THE BASIS OF UNION:
By J Davis McCaughey
Introduced and Edited by Andrew Dutney
Why is this Commentary on the Basis of Union worth reading?
Why would we want to re-publish this little commentary on the Basis of Union? More to the point, why would you want to read it, forty five years after it went into print?
There are a few obvious reasons – ones that occurred to me when it first came into my possession in 2011 courtesy of a retired colleague who was sorting out his library. In the first place, it’s a commentary on the Basis of Union by Davis McCaughey, who was the person largely responsible for drafting the Basis and whose particular vision of the faith and mission of the church and the purpose of church union is woven through its eighteen brief paragraphs. Anything he wrote on the Basis of Union is worth reading.
Secondly, this short 1971 commentary is historically interesting since it was published at the same time as the final version of the Basis of Union itself. It was included in The Church Union Study Kit, published by the Joint Commission on Church Union to assist members and congregations in the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches understand the matters that they were soon to make a decision about. So, in addition to this little commentary, the kit included a leaders’ guide for a three-session discussion group process, a description of the journey towards church union, answers to what were expected to be frequently asked questions, an explanation of the voting procedures, and a report from the Joint Constitution Commission. All of that’s historically interesting, including this little commentary on the Basis of Union.
Thirdly, unlike the longer Commentary on the Basis of Union that Davis McCaughey published in 1980, this one is not addressed to members of the Uniting Church. It’s addressed to Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian readers who were being asked to make up their minds about church union. There’s an energy and urgency about this one that reflects that moment in history. Here he is casting a vision. He is encouraging and persuading. For this reason this commentary is different to the others that followed the formation of the Uniting Church and adds something important to our understanding of the Basis of Union.
But there’s another, less obvious reason why I hoped to see this little commentary re-published and why I think you might want to read it. It only became clear to me in the last few years, as I had the privilege of getting to know the UCA and our partner churches in much greater depth as President of the Thirteenth Assembly.
The completion of the voting process and the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977 did not bring to an end the need for Christian people to make up their minds about the Basis of Union. The fact is, every year there are more Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian people trying to decide whether or not to become part of the Uniting Church in Australia. They come from places like Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Korea, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Syria, or South Sudan. Some also come from places like England, Scotland or the United States of America. They come with well-formed denominational identities only to discover that their denomination is no longer available to them in Australia. Instead, there is this Uniting Church. In some ways it is like the denomination they know and identify with. But in many ways it is also very different. In addition there are people from many, many other denominational backgrounds who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves needing or wanting to consider becoming part of the Uniting Church.
In a sense all these people are being asked to go through the same process that Australian Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian people did in 1977 and in the years after that: to “enter into union” with people of other denominations, traditions and cultures in “witness to that unity which is both Christ’s gift and his will for the Church” (Basis of Union paragraph 1). Why would they do that? Why would they willingly give up their denominational identity? What vision of the faith and mission of the church and of the life of Christian discipleship would cause them to do that and sustain them in the challenging process of becoming one body in Christ with these strangers?
Well, this little commentary, first published in 1971, shows how the Basis of Union casts that vision. I think you’ll appreciate reading it.