplexities and dangers and conflicting claims the one safe and sure rule is to do what God says. Education, p. 225
In applying the basic statement of individual responsibility to this quote it can be remodeled to state the following: the bottom line for the individual Christian is to only seek and do what God says and the rest will fall into place.
I am going to be transparent and share my personal experience on this topic: I do not spend sufficient time understanding what God says. I can regurgitate verses – precious few – and point to overarching promises in His word, but I do not make time to unearth the depth of knowledge or understanding of God’s word. I imagine those around me who profess Christianity understand this reality in our fast-paced world. It is very easy to broadly brush across beliefs and trending topics, but taking the time to dig and become familiar with why I believe what I believe and establish a relationship with Christ on which eternity can be built proves to be more difficult.
The truth in God’s word has been likened to buried treasure that must be unearthed (Matthew 13:44). Working in my grandparent’s garden as a child I learned how to dig up the earth, to loosen it with the rototiller, shape it into rows, and dig holes in which to place either the seed or the young plant. This process made it very clear to me that my nails were going to be dirty at the end of the day. Not just a bit of dirt, but the imbedded kind of black dirt that takes some work to clean out with various tools. Interestingly enough, my nails were not just dirty that day. Daily watering, weeding, trimming, and general care produced dirty fingernails for a prolonged period of time from spring to early fall. At times I wondered if the dirt would ever be loosened. As much as I admittedly disliked gardening as a child, this intimate knowledge with the garden allowed me to navigate the bushy plants and many trees with ease and bring my visiting friends to their favorite food without delay. The caked dirt provided evidence of my activity – the more active the labor the more ingrained the dirt. Today I look at my proverbial Christian nails and I see very little dirt.
Let’s bring this home. A hot topic in the Seventh-day Adventist church is equality and unity. Applying the thought process delineated so far in this article it can be said each individual in the church must continually dig for what God says, continually get dirt under the nails. If I see few – if any – dirty fingernails at the end of my hands this means I am causing disunity in my church because I am not pulling my weight as a member of the body of Christ. Dirty fingernails means turning to God’s word and applying it in conversation, action, and in all perplexing topics rather than pure emotion, individual opinion, and popular streams of thought. This does not give us permission to go around inspecting everyone’s digits, but rather this means we need to make sure our nails hold as much dirt as possible. This is our only responsibility. If each of us looks to our own nails we will soon recognize that our little patch of unearthed treasures will grow and will meet up with others who are digging around us and before we know it the church will be unified in purpose and understanding and the conversation of equality will fade away.
A simple progression becomes clear by following the breadcrumbs as identified in the previous quote from the book Education: individuals do not seek God through His word and understand who He is, therefore the family does not join together as a unit to seek His will, which results in society consisting of nominal and face-value Christians, leaving our nation and ultimately our world filled with selfish, egocentric individuals. It always comes back to the individual. The disunity in our homes, society, nation, and yes, our denomination, comes back to me. The reason we are not unified and feel the need to exact equality is due to our individual lethargy and desire to do everything else but dig deep in the living Word for truth.
The good news is that I am an individual. I can change my understanding, my family, my society, my nation, my world, and my denomination through the grace of Christ. I plan to get dirt under my nails continually to learn about that grace, draw near to Christ, and be a Christian. I invite you to join me in this quest for unity.
Dovidio, J. F. & Fiske, S. T. (2012). Under the radar: How unexamined biases in decision-making processes in clinical interactions can contribute to health care disparities. American Journal of Public Health, 102(5), 945-952. Fundamental beliefs. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html
Henry, M. (2002). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
Silvia, J. E. (2012). The biases that limit our thinking about the economic outlook and policy. Business Economics 47(4), 297-301.