Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 11:  Unity in the Body
Fundamental Belief #14 The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.  In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us.  We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation.  Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scripture we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all.  This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children.
[Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Matthew 28:19-20; Psalms 133:1; 2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Acts 17:26-27; Galatians 3:27, 29; Colossians 3:10-15; Ephesians 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23]

Closely related to the doctrine of the church in Chapter 9 is the doctrine of unity in the body.  According to the apostle Paul, all born-again Christians make up the body of Christ, and he explains it as follows:

1 Corinthians 12:12-13
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

In our study of the doctrine of the church, in Chapter 9, we learned that the New Testament uses many metaphors to define the church, all of which have one thing in common:  without exception, they emphasize unity of the believers in Christ.  The church is one bride with one husband; one flock with one shepherd; one set of branches on one vine; one kingdom with one king; one family with one father; one building with one foundation.

All of these metaphors have Old Testament equivalents, but the idea of the church as one body in Christ is unique to the New Testament.  No other metaphor stresses the unity and cooperation of believers as does the picture of the church as the body of Christ.  Paul described it to the church at Rome in these words:

Romans 12:5 [emphasis added]
...So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

In this body there is no room for hierarchy, no room for believers to feel as either upper- or lower-class Christians.  Levels of authority exist (1 Timothy 5:17) and diversities of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4, both below), but no such thing as spiritual superiority.  Conference leaders and church pastors, for example, have no claim to upper-class Christian status.

1 Timothy 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
1 Corinthians 12:4
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.

Jesus makes no mention of longer and shorter branches on the vine, or that, in the church flock, some sheep are blue-ribbon, while others are rejected.  Yes, each member receives a specific gift, according to the will of the Spirit and for the benefit of the whole church:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

But no one member is more important than another:

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

All are one in Christ and, as the fundamental belief states:  “In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us.”

When Jesus instituted the ordinance of foot washing, as part of the Lord’s Supper, He sought to impress the view that in Him all members are equal.  Paul calls this unity of the body, produced by the Holy Spirit through the gift of agape-love, “a more excellent way”:

1 Corinthians 12:31
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

It is the most powerful evidence the church can give the world that the gospel is not some human theory, but the power of God unto salvation from the principle of self and sin:

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In our study in Chapter 8 of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, we defined the central issue as the struggle between the principle of self introduced by Lucifer in heaven when he became Satan...

Isaiah 14:12-14
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!  You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

...and God’s agape-love, “which does not seek its own”:

1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

At the Fall, Satan’s principle of self was injected into man’s very nature, and every child of Adam is born a slave to self:

Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Philippians 2:21
For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

It is this principle of self that has divided mankind into all kinds of factions — national, racial, tribal, ethnic, social, religious — without end.

But the cross struck down Satan’s principle of self.  On the cross, the law of sin in the flesh was condemned and executed, and mankind was set from the law of sin and death in the crucified Jesus:

Romans 8:2-3
...Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh....

The entire human race was, thus, reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and every selfish barrier between human beings was likewise removed:

Ephesians 2:14-16
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The same principle of the body that demands intimate unity between Christ and the believers also requires unity among believers themselves.  On the cross, Christ not only reconciled sinful mankind to a holy God, He removed every dividing wall mankind had created to divide and conquer one another:

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Though Jews and Gentiles were natural enemies in the early Ephesian church, Paul could assure them:

Ephesians 2:14-15
For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace....

In Christ’s day, a wall in the temple courtyard separated the Court of the Gentiles from the area reserved for Jews, and modern archaeology has unearthed an inscription posted on this dividing wall.  It reads, in part, “No foreigner [Gentile] may enter within the barricade....  Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”  Paul was referring to this very wall when he wrote that Christ “has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (between us).”  The same principle applies to all divisions today — racial, tribal, cultural, and social.

These divisions exist in the world still dominated by self, but they should not exist in the church, where all have been made one in Christ:

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, note how the apostle Paul expresses this truth in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 12:4-5 [emphasis added]
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We must honestly confess, however, that separation and division still exist within the Adventist Church today.  Surely, according to John 13:34-35, this is a denial of the power of the gospel:

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Again, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul counsels believers to:

Ephesians 4:2-3
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Humility acknowledges from the heart that God controls everything.  But this kind of humility is possible only when believers submit to the claims of the cross and recognize that, alone, all are 100 percent sinners and that completeness is found only in Christ:

Colossians 2:10
...And in Christ you have been brought to fullness.  He is the head over every power and authority.

When a church practices such Christian humility, we will find that:

1 Corinthians 12:25-26
...So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

What a tremendous witness God’s people could have been if church members from the two opposing tribes in Rwanda had been united in love during the 1994 genocide, when the Adventist Church was one of the largest Protestant denominations in the country!  Or what a powerful witness the church could be in the United States if all racial, cultural, and ethnic antagonism and divisions were eliminated and all were united in the bond of love.  Surely such love and unity would turn our modern world upside down with such proof that the everlasting gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation.

