Thursday 23rd July 2020 Basis of Union 10
St Matthew 18.15-20
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
The United Reformed Church, believing that it is through the freedom of the Spirit that Jesus Christ holds his people in the fellowship of the one Body, shall uphold the rights of personal conviction. It shall be for the church, in safeguarding the substance of the faith and maintaining the unity of the fellowship, to determine when these rights are asserted to the injury of its unity and peace. (10)
‘It leaves it up to you to decide what you want to believe… it doesn’t impose anything on you.’ This was a view expressed on the video entitled ‘What is the United Reformed Church?’ produced in the 1990s and presented by the BBC’s Political Editor John Cole. The URC is described as somewhere that allows the individual believer to take steps to grow into faith rather than sign up to everything straight away. No need to pass an exam to join, but rather learn together as a community of faith.
However, one of the stumbling blocks of this so-called ‘Conscience Clause’ in the Basis is that it has led sometimes too easily to the idea that the individual can believe exactly what they want to the detriment of the Church. Amid the post-modern idea of the centrality of the individual, it’s easy to think that the Basis points towards believing whatever you want and such belief becoming a legitimate part of the Church’s doctrine.
The importance of both Matthew’s reprimand of sin and the Basis is grounded in the idea of reliance upon an other. Where ‘two or three are gathered’ in the name of Christ – as The Church – in councils and congregations, we are dependent upon our neighbours in Christ to help us understand what it is that God is calling the Church into. PT Forsyth recognised that we needed something ‘outside our personal opinion, will, vision, inclination, or taste’ to form the community of the Church, while John Oman knew that the fallible Church nevertheless craves a ‘hungering and thirsting after a fuller discernment.’ Our quest is wider than ourselves.
We may find ourselves out of step with the Church’s discernment and direction, or we can find our convictions are the very grit needed to form a pearl within the Church. As long as we are conscious of each other, in our diversity and freedom, we can discern how God is leading us today.
God in community, three-in-one,
your Spirit guides and mediates
through the complexities of life.
Help us to be attuned to your Spirit’s call upon us and upon the Church,
and give us the words to speak your truth
as we hunger and thirst to know and reflect you more fully,
in unity and in peace. Amen.