RCA Adopts the "Belhar Confession"

News from the GR paper.

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  1. “Said the Rev. Andrea DeWard, pastor of Church of the Living Christ in Fremont: “We need the Belhar that tells us how to act toward one another, not just in my congregation, but I need it in my family as a mother.”

    Echo: Good grief.

  2. The Belhar is really more like a creed, isn’t it? Isn’t it too “short” to be a confession, which I understand is more comprehensive? Theology aside, it seems to me more like a “declaration” (eg Cambridge, or ), or a summary like the 5 Solas.

  3. The homosexual issue is not the biggie in the Belhar Confession. I personally don’t think that the Belhar Confession even addresses homosexuals. The biggie for me is this: the Bel Con says, “that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.” That last line is problematic: “Anything which threatens this unity (that, visible unity)” has no place in the Church and “must be resisted.”

    Does this mean doctrinal differences too? This is the problem with the Bel Con. It has no doctrinal teeth. It seems to me to be saying that Catholics and Protestants need to work toward visible unity and trash all their doctrinal differences. What about those Nestorian Churches that still exist in the middle east? Should we try to unite with them? What about Unitarian Churches? Is visible unity more important than theological differences?

    This is the big problem of the Bel Con, not homosexuality.

    • Steven,

      Kudos for deflecting appeals to fundamentalist fears. Homosexual issues may be somewhere on the docket, but the trajectory is toward broad evangelicalism and away from narrow confessionalism in stuff like this. It really isn’t about racism or homophobia.

      That said, one wonders what gives with confessionalists who at once seem to want the cultural clout that comes by saying that apartheid was “institutional sin” (or, in the American context, abolitionism) yet resist the BC.

  4. (1) Why isn’t the adoption of the Belhar Confession a positive development in the Dutch Reformed churches? It was adopted in South Africa in 1986, before the end of official apartheid. Many Dutch Reformed churches and schools in parts of this country (the USA) are effectively segregated, which many Dutch Reformed would themselves acknowledge. There aren’t many minorities in northwestern Iowa, but there are in northern NJ and in western Michigan. In those places, the attachment to the “Dutchness” of the church’s heritage has been, in many cases, a subtle and powerful segregating influence. Just ask Hispanics and African-Americans at the Christian schools of Dutch Reformed denominations. The parents of Hispanic and African-American kids send their kids to these schools, and the kids generally hate it, because they are generally sidelined – not hated or made the butt of racist jokes, just generally unwelcome in the school’s mainstream culture.

    In any case, apartheid was a Dutch problem in South Africa, and the Dutch addressed it. Why not affirm that turn away from apartheid? Especially when it is easy to see parallels to it (albeit less overt) in American Dutch Reformed churches and schools today?

    (2) With regards to the point Zrim makes about confessionalism and evangelicalism, how possible is it for Dutch reformed congregations in particular to hold on to their confessionalism without holding on to their ethnic distinctiveness? To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it’s necessarily bad for communities to maintain something of their ethnic identity with Tulip Times, dancing in costume, etc. I do think, however, that ethnic identity maintenance is the primary tool which Dutch Reformed churches have to resist broad evangelicalism. That is, in my view, an objective and obvious observation in the particular case of the Dutch Reformed churches in America.

    In other words, some conservative confessional types blame the liberalization of the RCA on its Americanization. The flip side of this is exactly the predicament which has faced the CRC and its more conservative, more confessionalist branches. Their boundary maintenance is done officially by appeals to its confessions. But the unofficial and real tool of its boundary maintenance (against broad evangelicalism) is its appeal to its culture and ethnicity. The Belhar Confession is an attempt to address this. To simply dismiss the interest in the Belhar Confession as the evangelicalization of a confessional church is to turn a blind eye to the sociological realities of the more conservative branches of the Dutch Reformed churches in America.

    • Tony,

      One concern I have about documents such as the Belhar is that they tread on (if not cross) the boundary between what is properly “ecclesiastical” business and what is social business.

      The Scriptures clearly condemn racism within the church. There is no Jew, no Gentile etc. Our confessions, however, do not list every conceivable sin. Why not a confession focusing on obesity? It’s killing people and gluttony is a sin. For one thing, it’s not socially fashionable.

      I agree that the problem of Christ and culture too often manifests in our circles relative to the problem of ethnicity but as a gentile grafted in and in a largely gentile congregation (and increasingly, classis) I don’t see the URCs (for example) as organized around ethnicity but around a confession. I didn’t join the URCs because they have a Dutch background. I joined the URCs because I’m Reformed. The ethnic background of the URCs is accidental, not essential to our identity.

