Listening anew for words of continuing witness
May 7, 2022
Members of the 16th Assembly have adopted a proposal for the Church to “listen anew for words of continuing witnesses from recent and contemporary contexts” to challenge, renew and strengthen the faith of the Uniting Church.
Rachel Kronberger, the Chair of the Continuing Witness Task Group, introduced the Continuing Witness report and proposals in an information session this morning.
It is being proposed that three documents be offered to the church for consideration in the current triennium and brought for adoption at the next meeting of the Assembly:
- The Confession of Belhar,
- Laudato si’, and
- The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification;
“In a world in which we define ourselves by our differences, and in which many seek to exploit those differences, the gospel calls us to unity,” Rachel said.
“Christian churches facing the conflicts and changes of history have emerged at key moments with fresh insights into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this report and these proposals the Continuing Witness Task Group commends to the Uniting Church three such documents.”
Rachel said that it was from the crisis of the divisions of apartheid that parts of the reformed church in South Africa produced the Confession of Belhar. The joint declaration on the doctrine of justification emerged after 500 years of theological and political conflict and from the current crisis of climate change, Pope Francis wrote to the world in his encyclical Laudato si.
“The task group believes that in studying and praying with these documents across the church we would find in them words with which to express our faith, or be inspired by them to find new words of our own.”
“We hope they will provoke rigorous theological discussion among our people towards a deeper understanding of the faith we claim in the Uniting Church.”
In seconding the proposal, Rev Dr Geoff Thompson said the proposals offered not only the insights of the particular documents put forward, but a new way the Uniting Church to hear and respond to the gospel through its relationship with other churches.
“The ecumenical movement has many official processes by which we engage in long periods of conversation, respond to various ecumenical documents, and reach various levels of consensus about diverse issues.”
“The purpose of adopting these continuing witnesses, however, is not to reach a consensus.”
“It is not to make formal responses to official ecumenical bodies. Nor is it to produce statements of agreement between ourselves and the respective churches.”
“Rather, it is to receive and listen to documents that challenge us, encourage us, and offer us wisdom even when we don’t agree with everything in them.”
“These documents have emerged from times of crisis, in contexts when the gospel itself is at stake. For this reason, they invite us fresh engagement with the gospel.”
The Continuing Witness Task Group was appointed after a 15th Assembly resolution agreed to begin this work.
The proposal does not endorse the proposed documents as definitive statements of Uniting Church theology but encourages the Church to enter a process of wrestling with a document’s claims and witness to the gospel. The proposal includes an invitation for Presbyteries and other councils of the Church to study these documents and provide feedback.
The Task Group will continue its work of identifying further continuing witnesses, with a special focus on the variety of forms of witness from Asia and the Pacific and report to the 17th Assembly.
Read the report and the three documents and listen to a conversation with the Continuing Witness Task Group members here