Where to from here? Assembly of Confessing Congregations national conference meets in Sydney

This week (Monday 17th – Wednesday 19th September 2018) the National Conference of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church of Australia meets in Sydney.

The most important business will be a response to the Uniting Church’s decision in July [earlier related posts] to have two different and contradictory doctrines of marriage, thus allowing for same-sex marriage while pretending to have not changed anything important.

Doubtless, all attending the conference would value your prayers for godly wisdom.

In the September 2018 issue of their ACCatalyst magazine, The Rev Dr Tim Patrick, Principal of the Bible College of South Australia, writes (“Uniting Sin & Farce”),

“So where to from here? I am incredibly encouraged by the evangelical Uniting Church ministers who have called their congregations to forty days of prayer as they discuss next steps. I have no privileged inside knowledge, but I know they are talking together about the best group action that can be taken. There could perhaps be a fellowship established within the Uniting Church that parallels the GAFCON movement in the Anglican Communion. Or maybe a mass exodus to another denomination or accrediting body. Or something else. This is not my decision to make, but I do think that a coordinated approach will best serve the evangelical churches and congregation members far better than if each just independently started heading off in different directions.

There are, however, two possibilities that I would particularly love to see explored. The Uniting Church as a whole could turn back to its historic doctrine and thus abandon the sinful and absurd outcome of the recent Assembly. This would bring real joy to so many as the great desire of our hearts is to experience that unity for which the church is named with those whom we dearly love as our sisters and brothers. However, if this cannot happen, perhaps those who are so keen for the change should consider leaving the denomination. …” (pages 32 and 33).

The same edition of ACCatalyst notes (page 4) that the Assembly of Confessing Congregations was granted observer status at GAFCON 2018 in Jerusalem.

Of possible interest for ACC members is “The Crisis of ’77” by The Rev. Bob Thomas, on the 1977 decision by some in the Presbyterian Church to ‘continue’.

When the church lets you down

“In the C S Lewis classic (Screwtape Letters), senior devil whispers to his apprentice: ‘one of our greatest allies at present is the church itself’.

Screwtape is aghast that Wormwood’s patient has become a Christian, but he encourages his junior devil by saying that the church is in such a mess that ‘it matters very little … your patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous’.

I feel sad today, and ask: Is one of the devil’s greatest allies at present the church itself?

It’s one thing to have Australian society approve of same-sex marriage, but when a church approves – it’s disturbing … and confusing.

To be sure, not our church, but nevertheless a branch of the Christian church in Australia. …”

Presbyterian Moderator-General John P Wilson responds to the Uniting Church of Australia’s decision about marriage last week.

A message to Uniting Church members about the decision on marriage

Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer explains how the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia came to adopt an internally inconsistent and unbiblical view of marriage while, at the same time, calling it a great triumph of unity.

Watch and weep.

See also these Responses to the 15th Assembly, published by the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, including this one (PDF):

“The summary statement concerning the marriage debate to come out of the Uniting Church’s recent Assembly that reads, ‘We will hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage’ is a fallacy. Why?

Imagine that the Uniting Church released this statement: ‘We will hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on adultery. The first: Members have a choice to be faithful in marriage. The second…”

And do pray for Uniting Church members, that they would have great and godly wisdom and courage to act.

The Dividing Church: When a Denomination Chooses Syncretism

“Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.” (1 Kings 18:21)

“Last week the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia adopted a motion to permit same-sex marriage for their churches. …

The deal is being packaged as a triumph for diversity, and a celebration of recognising the rights of people to marry whomever they wish. However, once we’ve stripped the rhetoric of its layer of spray paint, what’s left behind is good old-fashioned syncretism…”

– Murray Campbell doesn’t beat around the bush.

And he also encourages us all to pray for “the many Christians within the Uniting Church who have difficult conversations and decisions ahead of them”.

Uniting Church: Post 15th Assembly Pastoral Letter from the Assembly of Confessing Congregations

“In our view, the UCA Assembly has removed itself from the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

On behalf of the National Council of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, we therefore say in the strongest terms possible, that we reject not only this decision, but the authority of the National Assembly and therefore stand aside from this Council of the Church. …”

The Rev. Dr. Hedley Fihaki writes on behalf of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations National Council.

Doubtless, many in the Uniting Church would value your prayers for wisdom.

Update:

The 15th Assembly’s Resolution on Marriage and same-gender relationships has been published:  Read more

Two doctrines of Christian marriage? That’s OK says Uniting Church theologian

“The headline conceals what actually happened in Melbourne this week. Without setting out to do so, the Uniting Church recovered its stated vocation of making visible unity in diversity. …

without disputing the biblical and theological validity of the traditional understanding of marriage … the Assembly has approved an additional statement on marriage for the Uniting Church, also biblically and theologically valid.

Two doctrines of Christian marriage? Two expressions of that in ‘the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia’? How does that work?

Well, that’s the kind of thing that the Uniting Church was always supposed to be able to manage: unity in diversity. …”

– Past President of the Uniting Church of Australia, Prof. Andrew Dutney, explains that ‘unity in diversity’ is what the Uniting Church of Australia is all about. (Did George Orwell have a word for this?)

