Volume 24, Number 2
The Power of Unity
Nothing in the universe in the biological, physical, or spiritual realm—is more powerful than unity. At the molecular level, unity of action anchors atoms in their respective orbits and provides the building blocks of life in our diverse world, a world that demonstrates immense power, beauty, diversity, rhythm, and unity. “Give, and it shall be given you”1 is the theme of our interdependent world, where clouds and rivers, plants and animals connect, share, give, take, and create this earth’s biological economy. It all begins with unity—harmony—giving. Unity, interdependence, and organization are “God” principles at the physical and spiritual level—they don’t occur by evolution, but by special creation.
Inorganic chemist Stephen Grocott describes the inability of man to create life, systems, and organization (i.e. unity) at the molecular level: “Sterilize a frog and put it in a blender—buzzz. Seal up the mixture and leave it in a sterile container and leave it as long as you want. You won’t get life in spite of the fact that you started with the best possible mixture…[These organic precursors]…would all decompose to simpler and simpler molecules and would mostly end up as common, lifeless, organic substances.”
In the spiritual realm, unity is as important as it is to our physical world. And you and I are part of the equation. Without “U” and “I”, unity melts to “n t y,” a meaningless brew of letters as useless as our soup of frog molecules. Without “You” and “I” working together with God, everything eventually falls apart. But when you (u) and I (i) are joined together by the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then true UnIty—powerful life!—bursts onto the scene.
Think about it for a moment. What is the purpose of the plan of salvation? Eternal life?
Yes. To make victorious living possible? Yes. To reveal the wonderful, unfathomable love of God? Yes. But, consider this final passage in The Great Controversy on page 678:
“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all flow life and light and gladness throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love” (Emphasis supplied).
Notice that highlighted line: “One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation.” Now, compare that with Paul’s inspired statement in Ephesians 4:13. After listing the spiritual gifts that God has given His church, Paul lists the reason why God gave them and how long they would remain: “Until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Unity. That’s what sin broke in heaven. That’s what the Lord came—and the gospel was given—to restore. When Lucifer was able to get one-third of the angels to doubt God’s leadership and authority, the unity of heaven was broken. And Satan knew that without unity, heaven, indeed, God’s government, could no longer function with efficiency and power. Satan understood that once a being questions or doubts a God-given chain of command, disunity cannot be far behind. And once disunity arrives, efficiency, effectiveness, and power soon exit.
Satan convinced many angels that God’s plan, His chain of command, was flawed. Why should Jesus receive so much attention when he, Lucifer, was so close to God and so involved in God’s plans? God was holding something back, Satan insinuated, He was keeping the angels from experiencing the power and position they deserved. And all the angels who held to that view had to be expelled in order for the unity of heaven to be reinstated.
Now, fast forward to the Garden of Eden. Satan’s plan worked so well in heaven, he used it again on earth. As Eve stood spellbound by the speaking serpent, he told her to eat the fruit because “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”2 You can move up the chain, Eve, was the insinuation. God’s holding you back. Eat this fruit and you can establish your own chain of command—you can be in charge, just like God!
And, just like the angels in heaven, Eve bit the bait, she doubted God’s authority by showing her willingness to break His chain of command, and we’re living today with the results of her flawed choice.
This pattern can be traced throughout the entire great controversy. Satan understands the importance of unity, but he understands even better how to destroy it and the inevitable results of destroying it.
“(Satan) thinks to dissolve the unity which Christ prayed might exist in His church. He says, ‘I will go forth and be a lying spirit to deceive those that I can, to criticize, and condemn, and falsify.’ Let the son of deceit and false witness be entertained by a church that has had great light, great evidence, and that church will discard the message the Lord has sent, and receive the most unreasonable assertions and false suppositions and false theories. Satan laughs at their folly, for he knows what truth is.”3
We can understand this concept more clearly as we study Jesus’ final prayer before the cross. Notice carefully what Jesus was praying for, what He asked God to do because of His approaching sacrificial death:
“Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are … I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. Father …”4
Do you see the theme of Christ’s prayer? “That they may be one as We are … that they all may be one in Us … that they may be one just as We are one …” Jesus knew that His death would not only provide salvation for His followers, but it would give the power of unity, of oneness with each other and, more importantly, with God and Jesus! But did you notice what that unity would ultimately accomplish? Look again at verses 21 and 23: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me … I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
The unity of a diverse, multi-cultural group of believers is proof to the world that God did, indeed, send Jesus to die and they are truly His disciples carrying His last-day warning message to the world! Without unity, the validation of our message of Jesus’ salvation is almost powerless. Ellen White validates that in Acts of the Apostles, page 91: “The proclamation of the gospel was to be world-wide in its extent, and the messengers of the cross could not hope to fulfill their important mission unless they should remain united in the bonds of Christian unity, and thus reveal to the world that they were one with Christ in God.”
