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Basis of Union points to the future

Rev Dr Andrew Dutney
Queensland born Rev Dr Andrew Dutney is Principal of Parkin-Wesley Theological College in Adelaide and Lecturer in Historical and Systematic Theology. Dr Dutney is one of Australia’s most respected commentators on the Basis of Union and he reflects for Journey on its importance for the church after 30 years.

As the data from the 2006 National Church Life Survey begins to become available it’s becoming pretty clear that the church’s future is all about mission. The future? No, the present. Today. The church is all about mission or it’s all about finished.

The church’s focus must be on evangelism, serving those in need, reconciliation and community building, and in all of these areas the church needs to be open to innovation, encouraging initiative and empowering its members for their ministries.

So what would a church look like if it was all about mission?

That’s the question for today but that was also the question that guided the Joint Commission on Church Union from 1957 until 1971 as it gradually prepared an agreed Basis of Union for the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

A church which is all about mission has only one message: Christ “the risen crucified One” who is “Lord over its own life”, “Head over all things” and “the beginning of a new creation” (para.3).

The message about this Christ is “controlled by the Biblical witnesses” (para.5) and as the church proclaims him, Christ himself “reaches out to command attention and awaken faith”, personally transforming the lives of those he touches and gathering them into his church (para.4).

A church which is all about mission will seek “continual renewal” and so “remain open to constant reform under [Christ’s] Word” (para.1).

It will “keep its law under constant review” to ensure that its regulations and procedures release people for mission and evangelism and do not hamstring them (para.17).

It will pray that God “will constantly correct” it through the Holy Spirit (para.18), keeping it on track as “a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal” (para.3).

A church which is all about mission will constantly draw from the wellsprings of faith: worship, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the creeds, the insight and example of its forebears, the contemporary world and its opportunities to “confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds” (paras.3-11).

A church which is all about mission will do everything it can to ensure that each member gets to share the gift of ministry that they’ve received from the Spirit in mission (para.13).

It will know that some ministries are crucial to the health of the church and ensure that members called by God to those ministries are recognised, equipped and released for service (para.14).

It will know that submission to Christ and effectiveness in mission requires taking counsel together (para.15).

One of the things I really appreciate about the Basis of Union is that it was produced by the churches at a time when they were strong and confident.

It was not a response to decline.

It was not the fruit of fear or anxiety so there was no pressure to sacrifice Christian authenticity to pragmatism.

It’s visionary stuff, intended to resource the churches for the most radical changes that any of them had ever made – all for the sake of becoming fit for the mission of God in Australia.
Radical change is required of us again – for the same reason, mission.

A generation on, the Basis of Union will still resource us if we’re game.

Photo : Rev Dr Andrew Dutney