Another Confession?

Since the Christian Reformed Church’s inception in 1857, we have identified ourselves as a denomination in the Reformed tradition by what we call our Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. At our next annual leadership meeting, Synod 2012, we will consider Synod 2009’s proposal to adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession. Many congregations and classes (regional groups of churches) have already spent much time discussing the proposal.

The Belhar is not a lengthy document, only two pages (see crcna.org/belhar). It comes to us from the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa, which adopted it as a fourth confession. Our sister denomination, the Reformed Church in America, granted it confessional status at its 2011 leadership meeting.

The Belhar presents three prominent biblical themes: unity, reconciliation, and justice.

Based on discussions so far in churches and classes, we may anticipate that the discussion at Synod 2012 will center on whether to adopt the Belhar as a confession, whether to accept it as a document similar to our Contemporary Testimony, or whether to receive it as information about a development that has taken place in South Africa but is not relevant in North America.

I’d like to summarize some of the concerns expressed about adopting the Belhar as a confession, as well as some of the thoughts in favor of adopting it.

Concerns

First the concerns. You may have heard questions about the wisdom of accepting the Belhar as another confession when a declining number of our members are aware of the content of the confessions we already have. So why, people are asking, would we add a fourth confession when the three we already have seem to play a minimal role in our denomination?

The Fall 2010 issue of Calvin Theological Seminary’s Forum publication included five articles about the Belhar Confession. Two seminary professors commended the document for its strengths but expressed serious reservations about adopting it as a confession in the CRC. Professor John Bolt has reservations about the Belhar as a confession because it fails to highlight the biblical insistence on repentance, forgiveness, and faith as germane to reconciliation. Professor John Cooper believes the Belhar is subject to misinterpretation on such an important biblical issue as universalism. In his opinion, the Belhar is too ambiguous on the matter to be granted confessional status. In the June 2011 issue of The Banner, Cooper also stated other reservations about the wisdom of adopting the Belhar as a confession.

The perceived ambiguity of the document has been expressed in other contexts. The concern is that the Belhar is open to misinterpretation on more levels than universalism. Granted that unity is given significant biblical emphasis in Scripture, is the Belhar clear on what unity means for our relationship with brothers and sisters in other Christian traditions? Some insist that a confession be clear on such a major point.

Some ask if the Belhar might undercut the hard work we have already done to arrive at a clear and understandable biblical position about homosexuality. They would prefer that a confessional statement not be open to misunderstanding.

Finally, the matter of justice also seems ambiguous. We agree that justice is a major subject in the Bible. However, it seems to some that a confessional document ought to do more than simply note that Christians are to be just in all they do.

Support

Along with concerns, we can also expect to hear opinions expressed in favor of adopting the Belhar as a confession.

Synod will surely be reminded that the Belhar does not intend to add another doctrinal statement to those we already have. Rather, it is a call to action, a call arising from Scripture as well as from our doctrinal understanding of God's Word. A call to biblical action should be a significant part of our confessional position.

[The Belhar] provides what some claim is the missing link in our current confessions.

The Belhar thus provides what some claim is the missing link in our current confessions. By its call to action, it responds powerfully to the criticism that the church has lost credibility because of its emphasis on biblical doctrine to the neglect of Scripture’s emphasis that faith without deeds is dead. The Reformed Church in South Africa is a case in point. It held to the doctrines set forth in the Three Forms of Unity, while at the same time living in harmony with the evils of apartheid. The authors of the Belhar are convinced that had this document been in place, apartheid would not have been accepted as compatible with Scripture.

The Fall 2010 issue of Calvin Seminary’s Forum also included three articles by seminary professors who favor adopting the Belhar as one of our confessions. Professor Mariano Avila urges the church to walk in the shoes of those who authored the Belhar. They know from experience what it means to be relegated to inferior positions in the name of the Lord.

Avila refers to the Belhar as a “cry from the heart” of a people who suffered great indignity at the hands of Christians. He also points out that the issues of South Africa have just as much relevance in North America. Indeed, we continue to hear cries throughout the world from people who suffer from racism, alienation, and injustice.

Professor Lyle Bierma's article in the Forum notes the Belhar meets all the requirements we expect from a Reformed confession: it is a document we can confess together, it provides valuable biblical truths to be used in our preaching and teaching ministries, it can be a measure of orthodoxy, and it declares what we understand it means to be active in the faith as Reformed Christians.

Professor Ronald Feenstra points out that the Belhar “provides a clear witness to those both inside and outside the church, articulating the gospel message and its implications for authentic Christian faith and life.”

