Affirm the Belhar? Yes, but not as a doctrinal standard. (Prof. John Cooper)

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      Here is a PDF version of my full article, and here's a summary...

      The Belhar Confession should be adopted by the CRCNA as a declarataion or testimony, not as a Form of Unity equal to the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dordt, our basic doctrinal standards.   There are several decisive reasons.

       The Belhar should not be adopted as a Form of Unity  because it almost completely lacks the content of a doctrinal standard:  It does not state the Gospel or summarize the Reformed Christian faith.  More problematic, if taken on its own terms, it is ambiguous and misleading about the Gospel, central Christian doctrines, and social ethics.  In fact it is widely used in ecumenical circles to promote progressive (“liberal”) theologies and social agendas.  Thus adopting BC as a confession would diminish the doctrinal soundness, denominational unity, and ecumenical integrity of CRCNA.

        However, if it is subordinate to and interpreted according to the Three Forms, then these problems do not arise.  In that case, there are important biblical, historical, contextual, denominational, and ecumenical reasons for affirming BC as an official declaration or testimony about the Gospel’s implications for racial reconciliation and social justice.

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Well put, as always.  Those in favor of adopting the Belhar can tend to set up a false dichotomy: "We must Adopt the Belhar as a confession or we'll be seen as a denomination opposed to racial reconciliation."  Or, more personally, "If you're opposed to the Belhar as a confession, you're racist."  As you point out, there are flaws with this logic in that the Belhar is written too  ambiguously in certain places.  Also, it should raise red flags when a doccument has to begin with an introduction about what it is NOT saying. 

Participant

In one sense I agree with you. The Belhar is not a complete presentation of the Gospel. But I'm not sure the Canons of Dort stand very well without the support of the Heidelberg and Belgic either.

I see the Belhar as remedial, in that it addresses elements (especially in the are of ecclesiology) that are missing in our other confessions, such that the Dutch Reformed Church could adopt the doctrine of apartheid without any direct confessional contradiction.

But you touch on the nature of a confession. Does it have to be complete? If so, are our other confessions complete? In what way are they 'complete enough?' I don't ask those questions to challenge your statements here, but I do think that we have not always clearly understood, or at least not clearly articulated the nature of a confession until now. It's good that we're doing it now, and I look forward to continued discussion about it.

In one sense what a confession is, has everything to do with how it functions in the Church. As it is now the confessions are called our forms of unity; they hold us together theologically. We don't take them in isolation from each other, but together, never letting the abstract, apologetic theology of the Canons overrun the warmth and piety of the Catechism, e.g. And while we're talking about the Canons, we remember that they were articulated to resist a particular but serious threat against Reformed theology. And while that threat was about the nature of salvation (specifically God's and our role in it), it is still and because of that limited in scope and incomplete on its own.

So I can see the Belhar rising to the level of a confession, but only in the context of the other three. In that sense, I would accept it the way I accept the Canons: incomplete on its own, but adding necessary clarification to the other two (which apparently were not sufficient on their own either at the time of the writing of the Canons).

However, I think there are some other problem with adopting the Belhar as a confession that make me hesitate. First, I have colleagues in the ministry who find they cannot fully agree with some of the statements in it (even though they do agree with the intent of the Belhar). I don't want to discuss those now, but it becomes a big problem for them when it comes to signing our form of subscription, and when it comes to serving with integrity in our denomination. So far, this issue has not been addressed. At all!

Secondly, I don't think we're done discussing this document. There are ways in which, through either confusion or neglect, we've just not given it justice. To adopt it with a shrug of the shoulders would be the height of foolishness. It is worthy of much more careful study than what it has been given in most of our churches. These last three years have not proven as fruitful as the Synod of 2009 wanted in this regard. As a delegate at that Synod, I think I can say that with some degree of confidence.

There are probably some other reasons we could cite as well, that make me think that we're (at best?) not ready to adopt this as a confession.

Like you, I think we should adopt it on some level. However, doing so means we need to deal very explicitly, carefully, and respectfully with the theology of the Belhar. In some debates or forums on the Belhar, criticism of it's statements has been met with disdain and near ridicule. Some of the denominational statements have been perceived as being quite heavy-handed and one-sided, not encouraging discussion as much as trying to end it. For those with some genuine questions, this has become a major stumbling block and threatens the very unity the confession champions!

So I would be in favor of Synod 2012 doing either of two things with the Behlar: 1) Giving us another 3 years to study it, or 2) adopting it as an official statement of some kind. But only if we also continue to encourage discussion and (respectful) debate about its points.

Community Builder

A lot of what you say here resonates with me too Rich. 

