Confessing Christ in a Pluralist Church
It has become fashionable in recent times to talk about "unity in diversity". The theme is promoted in both Christian and secular circles.
Dr Mark A. Foster, of Johnson County Community College, Kansas, has set up a campaign for "unity in diversity" which he calls an "ethical principle". He says, "In a time when tolerance is frequently lacking, the promotion of unity in diversity could now be more relevant than ever… Rigid conceptions of right and wrong, which appeal to the most puritanical aspects of many cultures, lack an appreciation for what Ken Wilber referred to as a spectrum of consciousness. The diversity of strokes in a painting reflects a unity of thought in the mind of the artist. Could it be therefore," Foster concludes, "that diversity is ultimately an expression of unity?"1
We accept, of course, that within society there must be tolerance. Not only do we abhor racial intolerance and racial violence, but we do not believe there should be victimisation and violence against political and religious groups with whom we disagree. We are, after all, a multi-cultural society and therefore committed to a measure of acceptance of diversity. Indeed, we go beyond acceptance of diversity to a celebration of the richness that ethnic diversity has brought to our Australian nation.
The question that this situation raises periodically (most recently in Pauline Hansen’s One Nation Party) is – How much diversity is it possible to have and retain our unity as a nation? We want migrants to value their cultural heritage – so long as they all learn English! Ethnic restaurants have become popular, but Australian hygiene requirements must be maintained. In general, Australians are very welcoming, provided these newcomers understand that they must now live by the accepted practices and enacted laws of this country. If they fall foul of our law, they will not be able to plead, "but the laws of our home-land are different".
The integrity of our nation depends on citizens, migrants and visitors accepting the restrictions of law – the limits on our diversity. Governments have to consider what level of conformity must be demanded so that society can function effectively. There are rebels in every society. The actions of some of them land them in jail. Australia would cease to exist as a viable nation if the level of compliance with the limits on diversity fell too low. Anarchy would prevail.2
Many of these principles from the practical workability of a nation and society apply equally well to the Christian Church. In recent times within the Uniting Church in Australia, the ideal of "inclusiveness" has gone hand-in-hand with "unity in diversity". We have, in effect, failed to celebrate Christ and acknowledge our diversity. Instead, we have celebrated our diversity and sought a "way forward together" when issues have become too difficult and relationships frayed.
When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches came together to form the Uniting Church in Australia on 22 June 1977, they declared "their readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church; they remain open to constant reform under his Word; and they seek a wider unity in the power of the Holy Spirit" (Basis of Union, 1). Quite clearly, they were expressing the conviction that the focus of our unity is our confession of Christ together according to the Scriptures.3 The only "way forward together" envisaged by the framers of the Basis (and therefore presumably by the churches uniting) was "in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church", being "open to constant reform under his Word" and (from and assuming this focal point) seeking "a wider unity in the power of the Holy Spirit".
Diversity in Unity
Our confession of Christ together according to the Scriptures is the centre-point of our unity. We should therefore be speaking about our "diversity in unity" rather than "unity in diversity". We are celebrating Christ – not our diversity or inclusiveness.
When the Interim Report on Sexuality came out in May 1996, a younger minister in his first parish told me he was uncertain about what his attitude to this document should be. His work prior to candidature and ordination had left him with no illusions about homosexuals and their behaviour, but, he confided, "we are supposed to be an inclusive Church." My reply was straightforward, "The question is whether we are going to be a Christian Church."
In other words, when we affirm that we will "go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church" and "remain open to constant reform under his Word," we are in fact acknowledging that there are limits to our diversity – limits to our inclusiveness. We have to be as wide in our welcome as Jesus was – and in our expectation of repentance and in our offer of the gospel of grace for all repentant sinners. All are included on the same basis.4
Arising from our central unity in Christ, and by the gracious gift of God through the Holy Spirit, there is diversity. Each one of us is different – our personalities, our dispositions, our abilities… Some of that is because this "new creature in Christ" still has elements of the "old" that have not yet "passed away" (cf. 2 Cor. 5.17) – elements that are a continuing struggle for us and a pain to others! But we are different in good positive ways too. Mature personalities in Christ are not meant to be identical. Society and the Church are both enriched by this diversity.
