BY WHAT AUTHORITY
Central to all three of Tillich's categories is the
concept of Authority. In
heteronomous reasoning authority is located outside of the individual person.
This authority may take the form of unexamined values and principles learnt in
childhood, or unquestioning obedience to a person or persons perceived as
authorative. Autonomous reasoning is guided by the authority of freely accepted
and scrutinised and internalised principles.
Theonomous reasoning builds upon the authority of autonomously accepted
principles, but by way of synthesis is capable of overcoming the distance and
uninvolved aspect of autonomous reasoning by embracing a revisited or second
naivete thus overcoming the gulf between object and subject, giving an ultimate
authority to this aspect of reasoning.
Authority is generally perceived as having certain
normative qualities. Max Weber
considered that there is only three legitimate ideal types of authority.
The first is the traditional grounding of authority: the "elder" in
any given case (Lord of the house, patron, prince). It is based upon the belief in the sanctity of age-old rules
and powers. In other words the
legitimation of present forms of domination is achieved by reference to the
past. In Weber's view there are
three kinds of traditional authority.
Gerontology: This is rule by elders, usually in small tribal or village
communities. The elders achieve
legitimate power because they are considered to be most steeped in traditional
wisdom. They exercise their
authority personally and there is no administrative staff.
occasionally occurs in combination with gerontology. Patriarchalism is usually
based upon the household unit. The
head of the household possesses
authority which is transmitted from generation to generation by definite rules
of inheritance. Under
patriarchalism authority must be exercised in the interest of all members of
society and thus authority cannot be completely appropriated by the incumbent.
Patrimonialism. This is similar to patriarchalism and often emerges from
it. It is a patriarchal form of
domination with the addition of an administrative staff,
bound to the patriarch by bonds of personal allegiance.
This is the characteristic form of authority among traditional despotic
governments. For Weber, the
ideal-typical example was the sultranate, although similar forms of authority
characterised feudal Europe.
The second is charismatic authority.
An extraordinary person (prophet, leader, charismatic) acts in accordance
with his own inspiration and conviction, and finds a following or evokes faith.
In its pure form charismatic authority is, by definition, an extraordinary form
of domination. The concept of charisma was given a quite specific meaning by
" a certain quality of individual personality
by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with
supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or
Whether the charismatic leader "really"
possesses these extraordinary qualities is, to a certain extent irrelevant-what
is important is that these powers are attributed by the followers.
Charismatic authority may arise in any social context and is not limited
to any specific historical epochs. Consequently
charismatic leaders range from religious prophets to modern political leaders
and from those who have led movements which have changed the course of history
to petty demagogues with a temporary following.
In all cases legitimacy is granted on the basis of the followers belief .
There is, by definition, no administrative authority.
Charismatic authority is beset by the insoluble problem of "routinisation." Because charismatic authority is so revolutionary it is
inherently opposed to routine, yet if it is to survive in the long term it must
establish a degree of permanence and stability with which elements of routine
are inherently associated. Should
the son or the daughter of the charismatic leader take over, then this becomes a
form of traditional authority.
Weber regarded the growth of rational-legal forms of
authority as being a major aspect in rationalisation of the modern world.
There has been a progressive disenchantment with traditional authority
and the resort to intellectualisation and calculation is discernible in history.
This development has important consequences for systems whose legitimacy
has hitherto rested on traditional, magical or religious elements.
It implies a shift in the beliefs upon which legitimacy rests so that
authority itself becomes "rational," or in other words authority
becomes a calculated means of achieving domination of a society or organisation.
In Weber's opinion this depends upon:
A legal code which claims the obedience of all members of the society or
A logically consistent system of abstract rules which are applied to
The typical person in authority occupies an "office," which
defines his or her responsibilities. This
person is also subject to the impersonal regulation of the law.
The person obeying authority does so only by virtue of his or her
membership of the corporate group (that is, not on any personal basis) and what
is obeyed is the law (rather than the person or authority.)
An administrative staff or bureaucracy is formally charged with looking
after the interests of the corporate body within the limits of the law.
Thus it is the law, its precise demands and its
administration which encapsulate the element of calculation in rational-legal
The third type is the legal grounding of authority:
rationally established and codified norms, usually administered by bureaucratic
structures-thus everywhere in modern states-are regarded as legitimate
authority. Weber questioned whether
authority of people over people, however it is legitimised, is legitimate at
One objection to Weber's sociology lies in his
emphasis to treat all social forces as if they can be reduced to the actions of
seemingly isolated individuals. This
is termed methodological individualism. There
have been numerous objections raised against Weber's methodology.
Among these are those that are of Marxist origin, and perceive Weber as
refuting Marx, whereas he can also be interpreted as complementing much of
Marx's work. Weber's understanding of authority, has however contributed
to the normative understanding of authority, and on that ground it is included
Ronald Pasquariello, Senior Fellow for Urban and
Economic Policy in the Centre for Theology and Public Policy, Washington, D.C.
argues in the context of the controversy on authority within the Catholic Church
that a missing dimension has been an analysis of the influence of ideology.
He focuses on hierarchy as ideology. He claims that, "if theology is
still in some way faith seeking understanding, then it is especially incumbent
on the theologian to expose the presence of ideology in faith, in regard to both
doctrinal and theological statements."
notes that Mary Douglas (followed by Aaron Wildavsky) has made an important
contribution to the understanding of culture and to ideology as a cultural
system by defining cultures in terms of being heirarchical, egalitarian, or
sectarian, market individualist or fatalist. For Mary Douglas an ideology is a
rationalisation of a preferred cultural orientation. In terms of Catholic
hierarchy as an expression of authority, Pasquariello following Douglas, views
hierarchy as a way of being, or as a way of orienting oneself in the world and
with other people. Hierarchies
divide people through the use of ideological statements. From a Marxist perspective, capitalism is the bad guy.
Ronald Reagan gave the capitalist ideological perspective when he
referred to the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire" thus associating it
with, "the Manichean world of DarthVadar and Luke Skywalker of
can be both faith statements and ideological statements. A faith statement may be one such as, "Jesus Christ is
risen from the dead." An
example of an ideological statement is, "only men can be priests because
Jesus was a man." No
statement, be it faith, theological or ideological is mutually exclusive."
Only the word of God that addresses us in these linguistic forms is free
of ideology, calling all ideology into question."
is a powerful force, neither good or evil in itself. It is a way of construing power. Pasquariello understands the
current controversy within the Catholic Church as a conflict of ideologies.
"Heirarchs demand loyalty, while egalitarians
want a voice. Hierarchs emphasise
authority, egalitarians, consensus. For hierarchs, authority is a function of
status; for egalitarians it is a function of ability. Hierarchs stress the
importance of role and function, while egalitarians seek to reduce differences.
Hierarchs blame the person, egalitarians the system. For egalitarians, fair is
equal; for hierarchs fair is right order."
he concludes by stating that,
"To act hierarchically is to impose power for
its own sake. Authority can be used reasonably within a hierarchical framework,
if it tries to persuade instead of compel or coerce, and if it is constantly
vigilant for the gentle winds of truth sweeping across human history."
