The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) is considering adopting the Belhar Confession as one of its confessions. The Belhar was written by those in the Reformed Churches of South Africa in the wake of apartheid. For the CRC, this confession would be in addition to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. Some are embracing it, others are hesitant, and some are outright opposed. What is the fuss all about? Here is a brief thought:
We recently discussed the Belhar at our regional Classis meeting as well as among our own church leadership. It is striking to me how much opposition I heard at Classis to this being approved as a confession. You’d think we were discussing a change to the canon here.
As we discussed this as a church community, an interesting comment was made by an older and wiser member. He noted that the three confessions we already have in large part tell us how to think, or what to believe, whereas the Belhar tells us how to live. He notes that we are seemingly uncomfortable with the latter, because we are adopting a statement that is going to have some say into how I live day to day. I think he may be onto something.
And if so, isn’t it somewhat ironic that this is where we find ourselves as a church today? In the Jewish mindset doing always held a higher place in life than simply thinking (or believing) – in other words, as a text of Scripture is discussed, the main point is: how is this telling me to live? A Greek or Hellenistic mindset, however, focused on the greatness of the human mind and centered around ideas and how to think. So when this attitude is applied to studying Scripture, the point was, not so much how to live, but what to believe.
If you read the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spends nearly all of his time focusing on how we should live, not on details of doctrine or belief. This should come as no surprise given his Semitic context and the fact that Jesus was Jewish himself. As the church detached itself from its Jewish roots, it increasingly adopted a Hellenistic attitude toward faith – hence obscure matters of doctrine moved to the forefront of theological conversation, and filled many tomes by the Middle Ages. In many ways our three confessions are products of this milieu. Contrasted with the gospels – which endorse us to live radically as disciples of Jesus in light of the present coming of God’s kingdom – it’s not a stretch to say there is a discontinuity. Can you honestly imagine Jesus wishing to spend any of his time poring over the Canons of Dort?
How refreshing, then, to find a document which rings of Jesus throughout in its endorsement of justice, of unity amidst diversity, and of living in light of the reality of God’s kingdom. I say, let’s go for it.
According to the Belhar Confession, unity is both a gift and an obligation for the church. Another key theme of the Belhar Confession is the dichotomy of reconciliation and the justice of God. According to the confession, God is the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged, and for this reason the church should stand by people in any form of suffering. It claims that individual, racial and social segregation is sin, and that all forms of segregation always lead to enmity and hatred.
The Belhar Confession has been adopted by the Reformed Church of America (RCA).