I too don't think we're prepared to add any new confession, much less this one. I'd rather see us live, work, ponder, discuss, etc the Belhar for a generation so that when/if the church can embrace it it would do so whole heartedly with very broad support. Having an up or down Synodical vote on this at this time is nearly pointless. IMHO. pvk

For those who want to avoid the real work of the church, discussing the Belhar would be a good way to do this.   By now, it is easy to see that we could affirm the intent of the Belhar, and receive it for information as a statement by another denomination in another space and time.   It could easily be regarded in a similar position to the Westminster Confession and other confessions and statements that we do not need to "adopt" in any official manner.   Getting back to scripture would be better, rather than adding confessions and statements that will not be given even the declining amount of attention presently given to our existing confessions.  

A much simpler and more pertinent statement would be that all people of all languages and  nations are called to serve and praise God, and that we should help one another to do so by loving one another as Christ loved us.   (read the epistle of I John)

Participant

I don't know what you mean by the 'real work of the church' John, but in our discussion about dealing with creation/evolution and the role of the church, you suggested that theology was of some importance in the church.

I'd argue that a lack of importance given to the essential characteristic of unity in the Church has led to such ugly terms as "church shopping," and perhaps also the attrition of our 20 somethings, who leave the Church not with objections, but with a shrug, and never miss it.

Unity, reconciliation and justice are extremely important Biblical themes that can be easily passed over in the church.

Perhaps our confessions mean little to you. I'm sorry about that. But as a pastor in the CRC, I think that right now our confessions are about the only thing holding us together -- that and the fact that we're generally comfortable doing things the way we do them. Adding a new confession is extremely significant from an office-bearer perspective. This confession would give us some new criteria for doing and evaluating ministry.

It's no small thing.

Richard, I agree mostly with what you said in the previous post (the one before that...).   I love to discuss, but I also know that discussion of the confessions of another denomination is not really the main work of the church.   Richard, yes, theology is important.  Most confessions were born out of struggle, in the midst of the struggle.   The belhar is talking about a struggle that is virtually over, and a struggle where society and government are already leading and have led for some time.  On the other hand, the creation/evolution debate/struggle is more relevant, and needs more attention, because raw evolutionary theory justifies racism, and justifies treating less capable and less fit people and anyone "different" as of less worth.   Racism is a symptom, of which a lack of love and a lack of obedience, and in some cases a belief in evolution are the cause.   Good theology will get at the cause.  

But I would not ask for the church to make a new confession which makes a statement on evolution, since our confessions have already declared scripture to be authoritative, and have declared God the good creator, man the fallen sinner.   At this point, the real work is not to make another confession, but to uphold what we have.   The real work is to support those who want to work in the field of creation science, since they are being more diligent in upholding the confessions. 

The real work of the church is not making new confessions, but is living them out.   The real work of the church  is living by the authority and guidance of scripture, depending on God, and trusting His Spirit.   Confessions of faith guide us in our belief, but only our personal confession and repentance can change us, by God's grace and spirit and power. 

Confessions of faith may unite us, or may separate us, but certainly will not stop church shopping in this day and age.  Unity, reconciliation and justice are indeed very important, but they must cross confessional boundaries, not wait for a new confession to be written or adopted.   I think the confessions are very important yes, and I agree the proposal to add a new confession is no small thing, but I do not think at this point the belhar will help us in any significant way, and it has a high potential to harm us.   So I would suggest to accept it for information, express appreciation of the circumstances in which it was written, and leave it for the church that wrote and adopted it, to live it out in the context of scripture and the context of their environs.    

We ought to put ourselves to more productive use, and deal with the issues that are really the causes of present-day problems and faithlessness within our churches.    It bears repeating that it is no use adopting another confession that can be conveniently ignored by so many. 

I think John's approach to our relationship to the Belhar Confession make a great deal of sense.  I think it is important that we embrace it and best that we do so as a testimony subsidiary to the existing confessions rather than as a fourth document of the same kind. 

The issue of comprehensiveness does seem to weigh against not only the Belhar, but also the Canons.  Actually, Our World Belongs to God is the comprehensive statement of Christian faith that speaks to our environment and issues.  I have sometimes wondered whether we ought to have as our "Three Forms of Unity" the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession and Our World Belongs to God.  We could then have issue specific statements on a subsidiary level like The Canons (election) and the Belhar (racial justice).  It seems to me that Our World is more useful, attractive and clearly Biblical than the Canons, which are more theological treatise than statement of faith.

@ Steve

To say the Canons of Dort are merely about election is a huge oversimplification.  In its articles and rejection of errors, it does present the core of the Gospel.  To be sure, it was written to clarify certain specific points, but these are not so much about election as they are about the absolute sovereignty of God and the comprehensive nature of divine providence and it does so in the context of explaining, expounding, and presenting the Gospel.

As for the Contemporary Testimony, it is in a way too comprehensive, particularly in its articles on political activism (especially articles 51, 53 and 54).  These, together with articles 47 and 49 would essentially exclude political and economic conservatives from the church.