Pasquariello has gathered together the main elements
of the hierarchal ideology gleaned form the writings of Douglas and Wildavsky
cited above. They are repeated here
in the form of a lengthy quotation in order not to lose any of their essence in
translation. He states that,
"Each represents a potential source of
conflict: when hierarchy is imposed in disregard of the truth, it operates
negatively. When hierarchy serves
the truth, it acts positively and appropriately.
Hierarchy is pro-leadership, the operative assumption always being that
the leaders are the "upperarchs," i.e. those at the top.In any
ideology, the basis questions are how, what, and by whom: how should the world
be organised, what should be done and by whom.In a hierarchy, those at the top
appropriate the powers implied in these questions for themselves. They are the
ones who decide the answers to these questions. They take the initiative, and it
is up to the lowerarchs to obey. As such, hierarchy is a form of institutional
authority. Since it is pro-leadership, leadership is the most important value,
more important even than the whole, which is its raison d' Ítre. Leadership is
there to protect the interests of the whole, but it is also convinced that there
is no whole without leadership. Leadership, therefore, is to be shored up at
every opportunity-protected when under attack, shedding and diffusing blame,
keeping information under close control.
Another characteristic of hierarchy, is that the whole is more important
than the parts or the sum of the parts. It is, in fact, greater than the sum of
the parts. The parts are supposed to sacrifice for the whole, and it is the
leaders who are the ones with the knowledge about what is best for the whole.
Collective sacrifice, according to hierarchical understanding, will lead to
group gain:Heirarchyality. Lowerarchs are to sacrifice for the collective.
Obedience is the primary requirement of lowerarchs.Initiative is replaced
by team spirit.And it is those who play by the rules who make it to the top.When
they get to the top, they expect the same response from lowerarchs that enabled
them to get to the top.Achievement, i.e., getting to the top, confirms the
hierarchical world view of those who "make it."
Hierarchies reflect detailed divisions of labour.They are therefore
highly regulated. Each person has his/her place in the scheme of things, and is
supposed to act properly according to his/her role in the hierarchy. It is the
job of the hierarchs to decide what is best for the whole, to rule; the
lowerarchs are to obey. Hierarchs judge who has the right to do what is
essential to hierarchy because it is necessary to maintain distances and
differences within the organisation.
In a hierarchy, people lower down do have rights against those higher up.
Certain areas exist in which the hierarchs may not transgress. The rights of
higher ups in a military hierarchy, for example, are limited to exclude
interference with family life.
Participation is perfunctorily acceptable, with those higher up trying to
channel it because high rates of participation undermine the role of those
higher up, and complicate their jobs. Participation should be appropriate to
one's role in the hierarchy. Competition or individual initiative is acceptable
as a necessary evil, so long as people accept their ordained place.
Hierarchy, because it cannot exist without a lowerarchy,
institutionalises inequality. It justifies inequality on the grounds that
specialisation and division of labour enable people to live together with
greater harmony and effectiveness. Being fairly treated does not mean being
treated like everyone else, but being treated according to the rules affecting
one's own station in life.
When it comes to blame, rather than blaming the system (for it cannot be
wrong, admission of wrong putting the whole in jeopardy) hierarchy tends to
blame individuals, who are considered deviants.
When something goes wrong, instead of checking the system for faults,
personal blame is heaped on those with inadequate socialisation:They do not know
their place. The deviant must reform and conform or be purged by censure or
Hierarchy emphasises central planning. But even here, the planning is
reserved to the hierarchs. Strengthening the centre is better than
fragmentation. Innovation is to emanate from the head. It figures out the right
thing to do as if the organisation had a single mind. Others are brought in for
consultation, though this is most often a perfunctory role.
Interestingly, hierarchy takes an ambiguous position in regard to new information. Usually it resists new knowledge, because of
its capacity to "rock the boat," i.e. introduce information that puts
the authority of the hierarchs in a bad light. New knowledge also increases the
desire for personal participation,
presenting the possibility of other centres of power and the potential for lack
of control by the hierarchs. But hierarchy sometimes accepts new knowledge,
realising that it may be threatened when it is no longer in touch with new
understandings. It reserves, however, the right to itself to decide what new
knowledge is acceptable. So long as it does not mean rapid change
which might threaten hierarchical structures
hierarchy can and does make room for accommodations.
It is slow to discard old information because appeals to memory or tradition
preserve its legitimacy. Hierarchy returns to the old until the new can be
accommodated within the existing order. Knowledge
is closely guarded, because it is a means of control.In a religious hierarchy,
there is a tendency to see revelation as coming from God through the leadership.
Hierarchies are very sensitive to short
run dangers to group cohesion. This is because they
expect the system to cope with long
run or future contingencies just as well as in the
past.To doubt this would be to
doubt the system in which all hope resides. Bringing future decisions down to
the present would add to the number of decisions"
Pasquarielo stresses that if ideological elements
are present in the debate, it is important to identify them. There is a
difference between ideological statements and
matters of faith. When they
are used to serve the self
interest of the ideologue, such as in order to
distort facts to preserve a particular ideological position, then they must be
identified as such and resisted.
Mary Douglas, Anthropologist, has created a
cross-cultural model to help in the understanding of authority across cultures.
In different cultural settings statements may have different meanings.
To know therefore what theological statements are legitimate, one needs
to know how that statement is constructed and understood by the author, and in
what setting. For instance
one suggestion has been put forward regarding the word quickest; our minds plot
the quickest route between Melbourne and Perth in different ways, depending on
whether we think in terms of railways, highways,
bush tracks, sea lanes or air routes, and depending on flat surface thinking or
taking into account the spherical nature of the earth's surface.
therefore relies on cultural scripts; on if there are cross-cultural patterns
that enable us to confront material from any cultural tradition.
Mary Douglas believes there are, and has constructed the following
Cross-Cultural model which analyses a compares cultures in terms of two
variables, which yield four fundamental patterns.
High Grid | High Grid |
GROUP (-) ----------------------------------------------------------- (+)
Leland J. White, an Associate Professor of Theology
at St John's University, New York, makes use of Mary Douglas's Cross Cultural
Model to examine the social construction of theology as a means to exploring the
concept of authority and theology within a particular cultural sphere.
He claims that within a strong group culture the lack of authority, or
even the lack of any sense of authority is a characteristic of weak-group
culture. The individuals in
weak group cultures establish their own identities.
As an illustration he refers to the standing of an individual in a court
of law. He says that the weak
group individual is innocent until proven guilty, whereas strong group courts
would try individuals presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Where individuals establish their own association the individual is prior
and group life rests on the voluntary adherence of individuals.
The priority of the individual and the principle of voluntary association
does not negate, and may even invigorate group life and theological development.
The correlation between an autonomous and theonomous culture and a weak
group society should be obvious.
An examination of Figure A above will show that the
Douglas model analyses and compares cultures in terms of two variables, which
yield four fundamental patterns. Her
first variable is "group" and concerns how much pressure is exerted on
the individual or subgroup to conform to the demands of the larger social group?
As White explains:
"How intense is the sense of "we," of
lines marking group boundaries? Social
interactions, and hence meanings, are shaped by whether the sense of
"group" is strong or weak and how strong or how weak."
The second variable is "grid."
This variable raises the question as to how do socially shared
conceptions square with individual or group experience in everyday life? Social
interactions and meanings are coloured by the expectation that life will confirm
one's values (high grid) or disconfirm one's values (low grid).
