More than 400 years separate the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belhar Confession, two doctrinal statements being presented for consideration to the 219th General Assembly (2010).
However, both speak compellingly to Presbyterians about how to interpret scripture, structure essential beliefs, relate to each other, and live as God’s people in the world. Commissioners were able to explore the history and rationale behind these important Reformed documents during Saturday’s “Riverside Conversations.”
The 1563 Heidelberg Catechism was the first Reformed confession to appear in America in 1609. Written to unite early Protestants in the German Palatinate, this Q&A-style document was used to prepare youth for church membership and ground congregants.
Throughout its history, it has interpreted Christian faith and life from the Reformed perspective using three principle themes: sin, salvation, and service. The 218th General Assembly (2008) proposed updating translations to five of the Catechism’s responses (9, 33, 55, 74, 87) in this Book of Confessions document. A special committee was formed to address these changes (in collaboration with the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church) and report back to the 219th General Assembly (2010).
In addition, the 218th General Assembly (2008), in consultation with the Stated Clerk, the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Office of Theology, appointed a special committee to consider adding the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions.
Born out of the terrible injustices of racism and apartheid in South Africa, this 1986 confession from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa (now the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) speaks to the universal issues of unity, reconciliation, and justice for all God’s people. If adopted, this will be the first confession from Southern hemisphere Reformed Christians to join the current Euro-centric 16th, 17th and 20th century confessions. The latest confession to be added to the Book of Confessions was “A Brief Statement of Faith” in 1983.
Amending the Book of Confessions is a process that involves a General Assembly proposal, a lengthy study period, and a two-thirds presbytery ratification before returning for adoption to the Assembly. The Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions will present these reports.