And it's heretical in article 38 and 47.  The former affirms a consubstantiationist (at minimum) view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper ("In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers his own crucified body and shed blood to his people…") and the latter asserts that human beings, in their very nature, merit at least some of God's blessings ("All students...bear God's image and deserve an education..." - emphasis added) when it is clear from Scripture that in ourselves we merit nothing but God's wrath.  This, by the way, is from the revised 2008 version which you can find online (but if you're reading it in your spare time, it's likely a distorted version, since the testimony asserts that the Internet "distorts our leisure").

The CT is, in my opinion, worse than the Belhar.

I could see John's approach with the Belhar.  I can't see it regarding the CT.

Steve -- that's an intriguing idea, I think...  and you have a valid point about the COD as a confession that is particular to one issue.  The only problem, I think, with the OWBTG as a confession is that it tends to be a) rather political and b) rather specific in its application.  There are places where it calls for action that may be beyond what scripture can precisely call us to do.  As a confession then, I think it would end up requiring more of a person than it should in that it would require a subscriber to agree to believing/doing things that are beyond what scripture could call us to believe/do.

Steve, I don't know if you were referring to John Cooper or to myself in your comment.   However, I just want to make clear that I do not want to adopt the Belhar as a testimony either, nor as a confession.  The reason I don't want to adopt it as a testimony is a bit different than the reasons for not adopting it as a confession, although the same problems with its vague terminology and political atmosphere are still there.   I think a testimony is much more personal.   It ought to come out of your own personal history and your own experience.   Adopting someone else's testimony just doesn't make much sense.  This applies at a denominational level as much as at a personal level.   Just as you or I adopting the personal testimony of Franklin Graham or Abraham Kuyper or John Calvin or John Tyndale just doesn't make sense, so for the crc to adopt the testimony of another denomination just doesn't make logical sense. 

It is better simply to receive it for information, indicate perhaps some potential problems, and express appreciation for the motivation, the context and the love expressed in that testimony.   Let it be theirs. 

(As a side note, I would love to see more testimonies expressed by people who make profession of faith.   It is a sad thing that so few do so.   But it would also be sad if they simply adopted one formulaic testimony made by someone else.)

"let‟s recall the genre distinction made above between the historic Confessions that are doctrinal standards and recent declarations about social-political issues. BC clearly fits the latter, not the former, whatever it was named."

For me this is the heart of the issue, is the Belhar truely a Confessional statement on par with the Three Forms of unity or is it a social-politial statement that sounds really good? I don't think it rates on the level of the Three Forms of Unity and am a bit distressed that we as a denomination would so quickly and willingly make it equal to them. I agree with Coop that it should be received as a statement that we indorse but not on the level of our Confessions and Creeds. Coop also makes a good point that one reason we may be so willing to allow them equal status with our other Confessions and Creeds is because an appretiation of those Confessions and Creeds have fallen on hard times in our denomination.

I will tell you when you need Jesus in a way that he is your last hope, He does't talk about this guys. Don't take my word just wait till  your death is at your door or you can see it coming and you will gain a new perspective.

Please consider this because I know you guys are good Christain men and saved. You all are very knowledgable and gifted by God. That is obvious to me. I also sense good intent and your passion is obvious by your involvment.

   Just a couple questions that I remind myself with once in a while. If these topic's are really pressing then how did theif get into heavan? How did Abraham please a God he never read about  enough to be called by God to be told his decendents will be God's chosen people? We all know the anwsers are faith. If faith is required to believe and  in Jesus, the Bible and the creeds , why not discuss those questions first?  There were some  comments in the posts on faith by Mr. Zylstra I believe but I think it would be more important to think,pray and discuss one of the fundimental issue's in our churches health like  not allowing our faith Him to be fully used by Him. You Guys could name more issue's than I could but I hope get my drift. I am not looking for the anwsers if you think i being to judgmental or am missing the boat I understand. i still will feel the same way about you guys as being Christain leaders and brothers in Christ.

I'm not hung up on the term testimony.  John Cooper offered the term declaration.  I used testimony because that is what we call Our World Belongs to God and it is simpler if we don't multiply terms.  I also don't see the word testimony as requiring the personal character that is mentioned just above.  If you spend some time with people who have been on the receiving end of racism, the idea that the Belhar's issues are "political" is pretty hard to swallow.  Watch the PBS special on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission sometime.  The systematic torture and murder used by the old regime in South Africa in order to maintain white privilege is truly incredible.  The fact that many of the perpetrators were attending Reformed churches at the time, should give us all pause. 

Discriminating against people on the basis of race, which is definitely not limited to South Africa, is a denial of the Gospel.  That is why I believe it is vital to adopt the Belhar at some level and with some terminology.  To just receive it as information will be perceived by many around the world as fudging on the issue of racism.

Steve, I appreciate that you don't want to be racist, nor perceived as racist, and that you want people to know you don't want to be racist, and that you don't want reformed churches to be perceived as racist.  I understand that. 