If we graph the two variables on a cross-bar as in figure A. representing
positive and negative degrees of group and grid,
we find that the four fundamental cultural patterns, strong-group/high
grid, strong-group/low-grid, weak-group/high-grid and weak-group/low-grid.
White, in following Douglas uses the concepts of
order to understand people in other cultures we must also learn to understand
understand members of other groups with which we share little or no common life,
we have to know how they interact among themselves. We need to know the world from which they come."
Strong-group/High grid scripts;
These scripts presume there is a place for everyone
and everything and that more often than not things are as they should be.
The stronger the group, and the higher the grid the less need there is to
invoke authority. The less authority is invoked, the more tacitly it may be
assumed, the more powerful it is. In strong-group/high grid, whatever already
exists is legitimate. Those above
provide for those below. Everyone has a permanent, indeed virtually immortal
place. To accept without question both a fixed relationship to God and fixed
means of access to God is to have a systematic and coherent understanding of
everything significant, because everyone knows the channels from which all
reliable wisdom come.
Strong group/Low -grid scripts:
Should strong-group people find themselves
surrounded by "non-persons," they find that their values are not
confirmed by the wider society. Their
grid is lowered. Low-grid groups,
because they have relatively few opportunities to verify their beliefs in
everyday life, tend to retreat to "other worlds","worlds to
come." They usually explain
the hostile world in which they find themselves, by judging it evil or under
evil powers. They enact this judgement, constructing it socially, by devising
rules to avoid the evil that surrounds them.
Douglas's understanding will be helpful later in
this dissertation when addressing the question of whether Base Christian
Communities in South America are neither Autonomous or Theonomous, but rather
cultural scripts raise question bearing on the significance of authority in that
culture, and by extension the relevance of concepts of heteronomy, autonomy and
theonomy. In a similar manner,
White's use of an interpretation of apostolic succession within the Roman
Catholic Church as an illustration of abstract pattern of Douglas's
Strong-group/high-grid, will shed some light when considering feminist
perspectives in interaction with Tillich's concepts.
White claims that :
"Douglas's four-quadrant model provides axes by
which we can plot where different theologies lie culturally.The advantage of the
model is that it arranges cultural data in terms of relationships between group
and individual and between value statements and value experiences.This allows us
to look at issues such as authority in terms of dynamics created by these
relationships rather than in terms of who it, how much it covers, and how well
it might be received.Above all, it allows us to see that the need for something
equivalent to authority is neither uniformly felt nor uniformly satisfied."
Strong group/High grid people are confirmed within
the society in which they live. The
wider the range of affiliations the higher the grid, because each group is a
finite world in which some values are confirmed.
Elsewhere in this dissertation, the Base Christian
Community in Solentiname in Nicaragua has been considered with regards to the
relevance of its polity and practices to the categories of heteronomy, autonomy
and theonomy. In the light of the
foregoing enumeration of certain normative understandings of authority, it is
interesting to note that the community at Solentiname, by its practise appears
to have rejected much of the hierarchical basis of the Catholic Church, choosing
instead a very egalitarian approach to its belief and underlying ideology.
The cultural script that the community at Solentiname appear to follow
has changed from Douglas's pattern of the strong-group/high-grid of their
parents to a weak group/high grid pattern.
Of the ten characteristics of a community that Pasquariello notes as
being the main elements in a hierarchal ideology, the community at Solentiname
only appear to have met the third, and then only partially.
As a community they were prepared and eventually did pay the price of
collective sacrifice. However, such
willingness to sacrifice was not imposed hierarchaly, but rather voluntarily. There was a strong sense of collectivity, however, in
contrast to the collectivity that Tillich identified within the socialism of the
Soviet Union, the collectivity of the people of Solentiname was not attributable
to their heteronomy but something else. This
something else can only be a state of theonomy.
Having established at least some of the normative
understandings of authority, it will be useful to endeavour to ascertain, at
least in a perfunctory way, the role of authority in various Christian
denominations as a prelude to considering the role of authority within the
Uniting Church in Australia, the denominational context of the two parishes that
were relevant to the "project" element of this study.
To examine the role of authority in the following denominations
comprehensively would be beyond the scope of this work.
However, it should be possible to establish some general concept of the
role of authority pertaining to each denomination considered without going into
great detail. I have chosen
the various denominations to be examined on the basis of my personal knowledge
and experience. As a consequence
such denominations will be the Salvation Army, The Congregational Church, and by
use of Kenneth Dempsey's work, some aspects of denominational authority within
the Methodist Church in Australasia sometime prior to the union of that church
with most of the former membership of the Presbyterian Church and the
Congregational Church within Australia.
In considering the transferability of the
communitarian model of the Base Christian communities elsewhere in this work,
reference was made to the difficulty experienced by the Salvation Army in
establishing their denomination in societies that were predominantly Roman
Catholic. Factors that inhibited
such establishment were noted, however the similarity between the Salvation Army
in terms of structure and authority were not mentioned. Reference was made to Prof. Norman H. Murdoch's
historical work on the Salvation Army.
Murdoch consistently refers to the Salvation Army as a Christian
imperium. Murdoch states that,
1878, he (Booth) had merged ideas of itinerant evangelism, lay enterprise,
Methodist polity, and love for the military to produce a new sect with sectarian
polity, dogma and discipline.That its form was disguised, so as to avoid the
appearance of being a sect, was partly a result of Booths hatred of
Nonetheless the Salvation Army was a sect and so
could have been expected to exhibit sectarian tendencies such as Douglas's
Strong-group/high-grid description. Interestingly the sect shares with the Roman
Catholic church in regard to the concept of apostolic succession, the same
categorisation of being Strong-group/high-grid.
to the Salvation Army circa 1984 at the time of its expansion into the United
States, as following an autocratic system whose efficiency rested on generating
enthusiasm among the troops.
army had experienced phenomenal growth up to the early 1880's. However as Murdoch notes, by 1885-87 the army stagnated, just
as its predecessor the Christian Mission had in East London by 1877. The army
was now drawing converts predominantly from other denominations rather than the
unchurched it had earlier targeted in East London. The army had turned to the "respectable" working
class that Wesley, the American revivalists, Finney, Caughey and Palmer, and now
Moody had found to be receptive to revival efforts.
Murdoch claims that,
"While a cause of the army's failure to gain
members lay in the 1880's pluralistic-secular society, its structure speeded the
decline.In an era of rising democracy, Booth led an anachronistic autocracy.
Members had to conform or leave."
The growing nepotism of the army in a society that
was beginning to question such practices didn't help. Booth was sending our directives, "from the secret
councils of his family and a few chosen leaders."
the early 1980's, the Salvation Army was in its charismatic formative state, so
that the unitary command and discipline that marked this period gave it the
ability to manoeuvre, however by 1886, as it settled down, the army found that
many officers were resisting its discipline, it was losing many personnel, and
as a consequence was being financially effected.
As in any hierarchy, right order was essential.
In an age of Christian imperialism, Booth, a systemiser, had no patience
with chaotic ventures. It was important for him that he had well-organised revival
efforts that produced results that were notable.
As the army spread overseas from Britain, its
leaders in other lands wanted to be consulted on where their organisation was
heading. Booth, however, while in
some respects remarkably sensitive to his era, nonetheless, in the words of
"failed to read the signs of the time, visible
in the 1880's in increased worker restiveness, trade union organisation, and
reforms that gave male suffrage to nearly all workers and initiated compulsory
education and literacy."
