“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ” (Revelations 3:18-22)
While in Australia Census 2016 reveals a decline of those who call themselves Christian, noting the questionnaire changed to make it harder to group Christian denominations, and perhaps reduce the count, we can agree the numbers show some growth in areas, but steady decline in the traditional denominations, and worst of all the Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) whose decline as a percentage easily outstrips the other main denominations. Thus is not a new story, and one often discussed with concern, and yet it seems the concerns often seems to be to simply related to the laity or cultural changes. For a church that has seen devoted service to God, and hearkens back to such heroes of the faith as John Wesley, this is indeed a sad story.
A primary key is presumably the spiritual commitment of all in the church, moving beyond tradition to relationship, as the closer we walk with our Lord, and devote ourselves to Him and allow His Spirit to empower and guide us, the more we prosper in Him. As Scripture makes clear, the challenge also is that each local congregation and member in the UCA is in linked to the body of this denomination, so as the UCA dies, the Bible would say those also in the same vine and body will do so also unless we ensure we are also attached to our Lord, and perhaps repent and pray against those things that are hurting the UCA.
In addition, as each Uniting Church congregation sits under the earthly headship of the General Assembly and Synods, they need to also appreciate that what flows from the top will impact them, and as part of its body, it is naive and ignorant to think you will not be effected by the sins in the body, and the issues in its leadership. This joint relationship and responsibility well illustrated in the approach of the sexual abuse redress scheme to address victims where the churches, through the Synod, is compensating people abused even though it was caused by individuals within the denomination. It is also well said that a fish rots from the head down, and where out leadership and focus is not placed solely on Christ the Lord, and His Word, we can only expect issues like acceptance of same sex relationship with the Uniting Church regulations and leadership, to impact each congregation.
Can we hear the clarion call to seek God for restoration, where the key is prayer and repentance, joined with a refocus on Christ, the work of His Kingdom, and freedom for the Holy Spirit?
Their are devoted saints in our church, and great heritage in the UCA, however repenting and turning to the Lord forms the basis of renewal, if the sins in it are dealt with.
The issues in the church go very deep, and in to its formation and leadership and devotion. Having been around the Uniting Church during its inception, and in conversations with others older and wiser than me, I believe that the motto of “Unity in Diversity” is used by some to hide behind the truth that is is really about Unity in Conformity (of Man), and not the Unity in Christ by the Holy Spirit. The journey to create the Uniting Church denomination was not a smooth one, with false starts and division. While some see God in it, the fruit of the union, as opposed to the work of individuals and congregations (regardless of the amalgamation of the three denominations), seems harder to identify when looking at its health now. Issues of religious spirits, and socialist ideals, together with masonry undertones infiltrated its inception, that saw it with shaky foundations, and even luke-warm response in some areas. Thus spirits of compliance and compromise are running free, particularly at certain levels, and this impacts both commitment and devotion to Christ, the move of the Holy Spirit, and the centrality of His word and the Bible.
Yet, there are wonderfully devoted people in the UCA, witness people you wil meet across the church, who share with many of these concerns, with a similar heart, however somehow by the time you get to the Presbytery, Synod and Assembly levels there is an issue of in-action either our of defeat, broken heartedness, and it seems what follows is even more compromise. This is not limited to the Uniting Church, as it seems the issue of the power of His Spirit and Word being shut out of the Methodist Church predates 40 years, where this author has seen articles written about this matter in the 1930’s here on the Coast, and 1880’is in Tasmania, where the lack of the move of His Spirit, power, and devotion saw people leave to other denominations even then!
I see devoted faithful, Holy Spirit filled, members continuing with Christ’s mission, and crying out to God for the future of the church. While it is good to see the key reports on the future of UCA by Suter, and the Kitto report for Queensland part of UCA, commissioned, however without any apparent major response by the broader denomination, and the steep decline continuing, truly a call to action is needed. I would humbly suggest a season of prayer and fasting, repenting for where we:
- Forsaken our first love, Jesus Christ
- Placed administration above Christ and His government;
- Rejected the Apostles’ and Orthodox Doctrine for post modern doctrine and theology that is so liberal, in some of its churches Christ, the crucified God and Saviour, is optional;
- Quenched the Holy Spirit;
- Asserted man-made unity by conformity, over unity in Christ by His Spirit;
- Disempowered the congregations through resource and ministry control structures at the Synod and Assembly levels that are contrary to the initial intent of Union;
- Focus on support the church administration, rather than growing the Kingdom of God;
- Are neither hot or cold, rather half hearted in our faith life and so many areas;
- Placed the gospel of social justice above the gospel of the Kingdom of God;
- Sacrificed the truth of His written word to justify false doctrines, and sacred the design of marriage as a unity between man and woman;
- Allowed the abuse of men,women and children through a culture of silence and false submission;
- Rejected the Bible as the written word of God; believed it was about religious observance rather than intimate relationship with God through Christ;
- Held the Lord’s love and message in the four walls of a building rather than taking it in to the highways and byways;
- Quenched the calls of those called to ministry because they did not comply with the compromising spirit that was sort by leadership for the sake of there unity; and,
- Disobey our Heavenly Father and His call on us as a church.
There is a future should we choose to repent, and reform, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. There are deeps well of salvation to be tapped in to, unblocked, and the mercy and grace of God. Some radical rethink of governance and the distribution of resources to empower and make congregations more accountable may also help, as well as a recommitting to the Headship of Christ, and the acknowledge of the Bible as His Word of God, at the Assembly level. Most of all, coming to our Lord Jesus, who waits with open arms, to a renewed intimate relationship, responding to the new and yet ancient call of God to love Him, and our neighbour, be family, build in His kingdom, go in to all corners of the world, and preach the gospel of Christ in word and action with the fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit, will see the wells of His presence released.