However, the Belhar is political.  It is political because it deals with the political issues of racism, the power of the state, the power of the church, the ideas of equality and rights.  But our discussion of it is also political, because we assume that because reformed churches in South Africa are reformed, that we are automatically allied to them in some structural sense.   If this confession had been given to us as a gift, from some pentecostal church or baptist church or calvinist Presbyterian church in South Africa, we would likely not be discussing this.  Thus the politics of churches.  

We don't have to be seen as fudging on racism just because we don't adopt this statement as something on a par with our confessions or testimonies.   It is not difficult to make a statement that all people of all races, colors, and abilities, are equally human beings, equally children of God.   But if we are to make such a statement, then we should make our own, not adopt someone else's.   This is a Christian-cultural statement, and as such, it should come out of our own cultural context, not from another continent where most of us have never been, nor have our ancestors come from there. 

The USA culture liberated slaves one hundred and fifty years ago, and gave everyone equal rights more than fifty years ago.  Any testimony that we might make with regard to that is fifty or one hundred years behind the times, out of date, and useless.  Nor does it seem to apply in any discernable way to the Canadian context.

If we are going to get into the business of making denominational testimonies, then we should not place these testimonies into some sort of a book that gives them a quasi official status with a different name but similar importance to our basic confessions.  And if we are going to start to make denominational testimonies, then to be consistent and honest, we ought to promote individual testimonies on a regular basis.   It is these individual testimonies that carry the real weight when we talk about issues such as racism, or ignoring the needs of the disabled, or evangelism, or living lives of purity (purifying ourselves).  

My testimony is this:  we have adopted an aboriginal girl, my oldest son and wife have adopted a girl from Haiti, and another son and wife have adopted three boys from Russia.  Our local  church directly supports mission work in Kazakhstan and Kenya.   I work with professional people who have come from countries such as Sudan, Kenya, India and Pakistan.   And have worked with others whose parents or grandparents or themselves have come from China, Ukraine, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and elsewhere.   What have you (you-all) done, or do you intend to do? 

I'm sure many others have similar testimonies and situations.   I wouldn't be surprised that many voted for the present president, and that many appreciate Martin Luther King day. 

The real testimony is from those people who refuse to move out of certain neighborhoods in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, even though the neighborhoods are changing color.  

And it is also important to recognize that not all perceived racism is racism.   It may also be about strong cultural differences.  The desire for cultural connection and similarity leads to the tendency to create a hispanic neighborhood, or a middle-class black neighborhood(ie. parts of Washington, DC.), or an East-Indian community, or a China town, or a dutch community, or an italian neighborhood, or a mormon town.   I think to call all of this racism is to miss the point, and it doesn't really get covered by something like Belhar. 

If you really want to fight racism and discrimination on basis of disabilities, then you ought to develop a testimony about the fallacy of evolution.  It is raw evolutionary theory that leads to racism. 

John

Hey Steve;

My concern with adopting the BC  is: Will it force us somewhere down the road into a situation where we wil either have to accept same sex marriages or be deemed as practicing injustice and prejudice against homosexuals according to the BC? I say this because as John Cooper pointed out the BC language has been used to do just that in other denominations. We live in a world where "Tolerance" is the cultural religion of the day and can easily be used against us as it has in the church affiliated schools in Canada. It is something to seriously think about. The wording of the BC is so open to interpretation that I have some serious concerns how it could be used, or more to the point, how it already has been used. It isn't a theological treaties by any stretch of the imagination. It is clearly a religious-social-political statement. I'm not sure I'd even want to see it used even as a testimonial.

Hi Rob,

I certainly appreciate this concern.  This is one reason that I agree with John that testimony or declaration rather than confessional status is the best option.  The following text was adopted by Synod 2009 to say that the Belhar should not be interpreted to imply acceptance of same sex relationships.  It is found on p. 606.

As Synod 2009 brings the Belhar Confession before the
church for consideration, synod shares with the whole
church the profound nature of this moment in the life of
the church and therefore one that must not be entered into
lightly but rather with godly fear and trembling, humbly
trusting that we will be faithful to the gospel. With these
understandings
synod proposes to Synod 2012 the adoption
of the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession of the Christian
Reformed Church in North America.
Since Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, our
confessions are and must be historic and faithful witnesses
to Scripture. Synod observes that the Belhar Confession
truly expresses the biblical goals of unity, reconciliation, and
justice; the church’s commitment to these goals; and the fact
that “true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership
of this church” (The Belhar Confession, Article 2).
Synod further observes that, as a faithful witness to Scripture,
the Belhar Confession does not negate the biblically derived
statements of synod on homosexuality, including those
of 1973 and 1996. Finally, synod recognizes that injustice and
enmity between peoples are two dimensions of all-pervasive
human sinfulness, for which every human being needs Jesus
Christ as Savior.
—Adopted

Participant

The Belhar has three sections.