Clearly, it is obvious from the above that the
Salvation Army was both advantaged and disadvantaged, according to its stage of
development from its hierarchical structure and the consequent basis of
authority from which it worked. In
consideration of the transitional nature of the 1880's, Ronald Pasquariello'
advise to the Catholic Church of today, in hindsight might to advantage have
been beneficial, had its eternal and underlying truth been known and
acknowledged in Booth's day,
"Authority can be used reasonably within a
hierarchical framework, if it tries to persuade instead of compel or coerce, and
if it is constantly vigilant for the gentle winds of truth sweeping across human
All of the points Pasquariello has listed under
hierarchy could be applied to the historic army that Murdoch describes.
From Weber's analysis, the army in its early period suffered from
traditional authority in the sense of patrimonialism, gained in the sense of
authority's charismatic form, and was further disadvantaged
in its rational-legal form. As
was noted in Chapter Three of this work, Tillich could not find a place for
hierarchical government in the church. Perhaps
in the early developmental stage of a sect, charismatic hierarchal authority can
be justified, however Murdoch's account of the early Salvation Army would
suggest that once a sect begins to achieve "church" status, that
Tillich is correct, and that it is inconsistent with the gospel as has been
argued in Chapter Three, for a church to be structured hierarchaly.
If Pasquariello's interpretation of hierarchy is accepted, it is
difficult to ascribe any other than Tillich's category of heteronomy to church
authority that is exercised in this way. Particularly
in so far as the "lowerarchs" are expected to obey the "upperarchs."
One difficulty, however does arise, in that it seems reasonable to assume
that the hierarchal Catholic Church exercised considerable influence on European
culture during the middle ages. If
that was so, how is it possible for Tillich to describe that period in Europe as
"The middle ages witnesses a resurgence of
theonomy influenced by Bonaventure even though it suffered from a preponderance
of heteronomous elements (Thomas)."
One can only presume that Tillich meant that the
preponderance of heteronomous elements actually resulted in a society that could
be described as heteronomous.
For me on moving from the Salvation Army to the
Congregational church, the contrast between an hierarchal church and one based
on egalitarianism was overwhelming. It
could not have been greater. No
longer bound by set doctrinal statements, nor even creeds, I was merely required
to accede to certain Christian principles, principles so broad in interpretation
that the secretary of the Deacon's meeting in the Castlemaine Group of Churches
was in fact a Unitarian by belief. The
group of four congregations who invited me to be their lay pastor, were, with
the exception of one in a small farming community, all in towns that owed their
existence to the mining boom of the 1850's.
The main congregation at Castlemaine, in Victoria had once been host to
the Baptist Congregation who occupied the former Free Presbyterian Church
building situated on the block of land immediately behind.
Once the Baptist membership, early this century, had increased to
sufficient size to maintain their own fellowship separately, they had freely
moved to the adjacent building without any acrimony. Times had changed since
then, forcing the amalgamation of the four congregations, and at a state level,
the formation of a Congregational Union of Victoria.
While that union had to some extent diminished the independence of each
congregation, the principle of independence was nonetheless maintained as far as
Because of its non-conformist background in England,
Congregationalism has been given an image of negativity, but if it deserves this
image then so must Protestantism as a whole! As noted elsewhere in this work, Tillich has referred
positively to the Protestant Principle. Congregationalists
can also be proud of the positive aspects of their independence, for within that
independence lies the opportunity to express in as unambiguous way as possible,
the autonomy of both church and individual.
It is perhaps only in the diminution of this autonomy, that one most
appreciates its worth and significance.
As part of the consideration of authority in the Uniting Church in
Australia later in this chapter, I shall argue that the 21 years or so of
Uniting Church polity has led me to a greater appreciation of the autonomy so
central to Congregationalism. Awareness
of the loss of this autonomy has inspired my undertaking of this project as much
as anything else.
Albert Peel wrote in his book entitled, Inevitable
"In every religious community, from the Roman
Catholics to the Salvation Army, and the High Anglicans to the Quakers, it has
been shown again and again that where,"the faithful, be they never so
few" are gathered together, there is spiritual exaltation and power."
Again he writes,
"Ask any Army Chaplain if there is any
difference in the atmosphere of a parade service, which the men are compelled to
attend, and a voluntary service, presence at which in itself is a sign of the
desire for religious fellowship; his answer, without a doubt, will witness to
the truth of the Congregational principle."
This Peel declares is inevitable congregationalism.
further states, circa 1936, that,
"Congregationalism is faced today with the old problem of
how to associate freedom and fellowship, independence and unity, and so secure
the largest possibility of fellowship compatible with essential individual
liberties, the largest degree of local autonomy consistent with Catholic
Congregationalism, although independent, does not
however assent to the concept of
religious individualism. As Daniel Jenkins states,
"..in its essence, Congregationalism stands for
the very reverse of religious individualism. For no church order insists more
specifically on the fact that there can be no such thing as a solitary
Some twenty years ago, Dr Harold
Leatherland, then Principle of the Theological College, Melbourne, said
to me that Congregationalists were reluctant denominationalists, and that in
Australia with the absence of an Established Church to dissent with,
Congregational membership has progressively declined.
It is interesting however to
note that in the late 1960's when I became a Congregationalist, the membership
of the Congregational Church in Australia was approximately 50,000, the same as
the Salvation Army at that time. Part
of the impetus toward uniting with the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches was
the gradual decline in membership. Now
part of the Uniting Church, one can only assume that trends present
before Union would have continued had the union not taken place.
Latest figures available suggest that in the same time membership of the
Salvation Army has decreased to about 32,000.
Congregationalism, in its historic expression in Australia would be
designated by Douglas, because of its egalitarianism and democratic government
as Weakgroup/high grid, whereas the Salvation Army would be classified as
Strong-group/high-grid. It appears
that being classified within either of these groups with regard to authority
does not guarantee permanence. Under
Weber's analysis, congregationalism must be classified as charismatic.
The three parishes I have ministered to in the
Uniting Church have all varied in size and composition. The Bellerive-Howrah parish in Tasmania, consisted of two
congregations. The largest,
Bellerive, had been Congregational before Union, the other, Howrah, had been
Methodist, with a tendency toward the Charismatic in expression. As a first settlement, this parish provided for me a welcome
transition from Congregationalism to the Uniting Church.
Both congregations had members from traditions other than those
historically associated each congregation, however, particularly at Bellerive,
Congregational attitudes and principles were very strong. The call therefore to
a parish in Ballarat, Victoria, in which the largest congregation had been
Methodist, and to find that this congregation was one of three in a pastorate
for which I had particular responsibility, -the other congregations were
formerly Methodist and Presbyterian-demanded a considerable adjustment on my
part. In many respects, the largest
congregation, Skipton Street, seven years after Union was still essentially
Methodist in all things but name. Even
the Elder's meeting was made up of former leaders of various sections of the
congregation. In particular the congregation had been originally Bible
Christian, one of the three expressions of Methodism that had united around the
turn of the century.
The basis of authority within this congregation has
contributed to my thinking in regard to this dissertation.
