Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Belhar, the committee & our disunity

The Presbyterian News Service has posted an article on the Belhar Confession, “Belhar Confession recommended again for PC (U.S.A.)’s adoption: ‘Statement’s themes of unity, reconciliation and justice are three gifts we most need’ special committee says.At the very beginning, the statement that unity, reconciliation and justice are the three gifts we most need is wrong theologically as well as pastorally. We have disunity and cannot be reconciled to each other because we are not committed confessionally and biblically to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Such a commitment includes upholding the authority of God’s written word and agreeing that the Confessions are truly authoritative in the life and government of the denomination.

After writing  for over two years, about the problems that are inherent in the Belhar Confession as it will be applied to the PC (U.S.A.); after participating in the debate about Belhar as an advocate for Sacramento Presbytery’s 2010 motion to not adopt, listening to Janet Edwards plead that our motion not be passed because the LGBTQ community in the denomination needed Belhar in the Book of Confessions, I am totally discouraged with this new attempt. Already the Presbyterian News Service is not giving correct information about the issue.

The PNS reports that both the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church has adopted the confession but this is not totally true. The CRC newspaper, The Banner, reports that their Synod did not adopt the confession but rather put it in a new category as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration.” The churches themselves voted  down the motion to adopt, as one elder put it:

Synod chose not to further study it. “We have studied this and studied this and studied this,” said Elder Jerry Heinen, Classis Wisconsin. “The churches have spoken, and it doesn’t make any sense to kick it down the road again.”

If the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.)had reason to worry about how Belhar would be used before the Presbyteries voted to ordain those who are gay and lesbian, they have far more reason to be concerned now. Now the orthodox have the issue of same gender marriage to contend with as well as the Covenant Network of Presbyterians’ new guidelines for ordination. The guidelines insist that those candidates who cannot ordain someone because of conscience should be disqualified. If their argument works it also applies to marriage as a function a teaching elder must perform. This is all leading to the perfect storm.

As I wrote in a different posting, “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 [and has] become the all encompassing value over all other issues.” The new committee working toward adoption is, as the news article states, looking at the confession in terms of its ideas on unity, reconciliation and justice.

Belhar insists that those who break unity are sinning. It states, “Therefore we “Reject any doctrine which denies that a refusal to earnestly pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin.” When this was first written it was aimed at sin. It was aimed at the teaching that God had created boundaries between races and therefore the races should not mix. But given that now leaders and others in the PC (U.S.A.) are insisting that there should be unity over the issues of LGBTQ ordination as well as same gender marriage, and to the point that one advocacy group is insisting that those who will not participate in such activities should not be ordained, this confession and its wording will undoubtedly be aimed at the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.). 

True unity which comes under the Lordship of Christ cannot be conjured up and mixed with worldly aspirations and attempts to conform to contemporary society. Jesus in his high priestly prayer (John 17) which is very clear about Christian unity prays that his disciples will be sanctified in truth. Jesus states that he sanctifies himself that we might be sanctified in truth. And he gives of his glory that we might be one in him along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  

First of all this truth is the truth of Christ’s great sacrifice because of his love. As R.V.G. Tasker puts it, “They [the disciples] will only be dedicated and sanctified because Jesus dedicates Himself to a death which has cleansing power. Similarly, they will not be able to show love one towards another without the inspiration of the love of Jesus for them.” [1]

Secondly, the unity comes from our contemplation and understanding of the glory of Jesus. Once again as Tasker points out this comes from Jesus, such unity and love is perfected in the knowledge of Jesus. Tasker writes:

But the perfection of this unity will only be reached so long as the believers keep in touch with their exalted Lord and contemplate the glory which has been His from eternity. He has always been the object of His Father’s love; and the mutual love of Christian believers must have as its effective cause and its sustaining power their insight into the glory of their Master.

We are broken on the wheel of our own lustful desires; our love affair with the world and our desire to be united outside of the righteousness of Christ. It isn’t Belhar that the denomination needs as it shatters apart; the PC (U.S.A.) needs to return to its faithful walk and fellowship with the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ.

[1]R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, R.V.G. Tasker, General Editor, reprint (Leicester, England, Inter-Varsity Press 1995).


Greg Scandlen said...

Hi, Viola, I haven't commented here in a while. But I couldn't resist making the observation that the people now calling for unity were not that concerned with unity before the gay ordination standard went their way. This is classic -- encourage dissent when you are in the minority, but shut down the conversation once you achieve a majority. For all the window dressing, there is nothing theological here. It is just raw politics.

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

Hi Greg,

I think that both unity & dissent are being encouraged right now; but unity is only called for as it pertains to leaving the denomination, dissent is okay if it means marrying same gender couples. And of course with the guidelines there is a time planned to get rid of those who don't agree.