As to the first section, about unity, the content is fairly unobjectionable, but I don't think it adds anything of significance for the CRC. Still, it may well have been very meaningful to the South African church. I wouldn't add that section as a confession for the CRC just because there isn't enough reason to do that (and that itself is a significant reason not to).

As to the second section, about Unity, ditto. An irony would be that adopting the Belhar would diminish unity in the CRC. Whenever a slight majority tells the entirety what it must think and believe, a degree of disunity results. In this respect, we would be wise to observe the traditions of the Friends (Quakers), who require consensus for decisions such as this, as opposed to the more common political measure of "majority rules."

As to the third section, about "social justice" (designated by that phrase or not), the Belhar is, in my mind, highly objectionable.

The Behlar speaks only about "justice," not "mercy." My observation of some years has been that some in the CRC wish to similarly twist Michah 6:8, which commands that we (people) "do justice" and also "love mercy" (and "walk humbly with God").  When the CRC Articles of Incorporation prior to our most recent version were drafted and filed, the Articles referred to the church as an agent of mercy, but not justice (I got a copy today from the Michigan Corporation Division's online records). This probably reflected the view that churches are agents of mercy in society at large, but not agents of justice, the latter properly belonging to the domain (sphere) of government. That didn't mean of course that Christians should not participate in doing justice personally, nor even that they should not participate FULLY in political matters to ensure that government is also doing justice.  But it was not thought that the church, as institution (as the CRC denomination) was the agency properly tasked with corporately doing justice in members' behalves, as if all members would agreed with the denomination's decisions for them..

Flash forward to the present. The CRC now has a "Office of Social Justice" that promotes certain federal legislation and a certain political perspectives; Home Missions has a Hope Equals project that promotes UN inititiatives, certain federal legislation, and a perspective as to injustice in the Palestinian/Israli struggle; the Banner declares it knows for all its members the scientific and political answers involved in global warming; and Synod purports to understand and then even adopts the "Millennium Development Goals" promoted by the United Nations.  I'm neither a Republican nor Democrat, but still I am increasingly part of a political association.

The Belhar's third section reflects this recent CRC development and pushes it forward significantly. It would have us declare in complete unison that God is God "in a special way" to the poor. Of signficance, the third section and only the third section, calls "the church" to specific actions, none of which were anticipated by the Articles of Incorporation of the CRC denomination drafted less than twenty years ago. Of further significance, the word "mercy" appears nowhere in the Belhar, let alone the third section.  Lots of "justice" though.

I didn't have to look up the phrase "social justice" in Wikipedia to know what that meant, or that the third section of the Belhar literally reeks with the ambience of that worldview (or conglomerate of worldviews), but if you need a historical refresher, check out Wikipedia's article on it (not bad really), at:

   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice

Essentially, "social justice" is a worldview with heavy emphasis on a political disposition, which until the past decade or so has been fairly foreign to the CRC.  It merges the two mandates of Micah 6:8 (do justice, love mercy) into one, that being "do justice." In the case of the Belhar, if we adopt it, the mandate becomes, more specifically, the following:

   "The church, as institution and as denomination, shall be, must be, the political proxy for its members in deciding what is justice and what is not, and it shall, must, also act in behalf of its members in lobbying government to implement what the CRC as denomination decides, again in behalf of its members, is appropriate legislation to achieve what the CRC as denomination decides is just. And, by the way, 'love mercy' means 'do justice', as we have all agreed." 

AARP (the political lobbying organization masquerading as as a retired folks association)?  Meet the CRC.

I used to work quite hard to convince churches who tended "right" in a political way to separate their church affairs from their political affairs (do both but watch out for the proper spheres of authority). I shouldn't have to explain why I did that, this being a discussion among those from the church that still (hopefully) remembers Abraham Kuyper. As a practical matter though, I know from experience that when a church (as intitution, including as denomination) takes political positions and does political lobbying, the church become fractured into as many sub-groups as there are political positions, as well as anemic, at least as a church.

When I was in college (Dordt), the professor who really taught me the most about "not one square inch" also disagreed with me the most about political theory.  I was a philosophy and history major, with an emphasis on political theory (did you know John Locke described Kuyperian spheres of authority long before Kuyper was born?). My and my professor's political perspectives were and still are really, really different. Fortunately, Dordt College was a college, not a political party, and so my professor and I could be brothers in Christ together, notwithstanding our political differences. I was on Dordt's Board of Trustees in the early 1990's when that board very wisely decided not to "take a position" on "women in office," declaring rather that it was the church's question to deal with, not the school's, including Dordt College's, including even the Theology Department.

The push for the Belhar reminds me that every generation needs to learn anew the truths one would think should be automatically established. Before even considering adopting the Belhar, the CRC needs to figure out what the roles of the church, as institution and denomination, are, and are not.

