Adopting The Belhar: A Letter from the EIRC

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The following letter was sent to church councils and pastors on behalf of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee.

December 2011

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

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Well said, Doug!

Participant

thanks Doug... I am thankful for people like you who have tons of experience analyzing documents/confessions and express articulate thoughts on it.  My take on the Belhar, is in my gut it doesn't feel right (a strong check of caution in my spirit/inner being), it feels like man's way, using our own understanding of making justice and unity happen with some potential loopholes, and i would prefer simply emphasizing Is. 58, but that "rationale" doesn't go over so well in an "intellectual" argument ;).  So thank you for taking an interest in what is going on in the denomination, as I see that is fairly recent =), and taking the time to research and dig into these documents, and share your perspective.

Micah 6:8 keeps coming up, do justice, love mercy... but we're not mentioning the 3rd command...to  walk humbly with our God.  That is the "command" that concerns me most right now, and has been on my heart for a few years now.  I don't think we (believers in north america)  know what that looks like very well =(.  what would that look like in connection with the belhar?

Community Builder

Bev: Your question/point about Micah 6:8 catches my attention and is really important these days, I think, because of all the "social justice" talk.  I still don't think I know that people are talking about exactly when they say "social justice".

Micah 6:8 has been and is "my favorite verse," so to speak, beginning before I finished law school over 30 years ago.  Here are my thoughts.

Do Justice

God commanded Israel to do justice, no ifs, ands or buts. Kind of simple in a way. The take-away for our generation (whose governments are not theocratic) is a bit more complicated but not too much. Justice is, well justice. If I sell you a pound's worth, I may not use cheating scales. If I pitch a house to you (as a realtor), I may not misrepresent, whether by omission or commission. If I give you my advice on whether to take this case to trial, I must to tell you all of the upside and downside points, not just that which would get you to hire me. If I have a car with problems, I must tell the dealer about them when I trade it for a new one.

Doing justice often hurts us financially. Not doing justice is stealing. There should be a law against all injustices, literally.

In terms of institutions, the government's chief matter of concern is justice. Thus, government should creates uniform laws about weights and measures, contract rules, torts, property law, etc. And it should create a "judicial system" that enforces those rules. Government rightly says to all its citizens, "you must do justice." In OT Israel society, it was easy to "take advantage" of people who had little (legal/political) power, like widows and orphans, the stranger. Often, they had neither the means nor the know-how nor the political clout to fight those who would be unjust to (literally steal from) them. Thus, God's command to all of Israel, especially its rulers I think, was DO JUSTICE. Today as well.

Government enforced justice can sometimes seems like mercy, but it isn't mercy. A "welfare safety net" is a matter of justice, not mercy, because only government has the power to take human life (hence, it must ensure human life). The argument arises of course when Government extends justice to include mercy. I believe it does that when it intends to equalize wealth, or engages in affirmative action (with exceptions: it should to offset injustice).

Love Mercy

Note first, Micah does not say to "do" mercy but "love" it. Just as the early Christians who lived communally were not REQUIRED to commit what was theirs to the community, so we are not also. In OT Israel, you could sell yourself as a slave. Justice would require that you be released from that on the year of Jubilee, but in the meantime you were a slave. Still God also commanded the OT Israelites (and us) to LOVE MERCY. They/we were/are not thereby ordered to do it, but we are ordered to "want to do it," to examine our hearts and adjust them when they acquire a selfish disposition. Loving mercy is very much like "loving our neighbors as ourselves."

If everyone Did Justice, heaven on earth would still not exist. If everyone Loved Mercy, we would almost be there.

Government should not Love Mercy (well, OK to love it but not do it, or command its citizens to do it). Doing Mercy is within government's jurisdiction, and if it was, government would do it badly. That doesn't mean government should not create laws, for example, to mimic the effect of the Year of Jubilee, but doing that is Justice, that is, keeping things from getting too out of balance (it that happens, society--and society's ability to do justice--crumbles).

