Over the Line: Why We Need to Say No to the Belhar

Faith Matters
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The Belhar Confession was written by South African Reformed Christians in the 1980s. It declares the church’s opposition to apartheid (the forced separation of people based on race) and to the theology that supported it.

As a denomination, we are discussing whether we should adopt the Belhar Confession to stand alongside the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Synod, the Christian Reformed Church’s annual bi-national assembly, will vote on this in June 2012.

Before we adopt it, we must consider what that would mean [in practice].

We might agree with the themes of the Belhar: unity, reconciliation, and justice. We might like what it would say to other Christians and to the world if we adopted it. But before we adopt it, we must consider what that would mean in practice.

When we examine how we use our confessions in the CRC, I find that it would be a mistake to adopt the Belhar as a confessional standard. We use our confessions to mark the line between freedom and constraint in the teaching and practice of the church, and adopting the Belhar Confession is likely to cause us to step over that line on both sides.

What’s a Confession For?

In the CRC we use our confessions for many purposes: for professing our common faith in worship, for teaching the Christian faith to our children, for declaring to the world what we believe. But one use sets us apart from many other denominations: we use our confessions to clearly mark the line dividing where there may be variation within the church from where we must be uniform in our teaching and practice.

We allow freedom within the Christian Reformed Church even on significant issues like the ordination of women and the structure of the worship service. In fact, our Lord Jesus requires his church to protect freedom of conviction and practice in certain areas (see Romans 14).

But the church can’t allow freedom and variation in everything. Our Lord also requires his church to make sure that some teachings and practices are consistent in all congregations (see Titus 1). This cannot be done if every church leader has the freedom to define the message of Scripture for himself or herself.

Somehow we need to find and illuminate the line between areas of freedom and areas of constraint. To do this, we adopt confessional documents and require ministers, elders, deacons, and some others to sign a Form of Subscription agreeing to them. By signing this form, they promise to teach and defend everything taught in those confessions, without exception, and to disagree only by means of a formal discussion with the assemblies of the church. This “full confessional subscription” is our way of being faithful to Scripture and pursuing a church unity that includes both freedom and constraint—freedom in those things that are non-essential and constraint in the things that are.

Our practice of full confessional subscription has been at the heart of some major controversies that have shaped our faith tradition. Our theological ancestors have repeatedly defended full confessional subscription: at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19, during the Secession of the 1830s, in the Acts of Synod 1976, and even as recently as last summer. According to the instructions of Synod 2011, the new Form of Subscription that will be proposed to Synod 2012 must include “positive, declarative commitments to teach, defend, and actively promote the confessions and Reformed doctrine of the CRCNA,” and must take a strong stance on the “scope and binding nature of the commitment” (Acts of Synod 2011, p. 871).

We keep returning to full confessional subscription because we believe that it is the best way to maintain the unity and purity of the church, clearly marking the line between areas of freedom and constraint. The practice is something we should celebrate as our history, as our way of striving to be faithful to Scripture, as a piece of our definition of church unity, and as part of who we are as the CRC.

Stepping Over the Line

Should we begin using the Belhar Confession in the same manner? It might seem so.

The Belhar is structured in such a way that it specifically describes things that must be taught and others that may not. It also describes some of the marvelous truths of God’s Word regarding the unity of the church, reconciliation among people groups, and care for the disadvantaged.

But despite those strengths, we should not require full confessional subscription to the Belhar Confession. Using the Belhar to guide us between freedom and constraint would cause us to step over the line on both sides: exercising constraint where we should allow freedom, and giving freedom where we should exercise constraint.

Immediately upon adopting the Belhar, we would step over the line on one side—constraining teaching in areas where there should be freedom. We might agree on the major themes of the confession, but many in the CRC have found points that they cannot agree with. For example, I and many others object to the teaching that God “is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged” (Article 4). God, I believe, is God in the same way to all of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Are the disputed points of such importance and so clearly taught in Scripture that we may not permit any officebearer to disagree with them? This is a serious question. The church must protect legitimate freedom. Since the Belhar teaches some legitimately debatable things, it would be a mistake to adopt it as a confession in the CRC and force an end to those debates. We would be constraining teaching in areas where freedom must be protected.