Acts 17:6
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting:  “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here....”

Some may feel that reaching such a goal is wishful thinking in today’s world.  But Christ’s world in His day was just as divided, and the unity of the body became a reality in the early Christian church.  It could indeed be written at that time:

Acts 4:32-33
All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all....

To make things even more difficult, the first-century church sprang up in a slave society, with slaves and masters accepting Jesus together, as we read in Paul’s letter to the Christian slave Philemon.  Traditionally, these two groups never mixed socially, and the class distinctions seemed irreconcilable.  Yet, in the church, they shared the same meal, commonly known as the agape, or love feast.  This became such a powerful witness to society that even enemies of the gospel, including historians Celsius and Cicero, admitted, “These Christians know how to love one another.”

This is what God longs to produce in the Adventist Church around the world, but He will not do so through committee actions or promotional programs.  Only when believers submit their self-centered bios-lives to the cross of Christ and by God’s grace learn to walk in the zoe-life of Christ will this happen.  But first the everlasting gospel must be restored, so that the members are established in the truth as it is in Christ — Not I, but Christ:

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Scripture does not command Christians to produce this unity, for God has already made them one body in Christ.  Believers simply are to accept what Christ has already accomplished for them, by following a pattern described by Paul:

1 Thessalonians 2:10-12
You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

There’s no need for more church conferences on unity; what is needed are Christians willing to live meek, long-suffering, and forbearing lives.

What joy and power would fill the church if meekness and lowliness became the order of the day, and if members submitted to one another in love:

Ephesians 5:21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Yet some Christians today act like children, insisting on their own rights and creating a plague of factions.  The church cries out for unity in diversity!

This brings us to the all-important question, “How is this love and unity to be accomplished?”  The answer, says Paul, is found in applying the principle of the body to one’s own Christian experience.  In the human body, there is but one head in control — the mind, or will.  Everything is subject to the head; the various body parts are slaves to the head and, when the head commands, members of the body obey without question.  This is the principle of the body at work:

1 Corinthians 12:14-22
Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable....

Let’s say, for example, that I want to go to church to celebrate the joy of salvation with my fellow believers.  I first call on my legs to transport me to the car, then instruct my hands, eyes, and legs to cooperate in driving me to church.  Once in church, I command my vocal chords to join in the hymn-singing, and so forth.  All this takes place without a problem, because no part of me lives for itself.  Everything is controlled by my head.

If all believers would deny self and take up the cross daily and submit to Christ, He who is the head of the church would guide them into perfect unity and harmony:

Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

All members would do their part in the body, and the church would become like a beehive, each member doing his or her part for the common good.  Such a church would be Spirit-controlled, and the world would see Christ in it, the hope of glory:

Colossians 1:27
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The church is not a sports field, where a few overworked athletes toil while the rest sit and watch.  Because the pastor is denominationally paid, many think he is responsible for all or most of the work.  This leads to pastoral burnout and to complaints about poor preaching.

The Bible is hidden treasure and, like any hidden treasure, to reach it requires digging.  Average lay people have little time to dig the treasure from the Bible.  But a pastor does have the time, and the tools, so each church service he can share the treasures he has discovered with his flock:

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Thus:

Ephesians 4:15-16
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we [the church] will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

But if a pastor is burdened with all sorts of administrative duties, where is the time for him to dig into the Word?  People are dying for want of a clear understand of righteousness by faith and kindred truths, while pastors bankrupt their congregations by sharing spiritual trinkets:

Gospel Workers by Ellen G. White, p. 301
Our brethren should be willing to investigate in a candid way every point of controversy.  If a brother is teaching error, those who are in responsible positions ought to know it; and if he is teaching truth, they ought to take their stand at his side.  We should all know what is being taught among us; for if it is truth, we need it.  We are all under obligation to God to know what He sends us.  He has given directions by which we may test every doctrine, — “To the law and to the testimony:  if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”  [Isaiah 8:20.]  If the light presented meets this test, we are not to refuse to accept it because it does not agree with our ideas.
No one has said that we shall find perfection in any man’s investigations; but this I do know, that our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths.
No matter by whom light is sent, we should open our hearts to receive it with the meekness of Christ.  But many do not do this.  When a controverted point is presented, they pour in question after question, without admitting a point when it is well sustained.  O, may we act as men who want light!  May God give us His Holy Spirit day by day, and let the light of His countenance shine upon us, that we may be learners in the school of Christ.