Should the church Love Mercy? Of course--even, I think, the church as institution. Should the church as organism (that is, should all Christians) Love Mercy? A super big "you bet." However, mindful of our Lord's acknowledgement, the poor will be with us always. This does not mean we should ease up on Loving Mercy, but we must, need to, acknowledge that we probably cannot give all the mercy we'd love to give (one goes crazy if one loves mercy and does not recognize her/her limits in giving it because we are not God).

Walk Humbly With God

I have less definitive thoughts about this phrase, but here's what I've done with it so far in my life at least. First, for me, obeying this meant, when I started practicing law, taking off my tie and not requiring my clients address me as Mr. Vande Griend while I addressed them by their first name. An older businessman in church advised me otherwise, and I tried a bit but eventually decided doing that was manipulative and disobedient (it creates a power relationship, not a servant relationship).

Walking Humbly also meant, for me, acknowledging my inability to to everything for everyone who needs it, but it took a long time for me to figure that out. Especially in my 20s through 40's, I did so much pro bono work and work for "Christian organizations," that I really neglected my family. That wasn't Walking Humbly because I was trying to be the guy that would/could fix everything for everyone. I did eventually figure that out, but it took decades.

The other way I decided to Walk Humbly, and you know this one already from a different forum, was to not move from where we lived in town, despite that area becoming the "Hispanic area." I have to admit that to this day, I feel twangs of embarrasment when some finds out where I live. "East Salem? Where in East Salem?" Literally, no "doctor or lawyer" lives within a 4-5 mile radius of our house. So what was my problem?  Still, the blessing of living here outweighs the sometimes feeling of embarassment and I would not be Walking Humbly, as I understand it, nor Loving Mercy, if I did not. Besides, the blessings of living here, as you know from another forum, are much greater than the curses.

Would love to hear your thinking Bev -- and I know you have some. :-)   Others as well.

Participant

Thanks Doug for sharing your thoughts on Micah 6:8.  The Body of Christ is so rich!   I love, love, love hearing/reading what others have to share - that is one of the huge blessings of the network.  Beautiful =)...    I would love to see (and i know the network staff has expressed this desire as well) to see a lot more people participate, not just reading, but sharing.    I know everyone has some insight, perspective that will bless others in the Body.   So I encourage everyone to "invest" their "talent" and see God make it grow!

Thank you especially for sharing the humble thoughts.  I recognize that took a risk of vulnerability in sharing some weaknesses/shortcomings.  and that's a risk we rarely want to take.  so again, thank you for being honest and willing to share the good and the "not so pretty".

I see your/Doug's posts were taken off!   that is just fascinating =0  to me!  I'm actually chuckling about it, because it is somewhat telling (sorry moderators I'm not picking on you, it just makes me wonder what "policy" from the "higher powers that be" you have for determining what's ok and what's not, and understand you're doing your job.   I'm glad you are there making sure we are speaking truth in love =), so bless your hearts! - but to be clear, I'm not saying that Doug's wasn't in love or saying I agree that it should have been removed ; )  and Doug, I'm glad you had the opportunity to talk directly with them =)...God is up to something...hehehehe! 

I think Pete Vander beek posted on the article 17 thread something about how we have a difficult time being honest and up front about serious issues and concerns, or something like that..  i better find it so i don't misquote him... ok here it is... "we do not know how to have open, honest, loving, direct-feedback conversations about how ministry is going"...    ii think that might apply to more than just pastor and congregation situations, and maybe extends to the women in office issue and now the belhar.

