EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT
Since its very inception, the Uniting Church in Australia has seen its existence and its vision as being empowered by the Holy Spirit to seek unity among people who follow Christ.
The Uniting Church’s foundational document, the Basis of Union, describes our belief that the Church is “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” and that the Holy Spirit is given to us as “a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation” (Basis of Union, par 3).
Our approach to ministry is shaped by our belief in the Spirit’s gifting and empowering of all members of the Church to be engaged in confessing Christ and serving him (Basis Par 13). And we affirm that we are on a journey together with the gift of the Spirit to constantly correct us and ensure that we do not lose the way (Basis Pars 3 & 18).
We encourage you to explore further the Basis of Union.
The following list offers some insights into Uniting Church understandings of Christian belief, identity and practice.
Empowered in Unity
In John 17:21 Jesus taught his disciples to share their faith so “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe”. So the Uniting Church in Australia lives and works within the faith and unity of Christ’s Church in the world. The Church seeks to bear witness to that unity which is both Christ’s gift and will for the Church.
God called our Church into unity from three denominations in 1977, and we continue to seek to share our faith as an active participant in the worldwide ecumenical movement.
Members of the Uniting Church in Australia share our Christian faith in community – a journey we share with 2.3 billion people around the world today.
At our heart is a deep sense that our Church is part of a global movement seeking to live out the teachings of Jesus in the modern world, guided by God and the Holy Spirit.
The Uniting Church is part of worldwide ecumenical movement. We celebrate the special relationships with other uniting Churches and ecumenical Councils, and “will continue to learn from their witness and be strengthen by their fellowship”. (Basis of Union 2)
The Uniting Church “lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Basis Par 2) and as a result many of our core beliefs are shared by Christians all around the world — beliefs in God as Trinity, in the authority of the Scriptures and in loyalty to the great ecumenical confessions of the Church (the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed).
The Uniting Church believes in God as the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We believe that God is at work, reconciling the whole of creation in Christ, and that we are called to co-workers of that vision.
How we live this belief is based partly on our understanding of ancient creeds, partly as a Christian response to seek justice and peace in our world, and partly as our expression of God’s love for the world in service and care for all people and all creation.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us”. (John 1: 14)
We are part of the testimony of the Christian Church for 2000 years, and we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. The Uniting Church discerns our witness within the context of our changing world, and constantly asks itself the question, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”
The Gospel is the Good News about Jesus Christ. (Mark 1: 1)
In his humanity Jesus identified himself with ordinary people, fishermen, tax collectors, and his father Joseph was a carpenter. He was baptised by John the Baptist as an ordinary person and then received the Holy Spirit. He ministered among the poor and the marginalised, and a large part of his ministry is around healing the sick and restoring lives.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. (Col 1: 15)
Jesus gave people two great commandments: love God and love your neighbour. He preached the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of hope for liberty from oppression and called people to receive God’s grace through faith. At the end, he was betrayed, suffered humiliation and was crucified between criminals. Yet he prayed to God “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23: 34)
But this was not the end, because “God has raised him from the dead”. (Acts 2: 24)
Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46)
This is a central mystery of Christian faith. Why does God allow suffering of his Son? During the season of Lent and Easter, the Church’s liturgy relives the Gospel annually, recalls ancient wisdom of the Church and reclaims the reality of our suffering.
Our proclamation of Christ’s resurrection is the foundation of Christian hope. Suffering is not the end, it marks a new beginning in our relationship with God.
Without the death of Jesus, God’s promise of salvation is incomplete. St Augustine once asked: Did God have no other way to free men from the misery of this mortality? This mystery of faith calls Christians to seek further understanding of God and God’s purpose.
The death of Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels as part of the “Passion narrative” – the part of the New Testament that focuses on the suffering and death of Jesus. In the Christian calendar, the season of Lent relives the story of Jesus’ passion and remembers his journey to the Cross.
The resurrection of Christ is about creating life out of nothing, like God in Creation.
Christ is risen, and he is risen indeed. This Easter proclamation captures the joy that emerges from suffering. Death is not the end. Jesus’ death marks a new beginning in our relationship with God.
