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The Bible: unique, prophetic and divisive

Formed in 1977 on the basis that its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated by the Bible, the Uniting Church has faced increasing tensions over the way its people read and interprets scripture.

Many have identified the question of how we read the Bible as the key underlying issue in the recent divisive debates over homosexuality and leadership in the Uniting Church.

While protagonists from all sides have used scripture to validate their argument and justify their position others warn that such debates are not mere abstract discussions and historically people have died as a result of biblical interpretation on issues such as war, women, crime and sexuality.

Writing for Christianity Today, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Regent College in Vancouver Canada and pre-eminent evangelical theologians Dr James I. Packer said that each view of biblical authority sees the other as false and disastrous, and is sure that the long-term welfare of Christianity requires that the other view be given up and left behind as quickly as possible.

"The continuing conflict between them, which breaks surface in the disagreement about same-sex unions, is a fight to the death, in which both sides are sure that they have the church’s best interests at heart," said Dr Packer.

National Uniting Church Director for Theology and Discipleship Rev Dr Rob Bos said that in the recent sexuality discussions people on all sides of the debate have taken the Scriptures seriously.

"One side does not have a monopoly and it is unfair to accuse people who have agonised over Scripture and come to a different view from ourselves as being ‘unbiblical’," he said.

Lecturer in Theology at the Wesley Institute in Sydney Kit Barker points out that people’s doctrine of God and scripture are essentially related, and determine the way they read the Bible.

Mr Barker believes that God is sovereign and communicates very intentionally. He said this understanding of God produces a "distinct view of scripture when scripture is understood to be a primary means by which God performs this communication."

Others such as the Assembly Working Group on Doctrine claim new circumstances demand that the church "confess the faith anew in the light of new challenges to the gospel".

Dr Bos said we need to listen to each other and learn from each other so we can enrich each other’s understanding of the Gospel as we learn to appreciate others perspectives.

"Disagreement of views does not necessarily mean rejection of the people who hold them, or even a failure to take their views seriously.

"While we need to listen to each other, we ultimately listen for the guidance of God, who may not always want what we want, or see things in the way we think God ought to see them!"