Skip to main content

I refer to my children (18, 21 and 23), none of whom are dealing with intellectual disabilities, as "kids".

People in church frequently refer to those in the college-age range as "kids" and mean nothing more than that they're about the age their own children are.  Heck, I'm 47 and my mother still refers to me and to my brothers as "you kids" as do many of the elderly in the congregation.  They are not insulting me when they do so, either.

The attempt to correct the heart by correcting the language is to treat the symptom rather than the disease.  The disease is not the words "retarded" or "kid" or "idiot", but the condescension and self-elevation that may be intended through the use of those words or phrases.  While some words, such as "idiot" have become so wholly the realm of insult that it is safe to say don't ever use it.  "Kid" has not yet reached that point.  And one of the reasons "retarded" has gotten there is because (as a society) we never really addressed the heart of the matter when we dropped "idiot" from the approved lexicon.  You could get rid of "retarded" and "kid", but the heart of pride and condescension will just find a different word. Chasing language like this is a striving after wind.

The myriad changes in the word or phrase used to refer to Black people hasn't eradicated racism, either.  It's the heart, not the word.  So  I am not really concerned about people-first language.  I'm concerned about hearts obedient to the great commandment and the second like it.


First thing is to stand for something.  Try to be everything to everybody and you end up being nothing to anybody.  Some people won't like what you stand for, but that's OK.  I have no problem with referring folks to other churches (a church is better than no church).

Second thing, emphasize integration.  The purpose of children and youth ministry is to integrate them fully into the body of believers (same thing with evangelism, couples' clubs, etc.).  The "niche" has it's uses in that, which is fine, but if the sub-group, whatever it might be and however it is defined, is kept isolated from the rest of the congregation then what you end up with is two congregations instead of one - congregations too often defined along social science strata and thus far too uniform to be effective.

And avoid instant fixes - problems developed over decades are not fixed in minutes.

I would say "Have at it." I am not opposed to, or even bothered by, efforts to tend to the creation as God's stewards of it. There is strong scriptural backing for just such a thing.

But the issue here is not caring for creation as such. It is the acceptance of a specific political perspective which is highly suspect on the facts and the binding of the Church to that political view. I object to that most strongly.

I do not think you are out to hurt me, or that you could if you wished to. It is clear that you do not understand me and that you are responding on an emotional level to what are most emphatically not emotional writings. I have very little control over how others perceive these posts.  The desire for precision in my language coupled with the need for brevity leaves little room for the usual sugar one uses to help the medicine go down. It seems that troubles you. Sorry.

One slight - well, not so slight - quibble on your 6th point, Peter. The Church belongs to Jesus. What we teach and espouse is no more bound by a majority vote of the membership than it is by the opinion of recognized experts. We are bound by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The fundamental problem with this entire global warming nonsense is that it is a response to political pressure and is intended to provide a political response. Your own assertion that we should check with "the people" (i.e., members) buys into that politicization of the Church.

In any event, the whole exercise is unnecessary. We already have a statement on creation care - article 51 of the Contemporary Testimony:

[quote]We lament that our abuse of creation has brought lasting damage to the world we have been given: polluting streams and soil, poisoning the air, altering the climate, and damaging the earth. We commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God.[/quote]

What if...

Well, what constitutes "misuse" or "irresponsible use"? That's not exactly clear.

If we accept that we are damaging the environment, then we have to ask what will undamage it, at what cost, and what other benefits or advantages will we have to surrender in order to pay those costs (such as cheap food, liberty, easy communications, economic prosperity, etc.). And how much do we do before we figure it's good enough in an imperfect world? Is any task force that might be established by the Board of Trustees or Synod really competent to answer those incredibly complex, even painul questions? I doubt it.

We've already said that we must be good stewards, not ravagers, of God's creation, mindful that it is His, not ours. There's the basic principle. What is more, that principle is largely accepted throughout the Western world, even by some who do not believe there is a God or that he created anything. There is little need to re-iterate the principle.

By pursuing this, particularly the Micah Statement on Climate Change, the denomination is in fact lending its imprimatur to a specific course of political action that is not based on Scripture (supposedly our area of competence) but on a rather hazy understanding of economics, environmental science, climatology, politics, development theory, and a host of other things that seem to be gleaned more from CNN than anywhere else. In the process, we risk saying that those who disagree with this course of action must, by definition, disagree with the basic principle - and that is not at all true.

