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Studying the Belhar in Iowa

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When synod encouraged Christian Reformed churches to study the Belhar Confession—in view of the CRC’s potential adoption of it—we took that challenge seriously. Two adult study groups in our congregation participated in a five-session study.

Overall we found the Belhar to be thoroughly biblical and useful. What follows is a summary of what we learned:

  1. During the 1980s, the CRC, along with other Reformed denominations, kept pressure on the Reformed Churches in South Africa and the Dutch Reformed Church to end their support of apartheid and to bring reconciliation, justice, and unity to the church in South Africa. We supported the work of the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa and its predecessors in those endeavors. That work, and the intentional work by South African Christians to bring reconciliation and a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa, is an important part of the history of Reformed Christianity. In view of that, it would be a shame for the CRC not to make the Belhar part of our own testimony.
  2. The Belhar raises important questions for the CRC.  Regarding, for example, how we treat our many ethnic groups (ethnic delegates and advisers to synod) and immigrants (both documented and undocumented), and the establishment of “separate but equal” classes for Koreans. We believe the Belhar challenges our status quo, forcing us to ask difficult but necessary questions.
  3. Certain misapplications of the Belhar Confession (in particular, the concern over whether it supports the practice of homosexuality) should not in themselves make us reject the Belhar, since any written document can be misinterpreted and misapplied.
  4. We did have concern that adding another confession to our current ones could open the door to a flood of new confessions, which could in turn marginalize all of them. And we did have some technical concerns regarding certain expressions. (For example, in the section on unity, the Belhar states that the people of God “share one faith, one calling, are of one soul and one mind.” The Bible speaks consistently of the soul of an individual and never of a shared soul.) But on the whole we found the content of the Belhar clearly biblical and Reformed, framing important issues for the church today and in the future.

In the end, we concluded that the CRC should adopt or approve the Belhar Confession in some way and use it to challenge our own practices and beliefs. Most, but not all, members of our study groups felt that it should be adopted as less than a full confession with the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort. Nevertheless, we would like to see it approved in some way and made use of in the life of the CRC.

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