Following on from that earlier post, I believe that some of the concerns of the UCA's three parent churches can help us define our ecumenical task today.
One of our parent churches was Congregationalism. The Congregationalist Church was part of the legacy of 17th century Puritanism in both England and in North America. While the Puritans as a group were not without their glaring faults, with examples of these faults in evidence on both sides of the Atlantic, they were also a community with a strong sense of personal and communal integrity. The legacy of Puritanism carries on today not only in Congregationalism (and in the Congregationalist influence in such churches as the UCA), but in a variety of other faith communities. A more conservative approach to the Puritan heritage can be seen in the Baptist churches, while more "liberal" or "progressive" approaches to the Puritan heritage can be seen among the Quakers and Unitarians. Our Congregationalist forebears enjoyed a continuing relationship with each of these Puritan strands of Christian faith.
Following on from our Congregationalist heritage, I believe that one of the UCA's ecumenical tasks today is to engage in relationship with communities of Christian faith that are outside the Christian mainstream, whether these non-mainstream communities see themselves as more conservative (either in their faith or in their social attitudes) than the rest of us (evangelicals, charismatics, Pentecostals, Latter-Day Saints ...) , or significantly less conservative than the rest of us (Quakers, Unitarians, various gatherings of "progressive" Christians, ...). The aim would be to provide a means of communication between these various groups of Christians and those communities that constitute a "classical" understanding of the Christian faith.
Another of our parent churches was Presbyterianism. This strand of Christian faith and practice saw teaching as an essential dimension of Christian ministry. Accordingly, Presbyterians always gave a high value to scholarship. An educated ministry was not an "optional extra", but something that was crucial to the well-being of the Christian church.
Following on from our Presbyterian heritage, I believe that one of the UCA's ecumenical tasks today is to advocate for the need of all Christians (both ordained and lay) to be well-read and well-informed about our faith, and about how our faith relates to the world around us, and to offer opportunities for all people to become better-informed about the scriptures, history, and theology of the Christian faith.
Finally, the UCA's largest parent church, and the one most influential in the life of Australian communities, was Methodism. Methodism developed as a reform movement in Britain in the 18th century. Much of the motivation behind the reforms of the Wesley brothers and the early generations of Methodists was found in their rejection of much of the theology of John Calvin, particularly Calvin's understanding of God's grace and of human nature.
- There was a rejection of the notion that God's grace was selective, and that God only chose to extend his grace to some people, and not to all.
- There was a rejection of the notion that people were somehow "predestined" to follow (or not to follow) in God's ways, and that we had no choice in the matter.
- Increasingly, there was a rejection of the gloomy notion that people were irredeemably corrupt in our very nature (or, to use the Calvinist jargon) "totally depraved", affirming instead the much older Christian belief that we exist in the image of God.
- that God's love is infinite and universal,
- that people have the capacity to choose to follow in God's way of love, and
- that we all exist as the image of God.