Forgive me, but I really think that the Church should refrain from saying things that aren't true.

If the denomination is a subset of the Church universal, and the Church universal belongs to Christ, then it follows that our denomination also belongs to Christ.

True, in terms of secular law, these institutions are owned by the members, but I didn't get the impression that you were speaking in terms of secular law.

I have no difficulty with the presbyterian/conciliar form of church government. This is, however, not a method or system of "control" but a system of determining the will of the Holy Spirit and based on the belief that all believers receive the gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit controls.

I know you suggest this in your posts, but you also leave open an alternative understanding. My intent is to close off that alternative. Perhaps I'm a bit hyper-sensitive to it, but there is abroad in the denomination a view of ecclesiastical assemblies as parallel to secular legislatures and factional politics that talk of "owners" and "control" feeds into.

Which is why I called it a "quibble" - a minor point, more along the lines of "I would put it this way..." than "I think you're wrong..."

kvanhouten - Concur. The principle is clear. The science and politics are not. We should trust our members to apply the principle in their respective spheres of activity and life.

Peter - I really don't think there's a whole lot of daylight between our respective views on the matter, either. Although I think article 51 of the Contemporary Testimony also goes a bit too far in accepting CNN science, it is a sufficient statement for the Church on the topic. Making bold pronouncements and calls for political activism based on current fads, uncertain science, and a misplaced desire to get along with the movers & shakers of the world is a recipe for egg-on-face.

It's OK for us to confess ignorance on a complex issue where the problem is not clear and the solution even less so. Neither should we attempt to bind the consciences of our members unnecessarily.

Ken: I trust God is in control of the lives of his people, but it grieved me when my Father died.  God is in control of his church.  I trust that.  Nevertheless, the death of the CRCNA would grieve me.

If the CRC continues down this path of politicization, it will die.  Something might yet grow from the corpse, but the CRCNA will cease to be.  You might ask how I can be certain of that.  Consider:

1) our membership peaked in 1992 at about 316,000.  It is now about 250,000 and lost about 3,000 members (net) annually over the last several years;

2) the membership that remains is on average older, having fewer children, and fewer of those children are remaining in the denomination;

3) denominations that have taken a similar path (ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal Church USA, etc.) have all seen precipitous declines in their membership followed by years of steady bleeding at a slower rate, a phenomenon paralleled in the CRC experience since 1992, but where they had millions of members, we had thousands - we'll hit bottom before they do;

4) this decline has occurred during one of the most concerted efforts at church growth in CRC history - since 1992 we have spent roughly $160 million (about $7-8 million annually) on domestic missions (there are slightly over 100 more CRC congregations in 2011 than in 1992, despite the loss of over 60,000 members).

Interestingly, this decline in our membership dates to the final ratification of the change in the church order opening all the offices to women and to the establishment of a "Social Justice Coordinator" (later morphing into the Office of Social Justice).  It's not possible to draw a direct cause-effect line between these, but neither can I believe this is just coincidental.

Eric Verhulst on October 31, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That depends - to be judged without evidence, without reason, on the basis of illegitimate criteria, is offensive.  To be judged appropriately, reasonably, with an eye towards disciplining a brother or sister may be painful, but not offensive.  Let's see...which does your statement fit?

I daresay, all you know of me is what I have written here.  You know nothing of my history, my experience, my relationships, or anything else about me.  You know that I state my opinions rather forcefully, and that I do not think the Belhar warrants my assent in the same way that the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort do. On this basis, you would insinuate that the accusation of racism is correct - or am I misreading you?  I don't think so.

I thank you for providing a splendid example of the very insinuations I was objecting to in the previous posts.

Then I apologize for misreading you. The question certainly left itself open to such a misreading, however, and you most certainly did insinuate something.

I am not angry.

No, I doubt I persuaded anyone, either. Since support for the Belhar is not fundamentally based in reason, reasoned arguments will not persuade. This is no reason not to make them.

The Belhar is not moot. It is a serious matter to bind another's conscience. Given the Formula of Subscription, adopting the Belhar as a confession would do exactly that. The reasons given so far by those advocating it do not merit such a weighty step.

Yes, I read them.  Here are my responses to the articles.

