Since 1977, there have been numerous studies of the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia (introductions, commentaries, histories, etc.). Nevertheless, this recent volume by Dr. Geoff Thompson (Co-ordinator of Studies in Systematic Theology, Pilgrim Theological College) breaks new ground.
At the beginning of this book, Thompson indicates that the intentions of those who framed the Basis of Union was not to cobble together a church structure that could accommodate three denominational traditions, along with a variety of different emphases of belief and practice. Rather, in the words of the first report of the Joint Commission on Church Union, The Faith of the Church, the task of the Basis of Union would be no less than “a fresh confession of the faith of the Church”, with the knowledge that such fresh confession would “disturb much and disturb many”. (p. 1)
This book is an exploration of the ways in which such a “fresh confession of the faith of the Church” would impact on the issues confronting the UCA today, including relationships with indigenous Australians (both inside and outside the church) and the inclusion of LGBT Christians within the church. I felt the chapter on theological relativism is particularly useful. I personally cheered when I read Thompson’s call for the UCA to formally affirm the existing practice of most UCA congregations to celebrate Holy Communion with an “open table” (p. 113).
I’m sure that, like the Basis of Union itself, Thompson’s study will “disturb many”.
If you cannot deal with a church which affirms critical biblical scholarship and which welcomes the ministry of LGBT people, be prepared to be disturbed.
If you believe such historic Christian affirmations as the Incarnation and the Trinity are artifacts of the past rather than a source of liberating possibilities in the present and the future, be prepared to be disturbed.
If you believe that the UCA (like Ms. Mary Poppins) is already “practically perfect in every way” (particularly in your own congregation) rather than a work in progress, be prepared to be disturbed.
In any event, enjoy the disturbance.
(This review first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Crosslight.)