Relevant Verses: John 13-17, Mark 9:38-41, John 10:16
Leading Question: Is oneness (in Christ) so important that we should seek unity at any price?
In his famous “unity” prayer, Jesus asked that his disciples be “one,” just as Jesus and his Father are one. The unity of the Godhead looms large in Jesus’ prayer, and he uses that unity as a model for his disciples, a tall order, given the natural tendencies of human beings.
1. Question: In John 13, the chapter immediately preceding Jesus’ famous dialogue with his disciples (John 14-17). Jesus predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Were these predictions locked in stone, or could either of them have been overturned if the people involved had chosen otherwise?
Comment: One of the most challenging issues for devout conservatives is “conditional” prophecy. If, to borrow Ellen White’s words, “The promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional” (1 SM 67), perhaps one could see both Judas’ fate and Peter’s denial as “conditional.” After all, Jonah preached an absolute message – “Forty days and Ninevah shall be destroyed” – that turned out to be conditional when the people repented.
2. Question: Is the washing of one another’s feet (John 13) the result of unity in Christ? Or is it potentially a first step toward unity?
Comment: Washing of the feet is certainly not one of the more alluring features of the Christian life. Perhaps it should always happen with plenty of advance warning as its fulfillment requires the preparation of the heart and soul ahead of time.
3. Question: Is the thrust of John 14-17, namely, the picture of Jesus presenting the Father to us (subjective atonement) rather than the Pauline picture of Jesus presenting us to the Father (objective atonement), a picture that trumps all other “pictures” in Scripture, or is simply one of several pictures that can open God’s will to us?
Comment: The doctrine of the atonement is certainly one of the most divisive issues in the church. In John 15:15, the key passage for devotees of the “subjective” atonement, Jesus declares, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Yet other passages in the Gospels clearly call Jesus’ followers “servants” or even slaves. Luke 17:10-17 is one of the most vivid:
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (NRSV)
4. Question: Should our concern for “Oneness in Christ” focus solely on our own faith community or include others as well? If it is to be inclusive, on what basis do we make such a decision? Would Mark 9:38-41 and John 10:16 play an important role?
Mark 9:38-41: John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
John 10:16: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Comment: Ellen White’s comment in her interpretation of the parable of the sheep and goats offers an astonishingly inclusive perspective. Remarkably, this passage was published in The Desire of Ages in 1898. There is nothing in her earlier writings that comes even remotely close to its inclusive thrust:
Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. (Desire of Ages, 638)
It would seem that we could conclude that Ellen White became increasingly inclusive in her mature years.