Thursday, March 24, 2011

My presentation against Belhar at Sacramento Presbytery

At Sacramento Presbytery's last meeting, in February, before we voted on the three big amendments, two presenters gave a short, five minute presentation, one for and one against. I gave the presentation against the Confession of Belhar. Just in case my presentation has any thoughts that will be helpful I am posting it here.

Adding a confession to the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions is a very serious action. So serious that it requires a two/thirds vote by the Presbyteries and a second vote by the following General Assembly. The Confession of Belhar, within its text, must above all confess Jesus Christ as Lord in order to be a true confession of faith. That is what we must consider as we vote.

On the Racial Justice web page of the PCUSA, one finds information about Belhar which includes this: “It [Belhar] calls the church to a deeper appreciation of the values of unity in diversity in relation to the divisions of race and culture and many other facets of the human condition.”

History: Belhar was written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa in the midst of apartheid; black Christians of South Africa were sinfully excluded from fellowship with their white brothers and sisters. A statement about such horrific conditions was needed, Belhar fulfilled that need. It was faithful in its context. But it is not a universal confession. Although structured in the same manner as the Theological Declaration of Barmen it does not confess Christ in the same manner rather it confesses unity.

Unity: Belhar calls for an unqualified unity. In one place it states: “We reject any doctrine “which absolutizes 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 ...” In another place it states, “a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin,” and still further, “anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.”While “true faith in Jesus Christ” is mentioned as a boundary it is not defined.

So let me ask, are we, as a church, called to be in unity (that is in agreement) with those who deny the deity of Christ, the authority of scripture, or justification by faith? Unity without qualification could mean that we, as a connectional church, would be denying the faith.

And notice, as I have pointed out, the Racial Justice page interprets Belhar’s unity in terms that not only include unity in the midst of racial diversity but also unity in the midst of “many other facets of the human condition.” But, the human condition is broken and sinful. Unity needs a foundation; a Savior who transforms. We must confess Jesus Christ before we confess unity.

Racism: There are only two small references to racism in Belhar. But both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith speak to racism and diversity in the context of the United States’ particular problems. The Confession of 67 speaks of fair housing, education, work and even political rights. And both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith carefully confess Christ.

The many uses of the Belhar Confession: Because Belhar does not, above all else, confess Jesus Christ, as he is known in Scripture, it may be used for unintended purposes. Insisting on the oneness of Islam, Christianity and Judaism is one suggested use. Others are the ordination of GLBT people, the ‘racism’ of Israel and power sharing. Now you may agree with one or all of these, (certainly the first is not a confession of Christ) but you may agree. Nonetheless you can see the danger of having a document in our Book of Confessions which can, so easily, be used for any particular group’s cause.

Some have countered this argument with the thought that even the Bible has been misused. That is true. But the Bible has corrections within it. One of Belhar’s weaknesses is that it does not.

The need for a Confession from the Southern Cone: Some have suggested that we have no confession from the Global South and Belhar meets this need. But even the racial Justice page admits that the Nicene Creed is a Global Southern Creed. And so is the Apostle’s Creed, since some parts of it were formed in Africa. However, the important point here is that we do not choose Confessions on the basis of where they come from but because it is time to confess anew Jesus Christ. A Confession confesses Jesus Christ that is its purpose.

Please, vote no on the adoption of the Belhar Confession.


tera said...

I agree with you Viola. I don't think churches should have confessions. We have the scriptures and that is enough. That Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God is not important to me. Neither is any of the other things that you mentioned.

I only look to the scriptures. If some people say that scriptures say to them that Jesus is not God, then that's their choice. Let them live with the truth that they believe has been shown to them. Let the Holy Spirit deal show them the way forward. Don't even criticize it - that's my thinking. We're not supposed to have a critical spirit.

All of us could be wrong in our understandings, so turning our understandings into creeds and confessions can be dangerous in the way that it limits us from discovering truth by turning to God and scriptures. It's the lazy way out. Why did we teach all these people to read, if all they have to do is memorize a creed?

Don't get me wrong, I grew up Catholic and I have a fondness for creeds because I like tradition. All I'm saying is that why should we rewrite in stone what we already have in scripture?

Sacramento, CA

Viola Larson said...

you totally misunderstand what I say because you do not read carefully and just take off on your own about what you think. I say that because you say you agree with me but you don't.

Creeds are important, the ones we have in our Book of Confessions are very important. You should read them.

Scripture is our ultimate authority. It is the word of God. And God's word proclaims Jesus Christ as God, the eternal Son.
"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God." (John 1:1)

"And the word became flesh [Jesus Christ] and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John1:14)

"No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [Jesus] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him." (John 1:18)

That is important. Jesus was perfect innocence because he was God, and he was able to die for our sins because he was human.
That is our salvation- we must hang on to it. The church must be clear about what she believes if she is going to participate in God's mission to the world.
It is not lazy to contend for the faith, it is important and that is what creeds are about.

Doug Hagler said...

I honestly don't understand. I just re-read the Confession again to make sure I'm not going crazy. The whole entire thing confesses Christ. It confesses Christ over and over again - as lord, savior, sole head of the church, etc. I have no idea where the argument that it does not confess Christ comes from. I get that you don't want anything that calls for unity, since it's impossible for some people to have communion with those they disagree with. But the Belhar Confession very clearly confesses Christ - whether it is needed for the denomination or not, it does that.

will spotts said...

