Theologian and author Lesslie Newbiggin said somewhere that “in the end, the witness of the church, in respect of public issues will depend more upon the day to day behaviour of its members than on its official words and actions.” In recent times, the public witness of the church has been completely compromised by the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission was an investigation that exposed the appalling behaviour of members of the church towards the most vulnerable. It will take not only time, but deliberate intent and commitment to change the perceptions of the church that were created by the experience and findings of the Royal Commission.
Feedback from the Pathways process indicates that, across the Synod, the church is pretty clear about and committed to, worship. The Church is equally clear about and committed to service. But there’s a great deal of nervousness and uncertainty when it comes to witness, and what it might demand of disciples and communities of disciples (aka church) in a post-Royal Commission world.
The Royal Commission, despite its sweeping powers, does not have the power to change the gospel. It remains the case, forever and for always, that God has acted decisively in Christ to bring life out of death, and it’s worth quoting the Basis of Union:
“In raising him to live and reign, God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God on earth, reasserted claim over the whole of creation, pardoned sinners, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love.”
I’ve quoted it in full because it’s well worth memorising.
I wondered about the qualities or characteristics that disciples might deliberately cultivate as the church seeks to renew and revitalize its witness.
Albert Olley (UR) is inclined to think on long bike rides and he came up with BCCC – bold, courageous, connected and collaborative. I quite like these words.
There’s a verse in Joshua (1:9) that says, “Be bold, be resolute, do not be fearful or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
This verse frequently comes to mind when I find myself in challenging circumstances.
As people of faith we have no reason to be timid or half-hearted in our witness to the world. Aside from the witness of Christ himself, there’s no shortage of examples of bold witness throughout the scriptures. As I write this, we’re in the Easter season hearing the bold witness of the very first disciples (check it out). Courageous is sometimes offered as a synonym for bold and I want to hold on to it because its etymology links it with the word for ‘heart’. A bold witness needs to be heartfelt.
Connected – disciples are bound together in Christ. Within the church we talk about being ‘inter-conciliar’ (a word that I suspect no one outside the church understands). It describes a structure within which each council is expected to recognise the limits of its own authority and to give heed to other councils. Externally, we have committed ourselves to the ongoing work of ‘uniting’ – seeking union with other Churches.
Connected is a deceptively simple word but tending to relationships across the church. Relationships between and among disciples, relationships between councils, relationships with other denominations and with other faiths – is anything but simple. In addition, disciples and churches need to be connected to the community within which they worship, witness and serve and they need to be actively engaged with the issues that face those communities. Newbiggin makes the further point that the church is inevitably and properly involved in public issues because its members are citizens “members of society whose words and actions are constantly shaping society in one way or another.”
Finally, collaborative “for we are all God’s servants, working together” (1 Cor.3:9). Working together in worship, witness and service as the people of God for this place and this time on the way towards God’s promised end.
If you’re a Synod member, here’s a question to ponder: What should the UCA be bold about? If you’re not a Synod member, find one and ask them.
Rev. Jane Fry