The Belhar Confession

The full version of the Confession of Belhar, published September 1986.

This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Korean - 벨하 고백서
Spanish - La Confesión de Belhar

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  1. I'm a junior marketing major, who has been member of the PCUSA since birth. Just recently I have started diving into the actual doctrine and polity of the church. I don't know nearly as much as some of you highly educated theologians, but I know that it saddens me to see such vicious fighting on a public forum by members of God's 'covenant people.' Why do our political views have to divide us to this point? Wouldn't the unique and diverse perspective provided amoungst all of us be part of God's will for our church? We are called to speak with gentleness and reverence in your defense, when accounting our faith in Christ and His Church. (Interpretation I Peter 3:15-16) I don't have any comment on the Confession other than both sides have points, and I pray a comprimise can be reached. Peace & Grace to you all my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    by Jordan Gunter

    October 5, 2012

  2. Stop the intent to manipulate while simultaneosly projecting your self hatred for being pale/colorless/color/colorful;the Belhars confessin and its Christian educated intent/purpose it isclearly genuine before God, Jesus he Christ and HolySpirit.

    by William Reyes

    November 9, 2011

  3. So...the Belhar Confession passed at Grace Presbytery level but not the national level? Thanks for clarification.

    by Lucia McKee Kremzar

    September 14, 2011

  4. From WAAAYYYY back by James: "Ironically, the rancor that the possibility of adding Belhar to the BOC is precisely why we need a statement like it to reorient ourselves away from the constant bickering and back toward Jesus Christ. I am increasingly convinced my brethren and sistern on the right and left of this denomination are wrong about the reason for the decline in our numbers as a denomination. It isn't that we aren't dogmatically monolithic. It isn't about who we allow to serve or where we seek to influence world events. It's because we are fighting. all. the. bloody. time. And the ludicrous thing is that we keep repeating this history! " Ironically, right here in these comments, too. Good point James. Too bad it was lost.

    by Molly Douthett

    September 7, 2011

  5. Re: Belhar: When Karl Barth and his EVANGELICAL Christians in Germany took a stand against the Third Reich, an evil empire that attempted to say the church and the state were one entity, they adopted the Barmen Declaration, which resulted in Barth's expulsion from Germany and possibly the arrest of Bonhoeffer. Barmen, which is now in our Book of Confessions, showed that anytime nationalism, patriotism and allegiance to Jesus Christ are combined we are on very dangerous ground. Belhar also tells us that when we erect walls of nationalism we are on dangerous ground (remember, the Beast of Revelation represented world power and was in cahoots with the False Prophet, the leader of religion). Barmen tells us that there is no Lord but Jesus Christ. (Thomas More was executed because he insisted that only God (not the pope) was Lord of the church of England). Belhar too reminds us that the walls of nationalism, racism, sexism are all anti-Christ.

    by Rev. Stephen Row

    June 23, 2011

  6. David, My guess is that it was a combination of three factors: 1) Belhar is still unfamiliar to a lot of Presbyterians. It is hard to make the case that a document is compelling enough to be included as a confessional standard if folks do not know it. 2) While 10-A had a strong organization working for its passage and nFog had a built-in network of folks engaged in discussion, Belhar had no organized group of folks working for its passage. 3) As evidenced by the discussion on this page, some thought Belhar was connected to the place of GLBT persons in the PCUSA. Ironically, 10-A passed while Belhar did not. It should be noted that despite the fact that Belhar will not pass, it actually received a higher percentage of votes than either 10-A or nFOG. The 2/3 bar was not met, however. Charles

    by Charles Wiley

    PC(USA) Staff

    June 21, 2011

  7. charles, in your opinion, why didn't Belhar pass?

    by David Ivie

    June 20, 2011

  8. While I personally am a little disappointed at Belhar's failure to pass this year, I think now we will be able to reconsider it without the clouds of the ordination battle looming over it. 10-A passed. G-6.0106b is out of the Constitution and Belhar wasn't needed to do it, as some thought it would. Hopefully now we can take another, calmer look at Belhar's timely witness to who we are, what we believe, and what we intend to do about it.

    by James K

    June 13, 2011

  9. Diane, 10-A refers to an amendment to the Book of Order that changes ordination standards. Most presbyteries are not voting on 10-A and Belhar at the same meeting. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    May 24, 2011

  10. Several of the writings on this blog refer to "10-A" of the Belhar Confession. I have looked at several documents that, supposedly, are the translation from Afrikaans and the Confession as proposed by PCUSA. I can't find a "10-A". Everything starts at 11-1. What document are you referring to? Thank you all for your input. This is very interesting.

    by diane cofcpc

    May 24, 2011

  11. I have some simple advice: Read the Confession. Then consider the Book of Order description of the Book of Confessions: The confessions declare to the church and the world who and what the church is, what the church believes, and what the church intends to do in the world. Then the question is: does Belhar add to the Book of Confessions by declaring who and what the church is, what the church believes, and what the church intends to do in the world. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    May 23, 2011

  12. Boy - you folks sure know a lot of words. My problem is I am a commissioner for my session and I am going to presbytery tomorrow. They will be voting on Belhar. With all the negatives, and some positives, you have posted and I have read, I'm going to have to do a lot more praying tonight.

    by diane cofcpc

    May 23, 2011

  13. Martha, In our case, Belhar, if approved, would be placed in the Book of Confessions. There are a number of statements about "true faith in Jesus Christ" that would illumine this issue. For instance, see question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism that discusses truth faith: Q. 21. What is true faith? A. It is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel, that, not only to others, but to me also God has given the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    May 19, 2011

  14. I understand that some are upset about the passage of 10-A, but that is not at the heart of the Belhar discussion. Belhar itself has not passed the presbyteries as of this date, so it is hard to connect approval of Belhar to the approval of the change in ordination standards. Let's keep this on Belhar. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    May 19, 2011

  15. I AM IN GREAT PAIN, GREAT PAIN over the decision of the Pres. USA to put homosexuals into leadership. I am almost besides myself as what you are saying is that God's Word does not count. That is so painful! I might as well throw my Bible away. But I will not. I will leave the USA church!

    by Theresa

    May 13, 2011

  16. You betrayed us! You ares saying what Jesus and God the Father (they are one) said is a lie. Not only that, you want us to be taught about relationships by people who have a perverted thinking about sexual relationships? Furthermore, you are saying that God made it so that male sexual organs and other male sexual organs playing around with each other is God's will. Or that sodamizing is God's will. or that females playing with each other sexually is ok and that somehow God made their tools the wrong ones. Can you see how perverted your thinking is? I am switching to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church!!!

    by T

    May 13, 2011

  17. Hi, All, New to the discussion...need clarification about one of the statements in the confession: "that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church." Has anyone given us a definition of "true faith in Jesus Christ?" I would think this could be defined many ways and also lived out in many ways. So, if this is "the only condition for membership" it might be nice to know what is meant by this...is it an assent that Jesus was an historical person? is it an assent that Jesus Christ is Messiah? is it an assent that Jesus Christ is Lord? is it an assent that Jesus Christ is God? is it an assent to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? is is an assent to complete submission to Christ?