I will say what I love about the network is the opportunity to converse with other members on a fairly deep level about a lot more than the nuts and bolts.  It really is an answer to prayer, that I never specifically prayed, but came up in an interesting way.  One of those Ps. 37:4 "desires of the heart" answers =)...    Now, I would love to have these conversations face to face, but since distance makes that inconvenient, I am very thankful we have this forum to connect and discuss the Kingdom of God as we, the crc, get to participate as part of His Kingdom.   The sharing and sharpening, encouraging and exhorting going on here is priceless (IMHO ;). (and I got to connect with Ken L through this as well, since we live in the same town =), so, very cool!

well, back to the Belhar =)... and Micah 6:8 and walking humbly with our God.  what is interesting to me, is that being humble is often associated with fasting (see Ezra 8:21; Ps. 35:13; day of atonement (Yom Kippur) fasting; and I think there might be one or 2 more, but i'm not remembering them right now, oh yeah, daniel 10:12)  and i keep going back to is. 58 for what our justice should look like, and Is. 58 is also known as God's chosen fast.  I don't know what it means for the crc and the belhar at this point, but every time i think/pray about the Belhar, Is. 58 comes to mind.

Maybe we can write an expansion of Is. 58 that expands on each point, and fits our culture and denomination, affirming the concepts, ie justice/unity of the Belhar, but making it a better fit for our context/culture.  I think that would still honor those involved but yet make whatever "resolution"/"commitment" we write from within our denomination more personal and we would have more "vested" in it.   I could see a beautiful resolution coming out of Is. 58.  Even if it just makes our denomination more aware of this chapter, that would be a great start =).

I had another thought about the belhar but lost it =/, but maybe it will come back...

I did want to encourage you, Doug, and hope that you will never be embarrassed about where you live ... I picture you as having a little twinkle in your eye, as people assume whatever they might tend to assume about why you live in East Salem, because you know you have a beautiful testimony of why you are there!  and maybe sometimes, the Spirit will prompt you to share it, and other times, it will just be your secret =).. and whoever you're talking to will wonder why you have that twinkle in your eye...  I just get a total kick out of your "story"  =)  !  

oh yeah, the thought came back... ok, it has to do with the belhar line about God especially being a God to the poor and oppressed or something like that (which actually we all are spiritually poor and oppressed, if we don't believe Jesus is our Savior)..  I'll probably get in trouble for misquoting, but the thought I had on that was, God doesn't want anyone (rich or poor) to miss out on the good He has for us.  He knows that by encouraging/commanding those in power, the rich, those with His resources, to do justice and love mercy, we will be better followers of Him (not comparing ourselves to others, but I will be a better follower then if I didn't do it), and we will have treasure in heaven (however that works =) because of obeying these commands, and He will get the glory.  It is a win, win situation for the Kingdom (only the enemy loses =).  I'm not quite articulating it like I'm thinking it, but that's why I became a cpa instead of an attorney =)...  He tells His followers to do justice, etc., because He knows it is for our good, as well as to help those who are struggling.  hope that makes some sense!   there's more to this, but I'm going to have to "contemplate" on it some more, as it's a fairly new thought... but anyone and everyone, feel free to expand on that thought if it resonates and make sense with you =)  which I'll understand if it doesn't!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participant

I went back to is. 58 and reread the belhar... and found the phrase under #4:

 boq...that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.eoq

When i re-read Is. 58 last night, what immediately jumped out at me was the blessings/influence God will give to those who pursue His justice for the poor, opressed and needy.  He wants to make our light break forth like the morning, He wants our healing to go forth with speed, He wants "our" righteousness to go before us, and His glory will be our rear guard, He's got our backs!   Our relationship/communication with Him will be better.  He will guide us continually, He will satisfy us, and strengthen our bones, and make us like a well watered garden, we will raise up foundations for many generations, He will use us to repair broken walls, and restore streets of dwellings =). 

Those are promises He gives to us as stewards of a lot of His resources.  I think one of the most powerful ways God ministers to me, is when He uses me to impact His Kingdom.  He created/designed us with a deep desire to participate in meaningful, eternal "good works", gold, silver and precious stones (I Cor. 3).  I am in awe at the privilege we have, that He has given us to minister in an eternal way, to those around us.  When we set our minds on things above, God moves in ways beyond our wildest imagination.