The Belhar is likely to push us over the line on the other side as well, so that we allow freedom in areas where there should be constraint. In the first article of the Belhar Confession, which describes the unity of the church, we read that this unity “can be established only in freedom and not under constraint.” And according to the next sentence, “in freedom and not under constraint” means that the variety of convictions that arise within the church, among other things, must be seen as an opportunity for mutual enrichment. Different convictions within the church must be tolerated and even celebrated, the Belhar teaches; unity cannot be established through constraint, but only through freedom.

Throughout our history as a church, and as recently as a few months ago, we have affirmed the opposite. The Belhar seems to conflict directly with our understanding of church unity as a mixture of freedom and constraint, and with our consistent practice of requiring full confessional subscription. Down the road, when a minister is accused of teaching something that is in conflict with the Christian faith, all he or she would have to do is point to this article in the Belhar, which would be part of our confessional standards to which we all submit. The article says that freedom of conviction must be respected. How, then, could we tell a pastor that he or she may not teach, for example, that Jesus Christ was not fully divine? How could we even continue to use our Form of Subscription? The Belhar Confession would push us over the line, allowing freedom in areas where teaching should be constrained.

Other denominations might not face these problems in adopting the Belhar because they use their confessions differently. But we face them because we use confessions to mark a clear line between areas of freedom and constraint in the teaching and practice of the church. The Belhar Confession is not fit for this purpose. If we try to use it in this way, we will likely be unfaithful to Scripture by stepping over the line on both sides—constraining in areas of freedom, and giving freedom in areas where there should be constraint.

We can and should affirm much of what the Belhar teaches, but we should not adopt it as a fourth confession for our church.

About the Author

Rev. Nick Monsma is pastor of East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church, New York.

See comments (31)

Comments

Good article. Two more reasons why we should not adopt this as a creed or testimony for ourselves.

Amen.

I too say Amen. Thanks Nick for shining a light on these important points.

The three themes of the Belhar: unity,reconciliation, and justice are very important and need to be addressed confessionally in the CRC, but I agree that the Belhar does not do thast adequately. We can do better, and should attempt to do so. Adopting the Belhar is a quick and easy way to address these themes that will surely come back to haunt us confessionally.

I want to thank Pastor Monsma for this excellent article. I too am very concerned about The Belhar; I am including my concerns below.

So, what are we to do with The Belhar Confession? I have read the report that the CRC put out on the denomination’s website; I have read what the RCA and the PC (USA) have written regarding this document. I have read some of the blogs against and for the Belhar. I then decided that what I really needed to do was read The Belhar Confession for myself; compare the statements with Scripture and come to my own conclusions. I encourage everyone to read the confession; it is really quite short. I would stay away from any other publications, though. I am including my objections below:
Section 2
- Objection: At first, this seems right; certainly we would all agree that the only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through Jesus Christ, plus nothing. Yet, what do we do about sin in the Body? Would this phrase make it difficult to exercise Church Discipline?
- Objection: I’m concerned about the focus on “diversity” in this section of rejections. In the culture of today, “diversity” means much more than race, gender, age; it also means sexual orientation. We need to recognize the import of the word “diversity.”
- Objection: If a person who professes to be a believer in Christ continues to live a sinful lifestyle, the Church has the right and the obligation to confront that person in love. If the person remains unrepentant, then the final step in the disciplinary process is to remove that person from the church until they repent. It appears to me, that this confession would define the disciplinary process as “absolutization.”
- Objection: I’m very concerned about this phrase:” which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church. ” What is meant by “any other human or social factor?” We know that the homosexual lobby in our country is making significant strides towards being celebrated as an acceptable, even desirable, life style. This “social factor” could easily become a serious problem for the Church, if we adopt the Belhar. This very issue was raised in The Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa, the same church that drafted and adopted the Belhar. From the CRC Synod 2009 IRC report: “it was suggested that the Belhar Confession demands the inclusion of all people into the membership and offices of the church, including those committed to same-sex relationships. It is noted, however, that the synod firmly rejected this suggested interpretation as flowing from the Belhar Confession as adopted in 1984.” So, it’s great that the interpretation was rejected; but, I promise you this: that interpretation will rear its ugly head again.
Section 4
- Objection: Nowhere in Scripture does it state that God ” is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged”— to me, this unbiblical statement is enough to reject the entire confession. While we certainly need to love the poor and wronged and do all we can to fight for them; it is another thing altogether to say that God cares about them more than any other people group. What an interesting irony that a confession which is so focused on “diversity” would make such a blatant statement of support for one group of people over all others. Perhaps this is a good example of “absolutization.”