    by Martha

    May 12, 2011

  18. Been away for a while, but in response to Curt, I'd note that the same method of "cheesy theology" you lament is the one used by none less than the Westminster Divines, who upon finishing a document without Scripture proofs were required by Parliament to go back and insert some. As someone once said: "what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, 'see, this is new?' It has already been, in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them."

    by James K

    April 27, 2011

  19. There are likely few Christians who would argue that unity in Christ is a bad thing. Of course we are called to unity in the body; and yes, we have sinned and violated that call, sometimes in egregious ways. I think we would generally agree that we should seek unity with fellow followers of Christ within the context of Biblical guidelines. That being said, the Belhar Confession begins with a social position, sprinkles a Biblical case for it throughout the text, and then grossly overstates the conclusions it draws. The result is a document that reads more like a confession of potential sin than a confession of faith. Or worse, it reads like a confession of faith in each other... with "unity" as the highest arbitor of righteousness. I would counter that a confession not rooted in truth is a concession. The truth is this: God is building His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail! The very crux of Reformation theology is that there can only be unity when the truth of God's word binds us together. Deviation from God's word is the very cause of disunity. Thus, a confession that strives to call us to unity must first, and foremost, call us to absolute devotion to Christ and Scripture. Belhar calls us to unity without that strong foundation. Other confessions lay a loud and clear Biblical foundation and then draw conclusions from the strength of God's word. Belhar shouts its conclusions with superlative language, and whispers God's word in the margins of its thought. While we all would agree that unity is a Godly pursuit worthy of our thought, prayer and time, Belhar falls sadly short of a good conversation piece on the subject, much less confessional status. I, for one, would like to see the church look at confessions the way the Reformation theologians did... study Scripture and then think about what God is saying. Today, we decide what we think and then select Scripture to put our own words in God's mouth. It makes for cheesy theology.

    by Curt Russell

    April 6, 2011

  20. I commend this post from a South African on Belhar: http://www.ecclesio.com/2011/03/a-letter-from-south-africa-by-piet-naude/

    by CharlesAWiley

    March 29, 2011

  21. Are people no longer hungry? Are they no longer thirsty? Do we no longer need to clothe the naked, visit the sick or imprisoned? If God's children are still in need, why are we spending our time on words written on paper? Please, let us put down our pens and tend to the sheep.

    by Ellen

    March 26, 2011

  22. James, Interesting question. I have just posted my five minute presentation against Belhar made at the last Sacramento Presbytery meeting. http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-presentation-against-belhar-at.html I do mention the Brief Statement of Faith in it.

    by Viola Larson

    March 24, 2011

  23. Last post. Whatever else is said, I remain unconvinced that Belhar serves any clarifying purpose. I do not believe it is a stealth attempt at anything, but also believe that the reservations about it are substantive and should result in Belhar not being adopted into the Book of Confessions. The PCUSA has stopped being about the beliefs and Crhistian lives of its members if the leadership believes that "docterine" such as Belhar needs to be foisted upon its membership. We are moving back to a church of elites too concerned with issues outside of service to Christ who are unwilling or unable to make Christ accessable to its members. It is pre-reformation Catholicism where the church hierarchy knows better and its members are not prepared / elighteneded enough to understand the complexities of the church. Please know that I married a PCUSA minister's daughter and the minister has a McCormick PhD. I have a masters degree from the U of Chicago as well. If the church is losing me on these issues, imagine how everyone else is doing.

    by Michael Spires

    March 23, 2011

  24. From the Book of Confessions guidelines: "Thus, any proposed change to The Book of Confessions should enhance the church’s understanding and declaration of who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do." I fail to see how Belhar "enhances" the church's understanding. Maybe I am too simple for this confession. -- Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all Races. Racism is sinful in the eyes of Christ and the church. The church condemns racism and will not allow race to create divisions within the church or congregations. -- If we need to add some historical context around that, great. If that is not what the proponents of Belhar are saying Belhar "means" please correct me, but please also explain why it needs to be more complicated than that. The Brief Statement of Faith is rooted in scripture and addresses the issue of race and the Lordship of Christ. It uses language that clarifies and "enhances" the church's understanding of the nature of Christ in clear language. -- From Belhar: Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutizes (sic – spell check says this is not an English word) either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization (sic – per above) hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation; Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate (sic- bad language even if it is a word or technically correct) forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel – The language is not clear and although the PCUSA has a stated interpretation, it is not the definitive (only "approved") interpretation and who is to say that the interpretation will not be definitively clarified / changed at a later date to include more than the stated understanding.

    by Michael Spires

    March 23, 2011

  25. Michael, let's be clear that the value of Belhar or whether or not it should be adopted into our constitution has nothing to do with the number of words either I or Viola use for or against it, or how many readers of this page who are not voting commissioners are convinced by either of our arguments. Mine reflect my own opinion, and I would pray that they are treated as such by those who will be voting, since ultimately their only constituent is Christ. I understand that you are not wanting to throw out the confessional baby with the bathwater; however, your comments could apply to just about any confession in the Book. You said "Bottom line, a confession is meaningless if it is not clear what is being confessed and the Christian implications of that confession not easily understood. Confessions should be nearly unanimous and without reservations. The fact that there are fundamental and substantive reservations should make it obvious that the confession is inappropriate." I think Viola will agree that even her favorite, the 2nd Helvetic, is a dense and not easily understood document (the list of heresies denounced yet not defined is daunting). Bullinger intended it that way. And quite frankly, no confession from Nicaea to Westminster to C67 to BSF has ever been unanimous! My concern with the test you've set up for Belhar is that it is one that no other confession could pass! Theology is difficult, Presbyterian theology especially so, and we dilute it and simplify it at peril to our very identity.

    by James K

    March 23, 2011

  26. Viola, I have to point out that Barmen does not mention the resurrection of Christ either. It is very political, naming specific political parties and institutions that haven't existed for over half a century. Even the creation of the Nicene Creed was a political act! My ongoing frustration with this discussion is that so many people are creating impossibly high standards for Belhar that no other confession has ever been held to and that no other confession could possibly meet. I am very curious as to why you never bring up our most recent confession, The Brief Statement of Faith. What is your opinion on it? Do you agree that it belongs in our Book of Confessions? What in your opinion makes it superior to Belhar?

    by James K

    March 22, 2011

  27. Thanks Michael for responding to what I said. And just to be very clear to everyone I have spent much of my adult life writing about racism and anti-Semitism. You can read some of the stuff here http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0002b.html and here http://www.namingthegrace.org/id59.htm Racism is a problem, a sin, in the United States. But Belhar does not address our problems, I agree that it just causes more problems. The Southern Baptist, the Assemblis of God and the Presbyterian Church in America all have confessions of sin because of their past racism. That is a possiblity for us. But we do not need a confession that has too many problems.

