“That all of them may be one.” John 17:21

Close-up of people´s hands holding together

Unity 2017
Crowne Plaza Heathrow-London
15-17 June 2017



Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have hope and life!

“Unity 2017” was convened in a spirit of inquiry, discovery, and unity of purpose, exploring the underlying issues of the unity in diversity within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the early days of the development of the Adventist faith, believers who had been convicted by the Holy Spirit came together in the Sabbath Conferences of 1848 to pray, to read, and to discuss and deliberate the great issues surrounding the seventh-day Sabbath. What emerged from these conferences were a people more vitally connected to God’s word, to one another, and to the distinctive messages that still resonate as the core of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Those early pioneers set the standard for us. They exemplified the approach followed for the Unity 2017 conference, 15-17 June 2017, at Heathrow, London, UK.

Unity 2017 is organised by Adventist leaders from four of the world divisions—an indication of the global significance of this discussion. It is a true sisterhood of union conferences who have joined hearts and hands in planning this event. We have seen the need to create a forum that provides leaders in our church a special opportunity for prayerful contemplation of this important topic. In the spirit of those Sabbath Conferences of the 1840s, and enthused by God’s Spirit, the conference brought leadership together to explore the important subjects of church structure and authority, unity, and liberty of conscience.

For some time these topics have dominated the conversations throughout the church. It has been a complex conversation, beginning with the work of TOSC and continuing with the current conversations about unity. What would our pioneers have done in this situation? We are pretty sure it would start with serious, intentional, and prayerful conversations.

As leaders of the unions of churches that encircle the world, and as theologians and academics who have studied these topics, we have come together in a spirit of collegiality and discovery that will allow our hearts and minds to be open to God’s leadership and the Spirit’s prompting. As God has abundantly blessed us in the past, we came to the conference believing that His blessings would be poured out again.

The papers presented at Unity 2017 are collected here for those interested in these topics to download, study, reflect upon, and learn from. We hope that the information shared here will find its way into the discussions that shape our future, our personal faithfulness, and our mission effectiveness.

Wim Altink, Ricardo Graham, Thomas Muller, Brad Kemp, and Dave Weigley
Organising Committee, Unity 2017
Crowne Plaza London – Heathrow
15-17 June 2017


“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” Colossians 1:9 NIV

“These conferences were vital, and proved to be a unifying, clarifying, and fortifying force, consolidating the positions of the growing Sabbatarian group, as well as molding and shaping the future course of an emerging movement.”
—Leroy E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 4

As we approach nearer the end, I have seen that in these meetings there will be less preaching and more Bible study. There will be little groups all over the ground with their Bibles in their hands, and different ones leading out in a free, conversational study of the Scriptures.”
—Ellen G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 6, p. 87.

Host Unions

Australian Union Conference • Columbia Union Conference • Danish Union Conference • Netherlands Union Conference • New Zealand Pacific Union Conference • Northern German Union Conference • Norwegian Union Conference • Pacific Union Conference • South German Union Conference • Swedish Union Conference

Panel 1


“Come now, and let us reason together.” Isaiah 1:18

Authority and Structure
Liberty of Conscience
The conference opens with a historical look at the creation of Unions, their purpose and original value to the church. The authority of the General Conference and Unions in relation to each other will be examined from different perspectives, and the significance of structure for mission will also be considered. We will look at Ellen White’s understanding of unity and disunity and also examine Jesus’ statements on unity in John 17. The third session provides a more comprehensive understanding of the Biblical concept of unity that we hope will give a better foundation for future discussion by the church on this matter and will inform the panel discussion. The radical reformation has provided
 us with a rich heritage in matters of conscience and religion. We will also consider what the Bible says about these important issues for the church today. And what of coercion? Is it ever justified? Day three will explore these important themes before asking the question, “Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?” Here we ask the question regarding God’s nature and how this should inform the church’s attitude towards the important principles of justice and equality.

“Not a hand should be bound, not a soul discouraged, not a voice should be hushed; let every individual labor, privately or publically, to help forward this grand work. Place the burdens upon men and women of the church, which they may grow by reason of the exercise, and thus become effective agents in the hand of the Lord for the enlightenment of those who sit in darkness.”
–Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, July 9, 1895