Micah 6:8/Is. 58 is part of investing and multiplying our "talents" as those who have more will be given more (Matt 25).  that doesn't sound partial to the poor.    One scripture that the LORD put on my heart about a month ago, was Luke 12:48 - to whom much is given, much will be required  - that would include us, the crc, we have been given much, and as i read the context now again, v44 strikes me,  that those who do Micah 6:8/Is.58 will be made rulers over all that He has.  He wants us to be ready for His return.

I believe He does not want us to miss out on His "benefits" as much as He cares about the poor. 

God gives us huge potential blessings and influence, and He wants those blessings for us as much as He wants the poor and needy to be taken care of, to be loved.  It is a win, win, win situation, when we "do justice" and "love mercy" and "walk humbly with our God", His way, not ours!  and that's why part 3 of Micah 6:8 is critical, otherwise we might become power hungry, or we will just see the poor as a "project", or something else twisted, or we'd simply be humanitarians without the gospel.

ps.  i will "confess" my bible commentary (NKJV New Spirit filled Life Bible with Jack Hayford as editor) makes a similar comment as the Belhar,  about the people closest to God's heart - the poor, the oppressed and the needy, so that concept is broader than the Belhar.

a couple of  scriptures that are coming to mind are: the first shall be last and the last first, and whatever we do to the least of these we do to Jesus.   may we be so eager to serve Him with the many blessings He has given to us, that the "welfare" situation is resolved!  

LORD, work in our hearts and minds so that we focus on what's eternal.  Where we are wasting time/resources on earthly endeavors, shift our focus to You and investing in heavenly treasure.   Give us practical ways to serve You.  But most importantly, grow us closer in our relationship with You, that we love You with everything in us, heart, soul, mind and strength, and out of that love comes our intensity to serve Your Kingdom.

oh, there is so much potential!!  Release it LORD! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    Bev.  Great comments!   I agree, especially with the spirit of what you are saying.    Except the idea that the poor and oppressed are closer to God's heart.   They are perhaps more likely to sense their need of Christ.  God is more concerned about the injustice and ingratitude of those to whom much has been given, that they don't even share with those in need, in spite of the commands he gave thru Moses to not glean to the edges of the field or harvest every single last grape so the needy could at least have what was left over.  

    I think it is necessary to add that if we are only generous to the poor in order to fulfill some law or requirement or perception, then we have still missed out on the great love and mercy of God.   And that is what God is really concerned about.   So often God says to Israel, "do I need your sacrifices?   they are detestable to me".   Why, because their hearts were not right.  If looking after the poor is just another sacrifice, then we are in trouble.   And if you look at the end of Isaiah 58,:13, you will see God's command about the sabbath, that if you turn away from just doing your own thing, your own pleasure on the sabbath, and make it honorable, delightful, not doing your own ways nor own pleasures, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord. 

    Pray, Bev, pray!!!  

    Participant

    I apologize John, I didn't put it very clearly.  my point was that the commentary in my bible has the same thought that the belhar echoes that God is in a special way God to the poor so that thought is not unique to the belhar, but along with you, i don't agree with that concept.

    as for the motives of why we "love the poor"... a few years ago, I was so hungry to know God more.  I remember a very intense prayer asking Him to help me, point me in the direction I needed to go.  and what He put on my heart was to get to know "His people" (I was already spending much more time in His Word and in prayer than I had been).  He was not just referring to believers, but all people in His image.  As i got to know them, I would see Him in each of them, because we are all made in His image.  So I prayed some more about how that might look, and i started participating in healing prayer ministry.   i can not tell you how many times I see God in the most messed up, broken people, that honestly I would have been extremely judgemental of before I got involved in the healing prayer ministry.   I remember one time very specifically of when someone quite messed up was coming in for prayer, and we/the prayer team pray before they come in, to ask the LORD to show us His heart for the person.  one of the team members specifically asked God that she would not be judgemental as some of the things we knew were pretty ugly.  Throughout our time of praying for the individual, God gave us a beautiful picture of who He intended/designed this person to be, and how that was being stolen through the enemy, bad choices, etc.