She also wrote: “It is the unity in the church that enables it to exert a conscious influence upon unbelievers and worldlings.”5 She adds: “The evidence that the world cannot withstand and controvert, that God has sent Jesus into the world as its Redeemer, is in the oneness of the church. Their unity and harmony is the convincing argument. Satan is therefore constantly at work to prevent this harmony and union …”6
How powerful is that unity? “Ten members, who were walking in all humbleness of mind, would have a far greater power upon the world than has the entire church, with its present numbers and lack of unity. The more there is of the divided, inharmonious element, the less power will the church have for good in the world.”7
“In unity there is a life, a power that can be obtained in no other way. There will be a vast power in the church when the energies of the members are united under the control of the Spirit.”8
This power was evidenced at Pentecost through a once-rag-tag team of 11 men who had experienced little power in their lives before that day. But the Bible says: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting … And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …”9
What had changed? Rather than seeking power, position, and prestige, they were now humble, submitted to the will of their Master. Rather than seeking to be rulers of Christ’s kingdom, they were now satisfied to be servants. They were no longer divided in pride and opinion, but were “of one accord in one place.” They were finally unified! And because of that unity Christ blessed them with the outpouring of His Holy Spirit.
What was the result? Peter preached one sermon, and “that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”10 And after another sermon, the Bible says, “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”11 Imagine it! Two sermons. Seven thousand baptisms! Now that’s power! That’s church growth! That’s the power of unity. Truly, “Unity is strength; disunion is weakness and defeat.”12
God’s promise for us today is: “When we bring our hearts into unity with Christ, and our lives into harmony with His work, the Spirit that fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost will fall on us.”13
But, as we have read, while Jesus moves His church toward unity, Satan is hard at work to bring in strife and discord—disunity! Notice what happened just four chapters later in Acts 6:1: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.”
It’s interesting that inspiration directed Luke to point out that it was while “the number of the disciples was multiplying” that “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists” about their widows. As the church became more “diversified” through the baptism of believers from different cultures, Satan used it to threaten the church. The language of the passage and actions taken by the apostles in response lend credibility to the idea that this was no minor dispute, but a potential threat to the church’s unity and growth.
Christ’s church faces the same situation today. With more than 16 million members, and thousands being added daily, we face an increasing challenge to maintain the church’s unity and power. It would be good, therefore, for us to remember that one of our most important “jobs” as Christians is “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”14
Remember, Paul says, that no matter where you come from, what color your skin is, no matter what your previous culture was, no matter what your language is, when you’re converted, you become a member of one body, Jesus Christ, who is the head—or leader—of the body15 “that in all things he might have the preeminence.”16 Our old culture, our old ways, our old habits are laid aside, and Christ now has preeminence—He’s the ultimate authority. “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” 17
The body analogy is used many times in Scripture to talk about the church. In Romans 12:5 Paul wrote: “We, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” In writing of this diversity and the differing talents Christ gives to church members, Paul said: “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?18
In other words, all the parts of the body are needed to make the body function properly and thrive in safety: The feet taking the nose to where it can better assess the smell of that smoke; the eyes seeing the flames; the hands pouring the water on the flames; the adrenals giving the emergency energy needed to fulfill the task. Without all the parts working together in unity, as directed by the brain (the great head!), the different parts would all be killed in the resultant unchecked fire!