The differences between the Skipton Street Congregation and Howrah could
not have been greater. Having only had limited experience of Methodism prior to
Union-I was born into a Methodist family, however while my father remained
Methodist, my mother took me at seven years of age to the Salvation
Army-nevertheless, the basis of authority within Methodism had implications for
my choice of the topic of this dissertation, therefore is very relevant for a
discussion on authority. I propose
to make use of Kenneth Dempsey's sociological research into a Methodist Circuit
in a country town, Barool, in New South Wales, in which he records the potential
conflict that can arise when a congregation, comprised in the main of
individuals, predominantly heteronomous in nature, is challenged.
Kenneth Dempsey's analysis is based upon excellent
research methodology. As an
academic totally removed historically from the circuit, he lived within the
circuit during the time the study was undertaken, using the interview as his
primary research tool. This
combination of intimacy and distance has enabled a very valuable piece of
research to eventuate. Although no
longer a Methodist minister at the time of his research, it must inevitably
suffer in some respects from the difficulties associated with possible bias and
therefor absolute objectivity. He
nonetheless is in a much better position than myself,
to assess the nature of authority within the a Methodist congregation.
Consequently I use his insights contained in his research project of the
above circuit to elicit insights into the Skipton Street congregation of which,
many years later, I was the incumbent.
Kenneth Dempsey saw both the conflict and the
decline in the circuit he studied as essentially arising from external
influences. The influences
affecting the conflict and decline were, "as much or even more the product
of the large-scale changes that had been affecting this community throughout the
century as of any of the alleged shortcomings of ministers, local laymen or the
from the perspective of this thesis, although one cannot be definitive, there
appears to be evidence to suggest that the Barool circuit itself was autonomous
with regard to its values, however the individuals that comprised the membership
of this circuit appear to act in a way that would be consistent with reasoning
heteronomously. In hindsight, the
Skipton Street situation had much in common with the Barool circuit, as the same
observation as in the previous sentence could be addressed to it.
Of course, the conflict itself would be worth
broaching if through that conflict one could reasonably expect personal growth
to occur. Dempsey's research and
the title of his work, Conflict and Decline suggest that at least at Barool, the
conflict did not lead to personal growth, but rather to the mumerical decline of
the parish itself. Dempsey's
responses from laypeople were obtained in some instances, fifteen years after
the events, however their responses exhibit no hint of a change in attitude or
reasoning on their part with regard to the events in question.
It would appear that the respondee's were arrested in their reasoning.
Dempsey researches the incumbencies of the circuit from 1951. The first instance for conflict he mentions concerns the
provision of adequate furnishing for the parsonage. He records the following comment as one that was frequently
made by members of the congregation. Roger
Collins was the minister.
"They (the Collins) demanded all kinds of
furnishings yet others had been satisfied.The Swift's (Collins popular
predecessors) never complained."
Dempsey contrasts the differences between the Barool
Circuits leaders who were all well-to-do farmers or small business people with
members who he designates as working class.
However, it is possible also to contrast the two groups in terms of their
respective conformist or even collectivist attitudes.
The leaders appear to conform to certain "acceptable" values,
which appear to have been derived from the wider community rather than from
their faith. Included in these
values were adherence to the precepts of the Returned Servicemen's League, the
Masonic Lodge and the Bowling Club. The
values that the leaders of the congregation held were considered sacrosanct, and
therefore not to be challenged. As
a consequence their minister and his wife were to conform to their expectations
no matter how unreasonable they might be. They
were not to challenge these values but rather were expected to comfort the
parishioners and to enhance the status of the church. Standing on principle had
the potential to alienate the wider community, so ministers were discouraged
from pursuing this path, with threats if necessary.
There was no recognition of the right of the minister or his family to
have any privacy or personal rights, but was expected to simply serve the
parishioners. A more oppressive
"collective" would be difficult to imagine.
The "collective" that was the Barool
circuit represented a heteronomy at its worst. The "leaders" of the
church represented the "authority", an authority that in no
circumstances was to be challenged. There
was no room for the "Protestant Principle" that Tillich saw as one
mark of the church. As a
consequence there was no "healthy suspicion" of authority, or any
scope for a "prophetic ministry" to occur.
The value system of the leaders was ultimate, and was to be considered
the ultimate concern of all including the incumbent.
That this attitude was idolatrous never seems to have occurred to the
leaders of the circuit. As an
example of a heteronomous church, it would be difficult to go beyond what
Dempsey has portrayed.
The unquestioning submission of the incumbent to
this system of values raises real questions with regard to the quality of
ministry and person of those ministers who conformed.
Michael Swift, for instance, so revered by the leaders, apparently was
content to have his wife and family accept the standard of furnishings of the
parsonage, that later incumbents, rightly or wrongly found inadequate and
unacceptable, without complaint. It
is possible that later ministers were unreasonable in their standards and
expectations, nonetheless it is obvious that the Swifts shared the values of
their parishioners in this respect. Swift
and his wife were always available to the parishioners. Dempsey claims that "Swifts enhancement of the
status of their church was enthusiastically received by influential members (who
were) doubly pleased that the Swifts could achieve these results without any
costs to themselves. (as parishioners)"
In response to the arguments of most senior
ministers with whom Dempsey talked over the events in Barool that,
whole thing could have been avoided if the church hadn't sent the wrong
ministers to Barool. So many of those men had no hope of making a go of it.
Some of those laymen were real cranks. Don't judge the rest of the church
by what happened in Barool, that was a freakish chain of events. It's a pretty
unique situation, never likely to be repeated."
Dempsey, although acknowledging that several of the
ministers did possess the kind of personality that often unsettles and even
alienates city laypeople, as well as country laypeople, he nonetheless believes,
"that the uniqueness argument could be taken
too far. It is difficult to accept that for almost fifty years Barool had just
happened to get ministers who fitted in, and thereafter, ministers who just
happened not to fit in with the same laymen, or the same type of laymen, that
their predecessors had got along with so well.
Some of the so-called misfits were men of quite outstanding ministerial
ability, who had succeeded in other appointments or who were generally
recognised as having the potential to do so."
Dempsey sums up by saying that;
"There is a good deal of corroborative evidence
to support the thesis that the shift from harmony to conflict that occurred in
Barool was not peculiar to that situation but was occurring in numerous other
local churches as well."
Dempsey records that in 1972 the Barool Methodists
were forced to form a joint parish with the local Presbyterians because, despite
assistance from Highcliffe Methodists, they could no longer afford to keep a
problems and dilemmas of the Barool church in the 1950's and 1960's are
increasingly those of many formerly thriving churches of the prosperous
middle-class suburbs of this country." says Dempsey.
Nor is this problem a peculiarly Australian
phenomenon, as Dempsey claims that,
"A number of American studies, made in the
1950's and 1960's demonstrated that disagreement and, at times, open conflict
between laypeople and clergymen were becoming increasingly commonplace in major
The problems with regard to the incorporation of
pre-marital counselees that I envisaged would occur at Skipton Street because of
its apparent heteronomous culture, were presumably not unusual, but nonetheless
rather of a muted fashion when compared with the situation at Barool.
