Vantage Point

Our Discomfort with the Belhar

We discussed the Belhar Confession at our regional classis meeting recently. I found it striking how much opposition I heard to adopting it. You’d think we were talking about a change to the biblical canon.

As we discussed the Belhar in our local church community, an older, wiser member made an interesting comment. He noted that the three confessions we Christian Reformed folks already have (the Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, and Belgic Confession) in large part tell us how to think or what to believe, whereas the Belhar tells us how to live. He noted that we seem uncomfortable adopting it because it will have some say in how we act day to day.

It’s ironic that this is where we find ourselves as a church today. In the Jewish mind-set, doing always held a higher place in life than simply thinking (or believing). In other words, when considering a text of Scripture the Jewish reader would ask, “How does this tell me to live?” A Greek or Hellenistic mind-set, however, focuses on the greatness of the human mind, on ideas and how to think. When studying Scripture it asks not so much how to live, but what to believe.

If you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spends nearly all his time focusing on how we should live, not on details of doctrine or belief. This should come as no surprise, given Jesus’ Jewish context and the fact that he was Jewish himself.

Over time, as it detached from its Jewish roots, the church increasingly adopted a Hellenistic attitude toward faith. Thus, obscure matters of doctrine moved to the forefront of theological conversation and filled many tomes by the Middle Ages.

In many ways our three confessions are products of that milieu. Contrasted with the gospels—which call us to live radically as Jesus’ disciples in light of the present coming of God’s kingdom—it’s not a stretch to say there is a discontinuity. Can you honestly imagine Jesus wishing to spend time poring over the Canons of Dort?

How refreshing, then, to find a document that rings of Jesus throughout in its endorsement of justice, of unity amid diversity, and of living in light of the reality of God’s kingdom. I say let’s go for it.

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Rev. Berghoef decided to extrapolate the superiority of the Belhar over our three articles of confession based on the comment of an "older, wiser member" in his IMHO essay, "Our Discomfort with the Belhar". He takes the easy path in debate when he appeals to an awkwardness that one might feel sitting next to a male with a face full of metal studs rather than to making any kind of argument about the validity of such anti-Belhar arguments. Instead he proposes a myopic view of correct action over Hellenistic tendencies of the Reformers, not assuming for a second, that the Hebraist must follow some set of standards, maybe not arrived at intellectually like the Hellenist, but certainly realized all the same. There is also a certain naivete in his argument to think that if we all just get along with the Belhar's inherent liberation theology that all will be well. Lastly, he insults all Reformed believers by remarking “How refreshing, to find a document that rings of Jesus...” Amazing, never in history has any such document existed. Wow. It has taken us 2000 years, but we now possess the Holy Grail.

Ironically, one would guess, this IMHO essay calls into question the wisdom of all opponents of the Belhar and relegating us infidels to mere fools by assuming this older man is “wiser.”. What if he wasn't? It's arrogance like Rev. Berghoef's that concerns me if the Belhar is passed. Maybe the column should have been titled, “In My Haughty Opinion”.