“Well, That’s a Thought”


Let me tell you a story.  Once, when I was in college, a friend of mine got asked out on a date.  Panicked in the moment, she responded, “Well, that’s a thought,” and quickly dismissed herself from the situation. We had a good laugh after the fact but also felt a little bit sorry for this fellow who’d put his heart on the line only to receive this strange, cryptic response.  We guessed he left that interaction sorely confused, not sure what had just happened but guessing that it probably wasn’t good.

All of this to wonder, along with the good people of Classis Pacific Northwest, whether we haven’t done something similar by creating a new category for the Belhar Confession.  What is an “Ecumenical Faith Declaration”? What does it mean that we have accepted the Belhar Confession in this category?  Did we just leave Synod 2012 sorely confused, not sure what just happened but guessing that it probably wasn’t good? 

Overture 18 to Synod 2013 gives us a chance to find out exactly what kind of thought we’re meant to have about the Belhar Confession.  To what degree is it authoritative to our lives and witness? To what extent does it inform or constrain our consciences?  Surely the good work of our brothers and sisters in South Africa deserves more than my friends's blow-off response.  “Well, that’s a thought.” 

Personally, I believe this overture is a great way for us to keep the offer of relationship with our brothers and sisters on the table.  I think it could be a great way, as point three of Pacific Northwest’s overtures states, to continue “ongoing, vital engagement of officebearers” with “current Reformed expressions of the Christian faith that forms and guides us in our present context.”

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Your analogy is amusing and useful, but what if your friend was asked to be married to this guy instead of just a date, and she replied, "No, but we can be friends."  I was a delegate to Synod both in 2009 and in 2012, and while still only an analogy mine is closer than yours in my opinion.  Synod of 2012 isn't wondering what to think, we decided the Belhar is not up to recognized standards of a "Confession" even though they put it in the name even though it can and should inform our faith and ecumenical life as a church.  We certainly accepted the offer of a relationship, but not necessarily the one that was offered.  To stretch your analogy, your friend didn't need to date the guy if she didn't want to but she certainly shouldn't marry him.

 What is an “Ecumenical Faith Declaration”?  A peaceful and harmless solution to a complicated problem. A title on a file folder. Maybe a good place to put the Ephocripha, the Didache, and other historical documents. 


As one who was on the advisory committee that presented the Ecumenical Faith Declaration document, I can assure you that our passion-filled discussions on the Belhar and our designing the EFD category desired to communicate a love-filled olive branch to our South African brothers and sisters in Christ- communicating gratitude and thanks for the faith and substance of this document that shaped and refreshed a much-needed soul-searching for the CRCNA.   The "olive-branch" was a recognition that, though this document is weighty for faith and life, we could not acquiecse to the request that came with it, namely to categorize it as one of our confessions.   We did bring to the floor of Synod a request, however, to wrestle with its confessional possibilities at a future Synod, once we clarified a consensus on what constitutes a confession in our faith and life as the CRCNA.  That request was defeated.  So, did we (the advisory committee with our recommendation for an EFD) leave Synod 2012 sorely confused?  Hopefully not.  Hopefully, Synod was positioned in a right direction to further engage the Belhar and other faith documents that come to us from The Church around the world.  From the sounds of this year's Synod, it appears Synod is taking up that mantle to further pursue the significance of EFD's in the faith-life of the church.

As I remember it, the Belhar was accepted as an EFD as a compromise.  If the choice was only as a confession, it would have been rejected.   People had serious objections to having it under the form of subscription, because they disagreed with certain statements within it, or they felt it was not of the category of a basic confession of faith.   If we discuss this further, and disregard why it was adopted as an EFD and not as a confession, there will be a feeling of betrayal and deceit.   Instead of trying to discuss its significance, or trying to recategorize it, it would be more beneficial to use it as a guide whenever appropriate, even pointing out where it might be a bit unbalanced or not entirely strictly scripturally accurate, but still has some good points to make.   We should not let this become another divisive issue simply because of the insistence of some that it needs to be placed on a higher pedestal.