It is acknowledged that I have needed to manipulate
Dempsey's sociological findings so that they inform the theological,
philosophical and cultural observations and construct that I have made of the
Skipton Street Congregation. I
consider that Dempsey has provided sufficient detail in his sociological
analysis to draw the conclusions that I have drawn with regard to the Barool
Circuit. In the absence of any
research that addresses the central issues of heteronomy, autonomy and theonomy
for any cultural analysis of a congregation, I have needed to resort to and
confine myself to those
sociological studies that afford sufficient detail of a local congregation to enable me to draw conclusions that are consistent with an
analysis that conforms to the requirements of a theology of culture.
Sociological analysis within the Australian situation that address in detail specific congregations, other than that of
Dempsey's, I have not been able to find. As
a consequence Dempsey's work will have to suffice as support for any conclusions
I make as to the universality of the effects of heteronomy on the development,
whether numerical or spiritual of the life of a parish.
It does appear, however, that in the call or appointment of ministers,
greater cognisance needs to be exercised with regard to the degree to which they
uphold the ethos of the parish, particularly in relation to authority and the
categories of heteronomy, autonomy and theonomy.
Challenge to development within these areas seems best to generate from
Presbytery's and Synods, rather than the incumbent.
It has taken almost two decades for instances of
acceptance of authority to become problematical within the Uniting Church in
Australia. Authority within the
Uniting Church, it is claimed by those responsible for the composition of the
document known as the Basis of Union, resides ultimately with that document
itself. (see below) The Uniting Church over the last ten years has had to face
division within the church on matters relating to ordination, baptism of
infants, and discipline of parishes and ministers.
Candidates for the ministry have presented themselves for ordination
while openly rejecting the ordination of women. Ministers and Elders councils have refused to baptise infants
in certain circumstances. Some
of these matters have particularly challenged the Presbytery of Gippsland.
This Presbytery sought resolution to the problems by seeking to diminish
the authority of the Basis of Union. They
forwarded a submission to the Assembly Standing Committee proposing that;
"the Constitution be amended to require all
councils of the Church to act in accordance with the Basis of Union except those
matters which the Assembly has referred to Congregations, Presbyteries and
Synods as matters of vital importance to the life of the Church and has obtained
the approval of the Church at large."
The Presbytery of Gippsland is one of the thirteen
Presbyteries associated with the Synod of Victoria, which body also made a
submission to the Assembly Standing Committee requesting the Assembly;
"to provide a clear statement affirming the
role and status of the Basis of Union in the Uniting Church, especially in
resolution of matters before the Councils of the Church."
A discussion paper was issued by the Assembly
Advisory Group on Church Polity as an invitation to the Uniting Church in
Australia to discuss thoughtfully the proper role and authority of the Basis of
Union as the Church approaches the beginning of its third decade. The paper sought to help readers consider the following
What was the intention of those people who framed the Basis of Union.
What is the legal significance of the Basis of Union? Does its standing
in the civil courts affect its role and authority for the Church in its own
How has the Church developed or moved from the understandings of the
Basis of Union?
How does current liturgical practise help us understand the role of the
Basis of Union?
In what way might the Basis of Union help the Uniting Church find both
relevance and identity? What does the Basis of Union mean by
"a pilgrim people"?
How does the Basis of Union hold the Uniting Church in Australia within
the one holy catholic and apostolic church?
What is the continuing authority of the Basis of Union?
Under the first heading, correspondence between the
above group and members of the original framers of the Basis of Union, resulted
in a unanimous response that can be made into a summary by quoting part of the
response of The Rev. Dr. Davis McCaughey. He
of us who were on the Joint Commission on Church Union never had any doubt that
we were drafting a Basis of Union which would be an undergirding authority, of a
permanent character in the Uniting Church...."
Reference was also made by Dr McCaughey in the above
letter to the fact that in the Basis, whenever the words "Uniting
Church" were used, these words were always followed by a verb in the
present or future tense. i.e. para 5: "The Uniting Church lays upon its
members..." and para 7.:
"The Uniting Church will baptise those who confess the Christian faith, and
children who are presented for baptism and for those instruction and nourishment
in the faith the Church takes responsibility."
That there was a division of opinion between the
Advisory Group and the Assemblies Legal Reference Committee, the latter
committee claiming that the legislation enacted in each State of the
Commonwealth for the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia and to
constitute the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust in each State etc,
does not require or suggest that any future changes to the Constitution are to
be consistent with the Basis of Union. The
resolution of the argument resides on whether sections
(a) and (b)
of a paragraph in the Queensland and Tasmania acts regarding
determination of doctrine are two disparate matters.
The Tasmanian act is similar to that of Queensland which states,
"Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act
or in the Basis of Union, the Assembly may from time to time-
declare or interpret matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline in
(b) resolve that the Church enter into union with
other branches of the Christian Church."
The Legal Reference Committee maintains that they
are disparate, whereas the Assembly
Advisory Group on Church Polity claims that they are not disparate as they are
both included in the one section and that as a consequence they should not be
read as conferring upon the Assembly an absolute power to depart from the Basis
Reference is also made to the Uniting Church as a
living organism and that to live is to change. Developments have taken place.
For instance although reference to the Parish Council appeared in the
Interim Constitution and Regulations there was no reference to the Parish
Council in the Basis of Union. Mention
is made however of the congregation. The
discussion paper argues that the introduction of the Parish Council does not
prejudice the Basis of Union, as it enables the Congregation to fulfil more
effectively the role assigned them in the Basis. This is so if one envisages that non-viable congregations
would continue in the Uniting Church. However
a more radical resolution could have been that the Interim Constitution was out
of order in that it did not comply with the Basis, and that consistency with the
Basis required that only congregations that were viable would be recognised in
the Uniting Church. The decision to
accept Parish Councils was in the main pragmatic. Without the inclusion of
Parish Councils, enormous disruption would have occurred at Union.
However another resolution could have been the temporary amalgamation of
non viable parishes into something like that which pertained in the
Congregational Church in Castlemaine, where four non-viable congregations joined
together and ceded their autonomy to a joint Deacons Meeting of the various
congregations. Such a solution
would have maintained the priority of the congregation as expressed by Albert
Peel above, and in the Basis of Union. I
remain unconvinced that there was justification in introducing Parish Council's
into the Interim Constitution, and that the action of those framing the Interim
Constitution is as illegitimate as accepting ministers who do not concur with
the ordination of women. It
does not follow however, that the introduction of the Elders Council lacks
legitimacy. It can be argued that as the priority of the Congregation was
a matter of faith and set that denomination apart from all others with the
exception of the Baptists, the diminution of the apparent priority of the
congregation in the Basis lacks legality. The
above would suggest that authority within the Uniting Church is practised
selectively within its counsels. On
the other hand, an Elder's Council is, although important to the Presbyterian
Church's polity prior to union was, like the Deacon's Meeting in the
Congregational Church not a matter dealing with the substance of faith.
In similar fashion the establishment of the Uniting Aboriginal and
Islander Christian Congress in 1985, and more recently the introduction of the
diaconate in the form of Deacons, the ministry of the Youth Worker and Community
Minister and Presbytery Minister are consistent with paragraphs three, fourteen
and sixteen of the Basis of Union respectively.
Had the emphasis on the priority of the congregation
been maintained, the challenge of congregations to remain viable, or seek either
union or amalgamation with other congregations could have averted much heartache
in country areas and led to a more equitable disposition of Ministers of the
Word. The sensitivity with which
both congregations within the Alphington-Fairfield Parish worked with each other
resulted in the Parish Council being the congregations by extension.