Wow! The Banner actually published this? Must be Christmas. I must be on 34th street!

Excellent work, Rev. Monsma! In a concise, logical and gentle way you clarify the opposition to adopting the Belhar as a binding confession. Thank you for putting the time and thought into this very important debate in the life of our denomination!

Thanks for the excellent article, Rev Monsma! This should be mandatory reading for every CRC elder and minister.

If either of the two issues this article mentions - the revision of the Form of Subscription and the adoption of the Belhar as a confession - pass at Synod 2012, it will mean the end of the CRC. Thousands of elders and ministers will not subscribe to the Belhar, making them ineligible to serve in office, and if the Form of Subscription is gutted as proposed, there really is no reason to be denominationally bound at all.

We must pray that God uses articles like this to shed light and we must work hard to share the value of our full confessional subscription.

Well said and well written. Thanks for your insightful understanding of the issue of the Belhar..

Pastor Monsma's confessional directive provides new energy toward
CRC-denominational identity. We need this for the survival of a
unified and harmonious church-structure, which used to base its mode
of operating on the validity of each and all the articles formulated and
printed in our Church-ORDER. For example: Regular Catechism preaching and teaching, Official Pastoral and Elder-visits with each family, EXTRA-
worship celebrations services etc. Such denominational QUALITIES were
"the envy" of sincere non-CRC pastors!

Except for two items, I’d say this is an excellent article, and the author is right to conclude that the Belhar is not fitting as a doctrinal standard.

The two things I think this article does best are to ask for the right criterion for a confession, “Somehow we need to find and illuminate the line between areas of freedom and areas of constraint,” and to show why this should be valuable to the Christian Reformed Church (of which I’m a former member).

The article gives a good example of the Belhar’s offering freedom where there should be constraint. But the first place I think the article is lacking is in the example of the Belhar’s offering constraint where there should be freedom. The author’s example, the Belhar’s statement that God is in a special way God of the poor, etc., really should be an area of constraint - but the Belhar has constrained it the wrong way. The Belhar’s statement is false. The confessions should make clear, and I think they do make clear, that God offers the gospel indiscriminantly to everyone, including rich and poor. The poor have not earned special consideration because of their poverty.

The other thing I think may be a deficiency in the article is that it does not suggest an overall criterion to divide between essential/confessional doctrines and nonessential/non-confessional doctrines. It is a challenging question.

I think the author does, however, approach an answer when he says, “We keep returning to full confessional subscription because we believe that it is the best way to maintain the unity and purity of the church....” I submit that in order to maintain the unity and purity of the church, the doctrines spelled out in the confessions should be exactly those that define the three marks of the church: gospel, sacraments, and church discipline.

The confessions should define the true gospel, define the nature of the true sacraments, and define the authority and extent of the true church, all subject to the Bible. (I would say that defining the gospel includes explaining election, as in the Canons, and perhaps in defining the authority of the church it is appropriate to contrast it with, say, the authority of government, as in the Belgic’s description of the authority of government.) The problem with the Belhar, besides a few false and unclear statements, is that it moves away from *defining* these doctrines and into *applying* these doctrines, and in doing so it confuses freedom and constraint.

This analysis is excellent. For anyone wanting to see more of where the Belhar would take us in the future, that future is already present. We are members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the primary cause for our considering the Belhar. The WCRC has already moved past (but consistent with) the Belhar by adopting the Accra Confession, a largely political document that makes even more clear that Belhar advocates really mean what they say when they say God is a especially the God of the poor. The WCRC would, for example, rid the world, US and Canada included, of free market economics and private property rights.

The Belhar, the Accra, and the WCRC represents Liberation Theology, a dramatic departure from where the what the CRC has stood for over 150 years.