    Anyway, don't understand the motives all the time.... seek ye first His Kingdom and His righteousness... alright, let's do it!  I trust the LORD will correct me, one way or another - including through fellow believers here =), if I start to get out of line with Him.

    John, these are several key prayers I have for the Church/denom, I would love for you (and anyone else)  to pray these in agreement.:

    Eph. 1:17-18 - open the eyes of our hearts, with a spirit of wisdom and revelation, to know Him more

    Rom 5:5 - that the love of God will be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

    Zech. 12:10 - that a spirit of prayer will be poured out, that our churches will be devoted to prayer (Acts 6:4 again =), houses of prayer, prayer saturated places of worship and praise. (ok - I went to the other thread and I see i already shared this one, praying for prayer there), I thought it seemed kind of familiar =)

    the entire song of "O Church Arise" by Keith Getty/ Stuart Townend (they also wrote In Christ Alone)

    The concepts from "take time to be Holy"... I went through this song, and found some scriptures that apply to each line.  rich, rich, with scripture, and I probably only have 25% or less!  (I did this for the song "O Church Arise" as well... I can email both of these to you, or you can do the "research" yourself as it's a great way to dig into His Word!)

     

    btw, John, when we shared on prayer before on the "pastors' reports" thread, one of the things I had mentioned was about praying that 24/7 prayer will go on throughout our denom. in the manner of the Moravians.  I heard last week, that it might be happening for at least one day, that there might be a 24 hour prayer vigil throughout the denom.... so keep praying for prayer!    Thank You LORD, for answering these prayers!  I heard of a crc that just had it's first prayer gathering in a long time =) and over 30 people came from a fairly small church!  I have heard of elders starting to come an hour early to pray for an extra hour before the meeting actually starts!   PTL!! 

     and I'm with you on the "sabbath" =)

     

    Ah, I agree Bev!   I have not actually counted all the songs in the hymnbook that are prayers, but I have the impression that at least half of them are.   Even songs that do not appear at first to be prayers, can be seen as a prayer of confession or profession...  such as "I know not why God's wondrous grace"    "How Great thou art"   "In Christ Alone".   So if we were to sing more, we would also be praying at the same time....   "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord"  - another song based on scripture....   

    Not familiar with "Oh Church Arise"  (maybe I know it, but I can't recall now...)  but I would like to see it and the scripture for it. 

    Participant

    John, I posted a link to "O Church Arise" under prayer... but I'll post it here too!  I couldn't get the full document to get accepted, because with 4 verses and all the scripture, it's probably way over the max. word limit =)!    email me directly, [email protected] so i can get you the lyrics and scripture... in the meantime, you can listen with lyrics on screen  via the video link!

       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnlHIz9AfnE

    What happened to Doug's comments? 

    Doug's comments were removed by the moderator as offensive.  I read what he wrote, and frankly, I find that incredibly hard to believe, and it bothers me greatly that on a thread asking for discussion on the Belhar, that very discussion is shut down.  I thought you all should know about that.  This is very disappointing to see. 

    Admin

    Rev. Toornstra - Our criteria isn't simply whether comments are 'offensive'. And, as you can see below, we have not shut down this discussion. I removed the comments because I don't believe they fit within our comment policy. Tim

    Rob .From your memory could you try to share Doug's comments .It is very dissapointing that his comments were erased .This only feeds many people's feelings that any voices opposing the Belhar are either discounted or squashed.

    Community Builder

    Yes, my posts (two of them) were removed. Flagged by don't-know-who as inappropriate and then removed by the web powers-that-be. In fairness, I have had a good discussion (by email exchange) with one of the powers-that-be involved and it was good discussion, although ultimtely we did not agree on most points. Certainly, I have no reason to believe my posts will be uncensored.

    I don't want to put words into anyone's mouth, but I think the idea that many had about the Network when launched did not include that it be a place of vigorous discussion about highly controversial matters. Certainly, my posts and this subject cover both.