The same is true of spiritual experiences. The route by which Zacchaeus came to faith in Christ (Luke 19.1-10) was markedly different from the experience of Nicodemus (John 3). Not all who received the Lord’s forgiveness wept on his feet and poured expensive perfume over them (Luke 7.36ff). Central to these diverse experiences is Christ himself and their response to him. It is unwise to make a doctrine out of our spiritual experience – and tragic when we make our particular experience the hallmark of true discipleship and a condition of fellowship.
Likewise, there is diversity of spiritual gifts. Paul likens the church to a body (1 Cor. 12.; Eph. 4.1-16). The different parts of the human body have different attributes (gifts) which work together for the proper functioning of the body. So it is with the Body of Christ. Each member has received a spiritual gift. The different spiritual gifts contribute to complete the Body of Christ and the work God wants to do through us. A human body could not function if there was selfish pride and disharmony among the members. Each part, endowed with a different ability, coordinated and directed by the head, completes the working of the body. And in the Body of Christ each gift is important. If an individual fails to recognise and exercise the gifts God has given, the Body of Christ will be unable to function properly. The body is an excellent example of diversity in unity.
The authenticity of our diversity – our personalities, our experiences, our gifts – is to be tested by the Scriptures as to whether it represents a faithful expression of our common confession of Christ and whether it tends towards the "unity of the Spirit" and the "building up of the Body" (Eph. 4.8-16). The diversity of which Paul writes constantly draws focus and meaning from the one Body which we are in Christ. Diversity is not good in itself. It is good when it flows from our unity in Christ and builds us up in our ability to do the will of Christ in the society in which we live. We need to be a "diversity in unity".
This diversity of gifts is recognised in the Basis (13), "The Uniting Church affirms that every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified and to be his faithful servant. It acknowledges with thanksgiving that 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: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ…" This paragraph rightly focuses the diversity of gifts and ministries on "the ministry of Christ."
With our "unity in diversity" model, however, we have moved the emphasis from "the ministry of Christ" (though we may still want to own the term). In practice, we have thought in terms of many different autonomous bodies which somehow manage to get along together, individually working, thinking, talking, espousing a number of different (and sometimes contradictory) causes, but – don’t you worry about that! – we acknowledge a common belonging or allegiance or cause which (hopefully) succeeds in binding us together.
The Uniting Church began in 1977 as a pluralist Church. Among ministers and people, there were folk whose persuasions were evangelical, charismatic, neo-orthodox, liberal, sacramental… These terms are used here, not as definitive descriptions, but broadly to acknowledge some of the diversity of the theological convictions we brought into Church Union.5 There was also a measure of overlap between these groupings. The worship styles in Uniting Church congregations around Australia varied from strictly liturgical to casual and informal – with everything in between.
This could work (though not without tensions) because we had a Basis of Union. This document was ambiguous enough for us all to be personally comfortable about working within its parameters. Some of us may have been hesitant about this ambiguity in our initial voting, yet came to see that it did provide a strong basis for our ministry. On the other hand, the document was clearly enough defined for us to have a reasonable measure of trust in one another in affirming together a trinitarian and christological faith.
Among us were widely divergent attitudes to the various forms of Biblical criticism and hermeneutics. Just who were the "faithful and scholarly interpreters" – radical or conservative – whom we considered as having "reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God’s living Word" (Basis 11)? Did we, for instance, have a preference for F.F. Bruce or for Rudolph Bultmann? The Basis (5) says some rather strong things about the Scriptures ("the Biblical witnesses"). In them we "hear the Word of God", by them our "faith and obedience are nourished and regulated" and our message about Jesus Christ is "controlled by" them. In spite of diverse attitudes to the Scriptures, it was nevertheless broadly accepted by all that the Scriptures are authoritative for our doctrine, worship, life and witness.