Had the priority of the congregation not been diminished in the Uniting
Church, it is difficult to imagine that the Strategy Committee of the Presbytery
of Yarra Valley would have determined that the first parish to receive the
services of its newly appointed Strategy Officer would be the
Alphington-Fairfield parish, and the need to ascertain in the first instance if
such an appointment would cut across strategy plans already in place, would have
become a priority consideration.
In relation to the description in the Basis of the
Uniting Church being a Pilgrim People, the discussion paper acknowledges that
the church in Australia lives in a society and culture very strongly influenced
by the movement known as the Enlightenment.
As a characteristic of this society and culture is that belief in God is
an open question, the church is no longer in position to hammer out creeds,
confessions and other doctrinal formulations in the context of an explicit world
view of God-centred reality. This
raises the question of relevance. "If a danger of a false understanding of
identity is an ossified traditionalism, the danger of a false understanding of
relevance is a rootless temporalism."
order to avoid these dual dangers the Basis of Union, "offers us a relevant
identity as we face the challenges of our world."
is reinforced by asserting that a pilgrim people is not a wandering or
meandering people, but rather a pilgrim people who know their final goal, their
journey having begun with a vision or instruction which determines their
The discussion paper further argues that although
the Basis is not a formal confession of faith it nonetheless points to where
that faith is to be found. The
argument is put that the Uniting Church needs its Basis of Union or some other
confessional statement which is authoritative for its life and witness.
This is so that the Uniting Church has an objective foundation in faith
of the one holy and apostolic church. This
statement is problematical in that by extension this must mean that the
Congregational Union of Australia did not have an objective foundation in faith
of the universal church because it did not hold its members to assertion of any
The document concludes with the statement that;
"Where differences arise, ministers and others
will have to leave themselves in the hands of the Church to determine whether
such differences are substantial. It is a wise maxim that individuals should
never be judges of their own causes. Ministers
in pastoral relation with their people may be able to resolve doubts;
Presbyteries may be able to guide ministers and others who are required "to
adhere to the Basis". Ultimately, however, the Assembly has determining
responsibility in such matters....Some matters that clearly do not enter into
the substance of the faith may be unlikely to gain the wholehearted assent of
every member. An example might be the ordering of the Church's affairs,
expressed in regulations or by-laws.Members have a right to express dissent; it
is sometimes a duty to do so. However liberty of opinion must always be
qualified by love of brothers and sisters in Christ, and a concern for the unity
and well-being of the church."
This latter statement is evidence of a theonomous
understanding of authority. Autonomy, especially in its demonic dimension of
autonomous autarchy, accrues to the individual the right to absolute
self-determination, as "man is the measure of all things".
Theonomy in its synthetical function respects the individuals rights, but
also lays on her or him the responsibility to subject his or her judgement to
legitimate influences beyond, or transcending the self.
This document is particularly valuable in that its principles can be used
to address other matters that arise in the life of the church, such as the
current debate on homosexuality. There
is a need to determine whether objections to homosexual clergy arise out of an
unquestioning heteronomous acceptance of Scripture and tradition.
If that is their source, then the church can rightly look to the Assembly
for a determinative pronouncement. That
it failed to do so may mean it has failed in its duty to the church and in its
upholding of the basis of union. It
seems reasonable to expect that a theonomous solution would be the accepting of
those with whom we disagree, even if this means accepting the unacceptable.
Beyond the confines of those issues addressed in the
document discussed above, there are broader issues that bear upon authority
within the Uniting Church. One of
the more difficult aspects of Tillich's system is his insistence on the
ambiguity inherent in humanity and its institutions.
In Chapter Five, for instance, reference was made to the ambiguity within
the Solentiname Community. There
I have claimed that its adoption of the ideology of Communism made it subject to
collectivism. Collectivism is seen
by Tillich as always being heteronomous, yet other aspects of the community
suggested it was theonomous. On
one occasion the community was visited by an international banker.
The attitude of the community was that the bank loans money to the poor
and then requires a greater sum in return, making the poor even poorer.
The attitude arose from Communist ideology, but is also scriptural. Usury
as a sin appears to have lost status with the rise of Capitalism as it was a
very inconvenient sin, given the importance of usury to the Capitalist system.
As the acquisition of an excessive interest, it still remains to some
extent a sin. After the experience
of the Eighties the question remains, by what standard is excessive interest
defined? The affinity between
Capitalism and second generation Protestants is well known.
It would appear that in the High Middle Ages, a time which Tillich, as
the reader will remember, identified as being Theonomous, usury was still in its
original sense a sin. It may be
that the attitude of the Solentiname community as noted above, is another
indication of a theonomous community. The
people of Solentiname may have been, in a Capitalist world, naive; as a former
employee of a bank I may wish they were, but one has to admit that their symbols
were transparent. The reality is that many retired people must live on the
interest accrued from life savings or superannuation.
Perhaps usury is really the taking of interest from the poor, not the
rich; but rental being not much different in substance to usury, and given the
diversity of superannuation portfolio's ,who is to say that income is not
derived from usury?
The church in its investments inevitably becomes
culpable. It is almost
impossible to be assured that income is not derived from immoral means.
The ambiguity therefore that is inherent, even in church structures that
may be identified as theonomous, makes that identification uncertain.
Earlier, instances were given of the Uniting Church in Australia being
theonomous, in so far as its Basis of Union was concerned.
However, so far as its regulations pertained there was ambiguity.
I have identified the Alphington/Fairfield parish as theonomous, but
since I wrote that, there have been instances where some parishioners have, in my opinion, exerted influence of a
heteronomous nature. I do not want
to fall from my earlier description, but merely cite the above as an evidence of
The Uniting Church, being identified in its creation
as being doctrinally theonomous, the question remains if, from a doctrinal
perspective the church has, after nearly twenty years, remained theonomous.
I have suggested earlier that the early church may well have begun
theonomously, however it quickly began to unravel in a heteronomous direction.
The Uniting Church's initial theological theonomy is open to the same
unravelling. I am confining my
discussion in this chapter to changes in doctrinal authority.
Instances of administrative authority have been cited in Chapter One.
I shall discuss the changes in doctrinal authority in the light of
changes that have been made at the instigation of Assembly, and the Assembly
Doctrinal Committee and Assembly Liturgy Committee.
One of the decisions made early in the Uniting
Church's life concerned the matter of liturgical dress.
There had been a variety of usages within the traditions forming the
Uniting Church, varying from Street Dress to that worn by the
"moderate" reformers at the time of the Reformation.
This latter consisted of a black gown which was usually worn over a
cassock, with preaching bands, and where appropriate, an academic hood.
Often a scarf was worn. The
scarf differs from the Stole in that it is a strip of material of even width,
gathered at its centre into a narrower width.
The gathered section is placed across the back of the neck. The scarf is
a symbol of ministerial office - the preaching and teaching and the role of the
minister as opposed to the sacramental office and role of the priest-worn over
the black gown at eucharistic and non-eucharistic worship alike. The Street
Dress was the "radical" reformers choice, in which the wearing of
secular dress rather than any form of liturgical dress, on the grounds that
Christians were all within the priesthood of all believers and as all had been
incorporated into the body of Christ by baptism, so no one should be singled out
by a particular dress.
