Friday, September 25, 2009
Belhar: four important reasons the PC(U.S.A.) should not adopt the Confession
The Presbyterian Outlook reported that the Committee to Consider Amending the Confessional Documents of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to include the Confession of Belhar in The Book of Confessions reached a consensus to recommend the addition. That means that the General Assembly in 2010 will vote on the recommendation.
If it passes at GA the Presbyteries will then vote, “needing approval from at least two-thirds of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.” I have been writing on this Confession for the last year. I believe it should not be added to our Book of Confessions for four reasons:
1. Failure to focus the confession on the Lordship of Christ.
2. The issue of homosexuality
3. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict
4. The issue of pluralism
Before I begin explaining each of these problems I must insist that in South Africa with its problems of apartheid, which included the Church, such a statement was necessary. But there are problems with this Confession; the first and most important one being its failure to emphasize Christology including the Lordship of Christ. And it is this failure that causes all of the other problems.
Failure to focus the Confession on the Lordship of Christ: Various theologians have insisted that Belhar looks to Karl Barth and the Declaration of Barmen as its model. While this may be true the writers failed Barth’s and Barmen’s most important tenet, the insistence that a Confession’s main emphasis is to confess Christ. And in fact, Barmen would have been and is the better Confession.
The problem in South Africa within the Church was with the doctrine of the ‘Orders of Creation.’ That is, that in creating, God instituted certain institutions that could not be changed. In South Africa, the church using this system set boundaries for various races allowing the Church to fit within a racist state. In Nazi Germany the rights of government was emphasized in an attempt to allow the Church to fit within a totalitarian state.
But Barth’s word on that attempt was to insist that placing anything beside Christ, as he is found in the Old and New Testament, was a compromising position for the Church. Here Barth is referring to “Creation and Redemption, Nature and Grace, Nationalism and Gospel.” And Barmen, (which was largely written by Barth), supports his concerns while at the same time preventing the Church from falling into any kind of idolatry or antinomianism. And it does that by insisting, biblically, that “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 death.” (8:11)
And additionally Barmen states, “As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. …
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we could not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other Lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.” (8:14-8:15)
This places the Lordship of Christ above all statements and yet Christ is tied to scripture. What falls outside of Christ’s Lordship is unacceptable. What falls under his Lordship is. For instance the racism of South Africa is seen as sin when one reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
But the Belhar Confession on the other hand emphasizes the unity of the Church which is not a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, but a confession about what the Church is or must do. Therefore unity is not necessarily tied to Christ’s Lordship, since unity may be achieved by other means.
The issue of homosexuality: Because unity is the main point of the Belhar Confession others have insisted on using it for issues that are unbiblical. In a blog posting, The Belhar Confession & God's final revelation, I have pointed out that one of the contributors to Belhar, Allan Boesak, has sought to use it as a means to gain ordination for practicing homosexuals in the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa. Quoting from the Banner, I wrote, “He dramatically insisted that the church’s Belhar Confession demands the defense of the full rights of gay members.”
A statement within the Confession of Belhar, “…we reject any doctrine which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation. …” is a very big problem. (Emphasis mine)
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A,) the Witherspoon Society’s Eugene TeSelle in a “Special Report to Witherspoon Society and Friends” from the 2004 General Assembly, ga report by gene.pmd, writes of that part of Belhar, “While we’re talking about absolutizing natural diversity, we might refer the Belhar Confession to the Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity as it considers the PC(USA)’s prohibition on gay/lesbian.”
So in the PC (USA) we also will undoubtedly see this confession used in a way that is detached from the Lordship of Christ “as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture.”
The Israeli and Palestinian conflict: In another posting on my blog, Using the Belhar Confession to overcome Israel’s “racism,” and as a means to bring about repentance from those desiring a Jewish State!, I have pointed to speakers for the Reformed Church in America using the Confession as a solution for what they perceive as racism on the part of Israel. As one speaker, the Rev. Christo Lombard from the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa, put it “If there is one situation in this world that contextually fits the antiapartheid struggle and its dynamics, for which the Belhar Confession was written, it must be the Palestinian situation, currently.”
Another speaker, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, also hoped that the Confession might be used against the State of Israel. And in the same way those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are advocating for this Confession may attempt to use it as leverage against Israel.
One of my first postings on Belhar was concerned with a faulty study paper on Belhar. It made reference to the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which met in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 8, 2001.
I began that posting, “At the coming 218 General Assembly the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns is offering Rec-046, Resolution to study the Belhar Confession for inclusion in the Confessional Documents of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”A study paper was recommended by that committee,(Report of the Task Force to Study Reparations) .
The authors of that paper castigated the United States for walking out of the conference. What the author’s failed to write was that Israel also walked out of the Conference because it was an extremely anti-Semitic conference.
The then U.S. Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, wrote:
“Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the Conference could have made to it. But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of "Zionism equals racism;" or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world--Israel--for censure and abuse.”
If members of the AACREC could so easily ignore the racism of this conference while recommending Belhar and their paper, it may be inferred that they may also use the Belhar Confession in the same manner as Raheb.
The issue of pluralism: And Raheb formulates the last concern that members of the PC(USA) may have with this Confession.
In a final and complete leap away from Barmen, Raheb divorces Jesus Christ from the Confession, writing “On several places in the confession the word “church” is replaced by another category called “the People of God.” The Belhar Confession uses this term to describe the church. My question would be, is it possible to expand this “People of God” terminology to encompass the “peoples of God,” including in this Jews and Muslims? And by this to provide a monotheistic platform for unity?”
Now, with this formula we have unity totally taking over the Confession as it shallows up the Church’s confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. In fact, Raheb’s formula does more than shallow; it empties and turns the confession into a hollow unfaithful paper, recommending apostasy.
A Confession of Faith for the Church must have as its main focus the Church’s Confession of Christ. All other important concerns of the Church, including her unity, must be subsumed under the heading 'Jesus Christ is Lord.' He is Lord over sin of any kind. Lord over adultery and homosexual practice. Lord over racism and anti-Semitism. Lord over all gods and powers. Jesus Christ is the Lord of his Church, within her, above her and leading her. That is the ultimate Confession for the Church of Jesus Christ.