Spend some time checking out the WCRC at wcrc.ch and the Accra Confession at: http://www.warc.ch/documents/ACCRA_Pamphlet.pdf

A well written article, but unfortunately based on some false premises as well.

Why in the CRC do we continue to put forward this mythology that everyone is unified on everything said in our confessions? It's blatantly not true, and if you asked most elders about the form of subscription and its signatures, I think you would find few that truly adhere to its every word (in fact fewer and fewer churches are actually studying the confessions in any real way anymore but that is a different story...)

What binds us together as a church are the Scriptures and that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour for us! That was the heart of Reformed theology! That the church and clergy lose some of its mediating and governing power to determine who is "in" the saved crowd and who is not!

The confessions guide us in that direction, but lets be clear - they are condensed human versions of what we think is most important in Scripture, strongly influenced by a particular history and context (much like the Belhar). They point towards Scripture but don't replace it, nor should they be on par with it! They are an important part of our history and CRC identity, but to somehow believe that they are the equivalent of Scriptural authority gives them a meaning that I am pretty sure was never intended. They summarize, but don't prescribe, our general faith statements.

So though Rev. Monsma is correct in most of his analysis, its a bit of a false assumption to state that all of the denomination must agree (or not) in order to give the Belhar formal confessional status. If that is the bar, then no confession will acheive it.

If adopted, it would be like most of the other confessions; some churches would highly integrate it, others would study it, and a large number would likely ignore it and continue doing what they are already doing.

Michael: Not trying to double back, but your suggestion that this article is "based on some false premises" is itself based on some false premises.

I don't think anyone, including this author, believes, as you say, the "mythology that everyone is unified on everything said in our confessions." In other words, its your mythology that that is a CRC mythology.

Monsma does point out "how confessions are used" in the CRC, but does not assert what you claim he asserts.

And if what you say is true, I would assume you surely do not want to adopt the Belhar, because that would only increase the power of the mythology you don't like?

We shouldn't have any confessions. All these things do is force one point of view on others and contribute to division. We dont need one group of people legislating what the whole body must believe. Were all have brains and can determine this for ourselves. Maybe adopt the Belhar as a testimony and leave it at that.

I am very thankful the Banner printed this article and I commend the author on his astute observations. The Belhar has been much debated, and many sincerely perceive a need to address race relations within the denomination. However, we must not dwell only on those things we find endearing about the Belhar, and fail to evaluate it fully.

I have several concerns with the Belhar:

* The Belhar repeatedly speaks of unity, as if unity is an end in itself, like solidarity, or like a social movement. The scripture references, however, speak of "unity in the Spirit" which is completely different.

* The Belhar asserts superficially with no explanation or scripture references that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church. While basically true, such a brief statement with no explanation is overly simplistic, open to interpretation, and could conflict with the existing CRC Form for the Profession of Faith (p.
964 in the Psalter Hymnal) and the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 22 which clearly explains the condition for membership of
this church.

* The Belhar uses imperatives to declare what "the church must" do. That is an expression of legalism. Do we take our direction to act from a man-made confession or from scripture? In contrast, I do not find such imperatives in the existing confessions. Further, The Belgic Confession article 32 says, "...Therefore we reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way."

* The Belhar addresses specific issues that are alien to us, in any specific sense, like "the forced separation of people", and "descent" as a condition for membership in the church. Nonetheless, the Belgic confession already addresses these matters, but broadly and basically rather than specifically.

* The Belhar asserts, "...God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged...". What does it mean by "in a special way"? Is God partial to the poor? Leviticus 19:15 says “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor
fairly.

* The Belhar contains unclear, undefined, or ambiguous terms and phrases into which anyone may pour his/her own meaning. For example, the Belhar asserts in section 4, "...the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need...". What does "any form of suffering and need" mean? If the Belhar is to have a specific effect, then its language should have a specific meaning. Otherwise, its future effects will be unpredictable with different effects in different times and places. Ask yourself if you would be willing to sign a contract for remodeling your house if it contained terms or phrases that were unclear, undefined, or ambiguous.

I would suggest that everyone do the following:

* Take time to read the Belhar confession carefully

* Read all of the scripture references contained in the Belhar. See for yourself if the scripture references accurately support the assertions contained in the Belhar.

* Compare the Belhar with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. See if you think the Belhar is clear and easy to understand.

