Wednesday 22nd July 2020 Basis of Union 9
The United Reformed Church testifies to its faith, and orders its life, according to this Basis of Union, believing it to embody the essential notes of the Church catholic and reformed. The United Reformed Church nevertheless reserves its right and declares its readiness at any time to alter, add to, modify or supersede this Basis so that its life may accord more nearly with the mind of Christ. (9)
The phrase “catholic and reformed” is very important because it asserts the truth that we are a part of the Church universal. Here catholic, with a small c, means universal. We are not asserting that we are a part of the Roman Catholic Church, but that alongside them and other churches, we are all parts of the one universal Church.
If you think of a stream flowing down a mountain, it may break up into different streams as the water makes its way down the side of the mountain. It may do this more than once, so that by the bottom of the mountain there might be a large number of different streams. If any one of those streams claimed that it alone contained the original water it would be preposterous. It would also be preposterous for any of the branches to forget the original from which they come, and of which they are a part with other branches. We share fifteen centuries of Church history together with other Western churches before the Reformation.
When we speak of “catholic and reformed” we’re confessing our connectedness and indebtedness to the Church of past ages, to believers in previous generations. This has always been central to the instincts of Reformed theologians from the 16th century to today, not a deviation from them.
The Reformed tradition does not claim to restore a Church that had been eclipsed but to reform the historic catholic (universal) Church. If we miss this, we risk misunderstanding that Reformed actually means continuity. A tree which is reformed is not cut down; it is pruned. It would be a serious mistake to attempt to jump over 1500 years of Church history to recover the faith as though no one had ever written or spoken about Jesus since shortly before AD70.
May God speak to us through the voices of the saints, down the years.
Loving Father, though you have cast us all from the one mould that is your love, we are a wealth of different shapes; a vast pilgrim people you cherish your own. Unite us as one family, one humanity. May we never stand alone when we could stand together; and never isolate, when we could include. That all may recognise in all your image and your likeness, revealed most fully in Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.