Without the resurrection of Christ, there will be no faith at all. Paul once said: Christian faith will be in vain (1 Cor 15: 14)
Easter marks the complete circle of Jesus’s story – the Word became flesh. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people”. (John 1: 3-4)
God’s Mission of Reconciling
The Uniting Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God. In Jesus Christ “God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). In love for the world, God gave the Son to take away the world’s sin. (Basis of Union 3)
The Uniting Church proclaims this vision of reconciliation. It is this vision that once called the Uniting Church into existence in 1977, and still sets the scope of the Church’s mission today.
The Bible (Scriptures)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet, and light to my path”. (Ps 119: 105)
The Bible is a living document. The Uniting Church acknowledges the books of the Hebrew Scriptures known to Christians as the Old Testament and the New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony. (Basis of Union 5) This witness of the Bible points to Jesus, The Living Word of God, who constantly speaks to Christian communities in their own contexts.
When we receive the Bible, we hear the Word of God, our faith in Christ is nourished and our commitment to God’s Church is renewed.
The Uniting Church takes the reading of the Scripture seriously and commits its ministers to study the Bible and preach the Word. We value and affirm scholarly interpretation of Scripture towards the central witness of the Good News, which is about Jesus Christ.
Ancient creeds and continuing witness
The Church’s belief is expressed through the ancient creeds, liturgies, and Reformation witness of the Christian Church. We also affirm the continued witness of each generation. We discern God’s will and purpose by contact with contemporary thoughts, drawing on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our time, in ways that lead us to express our Christian faith in a variety of diverse yet authentic ways.
Baptism and Confirmation
In the Uniting Church, Baptism is a sign of new life through Jesus and unites us with Christ and the people of God. It is the initiation into the way of life taught by Jesus and practiced by the Church. Baptism is the first of two Sacraments the Uniting Church celebrates.
The Uniting Church practices Baptism for those who confess the Christian faith themselves, and those who are presented for Baptism by parents or guardians. Confirmation is an opportunity for those Baptised as infants or children to reaffirm their faith as adults who have determined to continue in the way of Jesus.
Holy Communion is regarded by the Uniting Church as another of two Sacraments we recognise. Within our varied traditions in congregations, it may also be called ‘The Eucharist’ or ‘The Lord’s Supper’. We believe in an open table, where any Baptised believer in Christ is welcome.
“This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”. (1 Cor. 11: 23-25; Mark 14: 22-25; Luke 22: 14-20)
“The Church is the Body of Christ; Each one of us is part of Christ’s body.” (1 Cor 12: 27)
From the death of Jesus, God has brought new life that becomes an eternal blessing for all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. (John 3: 16)
We are part of Christ’s body and we are his resurrection.
There is one Christ, and there is One Church. The Church does not belong to any denomination, culture and race. It is the Church of Christ. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” (Col. 1: 19)
One way that the Basis of Union talks about the calling of God’s Church is that we are called to “Worship, witness, and service”. These three acts of Christian faith are inseparable and help us to think about how we live out lives of worship by proclaiming the Gospel in word and in deed.
Empowered in Diversity
Our unity is not about sameness, but unity in diversity.
The Uniting Church believes that in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ sustains his Church through the changes of history, commanding people’s attention and awakening faith (Basis Par 4). Part of that nurturing comes through the “scholarly interpreters of Scripture” and in the “inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries” (Basis Par 11). The Basis also recognises that “an informed faith” is sharpened by contact with contemporary thought. The books of Hebrew Scriptures and early Christian writings were formed in different social and historical contexts, and this diversity is intrinsic to the Biblical witness.
The Uniting Church is a culturally and linguistically diverse Church, and a theologically diverse Church. As a result, various interpretations concerning the authority of the Bible and the application of that authority, exist in our diverse congregations.
Some important aspects of our embracing of diversity within the Uniting Church over our first 40 years are that we seek a renewal of our relationship with the First Peoples of this Land, and that we look to renew our identity within the context of a welcoming and multicultural Australia.
The First Peoples
As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands. (The Revised Preamble to the Constitution)
The Uniting Church is a multicultural and cross-cultural Church. This diversity is a gift of God to the Church. We particularly seek special relationships with Churches in Asia and the Pacific. (Basis of Union 2)
The Uniting Church celebrates the cultural and linguistic diversity in Australia. The same Spirit rose Christ from death and gave birth to the Church at Pentecost in different languages and cultures (Acts 2: 1-4)
Filled by the same Spirit, we bear the individual and collective witness to the crucified and risen Lord in many languages through diverse cultures.