If the CRC really and truly wants to say something substantive about unity and race relations, let's begin by using the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession.

RE: pdr & Michael;

The strongest argument for being a Confessional Church is the realization that people will *never* be in universal agreement. For the past four centuries or so, Confessional Churches have developed a minimum list of doctrines to which all her leaders must subscribe to maintain unity. Beyond this minimum list Church members are free to follow their conscience. Re-read Monsma's article... it does a great job explaining this.

The fact that a significant number of our leaders no longer can subscribe to this minimum list is the greatest threat to our denomination.

To paraphrase you, Michael, you mention that we ought not have any creed but Christ. Ignoring, of course, that view is itself a creed, you still don't have enough definition for any shred of unity... way too many questions remain unanswered. Who is Christ? Why do we need Christ? What did Christ do, and why is that important? How do we know of Christ? Who did Christ die for? etc, etc, etc. You might assume that these are pretty basic questions with universally accepted answers, but unfortunately this is not the case. Each one of these questions presupposes several dozen other questions.

This is why we cling to the Confessions - so that we have solid answers to life's perplexing problems. This is why so many of us strongly oppose adding the Belhar to our three existing standards. Rather than clarifying our beliefs, the Belhar muddies the water at best, and at worst it eliminates the water altogether.

Doug.

And I quote from above "we adopt confessional documents and require ministers, elders, deacons, and some others to sign a Form of Subscription agreeing to them. By signing this form, they promise to teach and defend everything taught in those confessions, without exception, and to disagree only by means of a formal discussion with the assemblies of the church".

This doesn't sound like a lot of wiggle room to me for dialogue, and it certainly doesn't create any room for the membership to disagree (really just the clergy).

Personally, I like the testimony idea by pdr. And I would like to see more emphasis on the relational side of Christianity as a means of evaluating leadership (the heart & the fruits of the Spirit) not just the adoption of formal beliefs (the head).

Hi Chad.

You summarize the situation and historical reason for adopting the confessions well. Honestly, I am not opposed to the Confessions as a means of illuminating Scripture or as a framework for articulating Christian theology. What I do fear is that these Confessions are given the stature of Scripture themselves - and to me this is dangerous.

Also, though many sign these forms, I think in practical application fewer and fewer members actually study them and know what they say. If that is the case, wouldn't it be better to have an honest dialogue with the churches to determine how they are nominating elders and deacons? I would propose it has more to do with how those Christian leaders treat others within the congregation, than their specific agreement with the Confessions.

As for the Belhar, you are right - it may muddy the waters further as another document that everyone supposedly agrees with as a condition of membership (which is clearly not the case as spelled out below).

Michael: Replying to your response, I understand your point, but two things: (1) you refer to what only ministers, elders and deacons have to sign, not members. (2) The confessions don't cover EVERYTHING IN LIFE, just some things. In fact, MOST THINGS IN LIFE are not covered.

Again, I do understand your point, and if I was the dictator of the CRC, I would actually cut down on the confessional material we have. On the other hand, I doubt either of us would want to eliminate the Apostles Creed (etc)???

Plus there is this. It is obvious that despite our CO (church order), we actually expect ministers, elders and deacons to disagree with our confessions. If we didn't, we wouldn't have gravamens and overtures. Now you might protest that these are too cumbersome (and OK, I agree), but they do exist and they do tell us we don't hold to the mythology you claim.

To a more important point, your concern about having too much in our confessions (and I've agreed) is certainly cause to adopt YET ANOTHER CONFESSION, like the Belhar, especially if it (the Belhar) is offered because its someone's "gift" or a "cry from the heart" -- and especially if it contains some doctrinal points which are simply unbiblical (God is in fact not a "special God to the poor" as the Belhar claims). Rev Monsma's concern focuses on the latter I think.

Rev. Monsma makes a very important point. I just recently joined the CRC having come from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, where we had creeds and confessions, those of us who served as Elder or Council member were not required to sign a Form of Subscription. Although some may view it as a simple formality that carries little weight, I, for one, would be reluctant to sign my name to support a document that I could not wholeheartedly accept as a true and accurate interpretation of the Word of God. It is a matter of principle and dedication that should not be dismissed as unimportant.

