Fundamental Belief Number 14 (Unity in the Body of Christ)

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 Scriptures 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. (Ps. 133:1; Matt. 28:19, 20; John 17:20-23; Acts 17:26, 27; Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Gal. 3:27-29; Eph. 2:13-16; 4:3-6, 11-16; Col. 3:10-15.)  (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.)

Aside from the re-arrangement of Bible texts, this fundamental was unchanged in San Antonio. Like Fundamental Belief 12, this statement is quite open and inclusive. Since Fundamental 13 is more exclusive and potentially divisive, it seems that there was a deliberate attempt to “sandwich” the harsher (at least toward outsiders) fundamental between two others that are more irenic and inclusive. But even so, the focus on unity in this statement could be balanced with the concept of diversity (how about titling this FB “Unity and Diversity in the Body of Christ”?). Unity can be hollow if it means everyone conforming to a single culture or a single standard of appearance. “If you’re not united with us, if you don’t do and think exactly like us, you are out!” Unity is not complete until we value the diversity of the other. The civil rights of others are not truly appreciated until we value the differences that they bring to our attention. It is interesting that the text of this fundamental mentions the differences, but they find no place in the title!

A question that came up when my faculty discussed this belief related to the meaning of “high and low” in line three. Who are the high and the low? We couldn’t figure that out. In relation to the other points of diversity (male and female, rich and poor), it seems to express the idea of people who are powerful and weak, or famous and insignificant, in the larger scheme of things (see Ezek 21:26). The exact phrasing is found in Psalm 49:2 (along with rich and poor—see also Psalm 62:9) but the text is not cited as the source. Regardless of meaning the phrase does point out the importance of diversity and differences within the larger goal of unity.

Actually, at the surface level of any congregation, what you see are the differences, the diversity. Unity, when it happens, is not on the surface, but is something that happens at a deeper level and may not be obvious to casual observers. The sense of oneness in a community can be profound, even when the theological and cultural differences are obvious.

One wonders how this fundamental would play out in the real world when it comes to things like the regional conferences in the North American Division (organizational entities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church). It would be a huge challenge to change the current administrative system, in which there are parallel church entities for work among blacks and for all others. The system arose in order to empower black leadership, but in a world where blacks are found more and more in leadership, is such a system still needed or helpful? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

One faculty member suggested that women are less concerned with being treated equally than they are with being treated fairly or justly. Equality needs to be grounded in a recognition of God-given diversity and in the practice of inclusion.

It’s interesting that there is a group called “Atheists for Paul” who believe that the body metaphor of community is very promising for the wider society, even those who don’t embrace Paul’s religion. Paul emphasizes that all parts of the body are important, though their roles may be different, they are all critical to the full functioning of the body. From a believing perspective, 1 Corinthians 12:13 ties both baptism and the Lord’s Supper into the body image of the community. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two things that unite us as a church body because we all experience them.

While the language of this fundamental could be applied to all followers of Christ, coming after FB 13, there is a sense that “church” in this fundamental does not mean all followers of Christ, but is limited to Adventism, although this FB does not state that in so many words. We would be interested to know if those who wrote this fundamental intended that these things would apply only to the Adventist church or equally to other denominations?

In John 17:20-23 we are invited to take unity even further than what is stated in this fundamental. We are invited to participate in the divine community (the Trinity and the angels of heaven) and then reflect that to the world. How to do this is not spelled out, but it is a breath-taking challenge and opportunity.

5 thoughts on “Fundamental Belief Number 14 (Unity in the Body of Christ)

  1. Owen Bandy

    I’m assuming the comments in these blogs represent a consensus of the Loma Linda group and not just an individual as stated at the beginning of this work. It appears to me that the groups conclusions, especially in the last couple of FB’s has a struggle with the idea that there is a distinction to be made between those who have faith in God and those who are His enemies. (That’s not to say His enemies shouldn’t be treated with Christian gentleness.) Yet at the same time this group seems to have a not so subtle disdain for those who have no trouble making this distinction. Seems a bit hypocritical to me. If we are supposed to have unity with everyone shouldn’t we seek unity with those who make this distinction as well?

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    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      These blogs are based on my notes of 29 conversations among LLUSR faculty over a year or so. Any flaws in them are my own, but I personally found them hugely enlightening, learned three or four things every discussion.

      Reply
    2. Jon Paulien Post author

      Owen, replied to an abridged version of your comment. Yes, many of our group were uncomfortable with the wording of fundamental 13. That language communicated better in 1980 than today, where such language sounds abusive and arrogant to many people in the culture (and causes them to hit the mute button where we are concerned). If God meets people where they are, we should care not only to communicate among ourselves or to our most conservative members, but also to the world we are seeking to save. I didn’t understand the discomfort to lie in the idea of Adventist distinctives, but in the way the distinctives were expressed.

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  2. John Wallace

    I’m disappointed with the word “equal” being used as an interpretation of Paul’s “one.” Sure we are equal in terms of sin and redemption, but Scripture doesn’t demand or imply any other equality. It says we are “one.” It also says “diversity” such as gender, race, status, DO NOT EXIST in Christ – “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
    For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    The worldly emphasis on so-called “diversity” is a hindrance to the work of God. Diversity is everywhere, yes, we are all different. But we’re all the same too. If a surgeon cuts a person open and finds diversity he knows there’s a problem!
    Emphasizing diversity is a slippery slope. At the bottom of it, we’re all separate. The “diversity” movement is really racism – seeing people according to the race/group where they fit. The idea that people aren’t really themselves until they’re with their own “people.” The gospel cuts through all of that and so should we.
    It is the things we hold in common that unite us, not our differences. For example, the diversity between a nut and a bolt does not unite them. The thread they share in common does.

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