The declaration of Holy Writ, "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133:1), constitutes an ideal for the realization of which all true lovers of the church constantly labor and pray. And such unity is not only pleasant and good, but, more than that, is essential to the welfare of the church. History testifies that only when there has been a unifying singleness of purpose and a oneness of heart, has separating schism and ultimate dismemberment been prevented. The seriousness of this fact grows with contemplation.
Unity is likewise imperative for the successful prosecution of the church's designated work, and to effective defense against her enemies. With a hostile world bent upon her mutilation or destruction, only a unified front will save the church from confusion and retreat. Unity is therefore necessary if the church is to endure and prosper.
But the meaning and intent of unity needs to be clearly understood. Unity is not necessarily synonymous with uniformity. One may exist without the other, and often does. It is not to be expected that all will see alike on unessential details, or that there will be blind assent to the positive assertions of some who may assume to lead in matters of faith. There can be arbitrary uniformity without real unity, and, on the contrary, genuine unity without deadening uniformity.
Often a husband and wife have different tastes and convictions, but live in closest heart unity because of love and respect for each other's convictions, and there is complete oneness of purpose in the common objective of their lives. Often men cherishing different political beliefs are bosom friends and congenial business partners because they credit one another with honesty, sincerity, and good sense, and acknowledge the right of personal conviction. Unity is based upon oneness in fundamental purpose, community of interest and objective. This transcends uniformity over petty detail.
Throughout our denominational history, unity has been reached by candid discussion and frank consideration of one another's viewpoints. Leaders like James White and his associates in the pioneer group, and their successors as well, were strong personalities, and often differed one from another in secondary matters of prophetic or expositional interpretation, as our early literature clearly shows. But they stood heart and shoulder with their brethren in the common cause of the advent movement and its great foundation pillars.
The same is true today. There is legitimate difference on detail of interpretation, but every true Adventist stands upon the solid platform of the Bible as the inspired word of God; of salvation only in Christ; of regeneration of life through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit; of the immutability of the decalogue and the perpetuity of the Sabbath; of the expiatory sacrifice of Christ as the all-sufficient atonement for sin; of the ministry of Christ in its two consecutive phases in the heavenly sanctuary, the second beginning in 1844; of vital godliness of life; of the mortality of man and the final destruction of the wicked; of the approaching end of probationary time to which a score of independent signs and a dozen lines of prophecy bear concurrent witness; of the threefold message of reform for this last generation, proclaiming the judgment hour, the call out of apostate Christianity into the remnant church with her ministry and mission work supported by tithes and offerings, and with the consummating issues centering about Sabbath reform and the testimony of Jesus, or Spirit of prophecy, as manifested through Ellen G. White; then, chiefest of all, the imminent advent of our Lord, for whom we wait and whose gospel we are commissioned to proclaim in its final phase and fullness.
These, with their related truths, make us a distinctive movement, and constitute our essential message. Ours is the "everlasting gospel," restored and freed from the departures of the centuries; it is the completion of the arrested Reformation, a message of spiritual, moral, and physical reform; it constitutes God's final work of salvation among men. Such is our platform and our commission. It is true Fundamentalism, in contrast to all Modernism.
We are not committed denominationally either by or to the particular views of individuals on minor points of prophetic exposition.
The light of sound interpretation is to shine more and more as events fulfill the prophetic picture, and expressions of Holy Writ, formerly obscure and variously understood, become clear to all.
And now, pending the great consummation, we as a body of workers press on with our appointed task, with singleness of heart and purpose, and with love and respect for all our brethren. Divergencies of opinion on detail there are and always have been, and these may continue to exist in varying degrees without affecting the essential unity of the church for which Christ prayed, and for which the spiritual gifts have been bestowed.
There is, however, occasion for concern over patent drifts and sagging standards within the church we love. The remedy, however, lies not in arbitrary emphasis upon a few positions cherished by certain brethren in the past, but rather upon a present spiritual awakening and humbling of heart before God, a revival of primitive godliness, and a simple belief in the essential verities that make us a people. It is to be sought in a deliberate drawing together of all who love our Lord's appearing. And these "first works" should be observed first of all among us as gospel workers.
A few in their concern have resorted from time to time to unwise agitation, and even in instances to projection of charges against those who differ with them. But such an attitude is most regrettable, and only antagonizes and alienates. Unity is never brought about that way. Reformatory changes are not accomplished by charge and countercharge, crimination and recrimination, but by a sympathetic study of our brother's viewpoint and the evidence leading him to his position. Neither is it effected by an unreasoning championship of one side of questions upon which there has been consistent difference of opinion by men equally honest, intelligent, and loyal through the years.
As we have noted, difference of viewpoint in minor matters has marked the decades of the movement since 1844. This is but natural and inevitable, else men would have to put away their reasoning powers and become mere automatons, which would be one of the greatest calamities that could come to afflict us. Blind subservience or forced acquiescence to the positions of a few dominant minds would be ruinous. It would make for a body of weaklings. Happily, that is neither the historic way nor is it the present spirit of this movement. We are indeed glad that such a destructive proceedure has no place in the plans and policies of our appointed leaders.
In all matters of differing opinion there should be a determined drawing together and a deliberate submergence of points that are not of fundamental moment, together with a crediting of honesty of purpose and loyalty of intent by every man toward his brother. And with it should go the banishing of all spiritual egotism that assumes the personal custodianship of the faith and arrogates to itself the role of corrector of the brethren. Now is the time for all lovers of the Lord to blend heart and hand, spirit and purpose, to the end of forwarding and finishing the work assigned the advent movement.
L. E. F.