Awarding Institution

University of Newcastle

Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The adherents of an ideology usually possess common ideas and values, and tend to cluster together as a subculture. Consequently they often experience difficulty in relating to the wider society which exists in the same time and place. Early in its history, Christianity encountered relational problems with Jews and pagan; controversies also developed amongst rival Christian groups. The persistence of this conflict caused H. Richard Niebuhr to it 'the enduring problem'; he also identified a range of typical responses, particularly in Western civilisation. On the two extremes are those Christians who withdraw and accommodate; occupying the middle ground are dualists, synthesists and conversionists. These solutions may be held in their pure form or in a variety of combinations. They may be influenced by a range of ideas about salvation, the church, eschatology, the relations of church and state, Christian history and patterns of thought in society.

The Christianity which was transplanted into colonial Australia was derived from Northern Hemisphere denominations, and experienced the persistent effects of distance, dependence and sectarianism. Divided by national and religious loyalties and antipathies, and challenged by a desacralised society, the churches tended to develop a conservative ethos which failed to address crucial religious and social questions. Denominational attitudes toward educational, economic and political issues may be used to identify the various stances which were present in New South Wales near the end of the colonial period. Selected Roman Catholic, Church of England, Wesleyan Methodist and Seventh-day Adventists perspectives are explored in the light of Niebuhr's typologies.

The solutions favoured by theses denominations were based on teh range of factors indicated above. For instance, the uniqueness of Catholicism as the one 'true' church was strongly presented by Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran; the inclusive strength of Anglicanism as a 'comprehensive' church was fostered by Archbishop William Saumarez Smith; and the idea that their church was 'chosen' to preach the gospel and engage in a war with evil was nurtured by the Wesleyan weekly newspaper. Nominally, these three denominations included eight out of every ten people in New South Wales. In order to illustrate the deteminative role which eschatological thought may assume in a religious group, Adventist ideas as expressed by Ellen Gould White are examined in relation to her idea of a 'remnant' church.

Each denomination was strongly persuaded by the merits of its own stance, and unconvinced by the strengths of the other religious options. Thus, Christianity tended to remain institutionalised and divided; it was therefore, often unattractive to secular Australians. It seemed more appropriate for each subculture of Christians to maintain its boundaries rather than to search for and promote a coherent religion directed toward meeting the evident human needs in colonial society. The experience of Christianity in nineteenth-century Australia illustrates the power of ideas to motivate and restrain believers; it also demonstrates the continuing usefulness of Niebuhr's analysis and the necessity for a constant reappraisal of 'the enduring problem'.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Thesis. The University of Newcastle

Staff and students of Avondale College may access a print copy of this thesis from Avondale College Library (279.4081 P27)

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