First: Mariano Avila, Professor of New Testament starts out by saying that "For years the CRCNA has made efforts to become a multi-ethnic church and to promote racial justice."

Indeed it has. And, like Professor Avila, it has assumed that those two phrases - "multi-ethnic church" and "racial justice" - are roughly equivalent terms. They aren't. He then asserts that the Belhar will help us achieve this goal. How? Doesn't say, really. He does say that the Belhar "has made three doctrines of the Gospel a matter of confession: *The unity of the church... *Reconciliation... and *A call to live God's justice..." Maybe he's forgotten about Q&A 54 and 55 in the Heidelberg Catechism, or Articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession which already make the unity of the church a confessional matter, just as vast swaths of them include an affirmation of reconciliation in Christ with both God and Man. The section of the Heidelberg Catechism encompassing the 10 Commandments (Q&A 86-115), along with various elements of the Belgic Confession do a pretty good job of calling us to live God's justice, too. In other words, by his own criteria, the Belhar is entirely superfluous.

He says "The Belhar Confession is a brave and painful expression of faith, a 'cry from the heart' that we will never understand unless we hear it with our hearts." In other words, it's pretty much an emotional document rather than a theological one. In advocating its adoption as a confessional standard, however, they are asking me to accept it as theologically binding - something he acknowledges it is not intended to be.

I'll grant that it was brave in the South African context, particularly in the time it was written and adopted by the South African churches. It is not particularly brave or painful in an American context. If it were, you can bet we would never have taken it up. He then hits us on our prosperity - "As members of a materially rich denomination, sheltered from and alien to the unbearable sufferings of sisters and brothers in the majority of the world..." Really? What does he know of my suffering or lack thereof? You think people with money never suffer? He then goes on to say that if we do not adopt this confession, we will have become, I guess, inhuman since "We will have lost a part of our humanity."

He quotes approvingly a statement by Charles Villa-Vicencio who chastises us in the West for "a few stock ideas derived from the Christian tradition..." that are nothing "...more than a...conscience-saving exercise, while allowing oppression to persist." Yet adopting the Belhar Confession would be, for the CRCNA, exactly that - a few stock pious phrases that allow us to say we've done our part while ignoring the actual problem. It would do much to assuage White Guilt, but nothing to bring racial or ethnic integration and unity.

Lyle Bierma, Professor of Systematic Theology, also argues that the Belhar should be adopted as a Confessional statement on par with the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort. Essentially he is saying that the Belhar does indeed say what we believe (is a Confession), is useful for teaching (catechesis), and a standard of orthodoxy (canon). From what I've read of the Belhar, I can only agree with him whole-heartedly on the middle one, and that does not require its adoption as a confession. Even Professor Bierma acknowledges that there are serious flaws, though he leaves it to others to point them out.

John Bolt, therefore, takes it upon himself to point those flaws out.  He says that the Belhar's focus on social, economic, and political spheres as the essence - and means - of reconciliation is at variance with the Gospel claim that reconciliation is a matter of repentance, forgiveness, and faith in the grace of God through Jesus Christ and his one sacrifice on the cross. I concur. Though Professor Bolt does not state it outright, the Belhar is more a document of Liberation Theology than of classical Reformed teaching and rather than building on the work of Guido de Bres, it builds on the work of Gutierrez.  This is echoed and expanded by John Cooper, although he allows that it can be read from a non-Liberation Theology perspective, but this very ambiguity renders it useless as a confessional statement since a confessional statement is made "to clarify what the Church teaches." The Belhar, rather than clarifying, confuses.

Ronald Feenstra does not explicitly call for adopting the Belhar as a confessional statement, though it seems clear he leans that way. He does not address the concerns of Cooper and Bolt, but simply loses himself in the anti-racism theme. This is in effect to set up a straw man, one of the most irksome and irritating things Belhar proponents do. In effect, the implication is that if you don't like the Belhar, you must like racism since all right-thinking anti-racists just love this thing. Boil away the polite nuances of Pete Borgdorff's statements and this is the essence of his argument, too.

I do not need to like the Belhar or want it adopted as a binding confessional statement of the church in order to prove my non-racist bona fides. I find the insinuations and (at times) assertions that I do somewhat insulting.  If even the Belhar's supporters acknowledge and avow that it is a flawed document, I must ask why my conscience must then be bound to it? 

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post