Because Synod 2012 has been requested to adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession for the Christian Reformed Church, CRC officials are asking churches to ramp up discussions on the document.
“The level and number of the Belhar Confession discussions in the denomination is on the rise,” said Rev. Peter Borgdorff, executive director emeritus of the CRC and the person spearheading discussions on the Belhar. “We have met with about half of the classes and a number of congregations.”
At the same time, he said, his sense is that “most of the membership of congregations are still relatively unaware of the discussion and even less what the Belhar Confession is about.”
Originally adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa, the Belhar Confession addresses the themes of unity, reconciliation among Christians worldwide, and the justice that God desires in his world. Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing agency of the CRC, has available a range of resources to help people understand the Belhar.
The debate over whether to adopt the Belhar Confession has spurred discussion of the church’s other historic statements of belief, says Rev. Lyle Bierma, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary.
The dialogue has encouraged people to take a fresh look at the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession, and the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God.
“This discussion on the Belhar has helped to make people interested in what it means to be a confessional church,” said Bierma, who is among those who have spoken to churches and classes (regional groups of churches) about the Belhar.
“As far as where I have spoken, there has been an acceptance of the Belhar, once people really understand it,” said Bierma. “The opinion varies on whether it should be adopted as a confession or maybe accepted as a testimony.”
The CRC’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee will submit its report to Synod 2012 by early September 2011; that report will be sent to all the churches in November.
“There certainly is a ways to go—and we will do that as best we can,” said Borgdorff. “I expect that the discussion will continue right up to June 2012.”