    The web power-that-is I emailed with was kind enough to honor my request that he send me by email the texts of my posts (I didn't have them otherwise). So I have them. However, I would probably be disrepectful at a minimum if I just reposted them (and so I won't).

    But, if anyone wants the texts of my two removed posts, I'm happy to send it to you by email. Just ask me for them by an email to: [email protected] and I'll reply with them in an email back.

    Perhaps there should be a discussion topic on what The Network should facilitate?  Frankly, I don't know how to start that and if I did, that thread itself might have two strikes against it. Still, I think it would be good. From my discussions with the one power-that-is, I think The Network powers-that-be are having or will be having that discussion themselves, given the vigor of my posts and perhaps others they disapproved of as well.

    I have encouraged and would encourge the CRC to have a forum for vigorous discussion of "controversial issues," especially if those issues are embodied in Synodical Reports and/or pending Synodical actions. I've expressed the thought that there are many CRC members who feel pretty much ignored and without any means of expressing their thoughts/perspectives to the CRC as denomination, and that The Network can be at least part of the solution for that. I've also expressed the thought that we need to be very honest (although certainly without taking disingenuous or gratuitous stabs and pokes at each other) about our differences -- even big differences -- if we are to have true, biblical peace. See Acts 15 -- controversy within the church is not new. We need to be able to have iron on iron discussions and this is the ONLY CRC forum I know of where any member in North America (or elsewhere) can be a part of those kinds of discussion, vigorous though it may sometimes be ("iron on iron" implies a great deal of vigor). 

    I have told other CRCers about The Network, including some who have complained of being ignored and without any means of expressing their perspective. It would be a shame, in my mind, to eliminate what is probably part of the cure for one of our denominational diseases (separation).

    I'm hoping this post doesn't get censored. :-)

    Participant

    Bless your heart, Doug...I'm still chuckling  =)!   I want to believe we/crc are a well churched, fairly mature body of believers that hopefully can work through our disagreements =)... I'm finding it ironic that one of the belhar's main objectives is unity, but discussing it honestly here seems to be a problem!  God wants us to have unity by working through our disagreements, not by ignoring/deleting them, but by praying about, seeking the Spirit's leading on, and discussing them.  I don't think He's going to bless us/'crc with increased influence if we can't "figure" out how to work through our differences in a loving, healthy way.  It's possible through the Holy Spirit, we just need to figure out what that might look like practically speaking =)... 

    i'm still smiling  =)!!

    I have been frustrated by what I preceive to be a very unbalanced presentation of the Belhar during these years of study and reflection.  Even the for and against positions stated in the above letter strike me as unbalanced.  I don't think the author has listened to or understood well those who have serious reservations about the Belhar.

    I offer this link to give a different perspective and a more substantive critique than just a few bullet points.  I offer this in the spirit of a real and balanced discussion of the real issues at stake.  May we hear and understand and respond in the interest of seeking and speaking the truth in love.

    http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1tgxp/TowardGreaterUnityWi/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=

    If you can't link to this paper, you may contact me at: [email protected].

    Admin

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    Let’s get back on topic, folks. We welcome responses to this post whether you are opposed to adopting the Belhar, in favor if it, or somewhere in between. If you wish to discuss the Belhar more generally, please visit our Belhar discussion forum

    The Belhar is a controversial subject, so let's use extra care in how we discuss it with each other. Let's make this and other records of online conversation a model for how church members can speak the truth in love.

    Just to respond the Koopmans actual post, in particular the points mentioned in favor of adopting the Belhar: 

    1.  is there a gap?  How many gaps might there be that we need to fill, if this criteria is used?  (Do we have a separate creed that covers abortion?  A separate creed that covers evolution?  A separate creed that covers global warming?)    Just because injustices have happened after the three historic creeds were written, does not justify more creeds.   Is there a creed about not being unjust to the anabaptists who were oftime persecuted by reformed christians?   Are we to adopt every single creed and statement by every reformed denomination simply because it calls itself reformed?  Are we all communally responsible for that, even though it happened on another continent, in another time and context? 