Uniting Church chooses on Marriage

The Uniting Church of Australia will officially attempt to sit on both sides of the fence.

Here is a press release from the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia, meeting in Melbourne.

Emphasis added:

“The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has agreed to hold two equal and distinct views on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members.

Meeting for the first time since last year’s change to Australian marriage laws, members of the Church’s national decision-making body, the Assembly, resolved to allow its ministers the freedom to conduct or refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

“This decision follows many years of reflection, prayer and discernment, and I want to thank Assembly members for the way they have responded with grace to what is a difficult conversation for many people of faith,” said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years.

‘I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,’ said Dr Palmer, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

‘We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space.’

‘Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.’

‘I thank you all for modelling a loving Christian community, holding together and caring for each other, across our diversity of strongly and faithfully held views.’

Members of the Uniting Church’s 15th triennial Assembly have been considering the change to the marriage policy and other issues since Sunday 7 July at Melbourne’s Box Hill Town Hall.

During the meeting, they heard advice from theological and legal experts and had the opportunity to speak to proposals for and against the changes.

The proposal that was adopted on Marriage and same-gender relationships seeks to accommodate a range of views by adopting an additional statement of belief.

The existing statement of belief is that marriage is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life.

The new additional statement of belief says that, “For Christians, marriage is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life.”

The proposal also acknowledges the diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings within the Church, and that they have been “developed through continuing faithful discernment and held with integrity on matters relating to sexuality and marriage.”

The proposal determined that the Church is able to accept this diversity within its life and make the decisions necessary to enable its ministry and members to act with integrity in accordance with their beliefs.”

– Source: Uniting Church of Australia, 13th July 2018.

UCA Assembly still considering Marriage changes

“Members of the Fifteenth Assembly continued their consideration of proposals on marriage and same-gender relationships.

In response to requests from Community Working Groups, the Evening Session of Day 3 was set aside to hear further information.

Fifteenth Assembly members then had the opportunity to make two-minute statements in response to the information, proposals or anything else.

The matter will be revisited later in the meeting.”

– That’s all that has been released so far on the Assembly website.

Crunch time for the Uniting Church of Australia

The Uniting Church of Australia’s 15th Assembly meets in Melbourne this week, 8th – 14th July 2018.

The theme of the 15th Assembly is “Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope”,

However, the big question to be decided is whether the UCA will submit to God’s word in Scripture, or adopt a new doctrine of marriage – marriage being between any two people, regardless of gender.

A growing number of UCA ministers and Church Councils have have attached their names to this statement:

If the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church adopts these proposals in or close to their current form, we humbly state that in accordance with our prayerful convictions, we will not accept these decisions, and we will stand apart from them in ways that we will determine after the Assembly meets.

More from the Assembly of Confessing Congregations. Much to pray about.

Update: 15th Assembly blog:

“Monday July 9 will see the start of the marriage debate. From 2 pm the eight proposals that have now been confirmed will be presented in order of their receipt. This session will continue until 3.30 pm. It is purely a presentation and information session and given the number of proposals will certainly take up this time. …”

J. D. Greear elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention

“This afternoon the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest Protestant body in the United States and the largest Baptist denomination in the world—elected 45-year-old pastor J. D. Greear as its 62nd president, the youngest man to hold the office in 38 years. …”

– Justin Taylor has some background at The Gospel Coalition.

Forty Days of Prayer for the Uniting Church

“Uniting Church in Australia President-elect Dr Deidre Palmer invites all UCA members into 40 days of prayer and action in the lead up to the 15th Triennial Assembly meeting.

‘We offer these prayers to you recognising that there will be many words flooding over us all as we prepare for this journey together…”

– Do pray for the Uniting Church of Australia. Take the time to read their 40 Days of Prayer and Prayerful Action to better understand why you should.

Response by former UCA President to Uniting Church Same-Sex Marriage Proposal

In July, the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia will vote on a proposal, brought by the Assembly Standing Committee, to change the doctrine of marriage and understanding of marriage within the UCA to be for any ‘two people’. Many see this as a ‘make or break’ moment for the UCA.

Dr. James Haire, ninth President of the Uniting Church in Australia, has published his response to the proposals. Quite apart from Biblical reasons to oppose them, he believes they would make it impossible for the Uniting Church in Australia to continue to exist according to its founding documents:

“The final sentence of Paragraph 2 of the Basis of Union (Of the Whole Church) states: ‘The Uniting Church declares its desire to enter more deeply into the faith and mission of the Church in Australia, by working together and seeking union with other Churches’ …

proposals (b), (c)(ii) and (d).1 are likely to cause further fracturing of relations between the UCA and other Churches in Australia, and certainly are likely to go against any moves to seek ‘union with other Churches’.”

Read it all here. (PDF file.)

And, from Peter Bentley, National Director of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia:

“In a nutshell, my view is that the adoption of the proposals would make the Uniting Church cease to be the Uniting Church as we know it, even it still has the legal name. … The grand experiment of ‘Uniting’ that was begun in 1977 as a church movement that was not ‘its own denomination’, but part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church would simply be no more.”

– Read this, and related articles, in the June 2018 edition (PDF file) of Confessing Congregations’ magazine “ACCatalyst”. (Photo: ACC.)

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