In addition, Rev. Monsma makes a valid point that if the Belhar Confession would allow teaching that is contrary to our understanding of the Word, adopting it could lead to confusion, misunderstandings and contentions, which no church needs. We need to be solidly united and have no reason to distrust or divide.

@Michael-

The Creeds and Confessions of the Christian Reformed Church are, in effect, boundaries. There is a great deal of room for roaming about within those boundaries as many things are simply not addressed. The Form of Subscription was intended to ensure that the leaders of the Christian Reformed Church hold to those boundaries.

They do not say that this is the sum total of Christian doctrine, or that there are no other Christian churches, though they do speak rather strongly on some matters of disagreement. They say that this is where we stand. In this, they form the basis for our unity as a denomination and are appropriately referred to as the "Three Forms of Unity".

The vague, ambiguous, and confusing language of the Belhar, as well as the attempt to include the Contemporary Testimony in the Form of Subscription, in effect blur those boundaries, and in some places eliminate them all together. Since those boundaries define the CRC, this has the effect of eliminating the CRC.

We must hold to the Confessions, and we must appropriately hold one another accountable to them, or we must accept that the CRC has run its course in North America and has no ongoing basis for its existence.

Just say NO!!! To the belhar.

Like, wow, man - we have some pretty heady dudes spoutin' some stuff on here that's pretty intense! Can't we all just get along? If approving the Belhar makes some feel fulfilled, then - what's the problem? Just words on a paper. The real deal is livin' it out, ya know?
Peace out...

@Peace & Love-

Yes, the real deal is living it out. But that requires us to understand what "it" we are to be living out. That's where those words on paper come in.

The Bible, after all, is also just words on paper.

Nick, as always, I appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to flesh out the discussion. Specifically with this topic, you helpfully point out that the discussion within the denomination seems to actually be a combination of two discussions: the boundaries of our shared confession of faith on one hand, and the Belhar itself as a theological document on the other.

I will admit that I was a bit confused, however, when I read the last couple paragraphs...mostly because I respect your logic and your general level of scholarship. I can't seem to understand how the Belhar opens up the door to a [potential] confessional requirement to accept doctrinal positions in contrary to the central tenets of the faith we hold. Frankly, your example of someone pointing to the Belhar to argue that Christ was not fully divine seems ludicrous, especially since the Belhar itself refutes your own example in Article 1 ("We believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit...")! Not only that, but we have other confessions that also inform and direct our doctrinal positions.

So, I'm curious: in your reading, are there substantial doctrinal contradictions between the Belhar and our other three forms of unity. I'm interested to hear you argue against it comparatively as a potential form of unity, and a bit more doctrinaly/theologically on its own merit rather than calling in a slippery slope argument based on an internally-refuted example.

Thanks again, Nick.

Rev. Monsma wants-- indeed we all want-- our confessions to clarify the essentials of faith. The HC accomplishes this and the Belhar, he argues, does not. He cites the claim about the "special way" of God with the poor as an example of the Belhar's failings.

However, deep as my appreciation for the HC is, there is greater Scriptural warrant for such a claim than for many of the claims in the HC. Honestly, I regularly cringe when checking the proof texts in the footnotes. The connections are tenuous at best. On the other hand, evidence of God's "special way" with the poor is ample. Take the Magnificat, for example.

Furthermore, Monsma fails to distinguish the statement itself from his interpretation of it. I don't read it as suggesting that God plays favorite. I read it as a corrective to our natural assumption-- that we can equate political and material abundance with status before God. (After all, when someone says, "I'm so blessed," they're not referring to the fact that they can't pay the rent.)

It's not just statements in the Belhar that need further clarification and interpretation. There are plenty of statements in, again, the HC that make me uneasy as they're stated. I regularly feel like someone could easily draw the wrong conclusions. (Every statement about God's wrath, for example.)

Words don't supply their own interpretation. Every text requires interpreters. And God knows humans are pretty lousy at it. It takes a communal effort. It takes a church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If the Belhar was to say that God asks us to care for the poor, which we often neglect, then it might have a point. If the Belhar says that God is God in a special way of the poor, then it is incorrect. The responsibility to look after the poor is part of God's special relationship with the rich who can help, as well as with the poor who can receive it. The special relationship with the rich, is that they ought not to be unjust to the poor simply because they have the power to be unjust. The special relationship with the rich, is that the riches are given as a gift to be used in obedience and gratitude to God. The Belhar simply mistates this.

