Doctrinal Standards of the Uniting Church in Australia
[Note: this is my understanding of our doctrinal standards. It was prepared for study groups in my parish. The National Assembly has since, in 1997, reaffirmed the place of the Basis of Union; but related issues remain under discussion as will appear from other items under Issues in the Uniting Church]
Questions and comments
The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia states the basic beliefs which were relevant to the union of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches and defines the sources of doctrinal authority. It refers to the Bible as witnessing to Christ, who is the Word of God. Doctrine is to be tested against Scripture. Ministers of the Word, deacons, elders and others in ministry are required to adhere to the Basis.
Ministers' Ordination Vows
One way to identify the doctrinal standards of any church tradition is to study the vows ministers are required to make at their ordination. Questions relevant to doctrinal standards in the Ordination Service for Ministers of the Word in the Uniting Church include the following:
Do you receive the witness to Christ in the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and do you undertake to teach from these, proclaiming Christ as Saviour of the World?
[Note: following the 1997 Assembly this question is being changed to refer to "willingness to live and work within the one holy catholic and apostolic church", "guided by the Basis of Union" and a separate question on acceptance of the discipline.]
It is important to note that the commitments required relate to what is called the catholic faith, that is to the fundamental beliefs of the universal church and not to any beliefs that are held only or specifically in the Uniting Church. The Basis of Union makes this clear when it defines adherence to the Basis as
Our Commitment to Membership in the Catholic Church
We baptize people into membership in the holy catholic church and ministers are set apart to ministry in the same universal church. Paragraph 2 of the Basis of Union declares
The Substance of the Faith and Liberty of Opinion
The Basis of Union states that liberty of opinion is allowed in matters that are not of the substance of the faith. It is clear from reports of the way that the Basis was developed that `the substance of the faith' was intended to include those beliefs stated in the Basis about the person and work of Jesus Christ, belief in God the Father and the Holy Spirit; and it was intended to include reliance upon Scripture as a means of testing doctrine, while interpreting Scripture with the aid of scholarship in the church, and making reference to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds as standard confessions and to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as necessary means of grace in the life of the church.
We believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and teach that some elaboration of this basic belief into a trinitarian formula is possible ... other aspects of the Church's teaching concerning ministry and morals, are matters of discipline. The substance of the faith includes belief in Jesus as the Christ and in his saving work, it implies belief in God the Father who dwells in him and whose work he does, and as no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the inspiration of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), it implies belief in the Holy Spirit and his presence in the Church. But there are limits to the implications that can be required to be believed. The kind of inward conviction that is required to hold the faith by which we are saved ought never be required for any other belief. Other matters may be required to be accepted as a matter of discipline but cannot be subject to tests of belief.
Membership, Ministry and the Councils of the Church were intended to be excluded from what was to be affirmed as the fundamental doctrines of the Church. It was clearly intended that questions of Church order could be matters on which opinions could differ, but that people would be required to accept the way the Church was ordered, and to see it as theologically justifiable. .... the fundamental doctrines of the Church defined in paragraphs 3-9 of the Basis at least are intended to be maintained. [From D. Beswick, The Constitution and the Basis of Union]
Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour
The original confession of faith in the early church was `Jesus is Lord', which was joined with a belief in the heart that God raised him from the dead. Paul said if you believe this you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).
In the Basis of Union the Uniting Churches said:
The Basis also says:
The Word of God and the Biblical Witness
The Reformation Witness
The Uniting Church values the traditions it has received from the Reformation, directly in the heritage of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches, and indirectly through the Church of England in the Methodist heritage and it values the additional emphases of the evangelical revival inherited through the Methodist tradition, but it does not require acceptance of any of the particular formulation of doctrine made in those churches:-
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
We believe in one God.
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshipped and glorified,
who is spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
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