How can a document cause so much diegreement? Has anyone been saved by doctorine?

@Ken L.

To the extent that doctrine consists of the content of one's faith, yes.  It's not just believing, but what one believes, and "what one believes" is doctrine.

"Jesus' death and resurrection fully paid for all my sins."  That's a statement of doctrine.

"God is one, in three persons - Father, Son, Holy Spirit."  That's a statement of doctrine.

One might ask whether the doctrines being discussed here are essential doctrines, that is, doctrines that define the Christian faith as such or that define the Christian Reformed Church.  They are not as regards the former - essential to Christianity as such - but they are as regards the latter - the identity of the CRC.

Are we going to be a church that bears witness to the Kingdom of Heaven at hand, or a church mired in the search for a place in the kingdoms of earth?

It is interesting that the CRC began when certain pastors in the Netherlands rediscovered the Canons of Dort (and the church order ratified at that Synod).  They began to teach it as a way to call the church in the Netherlands back from the brink as it had become merely an organ of the state, concerned primarily with the political machinations of that state and their ability to milk it.  The irony is palpable as now, 175 years after they split from the state church over these matters, their descendents are trying to shove the Canons of Dort aside as they rush to be "players" in the political machinations of the state.

The reason the Reformed Church is always reforming is because the pressures to stray from the Gospel are myriad and powerful.  It is not because we need to try something new every few years, but that every few years we need to go back to the ancient truth.  This, it seems, is one of those times.

Thanks B-ver,
The doctrine as far as being essential to salvation is not correct. Period!!
What they say is a interpretation of the gospel truths . Jesus is a personal Savior. He does not talk doctrine but love and honesty. He requires letting your ego go to fully realize who He is. I hope you realize all He has to offer.

Participant

I've spent the last several weeks looking at pretty much every page on the CRC website (including OSJ and such, and the Network), reading past Synodical reports, past Banners, and reviewing websites of WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) and related organizations.  (The recent Banner editorial, "Why Play Favorites" jolted me).

It has become clear to me that the point of the Belhar, at least for those larger powers-that-be who are pushing it, is to become a more genuine partner in the WCRC crowd.  Almost a initiation right of sorts.  "Yes, we really are like you -- see, we adopted the Belhar as one of our confessions, just as you required."

I've been out of touch with my denomination (busy in life), which is perhaps why I haven't seen this, but for those of you who have kept in touch, isn't this really obvious?  I suspect 90% of any group of reasonably perceptive people who previously knew nothing of the CRC would view it that way if they reviewed what I have in the last few weeks.

And what does the WCRC represent?  Essentially, a "global church alliance" that is about 70-80% politically focused, 20-30% church focused (at least church as insitution, as understood by Kuyperian sphere sovereignty thinkers).  Moreover, WCRC is predominantly non-North American, concerned predominantly with non-North American issues and themes.  WCRC is pretty much a redecorated throwback to Liberation Theology, using the newer label of Social Justice.  It tends to be quite-left-of-center if mapped by generally understood American political labels, and, like most left-of-center American politicos, is by default distrusting of anything that smacks of "traditional American values." 

This current Zeitgeist loves the UN, globalism, green, simple living, talking about racism and oppression, Obama, having solidarity, the IPCC, fair trade, immigrants (to the US only, preferably Hispanic, especially illegal ones), rights, social justice, economic justice, fuzzy communication (mantras and words that could be interpreted so many ways, ala Belhar), homosexuality, fighting AIDS above all other diseases, being non-judgmental (except about being judgmental and refusing to do justice), communal lamenting, and respecting all living creatures including worms (see latest Creation Stewardship Task Force Report, just released), and maybe objects like rocks and dirt too.

In the opposite direction, this Zeitgeist has no use for American ________ (pretty much anything can be put in the blank), the thought of anyone making more than $80,000 (although most of them actually do), jobs (except when in the phrase "jobs for the poor"), Wall Street, Walmart, small business, big business, GNP, talk of mercy (there is no mercy, only justice), talk of self-sufficiency, balancing budgets, Republicans, any expression of economic theory (eg., "supply and demand"), Ronald Reagan, the US Constitution (except for some parts of the first amendment, the fourth, and some other provisions, certainly not the second or tenth amendments), the phrase "securing the border," CO2 emissions from anything or anybody (except from going to lots of global conferences), industry, business.

I'm convinced that were it not for the WCRC (including the prior entities that folded into the WCRC), hardly anyone in the CRC would even know the word "Belhar."  No, some would say that's why its a good thing we are in the WCRC.  Maybe so (well, I don't think so but).  Still, it should be recognized that if the CRC completes the move this direction (and the Belhar is just a small part of it -- being driven from above by the WCRC, not from below), it will completely transform what the CRC is.  Some say we already are there.  Well, maybe, at least at the "top end" of the denomination, but I convinced the bottom end is not there at all.  Most don't know much about any of this (I was that) and if they did, would be, well absolutely bewildered about where their church went (actually, I'm kind of there right now).