      Have you any evidence that boundary maintenance, in confessional churches, is really done on the basis of ethnicity, that confessionalism is just a cover for racism?

    • Tony,

      As one who abides the CRC in SW Michigan but is not Dutch, trust me, I can greatly appreciate the desire to obliterate cultural barriors. But it seems to me that this is a function of the gospel, not the politically correct traditions of men. (Some worry about “homosexualism,” but who is to say that the next step will be to adopt a politically correct confession of the pro-life movement? It’s anybody’s guess in evangelicalism.)

      My beloved Dutch Reformed are quite aware of their inbreeding, but are equally clueless about what to do about it, unless one wants to count dowdy Boomer white folks bringing token minorities to church with them as having a clue. I’m equally unimpressed by that leftover effort by an immigrant culture to maintain cultural cohesion known as “Christian education.” I quite agree with you that this is “a subtle and powerful segregating influence,” even as it is defended as something falling under churchly charge. Education is the final frontier of two kingdom theology.

      The points you make show how crucial it is to rightly distinguish between cult and culture (two kingdoms). But the counter-intuitive irony here is how narrow confessionalism actually has the potential to yield greater diversity in the ranks, while broad evangelicalism only perpetuates the narrow and homogeneous make up of something like the CRC. After leaving broad evangelicalism for what I thought was narrow confessionalism I have been routinely amazed at the collective yawn these folks give the latter. They seemed happy enough to have me but don’t seem to realize they are becoming the Reformed version of what ailed me. So what are they so happy about?

      Pleading the case for something like the BC as a means to something actually undercuts the ends of what you are after. It shares more space with evangelical efforts in the CRC to revise (read: emasculate) the Form of Subscription.

  5. I think the CRC/RCA’s fixation with the Belhar is like a child enamored with a shiny new toy. It’s cheap, will break in a matter of days, and has lots of little pieces that pose a choking hazard. Meanwhile, the tried and true tinker toys, books, and puzzles gather dust in the closet.


    As one of your beloved Dutch Reformed, I opted to “break the cycle” and stop the inbreeding by marrying a nice non-dutchie.


  6. It’s to import the “equality” doctrine, so that eventually not just “all men are equal”, but also “all gods are equal” is accepted doctrine.

  7. I just read the Belhar Confession, and it’s true, it is not a real confession. It reads like a denominational possision paper. Since it is concidered a confession I worry about the the future decisions of the RCA as they appeal to it on other issues. It is just vauge enough to use it as pretext for affirming homosexuality and other issues that threaten the RCA. It will be used to undercut the Three Forms of Unity. I am also curious if this will spawn future “confession” in order to respond to other social injustices. This is not the function of any true confession. Do not misunderstand me racism is abhorrent, and as a non-dutch CRC member I know how clanish and insulated the dutch can be, and they are not the only ones. Many ethnic cultures within the universal church are the same. I believe that the gospel faithfully preached will expose this deception. We have the solution already in the gospel that the Three Forms of Unity faithfully expresses. The Heidelberg Catechism declairs.

    21. Lord’s Day

    Q. 54.
    What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ?
    That the Son of God (a)
    from the beginning to the end of the world, (b)
    defends, and preserves (c)
    to himself
    by his Spirit and word, (d)
    out of the whole human race, (e)
    a church
    chosen to everlasting life, (f)
    agreeing in true faith; (g)
    and that I am and forever shall remain, (h)
    a living member thereof. (i)

    The phrase “out of the whole human race chosen to everlasting life” ought to be enough. Perhaps if preachers camped on Q.54 little more we would see less racism and exclusion. This whole dutch would cease ifthey just took their catechism a little more seriously. One quick suggestion might be using the Christian School system to educate more than you own children. Use it as an outreach tool to underprivilaged children. No doubt some are doing this already.

  8. The Belhar seems to me an attempted exposition of “love your neighbor as yourself” however it doesn’t do much in explaining salvation which the Reformed confessions/ standards do at length. Even the apostles creed takes time on Christ’s person and work. The Belhar mentions Christ and Him being Lord, but it doesn’t expound much on the doctrine.

    What doctrines does it presuppose in the background? Or is it an “if we append this thing to our confessions, it’ll do the rest.” I fear this Belhar Confession is like a lamprey or hagfish that way, attaching itself to the host, ripping it open, proceeding to gut the host, killing the host, then going to find another host.

  9. The 3 confessions of the CRC and all other reformed churches sais it all. Why add more confusion.

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