Empowered to Move Forward
While we are inspired by the universal Christian experience, the Uniting Church in Australia is also a forward-looking church with a number of distinctive characteristics.
Our beliefs and how we put them into practice have allowed us to make decisions about church teachings that take into account human discovery and learning, and address some of the pressing social and ethical challenges of our times.
When the councils of the Uniting Church meet, we pray and study the Bible and we seek to discern the direction of the Holy Spirit in responding to the matters we consider.
In following this practice using consensus decision-making, we have reached a number of decisions that other churches have not.
In 1997, we made our own apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations, more than ten years before the national apology in 2008.
In 2010 we acknowledged in our Church’s Constitution that Australia’s First Peoples had already encountered God before the arrival of the colonisers.
In 2018, we decided to hold two statements of belief on marriage, allowing same-gender couples to get married in our church.
In thus responding dynamically to the world around us, we believe that the Uniting Church continues to be shaped and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We are the Body of Christ, each one of us is part of this universal Body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 27).
Our unique form of Church Government is based on a series of interconnected Councils, which organise our life locally, regionally and nationally. Those councils each have separate responsibilities and authority, and consist of: Congregations, with their Church Councils (local), Presbytery and Synod (regional), and the Assembly (national). Some excerpts from the Constitution explain some of the responsibilities of these Councils.
Congregation: “the embodiment in one place of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, means those people (members and adherents) who worship, witness and serve as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ, meeting regularly to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to build one another up in love, to share the wider responsibilities of the Church, and to serve the world”
Presbytery: “shall have such oversight as is necessary to the life and mission of the Church in the area committed to it; it shall stimulate and encourage the Congregations within the bounds, providing them with opportunities for counsel in the strengthening and assistance of one another and in their participation in wider aspects of the work of the Church”
Synod: “subject to the direction of the Assembly, the Synod shall have general oversight, direction and administration of the Church’s worship, witness and service within its bounds. It shall exercise executive, administrative, pastoral and disciplinary functions over the Presbyteries within its bounds, shall be the council to hear and deal with appeals and requests from Presbyteries and shall establish and maintain such boards, institutions, committees and agencies as are appropriate to the furtherance of its responsibilities”
Assembly: “The Assembly shall have determining responsibility in matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline, including the promotion of the Church’s mission, the establishment of standards for theological education and the reception of Ministers from other denominations, and is empowered to make final decisions on all matters committed to it by the Constitution”
In the unity of Spirit, we have been built together into a dwelling place for God (Eph 2: 22).
The responsibility for government in the Church belongs to the people of God (Basis of Union 15). God has laid upon men and women equality with various gifts and called them into corresponding services.
The Future of the World
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”. (Rev 21: 1)
The Uniting Church’s distinctive emphasis on reconciliation is shaped by our understanding of God’s intention for the whole of creation — a Christian hope inspired by the vision of God’s promise “I am making all things new” (Rev 21: 5).
We hope because God is hope. All our joy and peace are fulfilled in belief in the God of hope. (Rom 15: 13) Enabled by the Spirit, Christian people are united in hope for God’s ultimate renewal of all things.
Like the Christ event – the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, God will dwell with the people of God when history comes to pass. “The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them.” (Rev 21: 3)
Such hope is not human expectation, but a divine promise. It has been tested in times when hope is against hope (Rom 4:18), yet we still hope for “what we do not yet have and wait for it patiently” (Rom 8: 25)
Whatever is created had its beginning and will come to an end. The time of the ending, no one knows, except the Father (Mat 24: 36). But this is not the reason for fear. The final things are not dominated by the divine judgment, but rather revealed to the faithful in Christ’s promise. “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14: 3)
Through the coming Christ, the world will see that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning also the end (Rev 21: 6).
The Uniting Church is a movement of God’s people on the way to the promised end.
So we pray, “Through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life, will bring it into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use its worship, witness and serve to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord.” (Basis of Union 18)