Ellen White put it this way: “The members of the church of God on this earth are as the different parts of a machine, all closely related to one another, and all closely related to and dependent on one great center. There is to be unity in diversity.”19 “As members of the visible church, and workers in the vineyard of the Lord, all professed Christians should do their utmost to preserve peace, harmony, and love in the church.”20
But she also warned: “We are to unify, but not on a platform of error.”21
Why? Look at the example of the physical body. When one cell becomes “rebellious” and begins to divide unchecked by the needs and commands of the body, what happens? Cancer! So it is in the church. We must adopt the paradigm of a “body-builder” mentality and leave behind us the “church-attender” mentality. A church-attender mentality asks, “How can the church better serve me; I need the church to do this for me so I can enjoy being here.” A body-builder mentality says instead: “What I want is secondary to what is best for the body, because as the body grows, so will I!”
“If church members would be doers of the Word, as they solemnly pledged themselves to be when they received baptism, they would love their brethren, and would be constantly seeking for unity and harmony.”22
“Strive earnestly for unity. Pray for it, work for it. It will bring spiritual health, elevation of thought, nobility of character, heavenlymindedness, enabling you to overcome selfishness and evil surmisings, and to be more than conquerors through Him that loved you and gave Himself for you. Crucify self; esteem others better than yourselves. Thus you will be brought into oneness with Christ.”23
But does diversity naturally lead to dangers of division and disunity? Consider this profound passage: “(God’s people) will not be at variance, one believing one thing, and another having faith and views entirely opposite; each moving independently of the body. Through the diversity of the gifts and governments that He has placed in the church, they will all come to the unity of the faith. If one man takes his views of Bible truth without regard to the opinion of his brethren, and justifies his course, alleging that he has a right to his own peculiar views, and then presses them upon others, how can he be fulfilling the prayer of Christ?”24
You see, a body-builder mentality does not ask, “What’s good for me? What type of music do I want in the service? How do I want this or that done?” Instead it concedes: What’s best for the body? What will best preserve the body’s health, growth, and mission? What does Jesus, the Head of the body, want for His body?
That’s the principle Paul is teaching in Ephesians 1:22, 23: “(Jesus is) head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Jesus, not individuals, is the Head of the body, the final authority in the church. When a member of the body wants something done, the “head” must be consulted to make sure it is within His will and plan.
Does that mean church members will see eye to eye on every point and that there will never be disagreements in the church? No! Just look at what happened with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. But, when, like Paul and Barnabas, members are striving for unity, submitting their case to the great head Jesus Christ, differences will be settled and unity will once again be restored!
That’s why Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1, 2: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” What is our calling? To join the body of Christ, to be in submission to the Head, Jesus Christ—that’s walking “worthy of our calling”! Just as each part of a healthy human body moves and acts and divides only at the express command of the brain (the head), so it will be in a unified, healthy church body, a congregation filled with “body-building” mentality and submission. Self is dead. Christ and His will is all in all. What’s good for the body is best for the members.
“Those who are truly converted will press together in Christian unity.”25 “Nothing can perfect a perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. Satan can sow discord; Christ alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements.”26 “The members of the church must come into unity; and in order to do this, they must have less of self, and more of Jesus.”27
Now, notice this serious admonition: “None who continue to cherish a querulous, fault-finding disposition can enter heaven; for they would mar its peace and harmony … Nor should they be permitted to remain in the church to prevent unity and destroy its usefulness. Let them be reproved, and if they do not change their course, let them be separated from the church.”28
“Instead of the unity which should exist among believers, there is disunion; for Satan is permitted to come in, and through his specious deceptions and delusions he leads those who are not learning of Christ meekness and lowliness of heart, to take a different line from the church, and break up, if possible, the unity of the church. Men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves.”29
So, while a unified church will exhibit a Christlike forbearance, while it will not exhibit a harsh, judgmental spirit, while it with all lowliness and gentleness and longsuffering, bears with one another in love, it cannot retain members with a querulous, fault-finding disposition, for that is the spirit of Satan, the spirit that brings certain disunity.