Ministers, elders, deaconesses and lay preachers coming into the Uniting Church were expected to "adhere to the Basis of Union". This phrase was interpreted to mean "willingness to live and work within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as that way is described in this Basis. Such adherence allows for difference of opinion in matters which do not enter into the substance of the faith" (Basis 14). The Church has hesitated to define just what is meant by "the substance of the faith." Diversity within the "unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" was expected and respected.
The Inaugural Assembly made a "Statement to the Nation" which affirmed "our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights of each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the human race." The statement included an affirmation "that the first allegiance of Christians is God, under whose judgment the policies and actions of all nations must pass…" and a pledge "to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere – the family of the One God – the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth the One who gave His life for others."6
We read and affirmed that statement. It was a reasonable and good way for a new Church to address the Australian nation. We read and understood it in the light of the Biblical heritage of the three uniting churches and our continued commitment to Christian mission in the Australian context.
A Major Shift
Twenty years later, that situation appears to have changed. The change, of course, has been becoming apparent over a period of time. It is just that present circumstances have made it clear that it has indeed arrived.
Questions were being asked about the continuing role and authority of the Basis of Union in the Uniting Church. We had been assured that it was an historical document and could never be changed.7 Most of us naively assumed that it would therefore continue to have both respect and authority in the life of the Uniting Church. Our preparation of candidates for confirmation and our training of Elders both assumed that this would be so. Others in the life of the Church apparently thought the document too restrictive. The Constitution, in fact, made no mention of the Basis. The matter was referred to a Task Group to report with recommendations to the Eighth Assembly in Perth (July 1997).
The Eighth Assembly in fact stepped back from adding to the Constitution statements which would have committed the Church to "determine, declare and interpret matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline in accordance with clause 2 of this Constitution in such a way as to maintain consistency with the Basis of Union" (as proposed by the Synod of Victoria – emphasis mine). Assembly instead opted for the much softer addition of a new clause 2, "The Church, affirming that it belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end, lives and works within the faith and unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, guided by its Basis of Union" (emphasis mine). No longer will ordinands be asked to "adhere to the Basis of Union", but rather to be "guided by" it. The deliberate choice not to give the Basis any authority that could be legally binding on the Church – the debate in Assembly was quite clear on this point – has in fact diminished what we affirm in common.
The major business of the Eighth Assembly included the final report of the Assembly Sexuality Task Group entitled Uniting Sexuality and Faith.8 The Interim Report on Sexuality9 did not reflect a Biblical understanding of sexual morality and was heavily biased toward a pro-homosexual viewpoint. Those who expressed initial alarm were told that the document had faithfully reflected responses received during the "Year of Listening". Assembly Standing Committee commissioned Peter Bentley to prepare an independent summary of responses to the IRS. This statistical report indicated that over 90% of respondents rejected the conclusions of the IRS. Assembly Standing Committee in early 1997 resolved that this document was to be "shredded" and a more "user-friendly" (less statistical) summary prepared.10 This second summary11 failed to mention the weight of caring and carefully-prepared responses against the IRS, instead briefly highlighting some that were harshly reactionary. In response to the question why the final report did not reflect the responses to the interim document, Assembly was told that the process had been inadequate and could not be said to have produced a true statistical sample.