While it may be true that many Christian Reformed Church members know little about the confessions we already have and that we seem to have lost credibility as a church in the Reformed tradition, Synod 2012 will no doubt be urged to realize that the Belhar can restore the authenticity we seem to have lost because it moves the church from looking primarily inward (to its doctrinal position) to outward, toward the kind of action sorely needed today.

The Reformed Church in America’s adoption of the Belhar Confession in 2011 will also factor into the discussion at Synod 2012. While the RCA’s action does not compel us to follow suit, synod will likely take it into serious consideration since our two denominations are developing a stronger relationship.

While some express concerns that the Belhar will undermine certain Reformed theological positions—for example, on homosexuality—we should note that the document insists on a fair and just biblical base for whatever position we take. Since our position on homosexuality is rooted in Scripture, that should not pose a problem. The Belhar simply states that we believers in the Calvinistic tradition are firmly committed to the biblical principles of unity, reconciliation, and justice.

Delegates to Synod 2012 will need our prayerful support as they wrestle with whether to grant the Belhar confessional status. Cogent arguments question the wisdom of Synod 2009’s proposal to do so, but equally moving arguments support it. I look forward to the discussion. Whatever decision synod reaches, I pray it will enhance the ministry of the CRC.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Hoksbergen lists a number of concerns that have been raised about Synod 2012 adopting the Belhar as a confession. How do you evaluate these concerns? Do you share any of them? Do you have others?
  2. What reasons does Hoksbergen cite that would favor the adoption of the Belhar as a fourth confession for the Christian Reformed Church? Are these persuasive to you? Do you have others?
  3. How does the adoption of the Belhar by the Reformed Church in America affect the way in which we should deal with the Belhar? Should that make a difference in what we do with it?
  4. Synod 2012 has at least one more option other than to give the Belhar full confessional status or to reject it outright: it could decide to adopt the Belhar as a testimony on the same level as Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony, but not give it full confessional standing. Would that be a better option?
  5. Hoksbergen writes, “The Belhar presents three prominent biblical themes: unity, reconciliation, and justice.” Regardless of whether the CRC adopts the Belhar, do you think we are doing enough as a denomination to address those biblical mandates? Is your congregation doing enough? Are you personally? What does Scripture ask of us?

About the Author

Rev. Alvin Hoksbergen is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church.

See comments (23)

Comments

It seems pretty obvious that this push for the Belhar is not contributing to the unity of the CRC. I wish there has also been mention of Dr. Richard Mouw's concerns (former Calvin professor and provost of Fuller Seminary) about adopting the Belhar and the fact that is was not adopted by the PCUSA this past year because enough conservatives were still left at that point who recognized how it has been and will continue to be used as a weapon to advance the political purposes of the progressives.

There is now a petition for office bearers of the CRC indicating that they are not able to sign on to the Belhar as a Confession.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/crcna-belhar-petition/

The Belhar is pushed by those who want to move the CRC into a direction of a theological/political "social justice" movement that I find neither historically reformed nor attractive. These same advocates would also promote the CRC advocating political stances on:

- Climate change (pro-AGW alarmism);
- The Palestinian/Israel conflict (pro-Palestine);
- Political centrism (bigger government controlling more and more of society's decisions; Obamish);
- The United Nations (allowing it to more control decisions of member states).

Ironically, as Dave Watson also notes, the purported Belhar push for "unity" has the opposite effect among the CRC membership. And that's because the Belhar, and it's advocates, want "unity" on their terms, which really isn't unity at all, but rather sales pitch for what amounts to little more than a political perspective.

In all of this, too few are realizing that the CRC is morphing from a church denomination to a political advocacy organization. The words used to justify that morph are "turning faith into action." I believe in turning faith into action, and would suggest I have done that in my 32 years of law practice. And I believe my church should encourage me, even tell me, to do that.

What I don't believe is:

1. that my church should tell me exactly how I must turn my faith into action;

2. that my church's actions should be my faith in action.

As to #1, it is not within the church's Kuyperian sphere of authority to tell me how to turn my faith into action. Among other reasons it shouldn't is that it is not competent to do so.

As to #2, the church doing so is a Romanist tradition, contradictory to a Reformed tradition. It is also a political centrism position (aka, European political pattern, socialism, big government, ...).

If this trend continues, the CRC will reap exactly the opposite of what the pushers of Belhar intend: division and irrelevance.

Division because most CRC members do not want their church to make these decisions for them, and most CRC members do not want their church's actions to substitute for turning their own faith into action.