Street dress was worn with or without the white
After the inauguration of the Uniting Church the
ecumenical alb was introduced, "in the hope that it might develop into a
common liturgical dress recognised throughout the church."
wearing of the alb is the oldest of usages.
"Alb" comes from the Latin meaning white and is a white garment
reaching from the neck to the ankles. The
Ecumenical Alb is particularly appropriate to wear at eucharistic celebrations
with a stole, the latter being worn on one shoulder and across the body by
deacons, whereas for priests, the middle section was placed across the shoulders
and hung down similar to a scarf. The
stole indicated from at least the fourth century the office of the wearer in the
church. The Assembly Commission on
Liturgy in 1984 recommended that, "at services of public worship ministers
of the Word wear the ecumenical alb, with a liturgical stole."
commission stated that in encouraging the use of the ecumenical alb it was not
attempting to impose conformity. In
the light of a decree made many years later by the Assembly Commission on
Doctrine regarding infant baptism, it is significant that the Commission on
Liturgy in 1984 said,
"It (the Commission) recognises that ministers
of the Church will continue to make their own choices about liturgical dress
according to their conscience and their theological persuasion.The Commission
does not deny the legitimacy of the positions held by those who are opposed to
the wearing of any liturgical dress.
However, the Commission does emphasise the point
that if the individual conscience is to be followed, it should be the serious
following of choice and not simply a personal preference; and in exercising that
right there should be sensitivity to the whole church, just as the church at
large should be sensitive to those who take a minority position."
The above statement is in stark contrast to a
statement by the Assembly Commission on Doctrine, made ten years later with
regard to the practice that was developing in some parts of the Uniting Church
to refuse baptism until a child is of a mature age. On this occasion, the church
was not urged to be sensitive to a minority position, rather, those ministers
who found they could not in all conscience agree with the Assembly Commission on
Doctrine were urged to leave the Uniting Church ministry.
Of course we are concerned here with a different
commission and the matters are far more weighty than those on the previous
occasion, however, this shift may not only indicate a difference in the mode of
reasoning, but may also indicate a change in the attitude to authority that was
developing within the hierarchy of the Uniting Church.
In 1985 the Commission on Doctrine considered the
exclusion of the Filioque from the Nicene Creed. The Filioque is Latin for "and from the Son" a
phrase added to the Nicene Creed of 381 A.D. at some stage during the eleventh
century. They recommended to the
Assembly that this phrase should be excluded when the Creed is recited in
Liturgy within the Uniting Church. The
following Assembly adopted their motion. The
Eastern Church has never accepted the addition and it was thought that such a
move would remove one of the doctrinal issues that divided the Uniting Church
from the Eastern tradition. Apparently,
the Western Church not long after the formulation of the Nicene Creed became
uneasy because the third article of the creed failed to affirm the importance of
Jesus the Son of God.
Concern was expressed that:
"As soon as the Spirit is seen as detached from
the Son proceeding from the Father-full-stop, his nature remains totally
undetermined, for we know the Father only through the Son.It is of course
possible to claim that this is fully understood, even though it goes without
saying, but the Church's history is there to contradict such a way out being
viable.Wherever the "Filioque" was taken lightly, neglected,
eventually Romantics, Joachimites, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers,
Rationalists, Staretzes, Pentecostalists, Charismatics of all sorts have begun
to identify their visions, their consciences, their reason, their sentiment,
their conviction, their experiences with illumination by the Holy Spirit. Sooner
or later the spirits of blood and soil, of realm and nation, of race and class
felt encouraged to claim similar divine status."
The recommendation to the Assembly shows that the
above minority position was not accepted as sufficient not to exclude the
Filioque from the Nicene Creed. It
is interesting that the Uniting Church acted autonomously in regard to the rest
of the Western Christian world, however, the Commission on Doctrine was prepared
to recommend such a radical change from the past and overrode minority opinion.
Perhaps this is indicative that the Commission was from this early stage,
prepared to use heteronomous authority, or it may mean that this decision
indicates the beginning of a process.
However, whichever is true, it is apparent that from this time on the
Commission on Doctrine was prepared to make its determinations at times from a
The question to be raised concerns whether the above
actions of the Assembly reveal a falling away doctrinally from a heteronomous
position, or is this but another indication of the ambiguity to be found in a
church that doctrinally is essentially theonomous?
Although concerned by the possible implications
of the above for the exercise of authority in the Uniting Church, I personally,
am doctrinally in favour with the changes that have been made.
Theonomous people would be weak-group/low grid
people. Generally the Uniting
Church, in its Basis of Union, its regulations and it practice is Weak/group/Low
grid. There are however, people
within the church who could be classified as Strong-group/High grid.
The church tries to be a broad church, but inevitably those people faced
with the acceptance and tolerance of the church, experience the rest of the
church as perceiving themselves as "non persons" and tend to leave.
I estimate that with regard to Weber's analysis the
Uniting Church would be somewhere between his Patriarchalism and Charismatic
David and Newby,Howard., The Problem of Sociology,
& Co. (Publishers) Ltd. 1983) p. 181.
M., Economy & Society - An outline of Interpretive Society New York,
Bedminster Press.Trans. G. Roth and G. Wittich. 1968) p.245.
3. Ibid. p.182.
Ronald, Article:"Theology, hierarchy, and Power," in Theology
Authority, Ed. Richard
Penaskovic, Hendrickson Publishers Inc. Peabody, Massachusetts, (1987)
White, Leland J. Article:"Theology and Authority: An Anthropological
in Theology & Authority,
Ed. Richard Penaskovic, Hendrickson
Publishers Inc. Peabody, Massachusetts, (1987) p. 72.
15. Norman H. Murdoch., Origins of
the Salvation Army, (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee
Press. 1994 ) p.116.
18. Ibid. p.117.
Tillich, Paul Tillich, Theologian
on the Boundaries p.64..
Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol
Peel, Inevitable Congregationalism (London: Independent Press Ltd. 1937)
26. Ibid. p20ff.
27. Ibid. p.52.Congregationalism: A Restatement,(
London: Faber & Faber,
No date given.) (Sometime after 1953 as per notes)
Dempsey, Conflict and Decline (North Ryde: Methuen Australia.,1983 ),p.
30. Ibid. p. 21.
36. Ibid. p.177.
37. Ibid p. 173. Dempsey's note in support of this
statement gives reference to the General Conference Commission on the
"Ministry of the Church", in the Minutes of
the 20th General Conference of the Methodist Church in Australia, 1963. Appendix
Paper; "The status, authority and role of THE BASIS OF UNION within the
Uniting Church in Australia.(A discussion paper issued by the Assembly for
comment by 31st October 1996." The paper had its origin in the Advisory
Group on Church Polity, authored by Gregor Henderson, Assembly General Secretary
and Graham McAnalley, Chairperson, Advisory Group on Church Polity. October
39. Ibid. .19.
Statement by the Assembly Commission on Liturgy: 1984.
A Statement by the Assembly Commission on Doctrine: 1994.
Ibid .A Statement by the Assembly Commission on
Article in Trinity Occasional Papers, Vol iv, 1. Editors D.D. Galbraith, H.C.
Spykerboer,(April 1985: Published by the staff of Trinity Theological College,
Brisbane.) April 1985. p. 93.
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