Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 3)

A Brief Introduction to the Belhar Confession and Its Criticism

In response to a previous post I received a suggestion to give a brief introduction to the Belhar Confession. The text of the Belhar Confession can be found here and a longer article I wrote on the subject originally appeared in the Standard Bearer and can be found here.

The Origin and Adoption of the Belhar Confession

The Belhar Confession was drafted in 1982 and then adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa. The DRMC adopted the Belhar Confession to address the terrible sin of schism, of tearing apart the church of Jesus Christ. This sin was committed by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC). The DRC wickedly divided the church of Jesus Christ along the lines of race. The DRC was an exclusively white church. Instead of including black people in its denomination, the DRC set up the DRMC as a separate church for black people to join. The Belhar Confession was written to condemn this horrible sin and promote unity.

The DRMC asked other Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout the world to join it in adopting the Belhar Confession. The RCA adopted the Belhar in 2010 and gave it confessional status along with the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt. The CRC did not give the Belhar confessional status but adopted it as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration in 2012.

Criticism of the Belhar

Adoption of the Belhar Confession faced opposition from within the RCA and the CRC.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s criticized the Belhar Confession in an essay entitled "Why Not Belhar" which appeared in Perspectives and can be found here. DeYoung, a pastor in the RCA, raised three objections to the Belhar Confession – parts of the confession are not based on the Bible, not everyone agrees on what the confession means, and the confession creates confusion. If you read DeYoung’s article you will find that he amply demonstrates that his objections are well founded. In fact, I believe that he is too careful in his criticism of the Belhar. Some of its statements not only lack biblical support but actually contradict the Bible.

Adoption of the Belhar as a confession faced opposition in the CRC from John Bolt and John Cooper, two professors in the denomination’s seminary, the Calvin Theological School. John Cooper’s criticism of the Belhar appeared in The Banner, the text of which can be found here. John Bolt’s criticism can be found in this article on the Reformed Revelry blog. I will only give a brief – very brief - explanation of their views.

Cooper was in favor of adopting the Belhar Confession as a doctrinal statement without raising it to the level of a confession. His view is summarized in this article published on the Christian Reformed Church's website. He is quoted as saying, “My view is this: Properly understood, the Belhar's condemnation of racism, expression of solidarity with victims, and affirmation of racial reconciliation in Christ are crucial implications of the Gospel that we should endorse. But its theological perspective is problematically ambiguous.”

Bolt’s comments about the Belhar Confession are too lengthy for me to summarize them. A helpful summary of his views is found in the same article that I quoted above:

While admitting that the Belhar has power and value and ought to be taken seriously, especially given its theme and message, John Bolt writes that he believes that Belhar veers in places from orthodox Christian teaching and offers an alternative path on how Christians can achieve reconciliation and unity. Bolt is a professor of systematic theology at CTS.

"The key to this alternative path is the Belhar's focus on the social, economic, and political arenas as the locus for achieving reconciliation and unity, rather than on our spiritual poverty (as people who rely on God’s grace and find their unity in the blood of Christ)," writes Bolt.

"I strongly desire a testimony that exposes the sin of racism and points us forward to reconciliation and unity. I do not believe the Belhar will or even can accomplish this."

I have not found that Bolt says anywhere that the Belhar should be condemned. But his criticisms, which are valid, can only lead to that conclusion. The purpose of a confession is to summarize and set forth the teachings of Scripture. Bolt’s criticisms argue that the Belhar is not biblical and therefore is not worthy of the name confession or of being adopted by a church as a doctrinal statement.

The Danger of the Belhar

The Belhar is a dangerous document. It not only condemns racism, but it sets forth false doctrine. Therefore, the teachings of the Belhar are not in harmony with the other Reformed Confessions. When a denomination adopts the Belhar it is not adding a fourth confession, but it is adding a confession that contradicts and supplants the Reformed Confessions. The denomination that adds the Belhar Confession is guilty of schism, it is guilty of the sin of breaking off fellowship with every truly reformed denomination.

The Belhar is also dangerous because it promotes a political agenda, a liberal political agenda at that (De Young and Bolt both recognize this). Some who promote the Belhar Confession, including Allan Boesek, one of its main authors, believe that the Confession demands that the church accept homosexuals as members of the church. That means that any church that adopts the Belhar Confession’s statements about unity that tolerates sin is in danger of opening the way not only for the vile sin of homosexuality to be accepted, but all kinds of others sins as well.

Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 2 on the RCA Synod 2013.

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This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

 

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