Fresh words and deeds

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia commits us to being a people oriented to the shaping of “fresh words and deeds”. In that document, we learn of the ways that we can go about doing this.

The offering of our fresh words and deeds requires of us, both deep reflection, and trusting obedience, to God’s living Word, who is Jesus, present in our midst as the sign and promise of that “new order of righteousness and love” which is the mark of the kingdom of God.

An informed faith
Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union actually spells out the ways that we might reflect upon, and act in obedience to, the living Word, with the aim of developing “an informed faith”. Whilst we are grounded in scripture, and we value experience and appreciate tradition, it is important that we engage with our faith using the human faculties of reason and empathy, drawing upon critical investigation and creative imagining, as we seek to follow the way of Jesus.

So paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union refers to a number of ways in which this can be done.

The inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiries
Valuing “the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiries” is one such pathway. By now, we know very clearly that the earth is not the centre of the universe; that the earth on which we live is not simply some 4,000 odd years old; that disease is spread by germs.

This new knowledge starts to reshape how we read and understand scripture, and how we plan to express faith in our communities. We know that Moses did not write the first five books of the Tanakh, nor did any of the first apostles pen the Gospels included in our scriptures.

And we know, now, that people do not choose their sexual identity, but rather, who we are, in all our diversity, is a reflection of the creative relational love that comes to us from God. We are all created in the image of God. We all have the right to express our God-given sexuality in relationships of mutual love and commitment.

All of this requires us to live differently, to relate to one another differently, to make laws differently, to be Church differently.

Engaging with contemporary societies
Engaging with contemporary societies and participating in them in ways that help us better come to understand our own nature and mission, is another pathway. Multicultural societies, such as Australia, offer many opportunities for such engagement and learning.

Seeking to understand the cultural practices and commitments of friends and neighbours in our midst, means that we will better understand who we are as
Church: what it means to be in relationship with one another, to serve one another, to proclaim the living Word afresh.

A destiny together
And in this country, we are privileged to be able to speak and work and pray with people from the oldest continuous society still existing on earth. The First Peoples of this continent, a collection of many Peoples marked by their own richness of culture and diversity of languages and customs, offer us unending scope to deepen our awareness of God’s ways with human beings.

We have entered into covenant relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, making a clear statement that we do, indeed, have “a destiny together”.

Contact with contemporary thought
It is important to note the expression, in paragraph 11, of the intention for us to seek out “contact with contemporary thought”, such that it will shape in us “an informed faith”. As individuals, or as a culture, we do not hold all the keys to meaning, all the clues to reality, within our grasp. We do not believe that “the world” is a place of menace, filled with evil and permeated with injustice. There is much we can learn from contemporary thought and contemporary societies.

This process of exploration, discovery, listening, re-examining, and discerning, is what has been happening in our times, as a whole range of matters associated with human sexuality have been identified, explored, debated, and discerned. This has been a discussion right across society, which came to a high pitch with the voluntary postal survey undertaken last year, followed by the adoption of new legislation about marriage.

And that is indeed what is happening within the Uniting Church this year (as, indeed, it has been occurring for many years now)—particularly as we wrestle with what it means to be a community of faith which offers space for grace, maintains a passion for justice, continues a commitment to the Gospel, and models faithfulness to the open, all-embracing way of Jesus, in our own time, here in our own place.

We do well to learn from one another, to seek out different understandings and variant expressions, so that our faith may be deepened and our knowledge may be expanded. We do well to engage with others, different from us, for the sake of our common life together. Such is the call from our foundational document, the Basis of Union.

Abundant grace, liberating hope
And that is the course of action that has been taken by the 15th Assembly, in a number of key decisions: to affirm the sovereignty of the First Peoples, to address the scourge of domestic and family violence, and the decision relating to marriage and same-gender relationships.

By offering ministers the freedom to decide whether they will marry same gender couples, the Uniting Church is seeking to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.

The President’s pastoral message to members of the church can be viewed at

The full text of the Basis of Union (1992 edition) is available at
https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/HistDocs/basisofunion1992.pdf

The resolution of the 15th Assembly on marriage is available at
https://uniting.church/unconfirmed

 

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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