It’s been almost 400 years since the Christian Reformed Church has added a new confession. We did formulate a contemporary testimony called “Our World Belongs to God” in 1986, but it was not adopted as a confession.
Other Reformed denominations have not been so reluctant to take this step. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), of which the CRC is a member, lists four confessions adopted in the 20th century by a number of its member denominations. These include the Barman Declaration, arising in 1934 over the German church’s interface with the Nazi regime; two Korean Unification Declarations in 1973 and 1988; and the Belhar Confession, arising out of the Apartheid injustices in South Africa.
A term frequently used in Reformed circles to refer to conditions serious enough to warrant confessional formulation is status confessionis. The church issues a warning that something is so important it pertains to the very core and integrity of our faith. We want to help each other, warn each other, in order not to fall into a trap.
Such were the conditions in South Africa under Apartheid in 1982. The black daughter denominations of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) not only faced virulent racism and the injustice of the South African government, but the Dutch Reformed mother church justified this discrimination through biblical interpretation. Out of this experience these daughter churches unified, forming the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa. They formulated the Belhar Confession, adopted it, and requested other Reformed denominations, including the CRCNA, to adopt it as well. Many Reformed leaders saw the Belhar Confession as a gift to the broader church in addressing the global issues of poverty, injustice, racism, and disharmony among believers.
Belhar has been adopted by Reformed denominations in Belgium and Germany, and by WARC. It is under study for eventual adoption by the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and is expected to be reconsidered in the next few years by the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC).
The CRC’s Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) has had Belhar under review since 1982. IRC has declared the confession to be consistent with Scripture, our other confessions, and previous Acts of Synod. It has also recommended approval by the REC and indicated a desire to study this further in cooperation with the RCA. However, it has not yet set a timetable or plan for formal adoption by the CRC’s synod.
It’s time for our denomination to take action.
To read the full text of the Belhar Confession, see http://www.warc.ch/pc/20th/02.html. (The CRC is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.)