Have you noticed how excited new parents are when a child speaks his or her first words? That first word or first sentence is a delightful milestone. Language opens up a whole new world.
There is power in words and in the way we use them. Words can build up or tear down. They can offer encouragement or cut to the bone. They can praise and they can curse. How we use words makes a world of difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. As we converse, we teach and we learn. Understanding can grow and relationships can flourish.
As I think about the ways I use language, I reflect on the ways that we as a culture use words. As a society, and even as a church, we often find ourselves talking about each other, around each other, past each other, but not to each other.
“We need now, more than ever, to continue a civilized conversation about the Belhar.”
That’s particularly true when it comes to politics and religion. We’ve heard the jokes about the dangers of bringing either of these topics into a conversation. Yet both are such important parts of our lives that we should find ways to enter into civil discourse about them. When we do, we discover the growth that comes from hearing and sharing different perspectives and new ideas.
One of the beautiful things about the church is that every part of it—every part of the body of Christ—is important and has much to contribute. Communal conversations are important to our lives in Christ. Each one of us contributes thoughts and stories.
Even today the gracious words of God to Isaiah resonate clearly: “Come, let us reason together” (1:18). God himself invites us into conversation. Even in his anger, God calls us to talk with him (see the full chapter).
I share these thoughts because we in the Christian Reformed Church are in the midst of a conversation about the Belhar Confession. Synod 2009 asked Synod 2012 to adopt the Belhar as a confessional statement of the church.
Synod also asked the CRC’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee to “promote the study of the Belhar Confession in the churches during the consideration period.” This was synod’s way of inviting the church to come and reason together. It’s intended to be a time for learning, growing, and sharing.
To that end, Faith Alive Christian Resources has produced study materials and devotionals to help people engage in dialogue around the Belhar Confession. These materials encourage us all to determine how to most effectively use the Belhar to strengthen the church and to promote unity, reconciliation, and justice. In addition, our Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee has offered seminars across North America to encourage in-depth discussion.
There is no question that CRC people hold widely differing points of view about adopting the Belhar as a confession. Some have embraced it; others have reservations. Some have suggested, as synod recommended, that it be adopted as a fourth confession; others prefer that it become an addition to our Contemporary Testimony. Still others are not prepared to adopt it at any level.
Bottom line: we need to keep talking. We need now, more than ever, to continue a civilized conversation about the Belhar. In just over a year, the delegates to Synod 2012 will be asked to determine what our denomination will do with this confession. Before that happens, it’s critical to the health and life of the CRC that we continue to reason together.
We cannot afford to let our dialogue disintegrate into hurtful remarks or personal disparagements. As sisters and brothers in the Lord, we are called to speak the truth in love, so that the body of Christ may be built up and that the world may know that we are followers of the one who died to bring unity, reconciliation, and justice.
Please join me in that conversation.
About the Author
Jerry Dykstra served as the executive director of the Christian
Reformed Church in North America from 2006-2011.