I think Viola means here that the primary purpose of Belhar is not to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Instead, it confesses Jesus in the service of its primary purpose - which is to elevate unity.

Many of the emphases of Belhar are in themselves suspect. For example, that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin. Certainly hatred would qualify as sin - but not separation. The NT clearly calls for separation in certain instances.

Belhar compounds this mistake by actually quoting half of a statement: "that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering". The original biblical statement includes the clause, "and keep himself pure from the world."

Belhar insists that God is a God in a special way of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged. I'm not sure that is entirely true - though I do understand the basis of that assertion. I'm concerned - am in fact 100% sure that our ability to discern the side of justice is wholly compromised - i.e. we are not able to say with certainty who is empowered and who is not, who has been wronged and who has not. Instead we posit groups - as if membership in a particular class automatically made someone empowered or unempowered. Worse, the confession speaks of the selfishness of the privileged while seeming to ignore the selfishness of its arbitrarily chosen 'unprivileged'. Selfishness is selfishness. If it is wrong, it is always wrong.

It seems to read as a beatification of unity uberalles rather than as a confession of Jesus Christ.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Anonymous said...


I appreciate that you are willing to share your convictions with all of us, but since what you've written is now spread out over a good many postings (and a considerable length of time), I'm having trouble getting a clear idea of where you're coming from.

Would you mind summarizing (briefly) what you believe in a few short paragraphs? I'd really like to be able to say, "Ah, now I get it. That's what Tera considers most important."

Bruce Byrne
Concord, CA

Anonymous said...

Did this presentation carry the day?

Steve Blair
San Diego, CA

tera said...


I apologize if I am not as intelligent or educated as you are or that my writing skills and reading skills lack finesse.

I do agree with you, completely that there is no need to adopt this Belthaar Confession. My reasons may be different than yours, but like I was trying to converse with you about - I think it's important to be an example and show how we can get along and look at what we have in common, which is our love for God and our desire to follow the truth that our Lord has called us to live in.

I grew up Catholic, so you don't need to explain to me the death on the cross and how Jesus suffered in order to pay for my sins. I was baptized again in a Baptist church at the age of 14, so you don't need to explain to me the importance of religious sacraments. And I memorized many creeds in my lifetimes, so neither do you have to reinforce their significance.

Bruce, I'm not sure what exactly you want to know. Can you be more clear about it? I have no purpose or intention on here except to participate in the discussion. I think that was why Viola invited me to read her blog. I enjoy reading a variety of things about faith. I type very fast, so it doesn't take me a lot of time to reply. I also read fast. I don't expect people to read everything I write or even a reply. I'm just sharing thoughts that I have about these matters of faith.

Sacramento, CA

tera said...

I think I'm going to say goodbye to all of you on this blog. It's just not working out. I've appreciated learning a bit about the politics involved in the Presbyterian denomination, but since I don't even attend a Presbyterian church, my views here aren't really needed.

Take care,

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA

Viola Larson said...

go with what Will said. He explained what I was thinking probably better than I can. Anyway I like what he said: )

Charles Wiley asked me the same question a little differently over at the PCUSA web site where a debate has been going on ever since GA. I am just going to copy out what I said when I answered him.

“When I read Belhar I find an uncertain Christ-it isn’t a confession about him. When I read Barmen, he is the One Word of God we have to obey. In Barmen he is our wisdom, our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. He is God’s assurance of our forgiveness of sins. In Nicene he is the only begotten, Light of Light, not made, of one substance with the Father, etc. The Apostles’ Creed is all about him. The Scots Confession says he is the ‘The just seed of David,’ the ‘Angel of the great counsel of God,’ we learn about his death and resurrection, etc. In the Heidelberg we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Through question and answer we learn about our redemption in Jesus Christ. With the Second Helvetic Confession he is infused through the whole first section and then given all of chapter 11, where we confess such truths as Jesus Christ was born not just when he assumed flesh as the son of Mary, but of the Father before all eternity. We next learn of the truths about Christ that overturn all of the various heretical movements through the ages. (By the way although I love Barmen, the Second Helvetic Confession is my favorite.) I could continue on, but I don’t think I need too.”

Viola Larson said...

I really don't know what to say. I understand that you don't agree that same gender sex is wrong. But you messaged me over ten times yesterday to explain that to me. And today I come home from shopping to find three messages from you wanting know if you should keep writing on my blog.

If you want to keep writing here you need to understand that it is okay to disagree but don't keep saying the same thing over and over and do allow other people to disagree with you.

Some of us believe that part of loving others in Christ is to say that some things are wrong for the Christian. It is like a parent who knows they must tell a child that the stove is hot or not to run out into the street because they may be hit by a car if they do that. Confession is my favorite.) I could continue on, but I don’t think I need too.”

Viola Larson said...

Steve (aka...)

I don't remember the exact count but Belhar lost at Presbytery by one vote.

I doubt that the presentation had anything to do with that one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

aka? ??? !

Steve Blair
San Diego, CA

Kattie W. Coon said...
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