In the debate in Assembly it became quickly clear that the issue did not centre on the Bible and hermeneutics, nor on the question of whether or not homosexual orientation might be genetic in origin, not even on issues like AIDS and health. The emphasis was solely on stories – "I have been nurtured in this church. I have an intimate relationship with another woman. Is the church going to affirm me and recognise my gifts?"12
The willingness to set aside the clear Biblical witness and the careful and prayerful reflection of 91% of the church’s membership was only halted because the UCA is strongly committed to the Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and because we are a "multicultural" church with a significant number of ethnic congregations. These groups are not yet as culturally advanced (!) as we are and their relationship within the UCA would be strained if the debate had been taken further.13
Sadly, because of the manner in which the whole sexuality issue has been handled by the Assembly, a large measure of trust has now gone. We have shown ourselves to be a diversity held together at this point by the name "Uniting Church".14
The urgent question we face in the Uniting Church is how diverse a church denomination may become in doctrine and practice and still maintain the "unity of the Spirit." Can the Uniting Church truly express "the unity of the Spirit" if in fact it ceases to order its affairs "in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church… open to constant reform under his Word"?15
Paul expressed the goal that "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4.13 NIV). "The Uniting Church in Australia lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" (Basis 2). Can we truly be said to live and work within "the unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" without living and working within "the faith of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"?
As expressed earlier, the issue is not inclusiveness, but whether in fact we are Christian. Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 2.28). In recent times we have heard this verse quoted with the addition of "heterosexual nor homosexual". But Paul was not focusing on inclusiveness, but on the grace of God in Christ for each of us. No one was accepted because of diversity. All had become "one" solely because of the grace of God in Christ – grace received in repentance and faith.
The Uniting Church has reached a crisis point. The three Ex-Presidents have been charged to find a way forward with the unresolved sexuality business. Their response is unlikely to be satisfactory because it will want to continue to "accept" everyone currently in membership and therefore cannot deal with the deeper issues of our relation to "the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church".
The 1934 Barmen Declaration16 was drafted by Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. Hitler had signed a concordat with the Pope in 1933, supposedly guaranteeing freedom to practise the Catholic faith. About the same time the "German Christians" movement arose among Protestants aimed at close ties with the Nazis. This movement worked to unify the twenty-eight regional Protestant bodies under a single bishop, Ludwig Müller, who was a fervent Nazi. They also introduced the Führer principle into church government and adopted the "Aryan paragraph" to expel Jewish Christians from church positions.17
The Barmen Declaration represented the response of many Christians in Germany – from a variety of theological persuasions – to this encroachment of Nazi ideology on the Church’s confession of Christ. Its adoption at Barmen hailed the emergence of the "Confessing Church" in Germany.
This declaration was very direct. Each of its six parts has a confession of Biblical truth and a rejection of false doctrine. Here are the positive affirmations:
"Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death."18
"As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures."
"The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing."
"The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry [lit., ‘service’] with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out."
"Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things."
"The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God."
The declaration concludes with the statement, "The Confessing Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a confederation of Confessing Churches…"
The Confessing Churches in Germany did not seek to become a new denomination, but simply "a body to defend the orthodox Christian faith against innovations."19
In more recent times Confessing Movements have arisen in the United Methodist Church (USA) and in the Methodist Church (UK). The parallel confessing statements20 express the common concern, "The Methodist denomination is now incapable of confessing the orthodox Trinitarian faith with one voice of integrity, particularly Jesus Christ as the Word become flesh, true God of true God, Son of God, Saviour of the world, and the Lord of His Church. Whilst giving assent to Jesus Christ as Lord, our denomination tolerates opinions that ‘strike at the root of Christianity’ (John Wesley). Our Church suffers from private versions of the faith that do not find their root in Scripture."
Like the Barmen Declaration, each of the three sections – confessing Jesus Christ as Son, Saviour and Lord – includes both affirmation and repudiation. While the United Methodist Church has been under strong pressure from a homosexual lobby (as has the Uniting Church in Australia), the statement focuses on the centrality of Christ.