    by Viola Larson

    March 22, 2011

  28. Viola, I was being specific about the Belhar confession and not the book of confessions in general. We are Christians because Christ died for our sins and redeemed us in the sight of God. The message of the "church" today too often focuses on other things, trying to take a side of issues that either do not have Christian sides (racism) or where the side Christ would be on is not clear (immigration - another very long discussion). I am not saying we should not have conversations about difficult issues, just that the PCUSA specifically should avoid taking sides in most if not all of those issues, unless it is VERY clear which side Christ would support and making those discussions the centerpiece of our General Assemblies and our churches, drives people away and actively promotes the lack of unity in the church that Belhar tells us we must have. James, I do not check my brain at the door and would never counsel anyone else to do so. Having said that, the PCUSA leadership, through this confession, is overcomplicating things. You have been unable, in thousands of words, to convince some very smart people participating in this discussion that what you say the confession means is the clear interpretation and implication of that confession. I am not a theologian, but I should not have to be to understand a confession and its implications, that would take us back to pre-reformation Catholicism. I can hold my own in the difficult conversations. This confession is objectively unclear and putting it in the Book of Confessions would have us "confessing" something that is not clear. Unity is not given an unequivocal link to racism and the language (in English) can mean many things and hence people linking it to GLBT (as you earlier put it). Clarity is a necessary requirement (ignoring my lack of schooling about the purpose of the PCUSA Book of Confessions) for a confession to have meaning, otherwise who can be sure what they are confessing, and this confession does not meet that standard.

    by Michael Spires

    March 21, 2011

  29. Charles, 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.

    by Viola Larson

    March 20, 2011

  30. Viola, I know that Belhar does not focus on christology, as does Barmen, but I cannot yet figure out why you think it doesn't proclaim Christ. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    March 19, 2011

  31. Michael, I get the impression that you are not damning the PCUSA's book of Confessions but rather Belhar as well as other political actions taken by the PCUSA. Correct me if I am wrong-I don't say that to people often: ) We do not want a faith that is too hard for the child or too simple for the intellectual. I understand, it was Karl Barth when he was asked (and I am paraphrasing the question) what was the most important theological thing he had to say-he said "Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so." Still he wrote one of the wonderful confessions we have in the Book of Confessions, the Theological Declaration of Barmen. And our confessions are extremely important. That is why it is so important that we do not add a document to the Book of Confessions that does not properly confess Christ. And I would like to point out that a far worse confession is riding on Belhar and has now been inserted into the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study to be studied and read each month in the coming year. That is the Accra confession which is extremely political. I have watched it ride on the shirttails of Belhar for a couple of years. We must take care; we are to confess Jesus Christ. So if I am right about what you were complaining about I stand with you. Many in leadership, not all, but many are driving people away from the church by their refusal to prioritize the good news that Jesus Christ lived, died for our sins, was resurrected and coming again. We are all, as the song says, hungry to hear the story once again.

    by Viola Larson

    March 19, 2011

  32. Michael, with respect, we are a confessional church and that fact is crucial to our identity. It is very easy to say "Jesus is Lord", but we've known from the very beginning is insufficient to explain everything we believe. Presbyterians have always taken the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our *mind* very seriously, and it is a refrain one hears from many new church members from other denominational traditions: "I feel like I don't have to check my brain at the door." Confessions are not mission statements or position papers. They are part of who we are. The Westminster Confession is complicated--yet we've used it for almost 400 years through thick and thin. Theology is complicated because an almighty sovereign God can never be fully comprehensible to the human mind. There are good reasons to be in favor of or against the adoption of Belhar into the Book of Confessions. I happen to believe the former outweigh the latter; Viola believes the latter outweigh the former. But we are still both confessional Reformed Christians. The talk of jettisoning our confessions entirely is so terribly alarming to me--have we so lost our identity? Indeed, if we erode our theological identity by removing one of its foundation stones, then we should not wonder at declining numbers. What makes Presbyterians so special? If it's a simple, uncomplicated message that one could ostensibly find at any Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregationalist or even Unitarian church, why bother with the Presbyterians? Because we have a theological foundation that is uniquely both rock solid and continually being reformed after the Word of God. We've got something pretty amazing going on here, and it's a shame we're so caught up in squabbling that we can't appreciate it.

    by James K

    March 15, 2011

  33. I have spent the last hour or two reading the confession and all the text on this page. Bottom line, a confession is meaningless if it is not clear what is being confessed and the Christian implications of that confession not easily understood. Confessions should be nearly unanimous and without reservations. The fact that there are fundamental and substantive reservations should make it obvious that the confession is inappropriate. This issue is symptomatic of the PCUSA leadership taking up issues like this to make statements (racism = sin) that do not need to be made (and/or could be made in three words) and, in the process, losing the congregations (and hence the declining membership). I am tired of leadership somehow telling (or less strongly, implying to) me I am backwards because I do not understand what they are trying to do with the confessions and boycotts and other actions that they believe honor Christ. I struggle to see how they do so. I would like to see the leadership begin to focus on how Christ is Lord and how that makes a difference in the lives of Christians and how those lives go on to impact other lives. Stop making what it means to be a Christian more difficult than it is and you will be amazed at how many people are attracted to that message. That is not to say that being a Christian or living a Christian life is easy, but what it is not is complicated.

    by Michael Spires

    March 10, 2011

  34. PART ONE The Presbyterian Church has been in decline, numerically speaking, for some time now, and it is not a decline that is unique to this denomination. Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and most mainline churches have experienced similar declines. Some churches have not, however. Those that have not tend to be non-denominational and described as "mega-churches." Frankly, as a former pastor of a Presbyterian Church congregation in the Mecca of Presbyterianism (Pittsburgh), I don't know which is worse. Mega-churches are, as the name implies, big. That is part of the attraction they exude. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and mega-churches fit the bill. Mega-churches also offer a group for every need - divorce recovery, alcohol recovery, single left-handed female wrestler recover...you name it and they've got it. Mega-churches feel like corporations. In fact, in some mega-churches there is no senior pastor. Instead there is an executive pastor or a president. They don't have a session; they have a board of directors. Members of that governing body are often chosen not just because of their faith but because of their executive experience. The outcome of their efforts reflects what they bring to the process. In the computer world the acronym that encapsulates this so well is, "GIGO - garbage in, garbage out." Not all aspects of mega-churches are bad, but much of what passes for new age spirituality it precisely that - garbage, self-indulgent, narcissistic garbage that is designed to foster an ever increasing addiction to the "Jesus and Me" philosophy that my grandmother aptly described when she said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. This is a shame because more and more people are buying television religion via broadcasts interspersed with commercials for porcelain doves made in China and appeals for contributions so that the cult-like leaders of these organizations can continue their work. Lest I create the impression that the foolishness of such churches makes the Presbyterian Church look squeaky clean, I turn my attention to the fondness it has for creating confessions that its General Assembly attendees feel the need to force down the spiritual throats of the denomination every few decades. I find this to be an interesting phenomenon because it seems to spring from the notion that there is little connection between the people of one decade as compared to those of another. The problems of one generation seem to be viewed as separate from those of the next when in fact it is the manifestations of the same underlying problems that differ.

