Mario Veloso writes from Silver Spring, Maryland where he works as an Associate Secretary for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The unity of the church depends upon four basic factors. That's what this article is about. God, through Paul, defines the church as the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23), "joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied" (Eph. 4:16, RSV). The church is one in both quantity and quality.

As truly one, the church can be neither multiplied nor divided. Multiplicity would destroy its identity, because, being many, it would be nothing in particular. Dividing it into independent sections would eliminate its global, corporate unity. With each section acting independently, the whole would cease to act in unity, and therefore the whole would cease to exist. For example, congregationalist churches, with each local church acting without a corporate connection to the rest of its kind, do not have a universal organization that integrates them into one body.

The entire Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches a nonnegotiable unity. Without unity the church ceases to be the church. And the remnant church too would lose its identity and fail to achieve the specific mission that God Himself conferred upon it for the time of the end.

In the New Testament four passages clearly explain the church's unity in its various aspects.


First, the church's unity comes by integration through the person of Christ (John 17:20-26). Christ is the great integrating or unifying element of the church. Without Christ, there is no unity.

In His high priestly intercessory prayer, Christ refers to this kind of unity. His followers, so different apart from Him, forsake their diversity in order to become one. Christ prays for His disciples and all believers—the universal church—"that they all maybe one, [united] in Us" (verse 21, NKJV), that is, in the Father and in Christ. It is a unity similar to that which exists between the Father, the Son, and (as we find clearly in other texts) the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3).

Unity by integration has profound missionary consequences. Christ prayed "that they also may be one," "that the world may believe" (John 17:21). When diversities are magnified, unity is lost. And without unity the church ceases to be the church. It acts in a way that is contrary to its mission to grow and increase, both in the numbers of its members and in the quality of their Christian experience.


Second, unity comes by transformation (Rom 12:1-21). This is not a formal transformation that brings no renewal of the understanding. On the contrary, it renews and revitalizes our perceptions.

The many members with their diverse gifts and multiplicity of functions that make up the body, the church, can all be integrated by radical transformation. The egocentered spirit must be changed into a person dedicated entirely to God, a living sacrifice (verses 1, 2). Personal values will be held in a healthy balance—"Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" (verse 3, NIV). The transformation extends to administering the gifts with diligence, to spiritual fervor in serving the Lord (verse 11), cultivating personal relations without conceit, not considering oneself wise in one's own eyes, and being at peace with everyone (verses 16,17).

Transforming the understanding, possessing the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and experiencing reconciliation (Rom. 5:1-11; Col. 1:21-23) are parallel concepts in Paul's writings. They produce in the true Christian the peace of authentic justification by faith, and a missionary life dedicated without reservations to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). The unity of the church is the corporate experience of new creatures, of born-again Christians.


Third, unity comes by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-31). How are the multiple and the diverse able to act in unity? Paul responds to this question in 1 Corinthians 12, specifically in relation to the diversity of gifts, ministries, and operations, and the multiplicity of members (verses 4-6, 14). He insists that the body is one, and although we are members each one in particular, as a church we "are the body of Christ" (verses 20, 27). There is only "one body" (verse 12).

No individual, no group of individuals (whether they call themselves independent or supporting ministries), no administrative sector of the church, has the right to appoint itself in the church to exercise functions and responsibilities or establish orders and exercise authority as it might wish, independent of the body. God determines these things through the church. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (verse 28). In Paul's list in Ephesians he includes evangelists and pastors (Eph. 4:11). Only the church as a corporate power or body united by the Holy Spirit and following the revelation of God can exercise these powers and determine how such functions are to be administered.

The corporate power of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is exercised by the assembly of the General Conference, during which time the church acts as a united body under the action of the Holy Spirit. The doctrines are universal, the ministry is universal, the organizational structure is universal, the lifestyle is universal, the missionary action is universal, and so forth.

For this reason the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not accept congregationalist government, nor does it admit to dividing itself into national or territorial churches. There is no such thing as an Adventist Church of Africa or of Europe. What does exist is the Adventist Church in Africa or in Europe, or in whatever part of the world, because the church is universal.

Neither do we allow one of the doctrines to be abandoned in one sector of the world church or any part of the church to go its own way outside the voted policies and practices of the church.

Destroying unity and altering doctrines are evils that not only work against the church, marring its identity, but also attack the work of the Holy Spirit, who works to establish doctrinal unity and produce corporate unity in the church.


Fourth, unity comes from growing up in Christ (verses 4:1-16). In this passage Paul defines unity of the Spirit, specifies the objective of the responsibilities and ecclesiastical functions, and establishes growth in Christ as an important factor for the unity of the church.

Paul reminds us that the unity of the church is "the unity of the Spirit," which the church must keep through the bond of peace (verse 3). Paul then sets forth the seven elements comprising unity established by the Spirit: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (verses 4, 5). This is a picture of complete unityecclesiastical, moral, spiritual, doctrinal, missiological, and theological.

The functions and orders— apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers—are varied, but the objective is the same: building up the body of Christ (verses 11,12). These functions and orders—or gifts—are not given to individuals to exalt themselves or their positions in the church. The gifts are granted to the church in order to build unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God in such a manner that the church does not have vacillating doctrines, nor is it deceived by error, since this would impede its growth (verses 13,14). God has authorized no member, no group of members, to take the gifts He bestows for the unity and growth of the church and use them as the means of fragmenting the church through doctrinal conflict or destroying its organizational unity.

To the contrary, leaders and members, compelled by love and following the truth revealed by God, are to work both for their own personal growth and for the corporate growth of the church.

Through the leaders God raises up the church is edified and unity maintained. Paul says that "the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (verse 16, RSV). The leaders must do all in their power to maintain the unity of the body.


Instead of suspicion and division how much better to dedicate our energies to mission! United with the Holy Spirit in this work, we will understand doctrine better, we will be integrated better into the body of Christ, and we will be motivated by the love of God more than by our personal egos. In short, we may live as individual Christians and as members of the united body of Christ—His church.

Mario Veloso writes from Silver Spring, Maryland where he works as an Associate Secretary for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.