Irrelevance because the CRC will become predominantly a political organization, even though is incompetent at being that.

The CRC's strength has been developing theology and worldview, and that is also its proper jurisdiction. Why abandon the tasks at which you are competent in order to take up tasks at which you are incompetent?

Seriously: does anyone actually believe the RCSA “held” to the 3 Forms but got away with apartheid because of loopholes in 16th century confession-writing... or the BIBLE ITSELF? The Bible and the 3 Forms were ignored by unrepentant churchgoers in South Africa, period.

The reasons for adopting this right now are post-script to the original situation and openly political regarding the URSCA and the newly-formed WCRC. Let’s simply be honest about that. And, alright – maybe we do need a “group hug” moment in light of racism based on how our European-derived North American experience is seen by the rest of the global Church. If it expands the preaching of the Gospel, great! However, if we use or ignore the ambiguities in this statement to violate Scripture, God’s correction will be a hard pill for us to swallow.

This article states "The authors of the Belhar are convinced that had this document been in place, apartheid would not have been accepted as compatible with Scripture." If the church remmains committed to knowing what the Bible says, it will not need another confession to tell it what is in the Bible, especially one as ambiguous as the Belhar. That statement makes it sound like there was a hidden message that was only discovered because of the Belhar. If the church would spend as much time studying the Bible instead of the Belhar, I believe we would be better off.

Dave Watson informs us that "there is now a petition for office bearers of the CRC indicating that they are not able to sign on to the Belhar as a Confession." A petition is a totally inappropriate way of addressing this issue, something that smacks of the power politics of the world, not the church-orderly process of Christ's disciples. The same thing was done by denominational leaders in 2007 in response to an overture from Classis Zeeland about undocumented workers. The 2007 advisory committee would not allow the Seminary professor who organized that drive to address the committee and did not distribute the petition to the members of the committee or to synodical delegates. I hope Synod 2012's advisory committee does the same with this one. Shame on the officebearers who signed it. We expect better modeling from our church leaders.

George: There is such a petition and I signed it. I couldn't disagree more with your suggestion that it is inappropriate. Whenever someone objects to something by giving the reason "it smacks of," my mind automatically thinks that the objector has not much for a real objection.

What I find objectionable is that denominational decisions are increasingly and inappropriately made by Trustees and paid employee/bureacrats who are largely unknown to CRC members, a scheme contra to what anyone would gather from reading our church order.

I also find objectionable that the CRC is increasingly representing my and other members' opinions about political matters, e.g., UN mandates, global warming, middle east conflict, prisoner rights, etc etc etc. As to these matters, the CRC actors lead the church outside its (and their) areas of competency and outside their (Kuyperian sphere sovereignty) jurisdiction.

Shame on you for having the arrogance to decide you the one entitled to declare shame.

Yes, well, George V.W. is the same guy who, in the pages of the BANNER, said not too long ago that we should be a bit more supportive of killing unborn children. He's also suggested - in a BANNER Q&A - that politicking to get elected elder or deacon is OK (in direct contradiction of Belgic Confession, art. 31). I'm sure I could find other instances of lapses in biblical, confessional, and ecclesiastical judgment if I were to do a little looking.

So I can't say that I've been all that impressed with his views on what is appropriate for the church or its members or in regards to who should or should not feel shame.

That said, a petition is, by definition, a political act. It is intended to garner popular support to influence those in leadership. I am sympathetic to the desperation of those who have resorted to it as a way of making it known to Synod just what adopting the Belhar would do to us. I would far rather other means could be found. Unfortunately, the leadership of the CRC has been insistent on drowning out opposing voices on the Belhar to the extent Synod 2011 had to slap their patties a bit. I'm not sure what other means are available to get the message across with sufficient force to be noticed.

Like Eric Verhulst, I'm also not much of a fan of petitions for these sorts of things. On the other hand, it is more than clear that Belhar advocates have used the "bully pulpit" available via control of the Banner and other denominational communications (web site, etc.)--all funded by ministry shares--to push their view on adopting the Belhar.

Sending Peter Borgdoff around the country to "facilitate discussions"? Who are we trying to kid? This is lobbying, from the inside out no less. It would be like the federal government using tax dollars to lobby for particular pending federal legislation, under the ruse of "facilitating discussion". In both cases, it screams 'cheating'. How much more can we "smack of the power politics of the world," as George Vande Weit might say, who declares shame on those whose would dare sign a simple petition in opposition.