    by Robert DeFazio

    March 7, 2011

  35. PART TWO: Some say that the root cause of multifarious manifestations is sin. In the most general sense, that is true; but the generalizations are usually useless in solving problems where people are concerned. Too much can get swept under the rug with too general a broom. The problems I have seen seem to come more from people of minimal or no faith attending churches on a regular basis. They come from pastors whose calling seems to be a desire to live in the past days of glorious social engineering and activism and a desire to hold public office without having to undergo the bruising that real public officials have to endure to land such positions. Am I being harsh? Yes, I am. I am angry with the way that the church, not the Presbyterian Church but the CHURCH as a whole, has been hijacked by those who have found it easy to ride the current fashionable hobby horse of social activism and community organization instead of staying faithful to a message that says that each INDIVIDUAL must make the choice to put others first, to love without the expectation of being loved in return, to give without the thought being repaid, to talk about hope, to find common ground with others, and to be able to speak intelligently and sincerely about why one is a Christian to persons who live daily in a cafeteria of religions, philosophies, and visions of the world that range from Christianity to Islam to Taoism to animism to social networking to whatever we can dream up. It is always easier to come up with a group solution; that absolves one from having to do things on one's own, fully accountable to God for his own actions. To submerge the requirement for personal authenticity beneath the waves of belonging to a group that does one's thinking for its members is a betrayal of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Sometimes the group is just plain wrong, and a person of conscience has to have the resolute determination to break free of it when it is no longer being faithful to its primary mission. The self-descriptive phrase I have heard so often and used by the denomination is "Reformed and ever reforming." In some ways it is like listening to the propaganda that has periodically emerged from some of the nations that have gained recent press from their struggles to shake off dictators. In some ways, however, it also sounds like an invented, catchy phrase that is designed to make the organization that issues it sound relevant even when it becomes less so with every passing day.

    by Robert DeFazio

    March 7, 2011

  36. PART THREE: Let me ask this. Are the teachings of Jesus so passé that they need to reinvented every few generations? Are the problems of greed, hatred, scorn, disdain, exploitation, and abuse no longer part of the makeup of every living soul such that they now only exist on a macro scale in organizations, governments, and racial groups? If it is true that sin no longer resides in the heart of every person (Christians included) and only resides in the boardrooms of corporations, the heads of state, and in large racial groups, then I could see why a new confession would be needed every so often. If, however, the problems that seem to be as old as Methuselah himself are still resident and fully active in each person, then the original diagnosis provided by Jesus would still seem to apply. In his own time he seemed to find common ground with the rich, the powerful, the destitute, the immoral, and the imperfect among the many that lived then. It was not that he endorsed what they did but rather that he saw in them a hunger for something masked by all the things they had accumulated to satisfy those yearnings. He did not promise them freedom hunger, but he did promise them something that would satisfy it. He did not promise or deliver a single dose solution that would forever remove from a person a continuing appetite for love, caring, and honesty. He expected that those needs would be continuing needs, and that there would be a continuing need to satisfy them. Therein lays the whole problem with liberation theology. Liberation theology presumes that freedom was the core of the gospel message. Yet, I would defy anyone to extract from a seminary professor, who teaches systematic theology, New Testament history, or Old Testament history at any of our various seminaries, a statement to the effect that when Jesus died, everything in humanity was fixed. The mere possibility of freedom is not a solution to human evil in the present tense. Any student of the history of our own nation would have to admit readily that freedom wrought significant pain for many. Only two years after George Washington left the presidency in an off-year election, our nation had what is undeniably the most slanderous, libelous, mudslinging, hitting below the belt political campaign ever known in our history. Editors of newspapers were beaten or killed for exercising their freedom to publish what they wished. Unvarnished racism was on open display, and the seeds of what would later become our Civil War were sown with abandon. Freedom solved nothing because the causes of human misery did not solely belong to the domain of companies and political parties; they were the personal attributes of the individuals who comprised those institutions. To paraphrase the late Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, "All evil, like politics, are local."

    by Robert DeFazio

    March 7, 2011

  37. PART FOUR: Part of the reason I am no longer a pastor is that I tired of trying to make people into something they truly don't want to be. Often they didn't want to care about others especially if it interfered with their ability to own a BMW or to buy a million dollar house or to attend a large church with a great sounding organ and a large professional choir. They didn't want to sit next to representatives of the great unwashed masses. They neither knew how to nor wanted to associate with the lowly or the profane. They didn't want to be around either people who are down and out (the poor) or people who are up and out (the rich). They wanted to be with their own kind just like the Pharisees that Jesus so roundly criticized. At the same time they wanted the membership of the church to grow because they needed to raise money to refurbish what they called their “church,” i.e. the building where services were conducted each week. They were great at sponsoring bake sales and finding groups to rent out space in their building. They held meetings to find ways to make the congregation more involved in local activities to make the church seem more relevant to non-members. So much energy expended; so little achieved. And why? So few were willing to place their own motives for growing the congregation on the dissection table of honesty. I left because I didn’t want to be a part of the process of self-delusion, and now here I am 30 years later watching the whole process play out on a larger, grander, and more malevolent scale that encompasses not just a single congregation but also whole denominations. I have had the great privilege in my long hiatus from the ministry to come to know atheists, drunkards, fornicators, thieves, prostitutes, politicians, captains of industry, gold diggers, social climbers, name droppers, murderers, world famous preachers, and hardworking ordinary people. After stripping away the exteriors that each has been so careful to erect to mask the inner self, I found the same inner dynamics at work. They each sought the same things, but the ways they attempted to gain them obviously varied. Variously, they ended up either imprisoned, drug addicted, massively wealthy, happily married, or utterly impoverished. I cannot say that the states in which they arrived seemed to have been directly or fairly connected to their previous conduct, but I can say that each responded to the same treatment in the same way. When treated as a person worthy of care and trust, each responded with the same glimmer of humanity that I am sure that Jesus saw in the people he met and embraced. For me, it has been a lifelong education that has taught me that good things sometimes come in disgracefully wrapped packages, the most disgraceful being the one I see in the mirror each morning.

    by Robert DeFazio

    March 7, 2011

  38. PART FIVE: I guess my message is that if we are to progress, we need to lay aside the easy language of creeds and confessions, to stop debating whether traditional worship services are better than contemporary ones, and to stop focusing on the superficial. Instead we each need to become personally and sometimes brutally honest with ourselves to the point where we can say that while we are forgiven sinners, we still are sinners nonetheless who are no better than any others and who need to rub elbows with those in the same kettle to share what we have discovered.

