The Basis of Union may have been completed in the late sixties but it provides an ongoing instrument of renewal and encouragement. Rev Dr Andrew Dutney reflects on the Uniting Church in Australia’s foundational document’s past and what it offers us in the present.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of the Basis of Union. But I also realise that it didn’t get everything right. It used sexist language. It made no reference to Australia’s First Peoples. It didn’t use the words “peace” or “justice” anywhere, in spite of its orientation towards “the promised end”.
All of these “mistakes” (there are others too) can be explained by the fact that it’s an historic document: they weren’t mistakes in 1968. And it wasn’t a mistake in 1968 that the Basis of Union assumed that all Uniting Church ministers would be selected and educated to be scholarly, teaching pastors in the Reformed tradition (rather than itinerant, prophetic preachers in the Evangelical tradition).
It wasn’t a mistake then, but it would be now if we didn’t insist on a discernment-selection-education process that produces mission-ready ordinands who are passionate, Christ-centred, resilient, innovative leaders.
I was recently quoted as saying that, “There are things about the Basis of Union and about the Uniting Church, which are so ideally suited to where the church is, at the beginning of the 21st Century, that I have no question about the providential hand of God guiding decisions that were made and insights that were gained, and even some of the awful politicking that went on—it came out in ways that are a real blessing to us.”
The deeply missiological character of the Basis of Union ticks all the boxes in its account of the Christian faith and church order, but it does that in a way which puts it all at the service of mission.
Union was supposed to be about the renewal of the church in faith and mission, so the Basis of Union was designed to be an instrument that the Holy Spirit would use to renew the church, not just at the time of union, but in an ongoing way. It blesses us with a tremendous capacity for flexibility and innovation, for the sake of mission.
And so, in theological education, it is the Basis of Union that has been encouraging us across the Uniting Church to recognise that a missional church must be served and led by mission-oriented ministers. It also encourages us to reshape educational processes to cooperate with, enhance and deepen this calling and these gifts in our ordination candidates.
I’m a fan of this new movement in theological education because I’m a fan of the Basis of Union.
Rev Dr Andrew Dutney
Rev Dr Andrew Dutney teaches Systematic Theology within the Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University. He is the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. His most recent publications Manifesto for Renewal and The Basis of Union: A Commentary are available from mediacomeshop.org.au