This denomination is much more top-down in its decision making than it used to be, and the heavy push from the denomination itself to adopt the Belhar is one of the manifestations of that. Not a good thing.

I just perused the CRC web pages, to see what's there re the Belhar. Stumbled on

http://crcna.org/pages/belhar.cfm

Wow. A very slick, multimedia, Faith Alive produced video that may say "join the discussion" at the very end of it, but EVERY deeply moved person in the video--no exceptions, as in 8 to nothing--speaks oh so passionately in favor of the Belhar. All to the backdrop of a percussion filled soundtrack with dramatic orchestra on the rise, and a visually appealing background. They even created a corporate styled logo for the Belhar.

The video starts with big bold declarations:

"Its time for UNITY in the Church," then

"Its time for JUSTICE in the World."

This is the kind of stuff presidential campaigns spend big bucks on.

And after all that, well, who can be so stupid and unchristian as to oppose the Belhar, oppose UNITY in the Church or JUSTICE in the World? Who?

Now, by George Vander Weit's reckoning, this is "the church-orderly process of Christ's disciples" but a bunch of website-less, local church officers signing a bland, no-media (well, black words on white paper) petition "smacks of the power politics of the world"???

Wow. The more I look, the more "power politics" I see, but it's where George Vander Weit sees it.

@Doug -

But..but..how could that BE? I mean, Synod told them to take a more even-handed approach regarding the Belhar!

Yeah. I know. Sad, when you think about it.

Eric and Doug have made several statements about what I supposedly said and what I might say. Apparently they do this in an attempt to escape the truth of what I actually did say, namely that there is no place for petitions in our system of government.

I don't spent much time on the web, but I watched the video that Doug references. It seems that this is an old video because Jerry Dykstra, our former executive director is one of the speakers. Perhaps it's not, but if I thought this video violated synod's instruction to have a more-balanced discussion of the Belhar, I'd contact my Board member or Faith Alive and depending on the response, I might even write an overture--all church orderly ways of responding. I surely wouldn't use the video to justify the existence and signing of a petition.

No, George, we aren't trying to escape the "truth" of what you said. We ARE saying that the decisions of the BoT, Synod, denominational agencies, and the BANNER have left opponents of the Belhar with few viable alternatives. Silently accepting this defective confession as it is imposed upon us is also not appropriate to our system of church government.

As for what you "supposedly said", I point to the following links:

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/article/?id=3030
(an article by George Vander Weit encouraging a more accepting stance regarding abortion)

http://www.thebanner.org/news/article/?id=2999
(the third question is whether elders or deacons may actively campaign for election to office and George Vander Weit answers essentially in the affirmative, as long as it is discreet and makes no reference at all to the explicit statement of the Belgic Confession that is a resounding "no".)

One more thing about George's proposed course of action - time constraints.

For instance, the latest BANNER editorial regarding taking sides is, to me, highly offensive. I have made a formal complaint with recommendations to the BANNER council. That council will meet in 3 months (Feb 9, 2012) to consider the complaint. By that time, this editorial will have been out there for 4 months, done its damage, and any retraction, modification, apology, or other remedy will be impossible.

So, he says we should complain to Faith Alive, overture Synod, send complaints to the EIRC. People did. For months. Nothing changed. Synod finally said something about it in June of last year. It's now November. One article by Professor Cooper in opposition to the Belhar in the BANNER and no substantive change in the activities of Faith Alive or the EIRC or the denominational leadership. The matter will be considered at the next Synod.

In effect, George is telling us we must use church order channels in such a way that our concerns won't be heard until after the decision is made.

Now, he could say that the Belhar has been out there and we've been free to express our concerns before now. Again, we have - but a fair bit of our energy has been directed towards overcoming the resistence to those concerns' open expression, as is witnessed by the fact that it took an act of Synod to get what little we've got.

So, as I said earlier, it's understandable why some in desperation have chosen the path of this petition. It would have been far better had the leadership of the denomination been more open to those concerns over the last couple years and addressed them rather than dismiss them.

I was going to respond to Eric's post and when I returned after finishing breakfast (I'm in Denver visiting our son and his family), there was another!! I hope this doesn't become a two-person conversation.

Eric says that opponents of the Belhar have few viable alternatives. That's not unique to the Belhar discussion. That's true of any matter proposed/discussed by our boards, agencies, synods, etc. There are indeed few alternatives. The circulation and signing of a petition is not one of them.

Thanks, Eric, for posting the links to what I said. Readers will be able to determine if I said we should be a "bit more supportive of killing unborn children" and whether I encouraged "politicking" at classis and in the congregation or whether this rhetoric is your account of what I said.