Note: If anyone would like to engage me in a conversation about this, don't hesitate to look me up in the Yearbook or go to www.epcrc.com to contact me.

In response to Al Postma:

Thanks for carefully reading the article and trying to understand me. And thanks for asking me to clarify my last point. Surely I could have argued it more clearly, and I'll try to clarify below.

Before I try to explain that part of the argument, I'd like to address two things in your last paragraph. First, I don't have any interest in demonstrating a doctrinal contradiction between the Belhar and the Three Forms of Unity. I'm not aware of any (at least not clear ones), and the existence of such a contradiction is not part of my argument.

Secondly, I don't believe that my argument, properly stated, is a slippery-slope argument. In fact, for that reason I see that I should have used the word "could" instead of "would" in the last sentence of the third-to-last paragraph. My intent was not to say "If we adopt the Belhar, who knows what's next!!!" That would be a slippery-slope argument. Instead, I was trying to argue in those final paragraphs that adopting the Belhar as a binding confession would be evidence that we are not being serious about confessional subscription. And not taking confessions seriously is one of things so-called confessional churches do before they tolerate heresies, particularly with respect to doctrines that are contained in our confessions. (The history of confessional churches turning liberal demonstrates this.) For that reason, the illustration of the divinity of Christ is, far from being "internally refuted", a perfect illustration. The point is that because there is (at least as far as I can tell) a contradiction between our practice of confessional subscription and what the Belhar Confession says, we cannot seriously subscribe to that confession.

My argument goes like this (see below for further explanation of each premise):
1) Hypocrisy is a sign that a person is not being serious about a belief.
2) The Belhar Confession contradicts our practice of full confessional subscription.
Therefore:
3) To fully subscribe to the Belhar Confession would be an act of hypocrisy.
Therefore:
4) Fully subscribing to the Belhar Confession would be a sign that we are not taking our confessions seriously.

To 1: Imagine I were to enthusiastically engage in a public debate with you in which I argued the position that Christians ought not engage in public debates. I would hope that most people would leave the debate concluding neither that I am in favor of public debates nor that I am opposed, but rather that I am simply not taking the issue seriously.
To 2: See the analysis in my article regarding what our historic practice of subscription and the Belhar Confession each say about freedom and constraint -- they say very different things.
To 3: Since the Belhar Confession says one thing, and the CRC does another in our practice of confessional subscription, to subscribe to the Belhar Confession would be an act of hypocrisy.

I should conclude by saying that I am eager to hear someone explain how the Belhar can be reconciled with our practice of confessional subscription. Perhaps I am just all wrong about this. But even if I am wrong about my last point (allowing freedom in areas of constraint), my earlier point about constraining in areas of appropriate freedom stands independently. And that is, perhaps, a more pressing issue -- the one that is going to cause the most immediate trouble if the Belhar is adopted as a confession.

I will tell you all plain and simple from someone who is not white and dutch: if Belhar is not adopted the CRC will be condoning years of racism that already exist in our denomination. The Belhar is not perfect but it is good and draws us to unity. Heck, if its good enough for the Presbyterians and the RCA, why not us. At this point if we don't pass it, it will be more about what we are saying that we don't stand for than what we do. I know many of you will disagree with what I am saying, but that's because you have not been on the other side of racism...even racism in our church. We have a cancer in our denomination, passing this confession is only the first little step in acknowledging it exists.
If it does not pass, I might be so bold as to leave the CRC for its cowardice.

@ Jonah Sanchez

If I might ask, just how is it exactly that you believe adopting the Belhar will "draw[] us to unity", as you say?

And if I might ask a second question, exactly how do you believe the cancer of racism is manifested these days in the CRCNA?

I ask these questions sincerely. I look at my local (CRC) church and local churches I happen to know about, and find a number of races, cultures, and national origins, and I don't see (honestly) any manifestations of racism or even cultural-ism (which is different than racism). Are my local church and others I know of simply immune to the purported cancer?

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