The Seventh-day Identity Crisis

Posted on January 2, 2013


Church UnityAuthor: Andrew Kerbs

Uncertainty and doubt regarding the Advent message create division and lack of purpose. In essence, it creates an identity crisis. Today we are facing numerous distractions that are taking away our focus on the unique message we as Seventh-day Adventists were given as a church to take to the world. A messenger without a message is no messenger at all.

Much has been said lately about unity in the church. In light of the recent talk about homosexuality in the church and women’s ordination the talk of unity stands at the forefront of church discussion. As I’ve witnessed several conversations and engaged in a few debates regarding the topic, it raised a few questions in my mind. While I do not claim to have all the answers, what I found does shed some light on the subject of unity (or disunity, as the case may be) in the church.

I believe the church of today is facing some pivotal decisions in the near future—decisions that will have eternal implications. Given where we stand in Earth’s history, we cannot overstate the significance of these debates that are springing up within the church. In response, the General Conference has appealed for unity.

How important is unity? What emphasis does the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy place upon it? Are we all just quibbling over minor theological points, or is this really as big of a deal as some seem to think?

Upon reading the Bible it does not take long for one to realize how important unity is to God. But we should also be aware that this unity is of conditional priority. When Christ prays to His Father He asks “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.” (John 17:21) Jesus prays that all may be one. The conditional aspect is that all are also one in Him. The principle one can glean from this is simple: if followers are not one in Christ, they will not be one with each other.

Amos poses a rhetorical question when he asks, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3) If two are not united with Christ, can they get along? Not likely.

A disconnect from Christ equals disunity in the church.

The difficulty and challenge arises when the line between the world and the church blurs and the two become indistinguishable. What I mean by this is when we have a church filled with unconverted members declaring Christ with their lips on Sabbath morning, but denying Him in their lives through their love affair with the world. It is not our place to determine who these may be, nor is it our prerogative to do anything about it. The parable of the tares and the wheat give us ample evidence of that.

Our task is to submit wholly to Christ so that He might change our hearts and count us with the wheat. It is never our task to determine who belongs to which group.

However, tares do exist, and it is with this understanding that I state that disunity is not the worst thing that can happen. Ellen White makes a poignant statement in the Great Controversy when she says, “If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.” (Great Controversy 43)

Unity is important, but the unity that should always take priority is unity with Christ, and subsequently an unflinching firmness in His Word. God desires unity. The whole sin problem revolves around separation—separation from God. Disunity (especially in the church) is always a symptom of sin.

When the day of Pentecost came, the apostles waited patiently in Jerusalem as Christ has instructed them. As promised, God mightily poured out the Holy Spirit and the powerful movement of Christianity began. Acts 2:1 says “they were all with one accord in one place.” Admittedly, different texts do not read “with one accord,” but say “together.” Either way, the emphasis remains. They stood united.

The movement that will receive the latter rain will not be a divided and fragmented group. Reading from the Old Testament, it seems quite evident that this movement will cause unity, not the opposite. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5, 6) [emphasis added]

The apostles primarily were concerned with the specific instructions that Christ gave them for their time. They acted accordingly. The same should hold true today. We have a specific set of instructions for our time, and if we act accordingly, we will be amazed with what power the Spirit of God will lift up our church and rejuvenate it with fervor and vitality.

The focus must be on an end-time saving message for a dying world. That is the message that came out of 1844 and it is the final message that is to be given in the power of Elijah to a world on the cusp of eternal ruin. But Satan seems to be doing everything in his power to distract and dilute the message so that the end result is a disoriented messenger unsure of his real priorities.

Ellen White remarked that, “It was not the proclamation of the second advent that caused fanaticism and division. These appeared in the summer of 1844, when Adventists were in a state of doubt and perplexity concerning their real position. The preaching of the “midnight cry” tended directly to repress fanaticism and dissension. Those who participated in these solemn movements were in harmony; their hearts were filled with love for one another and for Jesus, whom they expected soon to see. The one faith, the one blessed hope, lifted them above the control of any human influence, and proved a shield against the assaults of Satan.” (Great Controversy 398)

I am not attempting to debate theology, but to illustrate the overarching principles that I pray are the central guiding force in every Christian’s life. This principle is unalienable devotion to Christ and His will as set forth in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

Social justice, humanitarianism, education reform each has its place. But we stand in grave danger when any one of these begin to take center stage at the expense of the Christ-centered end-time message we were given. In our modern age of activism, equality, and liberalism (both political and religious) it is quite trendy and popular to fight for these things, thus, it is all the more necessary to be aware of the potential distraction that exists.

Whatever we strive for, I pray it is by the guidance of God’s Word. Emotional arguments can be the most compelling, as well as the most dangerous. I am wary when I hear a brother propose and defend a position based solely upon an emotional and cultural defense. We need the Word at the heart and soul of our church like never before. If we find our church fragmenting and drifting in different directions, perhaps it is because at some point we cut loose the Anchor!

As Sister White acknowledged, the disunity our church faces tends to result when there is an uncertainty of our message. These currently debated issues  in our church are not unimportant, therefore I hesitate to call them distractions. However, they are not the focal point of our message, thus “distraction” is the best term available. We stand in the time of the end. Our church possesses a unique saving message for a fallen world meant to go out before the return of Christ. But we are not united on the giving of this message.

Call it what you will, it is my fervent prayer that all who read this regardless of their stance on these current issues dividing the church will take the time to prayerfully reevaluate where they stand in regards to God, His Word, and His end-time church.

Too much uncertainty swirls about the church today. Too many secondary debates are in danger of detracting from Christ and the end-time message He has entrusted to us. As I suggested earlier, we are facing an identity crisis. Who are we as a church? Who are we going to be? These are legitimate questions that need real answers as we move forward.

At this point in earth’s history, distractions are fatal. Though I am sympathetic to the concerns of those currently involved in these ongoing debates, it is my fervent prayer that we not let sideshows become the main event—and the main event is the return of Christ!

Unity is vitally important. Christ is more so. May we focus on Him and in the power of His Spirit finish this work together!