    by Robert DeFazio

    March 7, 2011

  39. I am one of those"average people in the pews" that read the psusa website to try to reevaluate whether I wish to remain a Presbyterian or not(emphasis on not).Apparently, many other Presbyterians are considering the same issue, since the number of Presbyterians is declining. I would just like to state in general that my particular Presbyterian Church which is in Ohio, is lacking in spirituality, and so enmired in "political" issues/discussions, that I find myself starving to even hear the faint voice of Christ and Word of God in my church. I cannot remember the last time I heard the traditional Christian themes of "sin," "salvation," "grace," "faith," "justification."The moderator of our Presbytery gave a sermon stating that.... (paraphrase)our church needs to move from an individual centered theology of accepting Christ as our personal Savior, to emphasizing a "collective social theology" of the 21st century."I feel like I am at a political club meeting rather than in a church to worship . I have 5 Presbyterian friends(females) from 5 different Presbyterian churches in Cincinnat. Recently, two have become Catholic, 2 have joined free, evangelical mega churches, and one has become Baptist. The common theme here is none of them felt they were hearing the gospel or voice of Christ in their church any longer. So, this is probably something all the important theologians on this forum probably need to hear and consider from the "average people in the pews."

    by jean

    March 3, 2011

  40. I know I'm in broken record territory (remember those, kids?), but I think it's worth restating at least once. The Sun. School discussion was lively and respectful. Some were in favor, others opposed, and for some very interesting and different reasons. For me, it comes back to the theme of idolatry. Calvin understood this. The problem is how insidious idols of identity politics in church are. Someone hauling a golden calf into the sanctuary would be easy. These are harder. Because these issues involve Scripture and confessions, they look an awful lot like Christ. But they are not Christ. So when we spend our time in and about church focusing on these idols, we are not focusing on Christ. That's idolatry. I have yet to meet anyone from either Covenant Network or Presbyterians for Renewal who does not confess the divinity of Christ or who does not apply some level of interpretation to Scripture. Belhar's powerful message--and it is one that echoes themes running through the other confessions, particularly BSF, C67, Barmen, Heidelberg, 2nd Helvetic and Scots--is that any time the church divides itself over anything that is not Christ, it is committing a form of idolatry. We have seen the fruits of this in our beloved PCUSA. As much as Viola and I may disagree, at the end of the day, I hope that I can look her in the eye and call her my beloved sister in Christ. She cares about the PCUSA just as much as I do. As long as our focus is on Christ and not our identity politics, the rest will fall into place. That is why I believe we need Belhar. It not only speaks powerfully to the history of American Presbyterianism, it speaks powerfully and prophetically to where we are now. Regardless of how the presbyteries vote, we need to kindle a "spirit of Belhar", and then trust in God the Holy Spirit to help us to the future.

    by James K

    February 28, 2011

  41. Viola, thank you as always for making my point for me. Dr. King was not a "Liberationist theologian" simply because the term "black liberation theology" did not yet exist, but he practiced it nonetheless, drawing on centuries of experience of black Christians, including the slaves who found in the Exodus narrative, the prophets and the Gospels the promise of God's power to free the oppressed, even while their owners (including many prominent Presbyterians like Thornwell and Dabney) prooftexted their way to justifying something horribly un-Christlike. BTW, this is again an important reason for us to consider Belhar--the repercussions of that time are still echoing, especially in the South. The whole POINT of having a Book of Confessions is to show how we as a community rooted in Sola Scriptura has expressed its belief in different times and contexts. I myself am not a "Liberationist"--I tend to favor Barth myself--but it has some valuable things to say. If someone reads Scripture to find ways that it speaks to his/her condition, then points him/her to the Christ that offers liberation from the bondage of sin and reconciliation with God and neighbor, why is that a bad thing? Considering the legacy of Dr. King I find it very disrespectful to use "liberation theology" as scare words. We worship a sovereign God who did not stop speaking to humanity then John put down his pen in Patmos or when the King James Bible fell out of the sky one afternoon in 1611 (that's how it happened, right?). Do you seriously think that Scripture is sealed in a literary tomb for our passive contemplation? *In Scripture,* God is speaking still. The reformers got this. As someone once put it, "why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen."

    by James K

    February 28, 2011

  42. James, Martin Luther King is not really considered a Liberationist theologian. But more importantly God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit speak by the eternal Son as he is found in Scriptures. See Barmen. He is God’s final revelation Heb. 1. If our Confessions are evolving in their meaning we have a problem. I think I understand now why you are happy with Belhar.

    by Viola Larson

    February 28, 2011

  43. At the age of 15, I had the privelege of meeting the King family. My 'religion' was rocky at best but that circimstance stirred my faith many years later when I 'rediscovered' the power and beauty of my Christian heritage. I hold Dr. King and the opportunity of meeting his family very, very near and dear to my heart - always will. What a true gift from God to cross their paths and store that spiritual energy in my soul as God later knocked on my door and I answered - albeit in confusion... still working it all through.

    by Holly

    February 26, 2011

  44. "Liberation theology" may sound scary, but the greatest liberation theologian of all time (avant la lettre) was Martin Luther King, Jr. He found new meaning in the Scripture's (particularly the prophets') message of liberation and justice for the Jews that applied to the struggle of African Americans. Jack Rogers observes that C67 itself, by touching on the then-budding issues of race, gender and poverty, predicted the breakdown of the neo-orthodox consensus in the Presbyterian Church in light of (among other things) the rise of liberation and feminist theology. It's in our PCUSA DNA: we're more prone to say "not this, not that" and not "only this, only that". Liberation theology, for its flaws, does provide the valuable insight that God the Holy Spirit is able to find new ways to speak to us, even in texts that are millennia old. Our Book of Confessions reflects that by showing where we've come since AD 325.

    by James K

    February 25, 2011

  45. Having just read this confession, I believe that this is something that all Christians need to hear to remind us that we are God's presence in the world.

    by Harrison Gaines

    February 16, 2011

  46. That's interesting, Viola, because I think the language of Belhar is more general and less "liberation theology" like than "preferential option for the poor."

    by Charles Wiley

    PC(USA) Staff

    February 16, 2011

  47. Charles, First of all I respect Richard Mouw immensely. And so much of what he is saying here is important for the church to hear. But I do have a disagreement about the phrase “preferential option for the poor“ being equated with Belhar’s phrase, “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.” My word dictionary gives as the meaning of ‘special’ “distinct, different, unusual, or superior in comparison to others of the same kind.” That is different then preferential option. Special has to do with relationship as much as anything else. Option points to God’s choice of treatment. Because God is the merciful God he does give the poor preferential treatment. But his special relationship is with the church both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. And it is God’s covenanted people, Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament that God uses, in fact demands care for the poor and oppressed. The problem with liberation theology is that it begins from human experience; humanity finds God in the poor and oppressed before they find God in his word. It must be the other way around. We hear from God’s word the care God has for the poor. He directs us to the needy; there is no question about that. But God’s special relationship belongs to the church.

    by Viola Larson

    February 16, 2011

  48. Charles, my mother warned me that if I act up in public, I'll end up on the news! By the way, the Sunday School class wrapped up last week with a lively discussion on the Brief Statement and Belhar. The class generated a huge amount of interest, to the point where one visitor (I think either Baptist or Methodist) asked for his own copies of the Book of Confessions and Book of Order--and he in fact joined the congregation this past Sunday! Regardless of the way the voting goes, this debate has caused Presbyterians across the nation to dust off their copies of the BOC, and thanks be to God for that! We have an amazing theological legacy in our denomination, and we ought to embrace it fully.