"We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit's help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God. Confession of Jesus as the Son is essential, not a matter of personal opinion. It is a matter of revelation, which was given to Peter and to the Church by God whom Jesus called Father. With Peter and the other Apostles, we confess that Jesus is the Christ. We confess with John and the other Apostles that in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, the eternal Son of God has come into the world to make known the fullness of God’s glory in grace and truth (John I). Therefore we confess, in continuity with the apostolic witness of the Church, that Jesus Christ is ‘true God from true God’ (the Nicene Creed), the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
The original creed from the Council Nicaea concluded with a number of anathemas that made it quite clear that the heresy of Arius was excluded.21 The later Nicaeno-Constanipolitan Creed (which we call the Nicene) omitted the anathemas but nevertheless expressed clearly (and continues to do so) most of the false teachings about the Person of Christ. The present statement specifically rejects more recent theological claims that would reject the whole concept of the Incarnation, that find offence in the maleness of Jesus and that express the view that it is possible to know God fully apart from Jesus Christ. Some of the statements from our own Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths tend to deny the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus.
"We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit’s help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour of the world. In him, we see not only the fullness and the glory of God, but also the model and power for our own freedom from the bondage of sin and death (Heb. 2:14-18). Through his obedient life, teaching, and ministry, his death on the cross for the sins of the world, and his bodily resurrection, he is the Saviour of the world. God through Jesus Christ conquers sin and death, brings salvation to this rebellious world, and reconciles ‘the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5:18-21)."
If our teaching about Christ is truly "controlled by the Biblical witnesses", it is impossible and unthinkable to escape the uniqueness and importance of the Christian way of salvation – and the centrality of "Christ crucified" in Christian preaching. This has too often been compromised. Indeed, we seem to prefer to speak about "acceptance" rather than "salvation", about "affirmation" rather than "forgiveness". "Grace" has come to mean "niceness" rather a gift flowing from costly sacrifice.
"We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit's help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Lord of creation and history. In the midst of many competing voices, the Church seeks to hear, trust, and obey Jesus the Lord and his commandments (1 Cor. 8:5,6). True authority in the Church derives from, and furthers obedience to this Lord. True authority in the Church holds the community accountable to this Lord, especially when teachings and practices arise that undermine or deny his Lordship."
We identify with the UM Church in regard to "MISUSE" of "principles of inclusiveness and tolerance to distort the doctrine and discipline of the Church." The replacement of Biblical morality with ethical relativism is occurring progressively. The "Lordship" of Jesus Christ is rejected, not principally because the word is said to have "male" overtones but because we repudiate submission of any type.
The issue of "experimenting with pagan ritual and practice" may seem far removed from us at the moment. However, once the belief in any final revelation of God has been rejected for whatever reason, we begin to hear liturgies representing doubtful or false theology. Some of us note that much of the liturgy offered in our church councils is lacking in essential trinitarian substance or understanding – even though it may refer to Creator/God, Jesus and the Spirit. However, since the Uniting Network22 is having its Daring 98 Conference with the theme "Re-Imagining Love", it may be important for us to be informed about the "Re-Imagining God" conference in Minneapolis in November 1993. This conference was part of the WCC’s Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women and was well supported with over 2000 participants from 27 countries, 49 states and 15 denominations. The content of the conference evidently included "direct attacks on traditional Christian doctrine and the celebration of homosexuality, overt paganism, witchcraft and New Age/Occult ritual".23
In October 1997 the New Zealand Methodist Conference received into full connexion a practising homosexual.24 An initial pastoral letter from leaders of the evangelical-charismatic group AFFIRM states, "Shortly after Conference, leaders from Methodist AFFIRM, Sinoti Samoa, the Tongan and Fiji Advisory Committees, as well as the Evangelical Network Caucus, met together. Because of the similarity of our concerns as five individual groups we decided to work together under an umbrella group which has been called the Wesleyan Methodist Movement. This group has no official standing in the Church but allows us to present a united voice. We hope the group will be able to provide support for those feeling disenfranchised by the Church’s decision."25
At this stage the Wesleyan Methodist Movement in New Zealand has not adopted any equivalent of a confessing document. Instead, they indicate they would embrace the "Wesleyan Essentials of Christian Faith" adopted by the World Methodist Council in Rio de Janeiro, August 7-15 1996.26
The Call to Confess Christ in the Uniting Church
The Church is intended to be a "diversity in unity", as Paul so clearly taught. We can only be that when, at the heart of our being, we confess Christ together according to the Scriptures.
