Church Councils in the Christian Reformed Church
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) is facilitating a denomination-wide discussion about the Belhar Confession as requested by Synod 2009 because of the decision by that same synod to recommend “that Synod 2012 consider adopting the Belhar Confession as the fourth ‘standard of faith’ for the Christian Reformed Church.” To date the EIRC has facilitated 61 such discussions in congregations, classes, and regional conferences since the fall of 2009. The EIRC has also encouraged the development of educational resources (study guide and DVD support) to encourage discussion in adult education and youth or small groups in the congregation. These resources are available to you through Faith Alive Christian Resources (800-333-8300 or www.faithaliveresources.org).
While it is the responsibility of the EIRC to represent the position of Synod 2009, the committee has also tried to represent alternate points of view that emerged in the process of that discussion. The committee recognizes that many congregations and some classes have not been active discussion-participants to date and many of our fellow CRC members remain largely unfamiliar with the central issues being addressed in that discussion. The purpose of this communication is to encourage you to provide the leadership needed to engage your members in a conversation regarding the Belhar Confession.
There is near-unanimous agreement among the participants in the discussion (both pro and con) that the CRC should positively respond to the Belhar Confession in some way. The main point at issue is whether such a response should take the form of adopting it as a fourth “standard of faith” or whether some other form of affirmation can be designed. Synod 2009, having been informed of the options that were considered, decided to recommend adoption rather than another form of affirmation (e.g., similar to the Contemporary Testimony). How one responds to such options depends, at least in part, on how one understands the subject matter of the Belhar Confession and its historical development. That is why participation in the discussion is so important. Because it is important, the EIRC encourages you to inform the membership of the congregation you serve about this discussion and the resources available to them.
The discussion revealed that there are various views—a summary of which follows:
Adopting the Belhar Confession as a Confession (Opposed)
- The core gospel of repentance, forgiveness, and faith (John 3:16) is not clearly stated in the section dealing with reconciliation.
- Why add a fourth confession when the three we have are not used much anymore?
- This confession is ambiguous in some of its language and, some would add, in its theology.
- It is sufficient to endorse the Belhar Confession as a valuable contribution to Reformed thought and give it a standing in the CRC similar to the Contemporary Testimony.
- The Belhar Confession is too South African to serve as a confession for the global church.
- The section on justice is also judged by some to be too ambiguous.
There are others who believe that adopting the Belhar Confession is important for the following reasons.
Adopting the Belhar Confession as a Confession (in Favor)
- This confession directly addresses a gap in the historic creeds. It must be acknowledged that much of the injustice in the world, including injustices perpetuated by members of the Reformed family, developed after the three historic creeds had already been adopted.
- The northern part of the Reformed family of churches that first adopted the three historic confessions must now listen to the voice of the southern Reformed family as it calls the global church to action. The CRC must confessionally learn to walk in the shoes of those who have been oppressed.
- Synods of the CRC since 1990 have repeatedly expressed their concurrence that the teaching contained in the Belhar Confession reflects Scripture and is consistent with the Reformed confessions.
- The Reformed ecumenical organizations of which the CRC has been and is a part have recommended the Belhar Confession’s adoption.
- A significant number of ethnic-minority members of the CRC believe that the adoption of the Belhar Confession is an important step in the denomination’s commitment to racial reconciliation and upholding the biblical principles of justice.
The discussion concerning the Belhar Confession will now continue in response to the report to Synod 2012 [PDF] (recently sent to all congregations for study and consideration). The EIRC commends this matter to you for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration.
For the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee
Cordially in Christ,
Rev. William Koopmans, Chair