If you are a vegetarian cooking instructor, something you must not do is utilize a recipe for bison burgers.
If you are a fire prevention officer, something you must not do is open a fireworks factory.
If you are a Swiss tour guide, something you must not do is take your group instead to the Panama Canal.
The only way those things might happen is if these people forgot their purpose.
If you are the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, something you must not do is support and defend any form of inequality in the church…unless you forget the fundamental reason you exist.
The church has been given a very special, fundamental task by God. If that main task gets lost amidst myriad lesser goals, we can wind up making decisions that are out of place, out of character, or take us in the wrong direction.
The church’s central task or purpose is clearly stated in scripture. One place to find it is in John 17:21-22 where Jesus prays for believers down through time:
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. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. —John 17:21-22, NKJV, emphasis supplied
Christ is saying something momentous here that should rivet our attention and lift our vision exponentially.
I am reminded of the speech President John F. Kennedy gave to Congress on May 25, 1961. At that time, America was seriously behind in the space race with the Soviet Union. Far too many rockets were blowing up on the launch pad. No American had yet orbited the globe even once. How to achieve that goal posed a huge challenge. The sense of uncertainty was palpable.
Then President Kennedy stepped to the podium and famously said,
Not just go to the moon but actually land on it. Then launch from there and come home safely! It was an astonishing vision! Eyebrows must have shot up all over the audience. Incredulous looks must have swept across people’s faces. And most daunting of all, Kennedy gave them a deadline of less than ten years.
Jesus’ prayer for the church in John 17 was much like Kennedy’s vision, only far more consequential. The disciples must have been completely blown away or at least they should have been.
So, what’s the big news here? Christ prays for oneness in the church, but not just any kind of oneness. Astonishingly, it is a oneness that is patterned after the relationship He has with the Father! Take a moment, pause for a second, and let that sink in. Right here in John 17 we have something that is so revolutionary, so mindboggling, that it can take your breath away once you wrestle with its implications.
The model for how church members should relate to one another is none other than the relationships within the Godhead itself! That’s the standard.
Christ says, “As You, Father, are in Me and I in You.” And again, “Just as We are one.” The bottom line: Church life is to be a reflection of Trinity life! The priorities of the Trinity, Their goals and values, Their relationships with each Other and those outside the Godhead, are what church life is intended by God to be.
“Trinity” is a plural that can only be portrayed by a community of believers.
It is like the great symphonies that can only be played by an orchestra. It is not about individual perfection, but about collectively partnering with the Holy Spirit to capture the life-changing power of holistic interdependence and fellowship.
The Lord continues, “That the world will believe.” The primary reason Christ wants the church to reveal what the Godhead is really like is so the world will be convicted of divine realities. That is our ultimate purpose. All else should be both subordinate to that goal and a means of achieving it.
God intends that when the world looks at the church, examines it, holds it up for inspection, it will conclude, “I have never seen such closeness, such mutual support, such fairness, such trust, such love, among such a diverse group of people! This could only happen because of the presence of God!” The greater the diversity, the greater the likelihood that this Trinity-like oneness will be seen as a divine miracle.
The closeness Jesus had in mind is not a superficial, top-down uniformity, but a genuine, Holy Spirit created, heart to heart, other-worldly, connection that is so unusual, so unique, so stunning, that unbelievers will believe. Such a reaction can only occur if church life stands in stark contrast to society. That is heaven’s master plan of evangelism.
Accommodating non-Christian, worldly cultural norms within the church in the name of unity sacrifices the church’s God-given counter-culture role. Unity based on an approach that runs counter to God’s great purposes cannot be correct. It deprives Heaven of its most effective means of saving humanity!
Ellen White is clear, “The people of the world are worshiping false gods. They are to be turned from their false worship, not be hearing denunciation of their idols, but by beholding something better. God’s goodness is to be made known.”
She clarifies further, “From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and his sufficiency…Through the church will eventually be made manifest…the final and full display of the love of God.”
Because that is the fundamental task we have been given by the Trinity, it should be obvious that there cannot be any kind of inequality in our midst, especially not as official policy. Why? Because inequality is impossible within the Trinity. It is unthinkable within the Godhead.
The only way inequality could possibly happen in the church is if we forget our purpose, if we misunderstand our mission. If that occurs, we can wind up marshaling all kinds of seemingly credible reasons for doing less, much less. We can wind up finding justifications that are completely out of sync with Jesus’ prayer.
As hard as it is to imagine, that is exactly what, somehow, has already happened. Somehow the church has drifted so far from God’s vision that inequality between men and women has actually been voted by the majority at the highest levels! Men can be ordained but women cannot. Men can rise to the level of president within the denomination, but women cannot.
Can you even imagine such blatant gender discrimination becoming voted policy within any American corporation such as General Motors or Apple? They would be hauled into court and denounced. In light of United States law, it would not be allowed. How then can it possibly be allowed within the CHURCH of all places! It’s the age-old problem of losing sight of the big picture, just like Old Testament Israel.
The apostle Paul elucidates Christ’s John 17 prayer and gives us a big picture definition of oneness when he writes,
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. —Galatians 3:27-18 NKJV
That is God’s lofty goal for His earthly kingdom, for heaven’s counter-culture church, here and now. Nothing less than complete, visible, thoroughgoing oneness and equality. Each and every human barrier broken down. Galatians 3 is one of those Bible verses that lifts us above lesser concerns and debate points. It calls us to look higher, to be much bolder, so God’s intention can prevail. It is a “view from 30,000 feet” verse that states a central principle whereby all else must be measured.
It is often said that the scriptures are neutral when it comes to women’s ordination. That may be the case, but they are not neutral at all when it comes to the church’s overall purpose or the importance of oneness and equality. The Bible is, in fact, shouting the truth at us if we will stop debating individual trees long enough to step back, gaze in wonder at the forest, and hear.
Inequality among men and woman is the very last thing that should happen within Adventism because it violates our ultimate reason for existence. It paints a wrong picture of the Godhead. It portrays a falsehood regarding life within the Trinity. That is the very definition of taking the wrong side in the Great Controversy. When such things exist within the denomination, the world cannot help but conclude, “The church isn’t any better than society, in fact, its policies are worse,” which surely breaks Jesus’ heart.
Notes & References:
Resources by Kim Allan Johnson for transforming church life:
Small Group Lessons: Spiritual Body Building (http://www.transformyourchurch.com)
 Space.com, May 25, 2011, “May 25, 1961: JFK’s Moon Shot Speech to Congress,” https://www.space.com/11772-president-kennedy-historic-speech-moon-space.html
 See Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1955) 25-36; John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press, 1979) 123
 Ellen G. White, MS 111, 1903
Kim Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com. He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.
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