November 14, 2012

Fighting the Good Fight

The story is told that during the battles between British and French forces in colonial Canada, the commander of the British fleet was told to anchor near the city of Quebec and wait for British land forces, then support them when they attacked the city.

His fleet arrived early, and as the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ship’s cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired, or how many statues were destroyed, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”

Saints who shoot saints or fight with each other use ammunition and resources that should be aimed at the devil. “If you bite and devour each other,” wrote the apostle Paul, “watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15). In such situations everyone loses.

2012 1532 page27Animosity and argumentation, instead of harmony, is not a new phenomenon in the body of Christ. First-century believers also faced the racial, religious, gender, and genealogy prejudices with which we struggle today. The evidence is clear that the apostle Paul dealt with intolerance in Galatians 2:11-16. He underscored the significance of harmony in the body of Christ, asserting that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile [division created by ethnic diversity], neither slave nor free [division founded on socially constructed barriers], nor is there male and female [division based on gender bias], for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Author Caleb Rosado wrote, “Paul saw this lack of unity in Christ as the biggest obstacle before the church. Thus the biggest threat to the church’s survival beyond the first generation came from within, not from without.”1

God has relentlessly pursued harmony within His church that was established for all people. Yet disharmony continues to be “the biggest threat” from within. It is delaying, if not destroying, the quest to accomplish true heart revival. To accomplish the goal of unity, the following should be considered:

First, the biblical meaning of “unity,” for which Jesus prayed in His final prayer in John 17:23, must be practiced. According to A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, the Greek word henoteita, translated as “unity,” means “oneness of faith or trust in Christ.”

Second, harmony is defined as the blending of different qualities, decisions, or characteristics of a group to reach agreement in opinion and/or action. It is not uniformity; it is the freedom to be different while being in conformity with the principles or system of beliefs of an organization. Where necessary, provisions can and should be made, or variances granted according to a society’s standard of living that does not conflict with the Word of God.

Third, God is doing what He promised when He said several centuries ago through the Prophet Isaiah: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:18, 19).

Fourth, as “hot potato” issues are debated, remember that Ellen White said: “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”2

Finally, the apostle Paul said there is an acceptable time for everything (2 Cor. 6:1-3, NKJV).3 I am convinced that despite the many challenges facing our twenty-first-century church, this is the acceptable time to deliberately move from the reproach of one another that mars our message and good works. Together we can achieve the harmony and revival we pray for and preach about.

1. Broken Walls (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1990), p. 26.
2 In Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 20, 1892.
3 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published November 15, 2012.