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Synod 2012 to Decide on Adopting Belhar Confession

After three years of discussion and debate, Synod 2012 (the church’s annual leadership meeting) will vote on whether to adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth doctrinal standard for the Christian Reformed Church.

The report recommending the adoption of the Belhar comes from the CRC’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC). The Belhar comes with an accompanying letter to give a North American contextual introduction.

The Belhar was written in South Africa during the 1980s when the “colored” Dutch Reformed Mission Church (which is now part of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) declared that apartheid was a heresy and a misrepresentation of the gospel. Apartheid was a system of forced racial segregation that maintained the rule of a white minority over the black majority in South Africa. The Dutch Reformed Church, the “white” denomination, was associated with that system.

The EIRC’s report noted that a history of discrimination is not unique to South Africa. “All who know something about the respective histories of Canada and the United States can recall the stories of injustice, discrimination, and marginalization that most often were inflicted on members of ethnic minorities,” the report said.

Already in 1984, what was then the Interchurch Relations Committee noted for synod that the Belhar was “in essential accord with the declarations on race issued by . . . synods of the CRC.” Synod 1990 endorsed the evaluation of the Belhar “as in harmony with ‘the Reformed faith as a body of truth’ articulated in the historic Reformed confessions,” according to the report.

The EIRC pointed out that there is “substantial consistency in the content of synod’s decisions concerning matters of racial justice and what is confessed in the language of the Belhar Confession.” Among those decisions was the adopting in 1996 of an extensive report that articulated biblical and theological principles for the development of a racially and ethnically diverse family of God, a report that continues to be distributed to synod delegates each year.

Regarding concerns raised about language that states “that God . . . is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged,” the EIRC said that this statement is fully consistent with what is written in Isaiah 6 and Luke 4. “It is a confessional statement of God’s concern for special need and not a limiting statement for God’s providential care as experienced by all.”

The committee said that the Belhar fills a significant gap in our confessional heritage, because significant biblical themes of unity, reconciliation, and justice are larger in Scripture than some of the other themes in our historic confessions. “For example,” the report stated, “Scripture is less explicit about total depravity than the obligation for God’s people to live in unity.”

 There are requests (overtures) coming to synod from 22 of the denomination’s 47 classes (regional groups of churches), many requesting that synod not adopt the Belhar at the status of a confession, but many of those overtures suggest adopting it as a testimony instead, similar to the status of the Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God.

The EIRC believes that speaking confessionally to issues such as unity and justice is different from affirming or endorsing the Belhar as a testimony. It also pointed out that the Contemporary Testimony is a document written by the CRC for the CRC, and was not written as a confession for the global Reformed community. When adopting the Belhar was proposed by Synod 2009, that synod rejected the option of adopting it as a testimony by a 75 percent majority.

If adopted, it would join the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort, all of which were written during one 60-year period between 1561 and 1619. It would also be the first confession to come from the Reformed church in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Belhar has been adopted by the Reformed Church in America and is used in the Presbyterian Church (USA), though not formally adopted as a confession.

All materials regarding Synod 2012 will be available in the Agenda for Synod 2012, posted online at crcna.org and sent in print to every church.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (9)

Comments

So first there is the report (that anyone who so choses could read), but then the powers that be in the denominational bureaucracy have to also do a "report for the people" via the Banner? This article is clearly a pitch piece intended to cause readers to wonder just why in the world Synod wouldn't adopt this obviously fantastic and unobjectionable confession?

Is this reporter, or another for The Banner, going to do another article that takes the vantage point of the many classical overtures against the Behlar (that greatly outnumber the overtures in favor, BTW).

Why can't our denominational bureaucracy decide to just let let congregations and classes do their job regarding the Belhar? What gives The Banner the right, having been funding by ministry shares of all, including those opposing the Belhar, to be the advertising agency for one side of discussion?

It's bad enough that study committees get stacked. Does The Banner need to heap on even more?

@ Doug -

When I first saw the title given to this article I thought, "Uh duh! How is this news?" But then I read the article, and I believe that your analysis is on-target. This isn't a news piece...this is an editorial masked as a news piece. It's an opportunity given to the EIRC to "rebut" the overtures that have been published outside the bounds of Synod.

It's a "stunt" like this that makes so many cynical in the CRC.

As a report, the above article should have mentioned some facts. 1. Such as is there just one overture from each of the 22 classes on this issue, or do some classes have more than one? 2. How many of those suggest it be adopted as a testimony? 3. How many overtures ask for the belhar to be adopted?
4. What were the objections raised by the overtures?
5. What are the stated responses of the overtures to the EIRC's claims?

How does the recommendation of one committee warrant such a "summing up", compared to the recommendations of at least 22 separate overtures?

Supposing the EIRC recommendations were stated first, and then the conclusions and reasoning of the overtures that disagreed. Would the psychological impact of this article be different?

I think what can make people cynical is seeing other folks always assuming the worst possible motives in others. Last I heard, the "denominational bureaucracy" does not run the Banner, except for the agency pages in the middle. This appears to be a summary of a report comign to synod, the same as others that have appeared at various times. Obviously the report comign to synod is in favour of the Belhar, so duh, as one person put it, a summary of it is also going to be pro-Belhar. Sometimes something is simply what it is, not part of some evil conspiracy.

I think what can make people cynical is seeing other folks always assuming the worst possible motives in others. Last I heard, the "denominational bureaucracy" does not run the Banner, except for the agency pages in the middle. This appears to be a summary of a report comign to synod, the same as others that have appeared at various times. Obviously the report comign to synod is in favour of the Belhar, so duh, as one person put it, a summary of it is also going to be pro-Belhar. Sometimes something is simply what it is, not part of some evil conspiracy.

Lookforthebest, glad you are optimistic. We do need that. The critique was not primarily about motives; it was about the content of the article. Was the article only summarizing the report? or was it about what Synod is voting on? While you are right that the article concentrated on the report, that is really the problem. Why would it concentrate on the report, and not give space to the overtures against it? We have after all already had lots of opinions on the Belhar itself, both pro and con.

Why not just refer people to the report? When a summary is given, it is always colored by the opinion of the report itself, and so it becomes an opinion on the Belhar by default. Stressing one opinion at the expense of the opposite opinion devalues and marginalizes the other opinion in a denominational magazine. As least so it seems. And perception rules (as any crc politician will tell you).

Hi,

My heart sinks many times as I read comments and articles in this Banner..DOUG VANDE GRIEND would you please email me..@ lighthouseprayer@hotmail.com

thanks very much

not sure if this will even go thru as it seems they have blocked me from this site..we will try..

I think the article was simply to summarize the report because a lot of people don't get a synod agenda or look on the worldwide web for these things. And it DOES mention that there are a lot of overtures. I don't think the article was ever intended to express an opinion, just to report on the fact that this is what the report says and it's going to synod. There are links to the report, for those who want to read the whole report.

But when I read the comments on some of these articles, it appears that 1) some people must have a lot of time on their hands because they comment repeatedly on several different articles. 2) There seems to be some people who go out of their way to find negative things to say about the CRC, denominational leaders, the Banner, and any other commenter who disagrees with them.

I don't favor the Belhar because I believe It's always going to keep racism a raw issue in the church that we can't get over and heal from. Not to mention, open the door to homosexuality as it has been used in the past to do.

If the Belhar should pass synod. I believe churches should act independently and opt out, by not instating the Belhar.

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