Reflection - The Church Repentant and Provisional

23 May 2024

Reflection - The Church Repentant and Provisional Image

By Rev Adam Tipple

There are two strains of thought in the Basis of Union about what kind of church the Uniting Church should be, which I believe are important for us to reaffirm. The first is the vision of the church as repentant, which is at the beginning and the end of the Basis - in the first paragraph about the three uniting churches that, ‘none of them has responded to God's love with a full obedience.’, and in the final paragraph, ‘The Uniting Church prays that, through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life.'

Thus, it is important to reaffirm that since church union, the Uniting Church has also not responded with full obedience, and so as we look forward, as the three churches looked forward, let us begin with making our confession and asking for the Spirit to have the last word.

The second is that the Uniting Church is provisional, that is temporary and imperfect. In the Basis, we read, ‘the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come.’

It is important that we do not lose sight of this, as a church that sees itself as provisional recognises that there is something better, always on the way, and so should be more attuned to the mission of God and keen to adapt and change to the requirements of that mission in 2024. Our churchwide discussions around how we can be ‘Fit for Purpose’, partly reflect this provisional reality.

In contrast to a church that is repentant and provisional is a church that is unrepentant and sees itself as necessary and perfect. The danger for this church is that it becomes static and reactionary, no longer able to share the gospel with the world, but waiting idly for the world to catch on. This is the church that is primarily concerned with survival through what are perceived to be difficult times.

This is denomination as idol, and as we seek to reaffirm what it is we stand on, let us be wary not to idolise the Uniting Church, but instead embrace the vision of church that always seeks a kingdom to come.

Friends, I joined the Uniting Church in 2008 partly because I was excited by a vision of church that was not static, but one that sought to continue to be uniting, and to be open to the correction and leading of the Holy Spirit. I know I am not alone in reflecting on the times we have neglected this vision and settled into comfortable (or perhaps uncomfortable!) denominationalism.

However, I (and we) have hope - hope in Christ who rules and renews his church, hope that the prophetic voice among us is stirring, hope that we can live in and live out a vision of church as repentant, provisional, and thoroughly missional, hope that we may indeed prove useful to the kingdom of God.

I thank God for the ways in which you, reader, already do that and that we do this together as we walk towards the promised end, but as has no doubt been shared in countless Uniting Church sermons over the years, let us seek with all our strength, that better city to come.

Grace and Peace, Adam.

Uniting Church Australia Logo


Discipleship & Formation

Children, Youth, Young Adults and Families


Latest stories

Browse the latest stories of the Church