The Uniting Church is coming perilously close to breaking-point. We say we will be "guided by" our Basis of Union but not legally bound by it. On the one hand we "acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures", but then make statements that "For Christians the central interpretative framework is Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The church recognises as authoritative only the Word, not the words of the Bible…"27 But our christological understanding is deficient. Some feminist theologians have described the Incarnation as the greatest divine insult possible. We have, not only the liberal weakening of the divine Sonship of Christ to his being our "elder brother", but a rejection of both the divinity and humanity of Christ. Then, as mentioned earlier, our doctrine of the Trinity is seriously weakened as reflected regularly in our liturgy.
This National Evangelical Summit needs to explore and address the ways in which we need to confess Christ in our pluralist Church. The time has come, as a matter of urgency, for us to prepare and declare our own "confessing statement" – for our own integrity and the recall of our Church to its orthodox roots.
The time has also come for those of us who share this confession and concern (whatever differences of emphasis or outlook we may have) to covenant together:
to develop strategies that will promote the recall of our Church to its orthodox roots,
to maintain a network of information,
to give support to one another’s activities and programmes wherever that is possible, and
to work together from time to time in sponsoring conferences and international speakers.
We need also to get away from the "sacredness" of our own organisations – which God has undoubtedly raised up and used over a period of time. Do they best express the way in which we need to confess Christ at the present time? It is, after all, his truth, his grace and his glory that we seek to express and affirm. Is there some structural way in which we may better fulfil his will?
We desire that the whole Uniting Church be again able to confess Christ together according to the Scriptures. Meanwhile, let us affirm one another and covenant together in Christian love to express our own diversity within the unity of our confession of Christ.
1 http://www.johnco.cc.ks.us/~mfoster/crimson.html. Ken Wilber writes from the standpoint of transpersonal psychology. "The point is simply that the interior dimensions of the human being seem to be composed of a spectrum of consciousness, running from sensation to perception to impulse to image to symbol to concept to rule to formal to vision-logic to psychic to subtle to causal to non-dual states. In simplified form, this spectrum, appears to range from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious; from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal; from instinctual to mental to spiritual; from performal to formal to postformal; from instinct to ego to God." (Ken Wilber, An Integral Theory of Consciousness, http://www.zynet.co.uk/imprint/Wilber.htm). His approach appears strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism.
2 A week ago the Constitutional Convention ended in Canberra following a fortnight of debate on what propositions on a republic should be put to the Australian people in a referendum. From time to time there has been reference to the "McGarvie model" – which is not the finally recommended model. It is interesting that Richard McGarvie's major concern is that, whatever the final outcome, we need to end up with constitutional stability. In July 1997 he commented, "Unresolved constitutional dispute erodes the consensual acceptance of the constitutional system as the natural way of resolving political differences… Australians will not vote themselves into a position which may have grave dangers for our democracy or the validity of our constitutional system. Many who would vote for a republic if the model and method of constitutional amendment were both clearly safe, would vote against it… If a great majority favoured the general principle of a republic but a referendum failed because of the flawed model, their faith in the ability of our democracy to reflect public preference would be severely damaged." Maintaining our Democracy in Monarchy or Republic (http://www.chilli.net.au/~mcgarvie/maintain_democracy.html).
3 Recently in the life (and debates) of the UCA, there has been a tendency to avoid the enscripturated Word. It is insisted that the "Word" is Christ. In this first paragraph of the Basis, there can be little question that the Scripture itself is in mind.
4 In Rom. 3.22-26 Paul makes it quite clear that, since all alike are sinners, "the righteousness of God" (justification) in only possible for any of us by the act of God's grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
5 We have an unfortunate tendency to categorise people – and then fail to listen to them. There are others who object to the "claiming" of some terms because they want to consider themselves as "evangelical", "charismatic", "liberal"… without some of the associations of these terms. I fully acknowledge this problem. I am using these terms as commonly understood, rather than in their lexical sense.
