Thursday, May 13, 2010
Why the PC(U.S.A.) should not adopt the Confession of Belhar: Answering the “Report of the Special Committee on the Belhar Confession”
A confession of faith must have as its main focus the Church's confession of Christ. All other important concerns of the Church, including her unity, the justice she advocates for, the reconciliation she calls for, must be subsumed under the heading 'Jesus Christ is Lord.' Lack of that focus is the problem troubling the Confession of Belhar. The Confession of Belhar has an incomplete Christology and fails to make a clear confession of Jesus Christ. It also lacks scriptural boundaries.
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 has unanimously recommended the Confession (16-012). That means that the 219th General Assembly, (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.
The Committee gives several reasons why the PC (U.S.A) should adopt Belhar beginning with the statement, “The Confession of Belhar Confesses the Christian Faith powerfully, touching hearts especially at those places where we are struggling today to be faithful.” The authors of 16-12 go on to speak of reconciliation, unity and justice.
Still, despite the above words of reassurance that Belhar confesses the Christian faith powerfully the Confession itself has little to say about Jesus Christ the living Word of God. Nor does it refer to texts in the Holy Scriptures.
The Confession of Belhar was adopted by the South Africa Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1986 and later adopted by the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa. Belhar was an attack on apartheid and its awful use by the white Reformed Church in South Africa. The Confession of Belhar was meant to denounce a theology of racism. Members of the various ethnic churches of South Africa understood that Belhar was about racism
However, some members of some Reformed churches in the United States, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), believe that Belhar was meant to address more than racial issues. They believe that Belhar will also allow the ordination of unrepentant gays and lesbians, and will also sanction same gender marriage. Using a document that does not properly define the Lordship of Christ or the authority of scripture they take several statements from the Confession and use them to make a case for unscriptural actions by the church.
One such Statement is:
"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."
This statement, pulled from its important subject, racism, allows some to insist that the requirement of church officers to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001) or chastity in singleness” is sin. The statement would also be applied to the biblical and confessional doctrine that marriage is always between a man and a woman.
There are absolutes in the Christian faith. Racism is sin (Gal. 3:28). Marriage is between a man and a woman (Matt.19:4-6). Disobeying the absolutes of God’s word may cause divisions within the Church.
Reconciliation: The principle of reconciliation, in any confession of the church, must be understood within the boundaries of Christ’s Lordship over the Church as is taught in the scripture. In the pastoral letter offered by the Special Committee the connection between Lordship, the word of God and reconciliation is recognized. They refer to several scripture texts, Eph. 1:9-10, 2:11-22; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Gal. 3:23-4:7. Yet, there is no scripture text in the Confession of Belhar.
Reconciliation occurs because of the love of Jesus Christ. Because of his great sacrifice on the cross we love him and we love our brothers and sisters. Such love includes faithfulness to the Lord and care for one another. Such care embraces admonition against sin, including the sin of racism and unbiblical sexual actions.
Unity: Unity within the Church always occurs because Christians are united to the Lord of the Church. In their union with the Jesus Christ they are united to all other believers. That is a fact that some may deny in their sinfulness, it is nonetheless true. While Christians, who belong already to the One Universal Church, are truly united, yet it is proper to call all believers to unity in both truth and fellowship. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer of John 17 he prays that his disciples will be one as he and the Father are one. But he also prays that the Father will “sanctify them in the truth” going on to state that God’s “word is truth.”
That kind of unity that includes the believer’s journey of sanctification shaped by the word of God will leave behind all habitual sin including racism and sexual immorality. “Such were some of you [fornicators, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers] but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11 with 9-10 NAS)”
Justice: The Bible simply swims in the good waters of justice. Whether God’s law, or the prophets, or apostles they all speak to and for justice; they lift up the immigrant, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. But such justice is tied to the holiness of God. God’s words to his people often begin with their careless disregard for his holiness. They worship idols and commit sexual sin. And then they turn with hatred to their brothers and sisters.
But the justice of God is also tied to the costly grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood was shed for the sins of racism and bigotry. He transforms the racist. He died for the sins of sexual brokenness. Jesus forgives and heals. He certainly died for a humanity who seeks innumerable ways of ignoring a holy God’s warning and care. It is that forgiveness and healing that brings about the justice of God.
Jesus is Lord; that is the ultimate Confession for the Church of Jesus Christ.