Progressive Christianity within the Uniting Church in Australia

Dr Richard Smith, Chair of the Western Australian Progressive Network wrote the following for the UCA WA Revive magazine in response to the WA Moderator’s challenge to practise Reformation. It was published along with a counterpoint by Rev Dr Michael Owen UC WA’s Systematic Theologian that presents the Church’s supernatural alternative.

On the 500th anniversary it is time to practice Reformation. In so doing we soon discover that Christianity from its earliest days was characterized by diversity. This eventually led to fragmentation of the Western Church, with the separation in the 5th Century of the Egyptian Copts and Far Eastern Nestorians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox in the 11th Century. Even before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in the 16th Century, there were challenges to the authority of the Catholic Church in the 14th C, by English Papal critic, John Wycliffe and in the 15th C, by dissenting priest, Jan Hus of Bohemia.

Luther’s legacy of Sola Scriptura finds modern expression in the dogmas and doctrines of evangelical Christianity. In the WA Uniting Church, it is recognised in the Synod as PNEUMA, ‘Pastoral Network of Evangelicals Uniting in Mission Action’. These dogmas and doctrines enshrined in the Basis of Union, presuppose a parallel supernatural universe that is increasingly unrecognisable by the Australian population. However we need to recognise that the Reformation opened the door to independent thinking, which came to a head in the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason” in the 18th C, a cultural movement where human reason finally prevailed over the Church’s divine authority claimed by the Pope (for Catholics) or the Bible (for Protestants). According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), this was humankind’s escape from the bondage to the obligatory thoughts of others, whether secular or religious. Kant became an early exponent of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.

Critical study of the bible led to the recognition of its human origins which revolutionized biblical scholarship, enabling the scientific discoveries of evolution and the origin of the universe. This caused a fundamental division between the science and orthodox religious cosmologies. Study of this division, revealed that scientific reasoning was a consequence of monotheism expressed so clearly and succinctly in the opening chapters of the Bible, in which everything was thought to flow from one creative source and constitute a Universe. For example on the first day God created “Light”, 3 days before the physical light of the Sun. This “Light” became synonymous in John’s Gospel with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Such “light” in the 21st C is urgently needed to dispel the darkness of humankind’s apocalyptic scenarios such as nuclear war and human induced global warming. A truly worthy legacy of the Reformation for the Church in all its diversity to practice and bear witness to in the 21st C. This legacy finds expression in Progressive Christianity which urgently needs to be recognised by the UCA as a legitimate expression of Christianity as set out in the 8 points – borrowed from the Progressive Christian Network of Britain.

Recommendation: Seek collectively this formal recognition under Para 11 of the Basis of Union?

Dr Richard Smith Chairman, WA Progressive Network 2 Feb 2018.

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