6 A full copy of this statement is available at http://assembly.org.au/documents/statement1977.htm.
7 Minimal revisions were in fact made in 1992 to make the document more gender-inclusive. This 1992 edition is available at http://assembly.uca.org.au/documents/basis_of_union.htm.
8 Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Uniting Sexuality and Faith (Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, April 1997).
9 Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Interim Report on Sexuality (Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1996),
10 Fortunately (and to the embarrassed surprise of Alistair Macrae, the chairperson of the ASTG at Assembly), the document had not been shredded and copies were made available to Assembly members who requested them.
11 Report on the Responses to the Interim Report on Sexuality (Sydney: Uniting Church National Assembly, April 1997), prepared by Assembly Media Officer, Ruth Sandiford Phelan.
12 Immediately after Assembly, I communicated to the General Secretary, Gregor Henderson, my reflections on the process in Assembly and drew attention to the obvious assumption of the pro-homosexual lobby that homosexual orientation implied the right to practise. They were obviously going to lean heavily on earlier resolutions which in fact assumed that there was a distinction between orientation and practice. His reply indicated awareness that they had shifted the ground, but that he himself "did not necessarily agree with them".
13 The statements made are a shocking example of spiritual arrogance. The issue is not cultural progress or appropriateness, but spiritual regression in western society which we have allowed to seep into the Church.
14 Unfortunately, yet understandably, a number of individuals and congregations (including some of our largest) have left the Uniting Church. They have felt themselves no longer able to trust either the church establishment or the on-going consultation process.
15 I am, of course, presuming on an acceptance of Scriptural authority here. If we are to be "guided by" the Basis, we must accord the Scriptures some residual authority. We must not use "fine" words about Christ being the only Word of God and that we are "guided by the Spirit" to lead us to conclusions which are far removed from the word of Scripture!
16 A copy of the Barmen Declaration is available at http://www.ucc.org/believe/barmen.htm.
17 For a simple and clear description of the dynamics of this period, see Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Waco: Word, 1982), pp. 443-444.
18 It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ is affirmed as "the one Word of God" "as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture." This statement – and the use of Scriptural texts at the head of each section reinforce the strong authority accorded to the Scriptures.
19 Bruce Shelley, op. cit., p. 443.
20 http://members.iquest.new/~confessingumc/statement.html. The statement of the Confessing Movement in the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom is almost identical.
21 Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church (O.U.P.: London, 1959), pp. 35-36.
22 The full name is Uniting Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns within the Uniting Church in Australia.
23 Craig Branch http://www.watchman.org/reimagin.htm. Other comments on the conference are in Christianity Today, 4 April 1994 and November 1994 issues. A number of other Internet references are no longer available. Presbyterian minister, Parker Wilkinson, was reported by Washington Post as saying that some of the significant conference themes were "antithetical to the Christian faith, seismic shifts in theology, implying that since God is a product of one's imagination to begin with, so He can thus be re-imagined" ("Re-imagining Foments Uproar among Presbyterians", 4 June 1994, p. C07).
24 Rev. Dr David Bromell, superintendent minister of Christchurch Methodist Mission in New Zealand and one of the major speakers at the Daring 98 conference.
25 From Pastoral letter for Connexional Mail by Andrea Williamson and Bryan White of Methodist AFFIRM, drafted Sunday 7/12/97 (http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~brycom/maffirm/pastoral971207.html). A second pastoral letter indicates further developments (http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~brycom/wmm/pastoral971223.html). It is still obviously "early days", but initially the movement indicates it will take "a Christ-centred approach to being Christian" and practise "dynamic theological orthodoxy".
26 This is a valuable document which affirms a vision of the Christian faith "truly evangelical, catholic and reformed, rooted in grace and active in the world" (http://users.lia.net//mco/Meth1.htm).
27 Interim Report on Sexuality p. 15.