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]

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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 confess anew Jesus Christ as Lord?

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?

Do you receive baptism and the eucharist, instituted by our Lord as signs and seals of the gospel; and do you resolve to celebrate these sacraments with the people of God?
Do you accept the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds as safeguarding and witnessing to the faith of the holy catholic church; and do you intend to use them in worship and instruction?
Do you adhere to the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia; and do you submit yourself to the church's discipline?

[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.]

Do you commit yourself to the study of the confessional documents of the church as enjoined in the Basis of Union?

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

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. [Para. 14]

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 Uniting Church lives and works within the faith and unity of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. She acknowledges that she is related to other churches in ways which give expression however partially to that unity in faith and mission. Recalling the ecumenical councils of the early centuries, she looks forward to a time when the faith will be further elucidated and the Church's unity expressed in similar councils.

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:

they declare 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. In this union these Churches commit their members to acknowledge one another in love and joy as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, to hear anew the commission of the Risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, and daily to seek to obey his will. In entering into this union the Churches concerned are mindful that the Church of God is committed to serve the world for which Christ died, and that it awaits with hope the day of the Lord Jesus Christ on which it will be clear that the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of the Christ, who shall reign for ever and ever. [Para. 1.]

The Basis also says:

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the faith and unity of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are built upon the one Lord Jesus Christ. The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father. In Jesus Christ "God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19 RSV). In love for the world, God gave the Son to take away the world's sin.
Jesus of Nazareth announced the sovereign grace of God whereby the poor in spirit could receive God's love. Jesus himself, in his life and death, made the response of humility, obedience and trust which God had long sought in vain. In raising him to live and reign, God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God on earth, reasserted claim over the whole of creation, pardoned sinners, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love. To God in Christ all people are called to respond in faith. To this end God has sent forth the Spirit that people may trust God as their Father, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The whole work of salvation is effected by the sovereign grace of God alone.
...The Church lives between the time of Christ's death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way. [Para. 3]

The Word of God and the Biblical Witness

Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist. [Para. 4]
The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated. When the Church preaches Jesus Christ, its message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses. The Word of God on whom salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in the worshipping and witnessing life of the Church. The Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures, commits its ministers to preach from these and to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as effective signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures. [Para.5]
The Uniting Church acknowledges that God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God's living Word. In particular the Uniting Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God's ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith. [Para. 11]

The Creeds

The Uniting Church enters into unity with the Church throughout the ages by its use of the confessions known as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Uniting Church receives these as authoritative statements by the Catholic Faith, framed into the language of their day and used by Christians in many days, to declare and to guard the right understanding of that faith. The Uniting Church commits its ministers and instructors to careful study of these creeds and to the discipline of interpreting their teaching in a later age. It commends to ministers and congregations their use for instruction in the faith, and their use in worship as acts of allegiance to the Holy Trinity. [Para. 9 of the Basis]

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:-

The Uniting Church continues to learn of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in the obedience and freedom of faith, and in the power of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, from the witness of the Reformers as expressed in various ways in the Scots Confession of Faith (1560), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), and the Savoy Declaration (1658). In like manner the Uniting Church will listen to the preaching of John Wesley in his Forty-Four Sermons (1793). It will commit its ministers and instructors to study these statements, so that the congregation of Christ's people may again and again be reminded of the grace which justifies them through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier, and of the need for a constant appeal to Holy Scripture. [Para. 10]


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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