The Belhar Confession and Youth Ministry

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At Synod and throughout the next year, the CRC will be considering whether or not the Belhar Confession should become one of the confessions of the denomination. The RCA voted to include the Belhar in its confessions last year. I suspect there will be plenty of discussion around this decision, and there will be valid points raised on both sides of the issue. I’m far less concerned about whether or not the Belhar is an official confession of a church, and far more interested in seeing it lived out by the Church.

My experience with the Belhar confession has been one in which some are immediately drawn to it and passionate about it. Those who have shown a desire to bring the Belhar into our Reformed traditions include many church planters, those in racial/ethnic congregations, seminarians and youth leaders. This is a generalization and obviously, not everyone listed above would agree with this or fit into this category.

I really want to focus on how the Belhar confession relates to youth ministry. If you haven’t read the Belhar, please do so. There are also Belhar study guides from Faith Alive and from the Reformed Church in America that are useful in understanding the confession. This confession and the vision of unity and reconciliation in the Church of Christ “preaches” to youth. It supplements our existing creeds and confessions, it’s Biblical, and it’s an outward expression of the love, patience, and forgiveness of Jesus to our lost and broken world. If you are looking for a youth group topic or additional material to bring on service projects, check out the Belhar Confession.

So there you have it. A short, opinionated blog. I figure that if I keep this short, you’ll have time to check out the Belhar Confession on the link provided.

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Paul,  synod is discussing the Belhar in 2012, not in 2011.

Thanks for the heads up on this George.  I changed the text to reflect this.

Participant

Paul, you were correct in indicating Synod will most likely be discussing the Belhar- that will take place informally and formally (there is an Overture regarding the Belhar-#12).

Your plea to the readers is perhaps correct in that we as a denomination need to continue to look carefully at this document, and make some decisions- best place to start is by reading the document so that as all the information, pro and con, comes out we can make an informed decision.  Overture 12's call for a "balanced discussion" will probably find fertile ground throughout the denomination.

I particularly like your sentence:  "I’m far less concerned about whether or not the Belhar is an official confession of a church, and far more interested in seeing it lived out by the Church. "

Really your comment is where the "rubber hits the road."  Does our current battery of confessions give us enough to "live out" the spirit of the Belhar, or must we have a document that will spell it out better- or perhaps more clearly than what we already have?

Couple of questions:

(1) Is it that youth and others are drawn out to the Belhar in such "passion" because we as a church have not "with equal passion" promoted our confessional documents that we have; or are those documents severely lacking in "justice and humanity?"

(2) I keep thinking we have 3 beautiful confessions, and a "testimony," that few people know perhaps little about- so just how will accepting yet a 4th "standard of unity" lead us forward in such passion where the others have failed?

Your observation: "It supplements our existing creeds and confessions, it’s Biblical, and it’s an outward expression of the love, patience and forgiveness of Jesus to our lost and broken world"- strikes me as perhaps exactly what the Belhar does- supplements; and it's call for "justice" actually needs the other three Confessions to help us understand how to carry out that Biblical mandate.

We are not actually the only ones discussing the Belhar.  I find it fascinating that even Baptists are "throwing their hats in the ring" with opinions regarding the RCA and CRCNA's move to embrace the document as a confession.

Read what Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands, wrote regarding the Belhar(http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2010/07/27/bringing-up-belhar-again/ ): 

"...(the)Belhar must stand together with the other confessions of the faith, and why it must stand in second place to those confessions.  It’s not as though the other confessions define “justice” for every generation.  But they at least provide the necessary framework and raw munitions for doing so.  They teach us about the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Scripture.  If those confessions provide serious boundaries for Belhar, then Belhar’s sweeping language actually calls the church out of sloth and into the fray while honoring the roles assigned to the church in the Scripture itself.  But should the RCA or any other body lose its grip on the Scripture, then Belhar’s broad, undefined language includes a host of issues as “must” justice issues that contradict the Bible’s teaching.  That’s no small threat or concern."

Paul,

I'm really glad you're leading your youth group in a discussion of the Belhar.  Here are two topics related to the Belhar you may want to talk about with your people:

1.  At the time the Belhar was written the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, the creeds of which are identical to ours in the CRCNA, supported the evil ideology and practice of apartheid.  In the opinion of the writers of the Belhar the DRC and other Christians in South Africa were compromising the gospel  -- subordinating the teachings of the gospel to the culture of the day rather than submitting the culture of the day to the teachings of the gospel.  The Belhar calls on Christians in South Africa and everywhere to put the gospel first.  You may ask your people in what ways the gospel is being compromised by Christians today to the materialism, relativism, and individualism of contemporary culture and what they think they can do about it.

2.  Many of the writers and signers of the Belhar Confession were/are black.  That is, they were victims of the vicious apartheid system that separated black and white in South Africa.  These people didn't reach for a gun to revolt against their oppressors,  Instead, they reached for their Bibles, and with incredible courage and love called upon the white Christains who were victimizing them to live by the Scripture and creeds they confessed.  In effect, they said to their white brothers and sisters:  you taught us the gospel, we know it is true, now the most loving thing we can do for you is to ask you to live by it, repent, reaffirm the unity of believers whether they be black or white, do justice, and be reconciled to us.  Ask your young people where they see this kind of profound love and courage in the church today, and if they don't see it, if Reformed Christians are more interested in dotting i's and crossing t's of doctrine rather than truly living the gospel, what has gone wrong and how can they make it right?

Harry Weidenaar