Max Champion, a leader of the conservative confessing movement within the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), has died.
Champion was a leader of the orthodox Christians who stayed in the Uniting Church when it was founded 44 years ago, but who became critical of its direction. He was a leader of the Reforming Alliance (RA) and the founding chair of its successor body the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC).
Holding a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, Champion was a theologically credible leader. His thesis studied Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the knowledge of God – examining how knowledge of God means we are “liberated from broken self-knowledge for self-knowledge grounded in forgiveness.”
“We are aware that this news will be a shock to all as we remember Max’s profound wider witness through his public proclamation of the truth of the gospel, and his outstanding and steadfast support of the orthodox Christian faith, particularly through his leadership of the Reforming Alliance and the ACC from 2004 – 2013,” the ACC National Committee wrote earlier this week.
These reform movements within the UCA strove to resist a progressive tide within the UCA that dates back to 1982 when the issue of LGBTIQ ministers was raised at the (church not ACC) Assembly Standing Committee, according to the official timeline. In 2003, the Evangelical EMU movement raised a petition signed by 24,000 against a UCA Assembly motion, “proposal 84”, moving to have same-sex ministers, and accept differing views of marriage.
It took until 2018 for the UCA to adopt same sex marriage – at the first National Assembly meeting following the marriage plebiscite. Max Champion and the reforming movements in the UCA had engaged in a long fight.
“Despite setbacks and disappointments, ACC and RA have provided, and continue to provide, strong theological leadership and Christian witness within and beyond the UCA,” Champion said in his final report to the ACC National Council. “It is a miracle that ACC and RA have survived such a testing period in the life of the UCA. We were wise, from the outset, to speak of ourselves as an ‘evangelical, reformed and orthodox’ movement. It encouraged us to embrace the classical faith and theology of the ecumenical church, as confessed in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, and discouraged us from prematurely rejecting beliefs and practices among us that were strange to some of us. Our relative success in holding together different streams of theology and practice, is a sign of ‘unity in Christ’ that allows ‘diversity’ in matters that do not belong to the substance of the faith.
“The ACC is not judged by whether she is successful politically or numerically. We simply do what we are summoned to be by the God of righteousness-and-grace in anticipation of the new heaven and new earth that was promised to Israel and embodied in Jesus Christ as the one sign of hope for all people.”
Peter Bentley, consultant to the ACC sent Eternity these thoughts about Champion. “Max has had a significant ministry, of writing, sermon publication and speaking, but it is not widely known that he has also received appreciation and recognition from leaders in other denominations and Christian groups for his theological work, particularly through his paper on ‘Same-Sex Marriage and Gnosticism’ which was widely disseminated in a variety of electronic formats, with the published version receiving a Silver Prize for Theological writing at the 2012 Australasian Religious Press Association awards.
‘This article was typical of Max’s fine attention to detail and ability to communicate to a wide variety of people on a very nuanced theological topic. The article also reflects a primary ministry and focus for Max; that has been to help Christians think about their faith in relation to the growing number of issues that challenge the Christian understanding of our creation in the image of God as male and female.
“Max has been a champion of the faith and has not wavered in his testimony of and appeal to the faith delivered, even if this has meant significant opposition.”
Maxwell Lloyd Champion leaves behind his wife Ruth, and his children and their families:
Lachlan (Champion) and Kylie, Benton and Grady
Rachel and Ian Thomas, Owen
Tanya and Stuart Bannister, Liam and Eva
Marcus (deceased), wife Abbey, and children Willow and Grace.
Editor’s Note: Max Champion went by the pseudonym “Psuedo-Maximus” in writing the column “Public Square” for the ACCatalyst magazine which I edited for five years while starting Eternity. He wrote a great opinion column, displaying his wide theological knowledge and political awareness. John Sandeman