    by James K

    February 16, 2011

  49. Viola, is this a sign that you at last are finally ready to admit that sexual orientation is simply a dimension of God's "natural diversity"? The times they certainly ARE a-changin'!!! (wink) Seriously, I am gratified that there is a spirited discussion about Belhar that is generating a renewed and long overdue interest in the Book of Confessions. It's tempting to read tea-leaves this early in presbytery voting, but I think a trend that someone in my Sunday School class pointed out is telling. There is not a strong correlation between presbyteries voting yes for 10-A and yes for Belhar. If anything, it's shaping up to be regional, with strong support in the Deep South, especially South Carolina, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. And yes, these are places with a still painful legacy of the issues Belhar directly addresses.

    by James K

    February 16, 2011

  50. Here is a story about this discussion: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2011/2/15/belhar-confession-generating-spirited-discussion-o/

    by Charles Wiley

    PC(USA) Staff

    February 15, 2011

  51. There has been much discussion on Belhar's statement that God " is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged." Check our Rich Mouw's reading of this based in work on Abraham Kuyper: http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=186 then come back and discuss! Charles

    by Charles Wiley

    PC(USA) Staff

    February 14, 2011

  52. Charles, I have been gone from this spot for a long time, my home was overflowing with company when you asked the question. The problem with the statement, ““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…” and other’s belief that homosexuality is a natural diversity is their thought that evangelicals are making marriage between men and women an absolute. And I have read their statements on that, I am not just making it up. I think I understand what you are saying-but it doesn’t work like that.

    by Viola Larson

    February 11, 2011

  53. Orlando, Thanks for your contribution. I'm curious to know what lawlessness Belhar opens the door to? Are you referring to something specific? Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    February 9, 2011

  54. There is so much that's wrong with this confession. But in a nutshell - It leaves too many doors open to lawlessness for the sake of unity.

    by Orlando

    February 9, 2011

  55. I see a lot of language in this confession that speaks to concerns of a bifercated christian community; one seeking the authority to reconcile and unite accross all cultural barriers save one, religion. Any new statement of faith or confession to be added must match the times in which it is written, secure inclusiveness of race, sex, gender and creed. While we hold true to the original councils of the catholic church as to the triune, we exclude the other two religions that also celebrate unity with the one god. Exegesis and hermeneutics won't allow you to cross literagy or theology until a simple thing is done, recognition of all the prophets to the one god. Its ok to revisit these early councils and translate for unity and inclusiveness as well. For within the religious and political climate of today, nothing short of a unified field theory for the workings of religion will suffice. To meet the strictures of dogma within the other two, might we relinguish some of our historical interpretations to current expressions of love and joy in the vastness of the one god and all his prohets? Cornell West said that, "Social justice is love in public." How best to adopt a confession with this kind of language all ready in place when only minor inclusiveness wording will unify all religions, not just christians. I am a christian, a muslim and a buddhist. If I can find the words to include you, can not the powers that be find the words to include me? '

    by Charles J. Freeland, IV

    January 21, 2011

  56. Edward, Your statement on the relative authority of confessions, for me is dead on and I agree, “Temporary” has nothing to do with relativism, that is why I stated, Reformed and always being reformed. Reformed Christians should seek and listen to other voices perhaps, and I emphasize perhaps; through them, an essential understanding of the Scriptures will be given by the Holy Spirit. A confession is primarily the province of the Holy Spirit; the Church is responsible for the discernment of God’s Will and Message and its acceptance and actions in harmony with God’s Will as expressed within a confession. To me, the Belhar Confession, within its own historical circumstances, does not advocate unity of the Body of Christ at the sacrifice of Scriptural proclamation, any use of this confession for the furtherance of any other agenda, other than the stand against the use of race as a divisive tool between believers, is a misuse and it would be misguided to question the authenticity of this confession based on potential misuse. Your understanding that real confessions do not leave a space for any other interpretation ignores human fallibility both within the writing of the confession and the discernment of the message God gives in the confession. God acts in history through limited, sinful and fallible human beings. That being said, not all true confessions have automatic acceptance into our Book of Confessions, I believe a discussion on the suitability of this confession based on its reflection of who and what the Presbyterian Church is and what this Church believes and resolves to do rather than on the authenticity of the Belhar Confession would be more fruitful. Having this discussion with you, Edward, is informative and equipping. Thank you and God Bless, Jim

    by JWK

    January 14, 2011

  57. Part One of Two Edward, Thank you for your response. I see confessions as an evolutionary development of our understanding and perspective on Scriptures as oppose to an evolutionary development of doctrine. You have so ably stated in your Jan. 9th discussion posting, confessions are the province of our community of faith-Church, but I would amend your statement to emphasize that this community of faith province is accepted only after we acknowledge the primary ownership and authority for confessions is that of the Holy Spirit. I obviously did not clearly express my understanding of Relative, Temporary and Provisional authority of the confessions. Let me paraphrase Donald K. cKim, author of “Introducing the Reformed Faith”, his descriptions better reflect my understanding. Relative: Our confessions always look beyond themselves to the authority of Scriptures as the guideline for Christian theology and the means of understanding the Christian experience, in effect; our confessions are commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. Temporary: Our confessions look forward to the future to what new ways, the Spirit of God may lead the Church to confess a new understanding or perspective. What is God calling us to do in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit right here and now? Provisional: Our confessions are written by limited, sinful, and fallible Christians who are shaped and influenced by their own cultural settings and assumptions. We must seek the intentions of confessional documents and not read them in a literalistic manner and simply transfer what they say into our own times. As Christians study confessional writings, we must be guided by historical sensitivities and the best resources available to hear what the confession is affirming or denying in terms of its own historical circumstances. Jim

    by JWK

    January 14, 2011

  58. Viola, I find it interesting (and telling) that you again bring up the perennial question of sexual orientation. I again ask you: if one of the committees or the General Assembly had added a disclaimer at the end of the confession that read "*Nothing in this confession shall pertain to any discussion relating to the ordination or marriage of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons in the church", would you still object? Let me again state that confessions do not stop conversations, they start conversations. Case in point: as of 1967, the northern Presbyterians had been ordaining women to the ministry for years. Yet, a Book of Confessions was adopted that had at least two statements directly condemning the ordained service of women. The church continued to ordain women despite the centuries of opposition reflected in the confessions. We did not have an explicit sanction for the ordination of women until the Brief Statement's adoption in 1991. If adopting the Scots and 2nd Helvetic Confessions didn't force the end of ordination of women in the UPCUSA, why would adopting Belhar force the ordaination of openly-gay-unmarried-and-unchaste individuals? These are two separate constitutional issues.