Even if I said what you allege, does it logically follow that "George was wrong about these things, so he's wrong about petitions, too?" I'm correct when I say that petitions are alien to our form of government.

Time constraints are a difficulty all of us face since councils probably only meet once a month, classes two or three times a year, synod once a year, boards a couple times a year, etc. We have to deal with that reality and use the means available to us. Eric made a call. He can also write to the Board since boards have an Executive Committee that makes decisions between board meetings. He can also write an overture. He shouldn't draft and circulate a petition. The very fact that synod said something this summer about balance shows what people say and do has an effect.

There are a number of avenues open to us. We should use them if we feel the need to do so and should suggest changes if we think there are better ways of conducting the church's business.

For the record, I have not drafted or circulated a petition.

I have said I am sympathetic to those who feel it is the only alternative they have, and that actions by those in positions of leadership have contributed to that feeling of desperation. I stand by that.

I have not discussed that petition with my council and have not decided whether I will personally sign on to it or not. It is likely that I will not - partly because it is an extra-ecclesial method and partly because it seems incongruous to adopt a political method to protest the politicization of the church. This, too, I have stated previously.

I referenced the other pieces to indicate that I find your judgment in such matters flawed and that there is a pattern - in my view - of surrendering Reformed principles to the spirit of this present age. To use such an argument now against those signing this petition struck me as the pot calling the kettle black. I do not know your mind, of course, but it is hard not to think this has more to do with the Belhar's equal participation in the spirit of this present age than any firm commitment to Reformed ecclesiology.

Finally, I am in process of drafting overtures in regards to both the Belhar and the Formula of Subscription revision. If they are approved by my council, they will be forwarded to Classis for consideration at the March meeting. Lord willing, they will help me avoid being forced to choose between subscribing to things I do not believe or leaving the Church of my birth.

George: You suggest now that the "truth" in what you say, that Eric and I are trying to avoid, is "that there is no place for petitions in our system of government."

OK, but so? Church Order doesn't ban petitions. Granted, Church Order doesn't specifically provide for them, but then it doesn't specifically provide for thousands of things that CRC people, congregations, classes, synods, the BOT, and church agencies do.

Certainly, CO doesn't provide for denominational agencies to lobby for the Belhar with slick, power politics-styled videos (plus other push pieces you can order). I can't imagine why you could not equally say there is "no place for" those things in our system of government.

You suggest to Eric (who didn't sign a "petition", I did) that he could write a letter. Well, that isn't specifically allowed for by Church Order either.

I would respectfully suggest you may just not like the word "petition," perhaps because you associate with some sort of political action that you don't care for.

Why don't we just pass over the word "petition," because strictly speaking, the document wasn't a "petition." It was a statement made by the signers as to their thinking about the Belhar.

I doubt, George, that there are many in the CRC who have attended synod as often as you have (attendance give you direct access to Synod). I also know of no one, with the possible exception for the editor, who has had more access to the Banner's printed pages than you. Including to the Punch Lines no less!

So maybe it would be good to give a little slack to those who aren't professionals at Church Order, feel like they don't have access to denominational publications (because they don't) and want to make their voice heard just a bit by circulating and signing a document that happened to have the word "Petition" in the title. Not?

My friends,

The Belhar presents positives and negatives. It may be a 'cry from the heart' but as good as that is, cool minds realize that when and if the Belhar rises to Confessional status, it rises to the level of church Law and Order.

My humble position is that it is not able to stand in this Confessional environment. Let it live in the arena of Testimony.

The last thing the Unity of the CRC needs is another conflict. It would be Unjust.

Might part of the dialogue -- beyond encouraging unity, reconciliation, and restorative justice (gender parity) -- concern how to participate, or not, in sanctions or consumer boycotts over Zionism or Middle East wars, so-called BDS movement? Ressembling anti-apartheid sanctions as to Southern Africa? Any such debate, perhaps, GVSU-Allendale ... as to other local campus communities? A question also raised w Leonard Sweetman.