    2.  Does listening to the southern Reformed Family mean that we must adopt or even agree?  Have we not already been involved in action long before this call to action by the south?  Are we actually not far ahead of them on this issue to start with?   If we are 9/10 of the way down the track, are they asking us now to get back to the starting line?

    3.  While synods (a committee and group of representatives, not a pope substitute) have concurred (majority position) that Belhar teachings reflect scripture, that does not mean it represents scripture in a comprehensive confessional unambiguous fashion.   There is a difference. 

    4.  Great, some organizations recommend the Belhar.   And, apparently some people do not recommend it.   Let's put that behind us and look at the reasons why, and at the actual credibility of these organizations, and the substance of their endorsement.  

    5.   While some members of some ethnic minorities believe the Belhar is valuable, others do not.  So, lets put that behind us too, and look at the reasons why, and the substance of their agreement or disagreement. 

    Very well, Tim.  At least we are finally in the open on the controversial nature of the Belhar.

    To the topic...the EIRC letter is misplaced.  The unanimity they note regarding some "positive" affirmation of the Belhar is not because that document merits such affirmation.  It is because the debate has been framed so that opposition to the Belhar is portrayed as being opposition to unity, justice, and racial reconciliation.  The report they've submitted to Synod, while couched in more tactful, politic phrases than that essentially boils down to just that argument - if you like justice, unity and reconciliation, you have to like the Belhar, and if you don't like the Belhar, you must not like justice, unity or reconciliation.

    Since the EIRC and others have been effective in so framing the debate, and no sane person favors disunity, injustice, or racism, almost all who comment on the Belhar feel in some fashion compelled to say nice things about it before they move on to their critique.  It's real easy to get everyone to say nice things about the Belhar if you've persuaded the majority in the audience that only bad people won't like it. 

    But the Belhar is a deeply flawed document that should not be considered as even remotely similar in stature to the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession or Canons of Dort.  At most it should be received for information.

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    Beyond, but in line with, what Tim Verhulst says, I would also suggest, based on my discussions with those from my church who went to a Borgdorff presentation on the Belhar (Classis Columbia), that many or most (out here at least) of those who expressed some kind of "positive affirmation" to the Belhar did so for reasons that were essentially tactical. 

    Here's the thinking: "if we agree to support the Belhar as, say, a declaration, then those wanting it as a confession will compromise to that mid-point." John Cooper does that as well. If you view/listen to the online debate between Borgdorff and Cooper, I think you will conclude that John Cooper has little regard for the Belhar as a doctrinal statemetn of any kind, and wouldn't himself recommend doing anything with it, BUT if there is enough push for it from others in the denomination, he would accept adopting it as a "declaration" (he compares to the Barmen Declaration), again as a compromise.

    As I've suggested before, the push for the Belhar is not, and has not been, from the bottom up but from the top down. And I think that is what John Cooper's position is as well.

    If any of you have not viewed the Borgdoff/Cooper debate, you should. Even twice (I did). It is at: http://network.crcna.org/content/synod/belhar-panel

    John Cooper's expertise in Liberation Theology and related perspectives is particularly helpful to his articulated analysis. That same context also plays a large role in my thinking. Cooper refers to the Accra Confession in the debate. As he points out, the WCRC, of which the CRCNA is a member, has already adopted the Accra Confession. In my mind, the Accra is the Belhar without so much ambiguity, and with a lot more explication of the "political/economic perspective" hinted at in the Belhar (the Accra declares, eg., that "neo-liberalism," which essentially is private enterprise political/economics, is "the worship of Mammon"). I heartifly recommend reading the entirety Accra Confession, to get a sense of the context for the Belhar. It can be found at: http://www.warc.ch/documents/ACCRA_Pamphlet.pdf