And some will say this is all a good thing.  Not me.  I've seen this story before. 

But don't misunderstand.  I think the CRC has always had "political righties" and "political lefties" (and some other places -- I'm a bit of a mix, though mostly right).  That isn't the change here.  The change is the denomination choosing sides for its members, essentially on political issues, to appease its global partners (masters?).  Just as the Banner editorial ("Why Play Favorites") announced the Banner's departure not picking sides on the political issue of climate change, so the Belhar, if passed, will announce a right of passage toward becoming a more trusted part of a global political train, willing to acquiesce in what the engineer of that train says.

By the way, the Accra Confession is now being pushed by WCRC.  Like Belhar except bolder, less ambiguous, more explicity political, even less theological.  In a way, we've already adopted that by being part of WARC (which folded into WCRC).

I really wonder whether those pushing this know where they're driving.  I'm sure some do, but I can't imagine we've really changed this much, whether we've really decide to be that much less a church and that much more a political player. 

I pray we haven't.

@ Doug

AMEN and AMEN!

I've been singing this lyric to different tunes for 20 years.  The consolidation of decision-making power in a relatively small cohort in the denomination has facilitated this top-down nonsense and the result is as predictable as day following night.

It's not a conspiracy.  It's a very normal cultural pattern.  You spend your time hanging out with a bunch of people from the UN scene, sipping tea with academics looking wistfully back on the heady days of the 1970s, politicians who think they can change the world with a single bill, social engineers, and the multitudinous idealists who think heaven can be made right here on earth if we just put our minds to it (as the founder of one of CRWRC's partner organizations recently stated), and you want to be liked by them.  Who wants to be the odd-man out?  "Everybody else" is this or that.  You feel important being your denomination's delegate to these big, multi-national confabs.  Maybe you get to write a paragraph or edit a sentence in one of their reports or manifestoes.  You want to keep feeling important.  You want to draft an entire section next year at the big meeting.  "Yeah! We're somebody!"

You come home, you meet with more people, drop names, talk about how much you learned in your six days in South Africa and how you now have the answers.  People listen - you were, after all, at the big confab and shook hands with world famous so-and-so and had a personal tour of whatever.  They tell you you're somebody.  They hang around you and, because the big somebody - you - thinks this way, they want to be somebody so they start to think that way, too.  It's the usual way "groupthink" progresses.

Then somebody comes in to this pc love-fest and points out that it doesn't make sense, that it's not what the Bible, the creeds or the confessions say, or that it's not the business of the church, and they respond accordingly.  "You big bully.  You meanie.  You crass, unfeeling, troglodyte!  Stop raining on our parade!  Don't you love [insert particular favored cause or group du jour here]?  We're just trying to save [X]!  Don't you care?  Besides, you're not somebody.  If you were, you'd think like we do."  A few try to reason with the group-thinkers, get them to see, try to break it to them gently, but they rarely get anywhere, either.  Often they end up being co-opted - we end up in the same place, just a few weeks or years later.

I've long since accepted the fact that I'll be perceived as crass, unfeeling, and mean by such people.  It's actually quite fun, once you get used to it.  But they won't listen.  They're committed to the abyss.  We might hope to pull some back from the brink, but those at the top are enmeshed.  The only way to break up the groupthink is to break up the group.  Which is why I think we need to sell the property at 2850 Kalamazoo SE and disperse the denominational offices about the country - Lynden, Pella, Ripon, Sioux Center, south Florida.  We've already got one in Chicago (Back to God Ministries).  Maybe we can set one up in Lethbridge (not Edmonton, Toronto, or Calgary, but out closer to the farmers).  Re-establish classical representation on all boards and dispense with the "regional" system entirely.  If that means the government of Canada forces us to split along the 49th parallel, then split.

Did the their on the cross know any of what you believe? He is one of the few confirmed people in heaven. God is God of abosolutes. Abosolute perfection from sin unless Jesus calls for your faith and you respond.
He asked very few things of us. He knows we can't get there by trying to follow any law or protocol. That is why He summarizes the old covenant. Love God first, love your follow humans as you should love yourself.
Now that I'd what I call simple. So how do you come up with this stuff?
Sure there of people of malice. God will protect us from those who really hate us as Christians. It may require our death but not our Spirit or salvation to eternal life which is the reward.

Participant

@ b-ver

I do like the idea of disbursing the denominational offices. It may not be as "efficient" in some ways, but it seems to me that not enough people have resisted to the urge to centralize power just because they can.  A healthy respect for Kuyperian spheres would accomplish some of the same benefits as would disbursing the denomination offices, but my observation is that the sense of those institutional boundaries no longer exist much in Western Michigan. 