    by James K

    January 13, 2011

  59. Edward, I feel you are now trying to put words in my mouth, and I do not think it is conducive to constructive conversation. You know I have never "started doubting" Barmen's place in our Book of Confessions. Nor have I ever failed "to see the difference between Barmen and Belhar" and resent the implication that I am unfit in your eyes to lead a Sunday School class on the Book of Confessions. As you yourself note, the writers of Belhar deliberately drew on the structure of Barmen, whose writers deliberately drew on Bullinger's Second Helvetic Confession. The "scale" (to use your term) that Belhar measures its "we therefore rejects" against is THE GOSPEL. What I am repeatedly attempting to point out is that what you consider "rational critiques" of Belhar are standards you have invented that none of our current confessions could meet! Barmen wouldn't meet your test. The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds wouldn't meet your test. The ever-loving Westminster Confession of Faith wouldn't meet your test! I am all for examining potential criticism that is historical, Biblical and dialectical, but it is frankly not worth wasting our time with revisionist history, faulty Scriptural exegesis or dialectic based on incorrect assumptions. We have established standards for adding to the BOC, let's use them, not our individual political litmus tests. Belhar is historic, so do we "understand the original circumstances of formulation and reception"? Have we demonstrated "the contemporary need for the confession and the possibilities for reception"? Have we tested it "by a period of reception in the church"? Has it proven "itself foundational to the church's faith and life"? Does it "reflect a particular stance within the history of God's people"? Is it "the result of prayer, thought and experience in a living tradition"? Does it "serve to strengthen personal commitment and the life and witness of the community of believers"? THESE should be the bases of our critiques. I can answer "yes" confidently to those questions, just as I can for everything from the Brief Statement to the Nicene Creed. How about you?

    by James K

    January 13, 2011

  60. I think we need to try a new tack here. Our current discussion is now marked by repeating claims from prior posts. So . . . where might this go? One of the standard ways to teach history of doctrine is around pivotal issues that the church faces in different eras: Christology, Trinity, Justification, etc. The last 100 years have been the age of ecclesiology, the focus of Belhar. What do you find in Belhar helpful or not so helpful about Belhar's approach to the church? This question may take us over similar territory, but let's try to frame our responses in a new way.

    by CharlesAWiley

    January 12, 2011

  61. James, you asked me to explain to you and Viola “…why we should remove Barmen…??!!!” because Belhar has the same language that Barmen used!! Although, Belhar has tried to copy Barmen in using the term “we reject the false doctrine”, but here it is the differences between Barmen and Belhar in using that term. Barmen used that term 7 times. 1) Barmen rejected false doctrine that is based on something “…apart from beside this one Word of God…” [8.12]- 2) It rejects the fact that we belong “…to other lords, while we belong to Jesus Christ…” [8.15]- 3) It rejects the false doctrine that does not consider the church message “…as Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit…” “…and the church with its faith as with its obedience, with its message …that it is solely His property…” [8.17 & 8.18]- 4) It rejects a false doctrine that is clearly against the teaching of Word of God in Matthew 20:25, 26. [8.19 & 8.20]- 5) It rejects the false doctrine that “…the State should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life…” [8.23] In this part of rejecting false doctrine the topic is very clear, but Belahr is a white check that you fill the blank with whatever you want. 6) It rejects the false doctrine that lead the “…church to become as an organ of the State.” [8.24] Again the message is clear and it is clear what is the false doctrine and whom we are dealing with “State”. Again, it rejects a doctrine that is against “…we belong to God…” 7) It rejects a false doctrine that “…could place Word and work of the Lord in any arbitrarily chose desire and etc…” [8.27] Again, the scale is the Word of God and the Lord. In Barmen, in ALL these “rejecting false doctrine” we see the Word of God and the Lord as the main and ONLY scale for determining the false doctrine. Belhar DOES NOT have such scales and standards. So, James, we don’t need to have doubt on Barmen, and please do not compare Barmen with Belhar over and over. Barmen’s message, Barmen’s scales, Barmen’s points, Barmen’s objections are very clear and specific. Amazingly, while we need to examine Belhar, you have started doubting Barmen that is a one of the highly respected confessions???!!! I hope I will conclude my comments on Belhar by this last note. James, you teach the confessions in your Sunday school and still don’t see the differences between Barmen and Belhar?! James, I admire your dept of your knowledge, specifically on the history of our confessions. But, I believe your extreme & chronic disagreements with ALL rational critiques toward Belahr from one side & over beautifying Belhar from the other side are based on a chosen desire and pre-approval of Belahr by you. No matter how the critiques are historical, biblical and dialectical! This reminds me of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    January 12, 2011

  62. I think we're going to see if we can break some new territory in this discussion soon. We are becoming repetitious. That being said, Viola, I found your argument interesting. The statement of Belhar is against "absolutizing natural diversity," which you are concerned about because some folks insist that homosexuality is a part of natural diversity. I actually think that the more natural reading of that particular sentence is that natural diversity shouldn't be so emphasized without relation to any other factors (absolutized) that it breaks the unity of the church. You could claim that sentence in your defense on these issues. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    January 12, 2011

  63. James, you are somewhat unclear when you write that Edward will need to explain to you and me “why we should remove Barmen.” Perhaps you meant why Barmen should not be removed if it is like Belhar. In any case I stand very much in the same position as Edward on Belhar. I think it is important that you understand that. There are sections of Belhar that are very troublesome and I hate to keep repeating myself but they have to do, partly, with the insistence that “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 simply won’t do in an American Church where some church members and society as a whole are insisting that homosexuality is a natural characteristic of humanity rather than a problem of our fallen nature. Because this confession does not more abundantly intertwine its rejections around both the Bible and most importantly the Lordship of Jesus Christ it will be the first confession in our book of Confessions that will be used to insist that Christians are sinning by breaking unity on such matters as sexuality. They will insist that we are absolutizing heterosexuality and marriage between a man and a woman. And indeed we are-but without the sin.

    by Viola Larson

    January 12, 2011

  64. Viola, your reputation for passionate work and advocacy in the church precedes you, and I meant "wonk" in the most complimentary fashion. As you and I are both officers in the church, we are by our ordination vows held to a tougher standard than an active, regular member (whom I inartfully referred to as "average members in the pews"). Everyone promises to voluntarily submit to the government of the church, but Deacons, Elders and Ministers of Word & Sacrament expressly vow to "sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and...be instructed and led by those confessions". There is a shocking lack of knowledge about those confessions in our Sessions and Diaconates (never mind Presbyteries, Synods and the GA). If nothing else, the voting on Belhar has opened up some conversations about the confessions at last, but there is so much more work to be done.

