The Uniting Church celebrated 35 years last Thursday, 22 June. Here is a reflection:
A Basis for a direction
On Saturday 22 June 1977, I was walking along the beach at Caloundra with some friends. Our spirits were buoyed up by the creation of the Uniting Church in Australia that very day.
I wasn’t part of the Uniting Church back then. I wasn’t a Methodist or a Presbyterian. I wasn’t a Congregationalist. I was looking in from the outside and it was all very inspiring to me.
It wasn’t long before I was reading the Basis of Union, the document that the three churches who came into union agreed to. It excited me. (If you don’t think the Basis of Union could excite anyone, may I suggest you take the time to actually read it?)
Since 1977, the Uniting Church has become a source of joy and pain to me and to many. How could it be any other way? If you love something or someone, if you open your heart to them, you become vulnerable. I certainly feel ‘vulnerable’ to the Uniting Church.
Sometimes, though, I can’t quite identify with the ‘pain’ some other people talk about. For example: people have accused the Uniting Church of failing to stand for anything. I joined because the Uniting Church stood for active Christian unity, because it cared about the place of women in the Church and because it was passionate about justice.
But still there are those who have said our Church has no real identity. Sorry, but if a passion for unity and justice aren’t an identity, I don’t know what is.
I came across something helpful the other day from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. It was a kind of summary of the Basis of Union, that oh-so-thrilling document. You can find it here. Let’s look at how the Basis of Union describes who the Uniting Church is. It is a Christian community who:
- worships the one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Par 1).
The Uniting Church stands as part of the great Church of Jesus Christ. We are not a sect.
- trusts in Jesus Christ the divine One who became human, died and rose for the world (Par 1, 3).
Jesus is at the centre of our Church. We stand and fall on him and his completed work. We don’t trust in our own wisdom but we walk in his way.
- shares God’s love with all people across barriers of race, gender and class (Par 1, 2).
‘The word of salvation [is] for all people.’ The Basis calls us ‘to hear anew the commission of the Risen Lord to make disciples of all nations’ and declares that ‘the Church of God is committed to serve the world for which Christ died’. There are no exceptions, no list of people who are unacceptable.
- seeks unity within the whole Church that the world may believe in Christ (Par 2).
Our name is ‘Uniting’ because we are still seeking further unity. We haven’t finished the work. The Basis tells us not to let ‘cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries’ get in the way of our unity in Christ. So it is very good indeed to welcome members of the Vietnamese faith community today.
- hears Christ through the Scriptures in which he meets, feeds and guides us (Par 5).
The living Lord Jesus speaks through the Scriptures today. Jesus himself is ‘the Word of God on whom salvation depends’. We proclaim him.
- celebrates baptism and the Lord’s Supper in which Christ embraces and feeds God’s people (Par 6-8).
In Jesus the eternal Word became flesh. Material reality. The Spirit shows us more of Jesus through everyday things. In Baptism, water is the sign of our being washed clean and made one with Christ. In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine are the means by which the Lord feeds us.
- affirms the faith of the whole Church in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds (Par 9).
We receive the Creeds ‘as authoritative statements of the Catholic Faith’. They are ‘framed in the language of their day’ and so need interpretation; they ‘declare and guard the right understanding of that faith’.
- engages with issues of our time, confessing Christ in fresh words and deeds (Par 11).
We are a Church which ‘enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God’s ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith’. We wish to ‘sharpen [our] understanding of the will and purpose of God by contact with contemporary thought’. We pray that we ‘may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds’. We have done this for example through our covenant with Indigenous people, and in ordaining women in the face of opposition from some even within the Church.
- believes God’s Spirit gives gifts to all members and calls them to serve God in the world (Par 13f).
This is a gifted community. I rejoice that members of this congregation use their Spirit-given gifts well. But we’re not special. ‘The one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service.’ God is generous with his gifts to us, and we each have a part to play.
- prays that God will be praised and glorified in the Church’s worship, witness and service (Par 15-17).
The Church’s worship, witness and service glorify God because God graciously allows our response to bring glory and honour to his name. Without that grace, our work would mean nothing.
The Uniting Church is a great Church. I do not regret being part of it; I believe the Spirit drew me into this Church, and so I rejoice.
Let’s not imagine that the Uniting Church has no identity or direction. The Basis tells us that the Church ‘has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way’. So we follow the Spirit of Jesus together—wherever we come from, whatever language we speak (and whatever food is our favourite!). Amen.