As our program gets under way this afternoon, we are going to
take just a few minutes to remind ourselves of what the Basis of Union
has to say about the Bible, since it is the Basis which establishes the
parameters for how we use the Bible in the Uniting Church (See Appendix I).
Let's read Paragraph 5, which makes the most comprehensive statement concerning
The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received
the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic
testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and
obedience are nourished and regulated. When the Church preaches Jesus Christ,
its message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses. The Word of God on whom
salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in the
worshipping and witnessing life of the Church. The Uniting Church lays upon its
members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures, commits its ministers to
preach from these and to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's
Supper as effective signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures.
In the Basis of Union, Christ is "the Word of
God" (Para.4), "God's living Word" (Para.11), and "the Word
of God on whom salvation depends" (Para.5). Yet there is a recognition, in
the Basis, consistent with Reformed thought, that the Word comes to us in
three forms, incarnate, written and preached, and that while these are distinct
from one another, they are also inseparable. Christ, the Word of God, is
"heard and known from Scripture" (Para.5), "that unique prophetic
and apostolic testimony" (Para.5) which is the source of our knowledge both
of what God has done for us through Christ and of how we are to respond; and
Christ is "present when he is preached among people" (Para.4). Christ,
God's living Word, the Lord of the Church, comes to us through the Scriptures
and through the proclamation of the Gospel. We need to keep these things in mind
when we encounter the word "Word" in the Basis.
This afternoon, I want to highlight three emphases of The
Basis of Union on the Bible:
Firstly, The Basis of Union gives high
authority to Scripture.
The Basis does not set out "to decide between
various theories concerning the authority of Scripture" - it is
"more concerned to see that the UCA treats Scripture as authoritative
than to define the nature of that authority" - but it does give a high
authority to Scripture.
We see it in these extracts from
* Scripture is "unique prophetic and
apostolic testimony" (Para.5).
* The "faith and obedience (of the UCA) are nourished
and regulated" by Scripture (Para.5).
* "(The Church's) message is controlled
by the Biblical witnesses" (Para.5).
* Members of the Church have a "serious duty"
to read the Scriptures, just as ministers have to preach from them
* Councils of the UCA are expected "to wait
upon God's Word" (Para.15).
In fact, in using the word "received", in
acknowledging that the Uniting Church has "received the books of
the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic
testimony", The Basis of Union recognises that the UCA stands
within a tradition which accepts a completed, closed and inviolable canon of
unique, irreplaceable and authoritative books, which not only witness to
Christ but through which Christ speaks to his Church.
The Basis of Union also, of course, affirms our
heritage in the creeds of the early church, the confessions of the
reformers, and the preaching of John Wesley, all of which strongly uphold
the authority of Scripture (See Appendix II).
Secondly, The Basis of Union takes a
pragmatic approach to the use of Scripture.
If The Basis of Union is not an academic dissertation
on the nature of the authority of Scripture, this is because its focus is upon
how Scripture functions in our lives, how we use it. A key word is
the word "appropriated": "The Word of God on whom
salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in
the worshipping and witnessing life of the Church" (Para.5). The Word of
God is heard when Scripture is opened and read, preached from and meditated
upon, within the community of faith called into being by the living Word of God.
* Ministers must preach from the Scriptures and
administer the sacraments as "effective signs of the Gospel set forth
in the Scriptures" (Para.5).
* "On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and
* The Church is "open to constant reform under his
Word" (Para.1), as God, through the Spirit, "correct(s) that which
is erroneous in (the Church's) life" (Para.18).
Gordon Dicker, in Faith with Understanding, identifies
three approaches to Scripture:
(i) The first equates the Bible quite simply with
revelation, seeing it as a series of "true propositions ...
supernaturally delivered through the agency of the writers" (in much
the same way as the Koran is understood to have been inspired);
(ii) The second is the Liberal Protestant view, in which
Scripture is seen as the record of people's developing understanding of the
nature of God and their consequent interpretation of events in the light of
(iii) The third is a view which sees Scripture as both
inspired and illuminated by the Holy Spirit. It is produced by people moved
by the gift of the Spirit; and it is appropriated by people whose hearts and
minds are quickened by the Spirit to hear the Word of God as they read.
The last of these probably comes closest to the approach
described in The Basis of Union. Davis McCaughey puts it this way:
"As the church listens to these voices, human voices (in the Old and New
Testaments), she hears a Voice not of human origin, the Word of God".
Thirdly, The Basis of Union sees the need
for constant re-interpretation of Scripture.