see, e.g., work in-progress for grad-undergrad Nonviolence 101 Manual

http://home.comcast.net/~apartheid101/search.htm

Traditionally Dutch-language-oriented churches have ... moved to adopt an anti-apartheid stance. International Church Action Group for Peace (against Apartheid) in Palestine and Israel has energized first creedal supplement since 1619 AD or ACE, via Reformed Protestants — affirming the South African Belhar Confession. Reformed and Presbyterian Synods confirm South African Belhar testament barring political apartheid as heretical or anti-spiritual drift of RSA Reformed Churches, historically; thus concerning dialogue as to world’s three monotheisms; Apartheid, though an African-Bantu-Xhosa-Dutch-Afrikaans word, means much like its British English pronunciation sounds, i.e., Apart-Hate. See http://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=2552;; http://www.itisapartheid.org/; http://isaacandishmael.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html (Afrikaans); and http://www.werkgroepkeerpunt.nl/download/08-06-29_Keerpunt_Nieuwsbrief_6..., (Dutch); For words meaning “nonviolence” in Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and so forth, see Nonviolence 101 Online, http://home.comcast.net/~nonviolence101/, bottom, and, for contextual conflict, http://home.comcast.net/~nonviolence101/docs/1992%20PhD%201-9%20+%20Hube....

Paul's comment shows: (1) how interrelated the Belhar is with essentially political themes and controversies; (2) how deep the mud gets once we we decide to go there.

Make no mistake. The WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches), of which we are a member and which is the primary "pusher" for us to adopt the Belhar, is a significant POLITICAL organization. Do CRC members really want to transform their church denomination to be a significant POLITICAL organization? I don't think so. In all of this, the Belhar has been pushed from above, not from below.

By the way, WCRC is now also pushing the Accra Confession as well, another document that would move churches even further into so-called "social justice," where the concept of "mercy" disappears, replaced with "justice." Micah 6:8 gets re-written.

That's a very different world and I don't think many CRC members really want to go there.

It is not clear to me whether the author intended this article to represent two positions on the Belhar in an evenhanded way, but whatever he intended, he does not.

To point out a couple things, notice how he describes the opponents to the Belhar as merely "having concerns" and expressing "reservations" instead of forcefully "opposing it" as a confession. This seems to say that everybody thinks the Belhar is good for the CRC, but some think it's less good than others, which is not an accurate portrayal of the opposing views, I think.

Secondly, note how the positions of the opponents are presented: They "believe" certain things, or they are of the "opinion," or there is "perceived" ambiguity; they "insist" or "ask" or "prefer" ideas about the Belhar, and there are issues of how the Belhar "seems" to be. In other words, those who oppose are portrayed in this article as expressing mere opinions.

But those in favor are presented as expressing facts. Synod should be "reminded" of things in the Belhar's favor, people "note" or "point out" good things about the Belhar.

If this is how the two sides are presented by someone favoring the Belhar's adoption, it would be better to let someone else present the opposing views.

I am curious about the representation that “…our position on homosexuality is rooted in Scripture….” Whether the CRC’s treatment of its LGBT members is rooted in Scripture is the subject of much debate. When discussing the Belhar Confession, one should not assume this issue is resolved.

I was really puzzled by the various responses to the Belhar until I read Nick Monsma's "Over the Line: Why We Need to Say No to the Belhar" (Banner, January 2012). Rev. Monsma writes about "the best way to maintain the unity and purity of the church, clearly marking the line between areas of freedom and constraint."

I had not considered the maintenance of PURITY of the church as one of the objectives of the confessions.

If the church is indeed "pure," is there any need for confession of sins? If the lines between freedom and restraint have already been "clearly drawn" (in the form of a box maybe?) I have been misled about the importance of humility and the unknoweable in the face of a God whose ways are not our ways.

Rev. Monsma writes that we must consider what that would mean "in practice." The sense in which he uses the term "practice" seems to differ from the one to which I am accustomed. For example, the practice of medicine is NOT primarily what the physicians knows, reads, believes, subscribes to, but ultimately what the physician DOES with that knowledge, belief, and subscription to an oath. Rev. Monsma's "stepping over the line" seems more an exercise in rhetoric than a guide to ethical ACTION as Christians.

But maybe that is the point of opposition to the Belhar as confession: to avoid having to confront the need for action. "Affirm what it teaches...." but don't mess with the purity of the existing doctrines.

I just read George Vande Griend's comments (below). What I got from it is this: if you want theology and worldview, go to the CRC. If you want to apply that to public policy issues, don't ask the CRC for help, because applications are (or should be) beyond its purview. Just go to the Fox News Channel for the specifics. If Fox's philosophical underpinnings happen to be closer to Ayn Rand's atheistic, profit-as-god, anti-government laissez faire ramblings, or fundamentalist zealotry for that matter, so be it. Just don't let the CRC influence your political opinions because the CRC needs to stay pure in its abstractions. What price unity?

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