Christ, Marriage and the Uniting Church

Published 19 June 2014

For Christians, human marriage is grounded in Christ. He is the great bridegroom who laid down his life for his bride. The church, then, is the bride of the Lamb, and these two are in a love union as husband and wife. Husbands and wives are therefore to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives are to honour their husbands.
Since all things have been created in, through and for Christ, this understanding is held to be true of all human marriages. Marriage is thus ontologically heterosexual, involving one man and one woman in life-long union. Such union is the ontologically ideal environment in which children can grow up in familial relationship with both their mother and their father, both of whom are fundamentally important for their child's development as a man/husband/father or a woman/wife/ mother.
To move away from this basic understanding of marriage is to move away from Christ. If a Christian denomination were to separate itself from this understanding of marriage it would be separating itself from Christ. By abiding in Christ the church bears much fruit, but if a denominational church does not abide in Christ it will be ‘thrown away like a branch and will wither'.
Within the breadth of the Uniting Church there are a number of groupings of congregations which hold to the reformed/evangelical faith confessed in the Basis of Union. For these groupings the above understanding of marriage is so integral to their faith in Christ that the two are inseparable. Were the Uniting Church to move away from its current biblical understanding of marriage these groupings of congregations would be led by the Holy Spirit to hold fast to Christ rather than to the Uniting Church as an organisation.
These groupings include EL250 congregations (i.e. congregations over 250 attenders), ACC congregations, PNEUMA congregations (Pastoral Network of Evangelicals Uniting in Mission Action, Western Australia), 3D Network congregations (South Australia), Hope Network congregations (South Australia), Migrant Ethnic Conferences of congregations (e.g. in the Chinese, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Korean, Sudanese, etc.), and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress congregations. Beyond these groupings there are many reformed/evangelical congregations who hold to Christ with similar convictions. I estimated that 90% of UCA people under the age of 50 belong to congregations in one of the above groupings.
In the last decade the Uniting Church has lost many members and congregations and downsized itself as a result of its ongoing controversies over sexuality. In all of this, though, the above congregations have found significant assurance in the Church's doctrine of marriage (stated by the 1997 Assembly in Perth) that "Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life". However, should the Uniting Church decide to depart from this biblical doctrine the above congregations would almost certainly hold fast to Christ and distance themselves from the Uniting Church.
In summary, it is Jesus Christ who defines marriage. If the Uniting Church were to depart from his definition it would separate itself from Christ and, sadly, consign itself to the dustbin of church history.
Rev Rod James (June 2014 edition of ACCatalyst)

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