The Belhar Confession

A friend of mine suggested that since we have such a bad track record concerning justice and reconciliation in the evangelical church perhaps we ought to adopt the Belhar Confession as one which stands alongside the other great confessions of the church – like the Apostles Creed or the Westminster Confession.  In the same way as those great documents were a means of wrestling with and working out the theological struggles of their day.  So the Belhar Confession must be seen in our day and our context as a working out of  our theological and missiological struggles.

A bit of background:

The Belhar Confession was originally written and adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (the non-white wing of the Dutch Reformed Church) in 1986.

“Essentially, the Belhar Confession is a collection of statements about unity, reconciliation, and justice among Christians. The confession is glossed with supporting references from the Bible.” (1)

Read the Belhar Confession here

Here are my thoughts:

1) I would like to see more of a theology of the cross as the basis for unity. It is the work of Christ on the cross which inaugurates the time of Jubilee which the confession alludes to under point 4. The confession appears to assume the fact of Jubilee with grounding it in the atonement which brings liberation, freedom and salvation – now in part but one day in full. This may seem like a petty point but it is a dangerous precedent, that as an evangelical we must beware of regarding as a decision. Our theology must be a cross-shaped theology or else it is not a biblical theology.

2) I can agree with most of what it is saying but I wonder at what it is not saying: so for instance whilst I agree that there are times that we are called to speak out against institutional injustice and be involved in advocacy. I am convinced that it is as local communities of light scattered throughout the community that we are to make the biggest difference not at a government or institutional level but at the level or local and contextual reconciliation. I suspect the writers may assume that the opposite is more important.

3) I also suspect that the writers of the confession put more hope in the achievement of justice and reconciliation in this world than I would want to admit. Although let me say this – if the gospel is at work their must be significant and real reconciliation happening (again i think more at local community level) as a sign and foretaste of the coming kingdom, where justice will reign and poverty, racism and injustice will be a thing of the past. Our local communities must be smaller, imperfect, communities that put on display in tangible, significant ways the hope that we have in the now present and yet still coming in perfection Kingdom of King Jesus.

4) But having said that – this is a great document and even if it was felt that we could not adopt it in full (why do we need to adopt documents anyway? sorry that is just a discussion for another day) it is certainly a document that should be widely circulated, discussed, prayed over, used as a means of repentance and commitment to true reconciliation. And most importantly used as a document to guide us in our future action – I am convinced that there is too much talk (and of this I confess guilt – I enjoy thinking and theologizing too much!) about reconciliation and the role of the church in social justice etc. Perhaps we ought to more readily consider how we can enact this in our communities, in our contexts at local level. I am convinced we too easily grasp after the big thing of local or national reconciliation, perhaps from a misguided belief that bigger is better, when actually the thing we really need most to do is walk across the train line…

What about you, do you feel we ought to recognise and adopt The Belhar Confession as a key document of our evangelical heritage and theological reflection for our context?

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~ by John on August 14, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Belhar Confession”

  1. I think we ought to recognise, read and reflect on the Belhar Confession AND other documents (like the Kairos Document) that were developed to express a united, biblical response to apartheid. Yes, there are aspects I don’t agree with but to refuse to listen to ANYTHING said by theologians with liberal leanings is narrow-minded, disrespectful and just plain wrong.

  2. I agree with your thoughts completely. I hope that your comment was not aimed at my post. As that was not how it was intended to come across.

    My aim was to a) reflect critically as an evangelical

    b) commend what I think is a very helpful, timely and important theological document for South Africa.

    I think it is to evangelicals shame that for all our “correct theology” and endless hours of making sure ours and everyone elses is correct, we have little to say about reconciliation, injustice, poverty etc. Hence that job is left to those with more liberal leanings and we are forced to go learn from them (not always a bad place to be – might I add).

    And it is equally a real shame to see how little of our evangelical theological reflection is done with our context in mind. We are by and large way too European, Australian and American to ever come up with a document such as the Belhar Confession.

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