Thursday, February 16, 2012

Belhar again: unity without confessing Christ

When storms pass over head they sometimes carry nature’s malice. It seems that many storm clouds are gathering for the coming 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). National Capital Presbytery has sent an overture (039 )to GA asking once again for the Book of Confessions to be amended to include the Confession of Belhar. The 219th General Assembly sent this to the presbyteries after a long process, which included an earlier GA, and it did not have the 2/3 majority needed to pass.

This is a Confession that was helpful during the terrible years of apartheid in South Africa but because it does not clearly confess Jesus Christ as Lord but instead focuses on unity it has become a favorite confession of some who are now ordaining LGBT candidates. I experienced this relationship between the two, LGBT advocacy and Belhar while attending the 219th GA as an advocate for Sacramento’s overture seeking not to place the confession in our Book of Confessions.

Two people who gave testimony about why Sacramento’s overture should not pass are very involved in advocacy for both the ordination of LGBT candidates and same gender marriage, Janet Edwards, spoke as did Elizabeth Henson Hasty. I wrote in a much earlier posting of their words.
[Edwards] asked for disapproval [of Sacramento’s overture] so that instead Belhar would pass and gays and lesbians would have a confession that allows them to be ordained. The second person was Elizabeth Henson Hasty a member of ACWC. She wanted Sacramento’s overture to be disapproved but her main thought was not only to allow Belhar to pass but she wanted an inclusive edition on the PCUSA web. In the committee’s actions they both received their request.
Some might ask why this overture matters anymore since, supposedly, now LGBT candidates can be ordained. The problems are even greater now for two reasons. First, because Belhar focuses on unity rather than confessing Christ it will reinforce the call to be in unity no matter what standards or theologies are in force in the PCUSA. Unity will become the all encompassing value over all other issues. I experienced this recently in a sermon given at a presbytery meeting. Jesus as Lord was equated with unity no matter the diverse beliefs, including other faiths, rather than unity because all held to Christ as the one, unique, Lord.

Secondly, now, more than ever, the Church must be about confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. To amend our Book of Confessions now with a Confession which does not truly, ultimately and forcefully confess Christ would be a travesty. A young pastor, recently on his blog, A Christian's Reflections, using Google, started listing those PCUSA pastors who do not believe Jesus is God. He could have, in the same manner looked for those pastors and theologians who do not believe that Jesus’ death on the cross has anything to do with forgiveness of sins. We need anew to confess Christ.

As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) experiences assaults from the enemy of all our souls in ways it has not before experienced, we need to be reminded of our sure foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Patrick Watters said...

Bad history repeats itself . . . this sounds eerily similar to issues that the Apostle Paul dealt with, and foreshadowed in the letters to the seven churches from John's Revelation? I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, even as we confess Jesus Christ as Lord. We know He must make all things new (heaven and earth), so we take consolation in that partnership with Him, even as others fall away or blatantly choose to follow other (gnostic) paths.

Viola Larson said...

Patrick it isn't really Gnostic. The problem is it places unity above all else. This quote is one of the problems:

"Therefore, 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 leaves no room for insisting on conformity to essentials of the faith or insistence on living a godly life.
The unity is so wide it pushes out the real meaning of confessing Christ which is what a confession should be about.

Stushie said...

It goes further than that Viola. The Belhar insists that any voice of dissent is a voice of sin. If adopted, there would no longer be any freedom of dissenting speech allowed in the PCUSA.

Viola Larson said...

You are, of course, right Stushie. Thanks for adding that detail.

Anonymous said...

I find this enormously amusing in light of your previous post. Apparently liberals are welcome to try to change whatever they think needs changing--ordination standards, confessions, denominational structures, etc.--but as soon as they succeed, those changes are written in stone as if they were the Ten Commandments, and conservatives just have to live with it. All in the interests of "unity," of course.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Dennis Maher said...

I guess we are reading different Belhar Confessions. The one I am reading talks about the reconciliation of God and humanity in Jesus Christ, and then declares that people should be reconciled to one another. That seems to me to be a confession of the Lordship of Christ in a concrete way.

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

Dennis I know we are going down the same road we went down before But looking at this:

"that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity;"

If it explained how that is possible in the face of heresy and/or antinomianism it would have helped. If it explained that if something is against Christ it cannot be for Christ it would have helped. If It explained that Jesus Christ in fulfilling the law and going to the cross for our sins transformed us it could not so easily be used for cheap grace.
It is very clear to me that there is unity among those standing against such things because Jesus Christ, his word, his sacrifice and his transforming grace are upheld. That is what the confession needs to do but it fails to do so.