The Holy Spirit, who guides into all truth, creates true Christian unity by living in every believer:

Romans 8:9
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

The body of Christ is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, collectively and individually:

1 Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

Paul emphasized this when he wrote:

Ephesians 2:22
And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

And again:

Ephesians 4:3
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

In the body, only Christ gives the orders.  Christians in conflict usually are doing so because they are confusing their own desires, feelings, or wishes with the will of Christ.  Therefore Paul admonishes Christians to...

1 Thessalonians 5:17
...Pray continually....

...in the sense of maintaining a living connection with Christ by focusing their minds on Him and His Word:

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

This brings us to the next principle of the body:  To function property, there must be pathways for impulses to travel between the head and every living body part.  In the human body these pathways are known as nerves.  If these vital nerve pathways are interrupted, the body parts affected become paralyzed and create a burden for the rest of the body.

So it is in the church, where ordinarily only a few do the work of the body, while the rest sit and watch.  Little wonder, then, that many active members experience burnout.

Because believers possess sinful natures (the flesh), the mind becomes the battleground between the desires of the Spirit and of the flesh.

Romans 7:18
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

These two, says Paul, constantly oppose one another:

Galatians 5:16-17
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Therefore:

Romans 8:5
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Believers must remind themselves that:

Romans 8:9
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

Genuine faith, as we noted in Chapter 7, The Experience of Salvation, is more than a mental assent to the gospel message.  It includes a heart obedience to the truth, as it is in Christ:

Romans 6:17
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.

And baptism becomes a public confession of death, burial, and resurrection to a new zoe-life in Christ:

Romans 6:3-8
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

All believers, therefore, must have the attitude that Paul expresses to the Galatian Christians:

Galatians 2:19-20
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The correct understanding of righteousness by faith opens the door for the Spirit of Christ to take over and produce a world-baffling oneness in His body.  But if the church refuses to cooperate with its head, it will appear to the world to be just another human organization with the same quarrels and divisions found elsewhere:

1 Corinthians 3:3
You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere humans?

The world judges Christ by the witness of His church and, because its witness is often so far from what it should be, some onlookers judge Christ to be at worst a fake and at best a good man and enlightened teacher.  The witness of the body of Christ so often tears down the claims of the gospel by the way its members behave; it would be better for the sake of the gospel if they did not call themselves Christians at all.

The Christian church’s failure to practice what it preached led directly to Karl Marx’s decision to label religion the opiate of the people.  Much of Marx’s work is written to protest the social and economic injustices of his time, terrible practices the church encouraged because the rich mill owners who exploited their workers made heavy donations to the church.  Corruption in the church helped lead Eastern Europe to turn its back on Christianity in favor of communism.

What an impact a united church could have!  Not the kind of ecumenical unity in which everyone kisses doctrine good-bye, throws their arms around each other, and marches off to battle over the latest social issue.  I mean the kind of unity displayed by the Godhead, a unity founded on unconditional agape-love.

The body of Christ needs to be one in spirit and love.  But it is not, and the body’s testimony in many Adventist churches is one of envy, strife, division, carnality, and confusion over the gospel.  This was the problem in the Corinthian church, probably the most carnal church of the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere humans?

God sent to His Old Testament people rebukes and appeals through the prophets and, in repeating Israel’s history, God is doing the same today through His modern prophet.  In one such rebuke, Ellen G. White writes:

Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, pages 719-720
Oh, for a religious awakening!  The angels of God are going from church to church, doing their duty; and Christ is knocking at the door of your hearts for entrance.  But the means that God has devised to awaken the church to a sense of their spiritual destitution have not been regarded.  The voice of the True Witness has been heard in reproof, but has not been obeyed.  Men have chosen to follow their own way instead of God’s way because self was not crucified in them.  Thus the light has had but little effect upon minds and hearts.

If the world is to understand that God’s agape-love is selfless and unconditional, it must see it demonstrated through His ambassadors.  Christ came to this earth some 2,000 years ago, not only to redeem mankind, but to glorify the Father:

John 17:4
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

The work as a church, likewise, is to witness for Christ to the world.  Jesus promised the disciples that, when He sent the Spirit, they would receive power to be His witnesses:

Acts 1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That power is still available today.  But only as the believers behold themselves in Christ will they be changed into His image.

According to Paul, gospel power works as follows:

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom [from guilt, condemnation, and self-centeredness].  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

This is how he expressed what true Christianity is all about:

2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Adventists often worry about whether or not they will someday walk on streets of gold and live in mansions.  While this indeed is the blessed hope, blessed is the church where members’ egocentric concerns do not stand in the way of their witness to God’s glory.  When Christ turns loose His power in the body in the latter rain, the earth will be illuminated with His glory:

Revelation 18:1
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.

But will the believers welcome that power so they may glorify him?  Will they be willing to pay the price for taking up the cross, denying their self-centered goals, and following Him daily?

Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

May this be the heartfelt desire of each Christian.


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