Hence, if you are in NW Iowa, you support church (as a separate institution) and college (Dordt, as a separate institution), and political advocacy (as a separate institution--Center for Public Justice came from NW Iowa).  But not in Western Michigan, where Calvin College and the denomination, and OSJ, etc. are becoming an authority monolith, which is, really, moving to a model much more resembling the Roman Catholic tradition (what the church says goes in any sphere and they may always be the political proxy for their members).

What is particularly interesting is this: the Roman Catholics has been, as a practical matter though perhaps not officially, decentralizing (giving more regard to sphere sovereignty) in recent decades, while the CRC is moving in the opposite direction. John Kennedy's election as President might be seen to have started that shift in the American RC community, but there have been lots of other signs as well.  It used to be that Catholics were Democrats because they were "social justice" advocates (again, switching going on between RC and CRC).  Increasingly, American Catholics are deciding "social justice" often hurts people more than helps (eg., Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiatives), and so they are becoming Republicans, wanting to do mercy privately, not via government.  I've lived, worked, and coached with a lot of Catholics in my area.  None of them are "social justice" types. Understand that when I say "social justice," I mean a perspective that demands government right all wrongs, and for people to right wrong by advocating for government action that does it.  It also means there is no more talk of mercy, but only of rights and justice.  Catholics still tend to be very "merciful" (personally charitable, giving) but not so much anymore demanding that goverment do their charity work.

A very striking example of the RC shift is found on the US Supreme Court. Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito are all RC, the last four very conservative (de-centristic) and the first pretty much so.  Arguably, none of them fit into the "social justice" mold, even though the RC's were the "religious" pillar within the "social justice" crowd just decades ago.

Doug -

I think the change in the Catholic church has less to do with Kennedy then with abortion and John Paul II.  Kennedy was very much the leading edge of "social justice" Catholicism and it fit with the Liberation Theology movement rising in Central America.

John Paul II, coming from Poland, saw what happens when you get a government that tries to right all wrongs - a lot more wrong than right.  The fact that the left chose as its defining issue the defense of abortion also made quite a few Catholics rethink and they've been instrumental in the neo-conservative movement.  Not least of those influential figures in the U.S. is Msgr Richard John Neuhaus, his journal First Things, and the Institute for Religion and Public Life.  He's dead now, but what you're talking about is reflective of a lot of his work, including the book The Naked Public Square.

By the way, George Weigel has an excellent article in the latest edition of First Things that gets at this very distinction you've been talking about here and on the BANNER site.

Another excellent player in these circles of the Catholic church is the Acton Institute, headquartered in Grand Rapids, too.  Worth paying some attention to.

But the CRC is playing catch-up to the social justice types because the CRC - at least in its leadership - is not confident in its historical identity.  They feel they have to apologize for the CRC in their global confabs and they don't like it, so they've been trying to remake the CRC in the image of some ideal they've tricked out of their heads.  It's very much like a nerdy kid trying hard to get in with the cool kids at school.  But the more they try to be "hip" and "relevant", the more irrelevant the CRC becomes.  Preachers in somber tones making too much eye-contact as they speak seriously, imploring people to be passionate about "justice" and get active in the "fight" for whatever leftist cause is headlining Sojourners today are a dime a dozen.  Instead of a solo, we're becoming a small voice in the back of the tenor section in a SAB choir.

b-ver and Doug Vande Griend,  I just want to say thankyou for your involvement and participation in these issues.  The broad background of relevant information and your astute analyses on this issue as well as the evolution and climate change issues are  shedding light in the midst of murky waters.   You are like a breath of fresh air.   May God use this discussion to direct our paths towards focussing on our main mission and on our unity in the light of His Word, and by the power of His Spirit. 

@Ken-

I highly doubt the thief knows what I believe, but that doesn't mean his faith was merely personal and without content.  He obviously believed there was life after death, that Jesus was chosen by God, that he was in fact King of kings, that he could save the thief, that Jesus was truly innocent, that he was himself guilty and deserving of death...

That I make these propositional statements, and therefore doctrinal statements, doesn't mean it was mere intellectual assent on either the thief's part or mine.  It does not depersonalize the faith.

As to where I come up with this stuff, it's in the Bible.  To be sure, the content of the faith that is absolutely essential to salvation is minimal - simple enough that a child can believe it.  But it is appropriate that faith seek understanding, that a love of Jesus compel us to more fully know him, to - in the words of scripture - grow in grace and knowledge of the truth.  There's a reason the Bible includes more than simply, "believe in Jesus and be saved".

There is also the matter of the Christian Reformed Church's identity.  We are Christian, but we are only part of the body of Christ, with a specific task and vocation.  This is in part founded in what our faith understands of Christ our head.

So you are, I think, correct that none of this is absolutely essential to salvation, but that doesn't mean it is unimportant or that the discussion isn't worth having.

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