Paragraph 11 of The Basis of Union speaks of the
need for the Church, in its study of the Scriptures, to make contact with
contemporary thought, to utilise the tools of modern scholarship, and to
"enter into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific
enquiry which has characterised recent centuries". This is seen as
helpful if we are to be "ready when occasion demands to confess the
Lord in fresh words and deeds".
D'Arcy Wood sees Paragraph 11 as a "balancing
paragraph". While the creeds and confessions remind us of the heritage
of the past, Paragraph 11 draws attention to the challenges of present
and future - in biblical scholarship, for example, the discovery of the
Dead Sea Scrolls; in doctrinal theology, the emergence of liberation
theologies; in ethics, difficult questions such as those posed by in
vitro fertilisation and genetic research.
Dr Rowe, a member of the Assembly Task Group on the
Understanding and Use of the Bible, puts it this way: "There is the
need for every generation to ask afresh how to interpret this gift (the
Bible) and how to allow its perspectives to influence our lives. The
questions we ask within that generation will affect how we read it".
In every generation, new issues emerge. The challenge is
to find the way to bring the truth of who Christ is, what he has done for
us, and what God has to say to us through the Scriptures, to bear upon the
peculiar issues of our own times and upon the complexities of our individual
Extracts from The Basis of Union with reference to
the Word/word of God.
Para. 1: (The three churches
entering union) look for a continuing renewal in which God will use
their common worship, witness and service to set forth the word of
salvation for all people ... they remain open to constant reform under his
Para. 3: The Church is a pilgrim people ... On
the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments
Para. 4: Christ who is present when he is
preached among people is the Word of God ... Through human witness in word
and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to
command people's attention and awaken faith ...
Para. 5: The Uniting Church acknowledges that
the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique
prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and
by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated. When the
Church preaches Jesus Christ, its message is controlled by the Biblical
witnesses. The Word of God on whom salvation depends is to be heard and
known from Scripture appropriated in the worshipping and witnessing life
of the Church. The Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty
of reading the Scriptures, commits its ministers to preach from these and
to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as effective
signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures.
Para. 9: (The creeds are) authoritative
statements of the Catholic Faith ... to declare and to guard the right
understanding of that faith.
Para.10: The Uniting Church continues to learn
of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in the obedience and freedom of
faith, and in the power of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, from the
witness of the Reformers as expressed in various ways (in their
confessional statements). (These statements remind us, among other things)
of the need for a constant appeal to Holy Scripture.
Para.11: The Uniting Church acknowledges that
God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters
of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted
trustingly in obedience to, God's living Word. In particular the Uniting
Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific
enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the
knowledge of God's ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith.
The Uniting Church lives within a world-wide fellowship of churches in
which it will learn to sharpen its understanding of the will and purpose
of God by contact with contemporary thought. Within that fellowship the
Uniting Church also stands in relation to contemporary societies in ways
which will help it to understand its own nature and mission. The Uniting
Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of
scholar, of prophet and of martyr. It prays that it may be ready when
occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.
Para.14: Since the Church lives by the power of
the Word, it is assured that God, who has never failed to provide witness
to that word, will, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit,
call and set apart members of the Church to be ministers of the Word.
These will preach the Gospel ...
(The Uniting Church) comes into being in a period of
reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed
participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word ...
Para.15: It is the task of every council to wait
upon God's Word, and to obey God's will in the matters allocated to its
oversight ... (The members of the Congregation) meet regularly to
hear God's Word ...
Para.18: The Uniting Church prays that, through
the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is
erroneous in its life …
Extracts from the creeds & confessions of the reformation
The Scots Confession of Faith (Ch.XIX: The Authority of
As we believe and confess the Scripture of God sufficient
to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow its
authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels. We affirm,
therefore, that those who allege the Scripture to have no authority save
that which it receives from the Kirk are blasphemous against God and
injurious to the true Kirk, which always hears and obeys the voice of her
own Spouse and Pastor, but takes not upon her to be mistress over the same.
The Westminster Confession of Faith
and The Savoy Declaration
(Ch.I: Of The Holy Scripture):
I: Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God
written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments,
which are these ... All which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the
rule of faith and life.
IV: The authority of Holy Scripture, for which it ought
to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or
Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and
therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.
V: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the
Church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture ... And ...(by
its) many other incomparable excellencies ... yet notwithstanding, our full
persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority
thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and
with the Word in our hearts.
VII: All things in Scripture are not alike plain in
themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary
to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded
and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned,
but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a
sufficient understanding of them.
IX: The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is
the Scripture itself ...
X: The supreme judge by which all controversies of
religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of
ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined
... can be no other but ... the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture
(Westminster)/ the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit; into which
Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved (Savoy).
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