Friday, March 13, 2009

The Belhar Confession & God's final revelation

The Committee listing for the Belhar Confession has been posted on Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow’s blog. Special Committee on the Belhar Confession includes at least one Pastor whose theology combines liberation theology with Afrocentric Christianity. Afrocentric Christianity can mean living out the Christian faith by simply including the customs and culture of Africa, or it may be a radical syncretism of African religions with Christianity.

I have written about both types of Afrocentric Christianity in my article, “Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community.”

After writing more about the Belhar Confession I will post the above article on my blog in three or four parts.

I am returning to this subject because the view of culture as revelation and the biblical view of revelation are in total opposition. And those opposites, in my mind, are connected to the understanding of Belhar.

Reverend Dr. Max Lomax a member of the Committee believes “that human cultures are the containers of Divine Self –Revelation.” Not only does the credo on his’ Churches web site state this but also in an e-mail to me last year he affirmed and clarified that statement:

Cultures are containers of the Divine Self because God's self-revelation occurs within the context of culture. Historically speaking human groups have already been formed, tacit social and political agreements have already been made, and people have already agreed upon common defining characteristics by the time they are settled enough to reflect on the nature of their existence. Another way of saying this is that historically people have moved beyond the survival, hunting-gathering, protecting way of being to developing more sustainable, settled, sedentary life-styles and patterns before the God question is even raised in any systematic way. In that sense then, Cultures are the containers of the Divine Self. The genius of God is that God can reveal God's Self and speak meaning into cultures regardless of their unique characteristics. I think human beings have problems with the way those who are different from them talk about and worship God because it is culturally unfamiliar.”

This is important because one of the issues stressed in Belhar is on the unity of the Church. And unity is more important to this particular confession then the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is, rather than connecting unity to the Church’s faithfulness to Christ as Lord, faithfulness is achieved because of unity.

Lordship is thus pushed to the margins of the Confession. God’s revelation is realized in the unity or agreement among the people of the Church community.

Unity has become more important than faithfulness to Christ. I have stated in another place, because of the problem of racism in South Africa “the emphasis was on unity and the sinfulness of the absolutizing of ‘natural diversity’ and the ‘separation of people.’ Anything “which explicitly or implicitly” maintained “that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the Church” was rejected in the Belhar Confession. (Emphasis mine).”

As I have written In a Review of Horizons on the Voices of Orthodox Women’s web site, “With Belhar the Church would listen to the voices of those in their church community rather than the voice of Christ. Therefore “all” absolutizing might be denied on the grounds of Christian unity. In the American mainline churches when the argument for the ordination of self-affirming gays and lesbians is based on an understanding that heterosexuality is an absolutizing of sexual standards the Belhar Confession is unacceptable and incomplete.

And in fact just recently one of the fathers of the Belhar Confession attempted to use it to gain acceptance of the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians. The Banner, the magazine published by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, reports that “Allan Boesak, a church leader and former anti-apartheid activist, presented a lengthy report on homosexual members to his church, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, at its general synod Oct. 2 (2008). He dramatically insisted that the church’s Belhar Confession demands the defense of the full rights of gay members.”

The Banner further reported that 'Presenting this report to the synod, Boesak told delegates that the Belhar Confession demands that they move in this way. The Belhar, he said, was never meant to be just an anti-apartheid document, but a document against discrimination of all kinds.' While the synod in Africa rejected the committee’s report, it is unclear how the Confession would be understood among those in the PC(USA) who are pushing for the ordination of self-affirming gays and lesbians. The Declaration of Barmen is a much stronger and more faithful confession for the PC(USA).”

And I will add that Barmen does not posit revelation in culture or community but in God’s final revelation, Jesus Christ, as he is known in Scripture.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me you are changing the context of Reverend Dr. Max Lomax's comments, and thus talking past him.

The quote you printed is self evident correct. I don't think it implies the significance you give it, namely an either/or Jesus or culture thing. He is not claiming culture has the authority of Christ. He is claiming that it is the clay vessel that contains it. At least in the quote you printed.

For example, the Holy Spirit indwells our earthly bodies. It doesn't mean we are therefore equivalent to or have the same authority as the Holy Spirit, or less sinful or less fallen.

Dr Lomax's comments are just good reformed theology projected on to the big screen of culture. But culture is only the integrated personality of its composite people. These are made up of individual human beings that can only comprehend God's revelation within the confines of their fallen cultural human limitations.

That is the best human beings can do. Earthly vessels of God's grace.


Viola Larson said...

Tom in some ways you are correct. But the conversation in the e-mail was on his use of the name Ra and other gods for God. So he is really saying that culture explains who God is. I would suggest you read the posting I have linked to in my text "culture as revelation."

You write, "These [cultures] are made up of individual human beings that can only comprehend God's revelation within the confines of their fallen cultural human limitations."

That is also partly true but there is another component to it. That is that God has revealed himself in his word and the Holy Spirit opens that to us as believers. I know we have discussed this before and have a disagreement on the authority of Scripture, but I still stand on the inspiration of the Scriptures as an essential.

Sacramento, Ca

Walter L Taylor said...


Great write-up. I saw the Boesak thing too, and how it was reported that he was severing his connection with his denomination for their refusal to embrace all thigns homosexual. I don't know if he followed through on his pledge.

I have no doubt that this is simply a way of trying to "confessionalize" sodomy. It would provide a wonderful way to dischurch folks like us!

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

I do want to clarify that I am not saying that I believe that this confession has been pushed forward because of the homosexual issue. Rather I am simply saying that it has the potential to open that possibility. (And it has already been tried by an important Church member in South Africa)

I believe the real problem, the big problem, is that the authors of this Confession saw a crisis in South Africa and misunderstood the root cause of the crisis. Rather than focusing on the lack of unity within that church they should have focused on the Lordship of Christ. Having solved, within the confession, the church's lack of care for his Lordship, which lead to the symptom of racial separation, they would have taken care of the whole problem.

Instead they have opened the door for a confession which might bolster sin within the Church.

This is why I believe that the Declaration of Barmen is a much more faithful Confession. Knowing that one problem the Church in Germany faced was the exclusion of Jewish members of the Church, the authors of Barmen went at their task rightly and focused on Jesus Christ as Lord. Under the Lordship of Christ they could not obey anyone else who insisted that Jewish converts must be excluded from the Church.

And they did not fail to connect Christ to the Scripture which meant that sin would not be blessed. “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” (8.11)
Sacramento, Ca