Adopt the Belhar

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I am a convert to the Belhar Confession.

Initially I thought it to be a good statement in response to the apartheid experience that had plagued the people of South Africa. I also thought the Christian Reformed Church could endorse it as a “confession for them,” and perhaps for Reformed believers elsewhere whose experience was similar to that of the church in South Africa.

I have come to believe that my initial view was naïve and wrong.

The question is no longer, or even primarily, whether the Belhar Confession is good for South Africa. It is whether the CRC should adopt the Belhar as a confession for ourselves.

To answer that question we must take into account whether we believe the Belhar is biblically appropriate and applicable to the Reformed community in North America. That discussion has been under way for some time—first in our Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, more recently at several synods of the CRC, and presently in classes (regional groups of churches) and many congregational discussion groups.

I am a convert to understanding that the Belhar speaks to important biblical themes and principles: unity, reconciliation, and justice. We already accept these biblical themes and principles, but they are not clearly expressed in our historic confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort). The Belhar is much more explicit.

I am a convert to the conviction that the Belhar can and should be adopted by the CRC in 2012. After careful study, that is the recommendation of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, and that is the encouragement of the Reformed ecumenical organizations of which the CRC is a part. It is my own conviction because we have learned much about our own lack of unity as the people of God, our own need for reconciliation on many levels, and our own participation in matters of injustice, including racism.

Adopting the Belhar Confession would be a powerful testimony that we can offer to future generations of CRC members, to the world in which we live, and to present members of the CRC who struggle with—or are victims of—the very issues the Belhar addresses. The CRC can and should adopt the Belhar as a statement of faith because it expresses what we believe clearly and concisely.

Some have suggested that we endorse the Belhar as a parallel statement to our Contemporary Testimony, but that, in my judgment, is inadequate—for the primary reason that the Belhar has been proposed as a confession and not as a statement of conviction of just one denomination. Our Contemporary Testimony is just that—our testimony—while a confession by its very nature expresses and affirms important truths we share with other churches.

Confessions are ecumenical expressions of articles of the faith we together hold dear. It is time for the CRC to speak confessionally to the issues of unity, reconciliation, and justice—in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world—because sin knows no boundaries and, thanks be to God, neither does God’s concern for all those who have suffered the pain of alienation and injustice. Thus we can embrace the Belhar as a statement of faith we share with Reformed believers around the world.

Excerpt

Is the Belhar Confession merely a political statement expressed in theological language? Does it meet the standard of the historic confessions? See the author’s responses to these questions, along with additional questions for discussion, at the end of this article online at www.thebanner.org. The text of the Belhar, along with links to resources for studying it, can be found at crcna.org under Resources. Click on Synod Resources and look under Documents.

For Discussion

1. Are the roots of apartheid present in our society, community, and church? If so, where?

2. Rev. Peter Borgdorff believes that the Belhar Confession speaks clearly to the principles of unity, reconciliation, and justice—themes that are not clearly expressed in our confessions. Do you agree? Is that a strong argument for adopting the Belhar as another confession?

3. Borgdorff argues that we should adopt the Belhar because of our "lack of unity . . . need for reconciliation . . . and participation in matters of injustice, including racism." Share examples of where that is so. Do those examples demonstrate sufficient cause for adopting the Belhar or a confessional statement like it?

4. Would it be sufficient to adopt the Belhar without giving it the status of another confession?

5. Should the Belhar be adopted by Reformed denominations worldwide?

About the Author

Rev. Peter Borgdorff is Executive Director emeritus of the Christian Reformed Church.
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