Panel 2


“…in honour preferring one another.” Romans 1:10

5.00 — 8.00 pm Check in and Registration
6.00 – 7.30 pm Dinner
7.00 – 7.50 Breakfast/Registration
8.00 – 8.45 Worship
9.00 – 10.00 Session 1 Early 20th-century Restructuring of the Church and Implications for the Church Today Barry Oliver
10.00 – 10.30 Discussion
11.00 – 12.00 Session 2 History of Authority in the Adventist Church George Knight
12.00 – 12.30 Discussion
12.30 – 2.00 Lunch
2.00 – 3.00 Session 3 Ellen White and her Attitude to Theological Continuity and Change and how this Impacted her Thinking on the Church and its Structure Rolf Pöhler
3.00 – 3.30 Discussion
3.45 – 4.45 Session 4 Issues in Church Policy Lowell Cooper
4.45 – 5.15 Discussion
6.00 – 7.30 Dinner
7.30 – 8.30 Writing Group
FRIDAY, 16 JUNE 2017
7.00 – 7.45 Breakfast
8.00 – 8.30 Worship
8.45 – 9.45 Session 1 Ellen White and her Understanding of Unity/Disunity Wendy Jackson
9.45 – 10.00 Discussion
10.15 – 11.15 Session 2 What is Jesus Saying in John 17? Roy Adams
11.15 – 11.30 Discussion
11.45 – 12.45 Session 3 (Panel)
Moderator: Barry Oliver
Unity in the Church: Response to GC Unity Documents; Unity and Fundamental Beliefs; Hierarchy of Priorities Regarding Belief and Practice Lowell Cooper, Barry Oliver, George Knight, Olive Hemmings, John Brunt, Wendy Jackson, Roy Adams, Ray Roennfeldt, Reinder Bruinsma
12.45 – 1.00 Discussion
1.00 – 2.00 Lunch
2.00 – 6:45 Excursion (Optional) Windsor; Eton; London; Evensong Book when registering
6.45 – 7.45 Dinner
7.45 – 8.45 Session 4 Towards a Theology of Unity John Brunt
8.45 – 9.00 Discussion
7.00 – 7.45 Breakfast
8.00 – 8.45 Worship
9.00 – 10.00 Session 1 Liberty of Conscience and Freedom Olive Hemmings
10.00 – 10.30 Discussion
10.45 – 11.45 Session 2 The Church’s Reformation Legacy Reinder Bruinsma
11.45 – 12.15 Discussion
12.15 – 1.45 Lunch
1.45 – 2.30 Session 3 (Panel)
Moderator: Barry Oliver
Coercion and the Church Lowell Cooper, Barry Oliver, George Knight, Olive Hemmings, Ray Roennfeldt, Wendy Jackson, Reinder Bruinsma, Roy Adams
2.30 – 3.00 Discussion
3.15 – 4.15 Session 4 Justice and Equality: Is God Interested? Ray Roennfeldt
4.15 – 4.45 Discussion
5.00 – 6.00 Executive Session
6.00 – 7.30 Dinner
7.30 – 8.30 Recommendations and Closing Remarks
SUNDAY, 18 JUNE 2007
7.00 – 7.45 Breakfast
8.00 – 10.00 Check out of room
Panel 3

Speakers & Presentations

Thursday Presentations

Reorganisation of Church Structure, 1901-03: Some Observations
Download Paper
View Paper
Barry Oliver (PhD)
President, South Pacific Division (Retired)

Catholic or Adventist: The Ongoing Struggle Over Authority + 9.5 Theses
Download Paper
View Paper
George Knight (EdD)
Emeritus Professor of Church History, Andrews University

Circumstances Change the Relations of Things: Ellen White’s Attitude toward Theological Continuity and Change and its Implication for, and Application to, Issues of Church Authority, Policy and Structure
Download Paper
View Paper
Rolf Pöhler (ThD)
Professor (Systematics), Theological Advisor of the North German Union Conference

General Conference Working Policy: The Challenge of Enforcement and the Opportunity for Development
Download Paper
View Paper
Lowell Cooper (DMin)
General Vice President, General Conference (Retired)

Light in the Darkness
Download Paper
View Paper
Gary Patterson (DMin)
Theologian, Senior Pastor, Church Administrator (Retired)

Friday Presentations

Striving for Unity: The Prophet Deals with Crises
Download Paper
View Paper
Wendy Jackson (PhD)
Lecturer in Ministry and Theology, Avondale College

Download Paper
View Paper
Gary Patterson (DMin)
Theologian, Senior Pastor, Church Administrator (Retired)

What is Jesus Saying in John 17?
Download Paper
View Paper
Roy Adams (PhD)
Teacher, Pastor, Theology Professor (Systematics), Administrator, Author, Associate Editor, Review (Retired)

Toward a Theology of Unity
Download Paper
View Paper
John Brunt (PhD)
New Testament Theologian, Academic Administrator, Pastor (Retired)

Sabbath Presentations

Liberty in Messiah: The Steep and Narrow Path to Unity
Download Paper
View Paper
Olive Hemmings (PhD)
Professor of Religion, Washington Adventist University

Happy Sabbath
Download Paper
View Paper
Gary Patterson (DMin)
Theologian, Senior Pastor, Church Administrator (Retired)

Religious Freedom: Some Historical Perspectives and Present Applications
Download Paper
View Paper
Reinder Bruinsma (PhD)
Pastor and Church Administrator (Retired)

Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?
Download Paper
View Paper
Ray Roennfeldt (PhD)
Professor (Systematics), President, Avondale College

Panel 4