Synod Gives Belhar Discussion More Direction

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Synod 2011 instructed the denomination’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) to “foster a balanced denominationwide discussion on the adoption of the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession.”

Next year’s synod will decide whether to accept the Belhar Confession as the Christian Reformed Church’s fourth confessional standard.

Rev. Timothy Toeset: “We believe that the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee will deal with this appropriately.”

Karen Huttenga

Synod was responding to an overture (request) from Classis Heartland. According to grounds for the overture, a more balanced discussion is needed because official CRC communications about the Belhar have focused on promoting it, rather than considering its “merits and liabilities.” Synod did not include those grounds in its instruction.

Several delegates observed that there has been ample time for congregations to study the Belhar, and now little time remains.

“We tried to leave this instruction open-ended,” said Rev. Timothy Toeset, Classis Pacific Northwest and reporter for the committee that considered the overture. “We believe that the EIRC has heard [the] concerns and will deal with this appropriately.”

“I wonder if this is not an attempt to reverse the decision of Synod 2009,” said Elder Fronse Pellebon Smith, Classis Holland.

Synod 2009 proposed adopting the Belhar following a three-year study period.

For more coverage while synod is in session, including webcasts, photos, discussion forums, reports, and more, see the Synod 2011 website.

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. She has reported on synod, the annual decision-making gathering of the CRC, for many years.

See comments (8)


I`m not that familiar with the Belahr confession but after looking quickly noted that it says:

- Not race "or any other human or social factor" should divide followers of Jesus Christ.

The following are the discussions that the Reformed church had before adopting the Belhar confession as one of theirs:
`The confession wanders from Reformed teachings by not stressing the cross of Jesus Christ as "the source and fountain of all reconciliation," said Walter Rozeboom, an elder at Providence Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
"It says both too much and too little," said the Rev. Murray Moerman, a missionary from Canada.`
Debate was divided, fueled in part by concerns about how the "ambiguous" confession might apply to the church's ongoing discussion on homosexuality. Though the Belhar was drafted amid apartheid in 1980s South Africa, the "any other human or social factor" clause rankled some delegates.
One of the Belhar's authors last year claimed in a report on homosexuality to the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa that the confession supports gays in church. Though the South African church dispelled that idea, the concern remains.`

Are these not great causes for concern?!

Rose, those are GREAT causes for concern. I appreciate your posting and your worries about the Belhar. I continue to be confused as to why we should consider adopting it in the first place. The discussion has been framed to put the burden on those opposed to the adoption of it rather than on those in favor, where it belongs. If one wants to add to the formal confessions of the church then one must make a strong case in favor of the addition, I have not heard this case made.

We do not need individual confessions speaking to individual sins and concerns, we have three strong confessions and an even stronger Word of God. We don't need a vague document that gives rise to a host of other issues. Don't adopt it as a confession or testimony. I pray for wisdom for next year's Synod.

I think it should be noted here and in the upcoming Synod Banner that the Belhar was defeated in the mainline PCUSA (it did not get the required 2/3rds necessary to add a confession). Conservatives in the PCUSA (who would probably be progressives in the CRC) recognized its liabilities, especially in regards to the push to accept ordination of those in same-sex relationships.

Why get so hot and bothered about this Belhar thing. It's a nice statement for promoting justice in our world, as indicated by the words “not race or any other human or social factor should divide followers of Jesus Christ”. This line is definitely in sync with Jesus’ message, as his teachings are radical and earth-shaking. If we truly want to be his disciples we have to be willing to accept and love all persons equally, especially those different than ourselves. I agree that it’s too divisive to try and make Belhar a confession, but people are reading too much into it. I say just accept it as another testimony statement.

What concerns me are statements like "stressing the cross of Jesus Christ as the source and fountain of all reconciliation”. This type of churchese does not relate to the world out there. Let’s talk about the gospel message in plain English and not in metaphors that are difficult to understand. At the same time we should stop throwing out all sorts of out-of-context bible texts to promote our individual views. Maybe the Holy Spirit is moving in our society to gather all people to Jesus and to change the heart of a stubborn denomination.

I believe it is incorrect to say, as in the last line, that synod 2009 proposed adopting the Belhar. Synod proposed studying the Belhar for 3 years and then to decide whether we should formally adopt it. I have heard repeatedly that it's been proposed for adoption by 2009 and that's been the line from those leading discussions around the denomination as well. Proposing it was the best way to get the congregations to engage with it. Synod 2012 has to decide--after all the discussions--whether we want to adopt this as our 4th confession.

I think we should adopt the Belhar. And I think we should adopt it in the context of the other 3 confessions, not in isolation from them. In this sense, it does not have to stand alone as a confession, but stand with our other confessions to complete what is missing in them.
Remember the Belhar was written in the context of a church that had our same 3 confessions and yet supported the doctrine of apartheid. This is terribly sobering.
Besides dealing with issues of racial and cultural justice (still looming issues in North America, IMHO), it deals beautifully with unity in the Church in ways none of our confessions do adequately (again IMHO). It does so in ways that are theologically sound and pastorally necessary.
Finally, the slippery-slope arguments can be easily dealt with since our denomination has made clear and consistent statements on the issues in question.

I remain amazed that this is still an issue.
My question is if we can not elevate "Our World Belongs to God" to confessional status why in the world are we spending so much time on this?
I would much rather see us spend time working on elevating Our World Belongs to God" to a confessional state.

Given that Synod also adopted the Diversity standard of racial quotas in hiring, I don't think we *CAN* adopt the Belhar which, among other things, states that "we reject any doctrine...which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church."

I think the Belhar is flawed for several reasons, but if we're going to adopt it, we should adhere to it.