We are counseled: “When self-will is renounced in reference to matters there will be a union of believers with Christ. This all should pray for and work for determinedly …”30
When that unity Jesus prayed for happens in the church, what are the results? Members will no longer “be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, (will) grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”31
So, if your church doesn’t have this unity, what should you do? Here are some inspired counsels: “The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. 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.”32
“In the fourth chapter of Ephesians the plan of God is so plainly and simply revealed that all His children may lay hold upon the truth. Here the means which He has appointed to keep unity in His church, that its members may reveal to the world a healthy religious experience, is plainly declared.”33
The counsel continues: “Amidst the general discord (of the world) let there be one place where harmony and unity exists because the Bible is made the guide of life.”34 “(The angel) said, ‘The church must flee to God’s Word and become established upon gospel order, which has been overlooked and neglected.’ This is indispensably necessary in order to bring the church into the unity of the faith.”35 “To secure peace and unity (the Reformers) were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.”36 “While we are not to sacrifice one principle of truth, it should be our constant aim to reach this state of unity”37
What will “this state of unity” produce in the church? Note Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:8, 9: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
Back to how to restore unity: “Unity is the strength of the church. Satan knows this, and he employs his whole force to bring in dissension. He desires to see a lack of harmony among the members of the church of God. Greater attention should be given to the subject of unity. What is the recipe for the cure of the leprosy of strife and dissension? Obedience to the commandments of God.”38
“We must bring our religion to the Bible standard. We must not place ourselves where we claim wisdom to welcome or reject God’s words at pleasure. Never let the world think that the Christian and the world are the same in mind and judgment. There is a line drawn between the eternal God and the church on one side and the world on the other. There is no unity between the two. One chooses the way of the Lord, the other the ways of Satan. There will always be found a necessity to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints …”39
What’s the great unifier? The Word of God and the principles and doctrines it teaches. When we deviate from the great principle of the Protestant Reformation, Sola Scriptura, “the Bible only,” we are on the sure path to disharmony and disunity. And just as it was in heaven, once we question God’s chain of command on earth (see 1 Corinthians 11:1-3), we are headed for certain disunity, loss of power, and loss of direction. When we accept new theories on Bible interpretation, disunity is the sure result. When we lower or ignore any Bible principle in attempts to grow our churches or to win more souls or to attract or retain more youth, disunity will not be far behind.
So, what’s the sign of a healthy, vibrant church? Regular baptisms? Filled parking lots? A large number of youth? Busy in community outreach? Active social programs? No. The sign is unity. A group of diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic people who are united in their new culture of heavenly obedience; people who have “put off, concerning (their) former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and (have been) renewed in the spirit of (their) mind, and (have) put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”40 People who ask, “What is best for the body?” not “What is best for me?” They’re body builders, not merely worshippers.
Unity. That’s what Christ prayed for in John 17. That’s the ultimate goal of the great plan of salvation. That’s what every true worshipper of God will be seeking for and praying for and working for. But, without You and I working together, we know what happens: Unity morphs to a mere string of powerless letters—nty—lying powerless, useless, and without purpose in a blender full of potential.
1 Luke 6:38.
2 Genesis 3:5.
3 Testimonies to Ministers, page 409.
4 John 17:11, 13, 20-24. All Bible references are from the New King James Version.
5 That I May Know Him, p. 153.
6 The Upward Look, p. 63.
7 Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 119.
8 Testimonies for the Church, Volume 7, p. 236.
9 Acts 2:1-2, 4.
10. Acts 2:41.
11. Acts 4:4.
12. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, p. 292.
13. Counsels for the Church, p. 66.
14. Romans 15:5-6.
15. Ephesians 5:23.
16. Colossians 1:18.
17. Romans 15:5-7.
18. 1 Corinthians 12:17.
19. Our High Calling, p. 182.
20. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pp. 619-20.
21. Special Testimonies, Series B, #2, p. 47.
22. This Day With God, p. 356.
23. Counsels for the Church, p. 290.
24. Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, p. 201.
25. Gospel Workers, p. 485.
26. Reflecting Christ, p. 200.
27. Pastoral Ministry, p. 267.
28. Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, p. 214.
29. Testimonies to Ministers, p. 48.
30. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 94.
31. Ephesians 4:14-16.
32. The Adventist Home, p. 179.
33. SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 1117.
34. The Publishing Ministry, p. 114.
35. Early Writings, pp. 100-1.
36. The Great Controversy, p. 45.
37. Mind Character, and Personality, Volume 2, p. 798.
38. Selected Messages, Volume 2, p. 159.
39. Christ Triumphant, p. 151.
40. Ephesians 4:22-24.