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The proposed new preamble and the Barmen declaration, and why it matters

Jensen, A. (2010) The proposed new preamble and the Barmen declaration, and why it matters. Uniting Church Studies, 16 (1). pp. 63-70.

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Since the Twelfth Assembly of the Uniting Church, the new proposed preamble of the Constitution of the Uniting Church is being widely discussed. As much as I support the general thrust of the new preamble, I believe that there is a serious theological flaw in its third paragraph which we cannot afford to ignore. I also believe, however, that after theological reflection and debate this flaw can be remedied.

In short, paragraph 3 of the preamble speaks of the revelation of God in the laws, customs and ceremonies of the First Peoples. In order to identifY the serious theological problems arising from this, I shall discuss the new preamble in light of the Barmen Theological Declaration of 1934, which explicitly rejects as false teaching the possibility that there might be another source of God's revelation beyond and besides the one Word of God, i.e. Jesus Christ. This discussion will highlight some theological problems in the proposed new preamble and point towards a way in which these can be resolved.

This is important, because the preamble to the Constitution must be consonant with the core beliefs of the Uniting Church. As I shall argue in this essay, the current wording of paragraph 3 is at least wide open to, if not suggesting, an interpretation that is not consonant with certain core beliefs. This cannot be ignored, as the preamble to a constitution is an important text. Helen Irving points out in her work on the Australian Constitution, that a 'Constitution's Preamble is a singular thing. It carries the burden of mixed expectations. It should be inspirational as well as precise. In its current form, the preamble is indeed inspirational, but unfortunately lacks theological precision. And, as I will argue later, precise and sound theology is not an optional extra for the Church, but an absolute necessity.

It may be important to emphasise at the outset that I am not going to argue that there are any similarities between the authors of the new proposed preamble and the German Christians, or that the theology or intention of the preamble are the same as the false teaching of the German Christians. However, I believe that there are some structural similarities in the underlying assumptions and approaches which need to be identified and addressed.

The argument will proceed in three steps. First, I shall present Thesis 1 of the Barmen Theological Declaration in its historical and theological context. This will be followed by a discussion of paragraph 3 of the proposed new preamble in the light of issues raised by this. In a final section, I shall draw some conclusions and point at possible ways forward.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: United Theological College
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