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Discerning God’s will in the Uniting Church

JOURNEY ASKED Broadwater Road minister Rev Bruce Johnson how the Uniting Church determines what is the will of God.

It was no surprise that Mr Johnson began with a quote from the Basis of Union to explain that when we want to explore how the Uniting Church seeks to govern its life, we have to begin with our understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“Paragraph 15 of the Basis of Union says that, ‘The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his Church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils’,” said Mr Johnson.

“Unfortunately we tend to think that the UCA is a democracy, so people want to use surveys and questionnaires to find out what the majority think, and say that this is what the church should do.

“We have come to believe that the will of the people expresses the will of God, however the Bible clearly shows that very often the majority of the people, even God’s people were wrong.

“Sometimes it was the lone voice that spoke God’s word for God’s people.”

Mr Johnson said the first thing to understand is that the Uniting Church has a series of inter-related councils (Congregation, Church Council, Presbytery, Synod and Assembly) and that these councils are not there to determine what the majority think, but to discern what God thinks and what God is saying to his people.

“In the Uniting Church each council of the church has its own sphere of responsibility, and while each are expected to listen to the insights of the other Councils, one cannot interfere in the areas of responsibility of another.”

Again quoting the Basis of Union Mr Johnson said the church has developed processes by which women and men are chosen to serve on these councils and having been chosen they are then expected to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will in the matters for which they have responsibility.

“These people are not like politicians in a Westminster System of government who are expected to represent the collective views of their constituents.

“They are expected to listen together for God’s leading and represent what they believe is God’s will to the other councils and congregations.

“It could be said that rather than representing the will of the people to God, they are called to discern and represent God’s will to the people.”

Mr Johnson said that this made it very important that we consider carefully who we elect to serve on the councils of the church.

“They must be people of personal faith in Jesus Christ who display a prayerful attitude that makes them open to the voice of God.

“Their task is to listen carefully to the insights of the other members of the council, so that they might together discern God’s voice to the Church.

“As we listen to each other’s wisdom we may find new insights that we would not have recognized individually.”

Mr Johnson said that the main job of councils is to listen for God’s word and not simply argue for our own point of view to win.

“No matter how passionately we may hold a point of view, we always have to be open to the possibility that we might be wrong.”