    by James K

    January 12, 2011

  65. Edward, we are going in circles at this point. Please stop creating new standards for confessions that you apply selectively. We have established standards in this church for adopting confessions and we need to abide by them. I am also frustrated that you continue to make incorrect statements about Belhar's Scriptural bases. Once again, the section you object to, the one that talks about the unity of Christ's church, is debilerately filled with references to Scripture, which I now provide in the order given in the Constitutional amendment: Eph. 2:11–22, Eph. 4:1–16, Jn. 17:20–23, Phil. 2:1–5, 1 Cor. 12:4–31, Jn. 13:1–17, 1 Cor. 1:10–13, Eph. 4:1–6, Eph. 3:14–20, 1 Cor. 10:16–17, 1 Cor. 11:17–34, Gal. 6:2, 2 Cor. 1:3–4, Rom. 12:3–8, 1 Cor. 12:1–11, Eph. 4:7–13, Gal. 3:27–28, Jas. 2:1–13, 2 Cor. 5:17–21, Mt. 5:13–16, Mt. 5:9, 2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21–22, Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6, Col. 1:9–14, Col. 2:13–19, Col. 3:1–4:6, Deut. 32:4, Lk. 2:14, Jn.14:27, Eph. 2:14, Isa. 1:16–17, Jas. 1:27, Jas. 5:1–6, Lk. 1:46–55, Lk. 6:20–26, Lk. 7:22, Lk. 16:19–31, Ps. 146, Lk. 4:16–19, Rom. 6:13–18, and Am. 5. Belhar is in full agreement with Westminster when it comes to the fact that "all synods and councils since the apostles' times...may err, and many have erred" and that as you point out, the our ultimate, authoritative witness is Scripture--which is why Belhar quotes it so extensively! If your objection is that the individual "therefore we reject" sentences not having sufficient scripture references attached, then you'll have to explain to Viola and me why we should remove Barmen, since it does the exact same thing in this regard as Belhar.

    by James K

    January 12, 2011

  66. James, 1) you listed the bible verses that have been used in Belhar. But the purpose & place of using the verses is imperative. All the church confessions need to have 3 reference points: God, the church itself, & the world. Belhar uses verses in the first & the last parts. But, in the part of the church itself & its faith, specifically when it talks about unity, rejecting doctrines & etc…Belhar is missing some clear points and the verses are not relevant toward judging a controversy & a false doctrine in the church. It is like adding & wrapping a personal opinion with some bible verses. Interestingly, Belhar predicts such action when it warns the personal convictions: “…in the name of gospel or of the will of God…” Belhar is not empty, but it has many holes. Belhar says “…unity can be established on …the variety of…convictions…”A confession of faith is more than variety of personal conviction! A confession is an officially adopted statement of what a church believes. We can’t accept Belhar, just because in the end it says: “Jesus is Lord.” We need to see Balhar as a whole & in all 3 references, especially toward its view over the unity & rejecting doctrines & convictions. I’d like to quote Westminster 6.010: “the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, & all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, & private spirits, are to be examined, & in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.” Do you see the supreme standard for judging & determining the controversies of religion? Belhar is missing this supreme standard. Belhar examines doctrines based on the visible & institutional unity of the church, not the standard that Westminster refers to. I hope you won’t say again that I raise the standards that no other confessions can meet. 2) It’s true that all confessions faced some kind of opposition. Some wanted to add Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, Belgic Confessions, French Confession & etc. While others thought that adding those confessions was a way of reducing the authority of the Westminster. (Unfortunately some of the reasons were political). The historical examples that you mentioned against C67 do not lead us to look at Belhar with favor. Each confession is unique. We can’t justify & accept Belhar, just because of existence of some opposition toward previous confessions! 3) About your question that if the GA would add: “Nothing in this confession shall pertain to any discussion relating to the ordination or marriage of openly LGBT persons in the church." I have to say that the comment on Belhar over sexuality is an unproved conclusion. But, I would still say NO to Belhar. I believe what we say & what we do to be faithful & the reason what we accept/denounce a statement are all based on Scriptures alone. We don’t need a confession if it does not present such supreme standard (Sola Scriptura) in judging the controversies of religion.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    January 9, 2011

  67. Jim, I wish I could respond to every single line of your very long (three entries) that you posted on January 3rd. I refer to only two items that I believe have been misunderstood. 1) You wrote: “Are we responsible for the misuse or mis-application of the particular truth God has revealed in this Confession? In the Reformed Tradition all Confessions have only a provisional, temporary, relative authority.” It is necessary to mention that terms “provisional, temporary, relative authority” do not look at our faith and our tradition as an evolutionary development doctrine. Christian conversation across time and space is more than a casual exchange of opinion. The conversation/confession is a consultation about the gospel, a discussion about the shape of our proclamation and the form of our mission. Christians throughout the centuries and the world had to decide how they would speak and live the same gospel. The gospel and confessions are not temporary or what the relativism says. Confessions are not province of the individual, but of the community of faith- Church. Therefore, YES, the church is responsible for mis-application and/or misuse of confessions. Frankly, I believe if the confessions are real confessions, they do not leave a space for any other interpretation or misuse or …But, if there is a possibility of misusing a confession, I will put a BIG question of the nature of that particular document so called “confession.” I believe there are several concerns toward Belhar in regard misuse and/or mis-application of message and language of Belhar. When the Book of confession says that the confessions are “relative authority”, it refers to confessions as subordinate to the higher authority of scriptures. It never talks about the matter that the truth that God reveals across time and space lead us to ethical and cultural relativism. Yes, the church is responsible. 2) You wrote: “Is there any way to distinguish between the truth to which confessions of faith seek to bear witness and their inadequate witness to the truth?” I simply quote Westminster Confession, 6.010 as it says: “the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.”

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    January 9, 2011

  68. James, I didn't realize that I was a wonk! And I never think of others as “average members in the pews.” So we are both wonks but I am a confused wonk? That sounds like a Dr. Seuss book. But isn’t that rather elitist? Anyway I object to the confession "Jesus is Lord" not being expanded upon. And I also object to the statement "true faith in Jesus" being undefined.

    by Viola Larson

    January 7, 2011

  69. Edward, I have no problem with reading and studying other churches' confessions as we consider what it means to be a confessional church. I am in fact doing so right now for my Sunday School class. Whether Augsburg is more beautifully written than the Confession of 1967 is irrelevant. The former is not in our constitution. The latter is. I think you misunderstand why I bring up the history of disunity in our denomination. It's not to squelch debate. It's not to claim that Viola Larson is the reincarnation of Machen or Jane Spahr that of Fosdick. It's to remind us that we American Presbyterians have a sad history of succumbing to partisan politics. I only half jokingly call General Assembly "The Biennial Fight Over Gays and Israel". It is beyond being a civil "open forum"--it's just a food fight now. And sadly, we've been here before and it's never pretty. It's always a distraction from the mission Christ gave us. That's why we need Belhar--like our other confessions, it's a call to conscience and a reminder that our focus must always be on Jesus Christ, the head of the church. To borrow from Bishop Tutu, the first thing we need to do is remember that every member of the PLC, PFR, Covenant Network, TAMFS, the Koreans, the Native Americans, the black folks, the whites, the liberals, the conservatives, the evangelicals, the feminists, and the old Barthians are all beloved children of God--and really do want to do what's best for His church. Contrary to what some of the early comments imply, confessions don't stop conversations. They start conversations. Belhar speaks powerfully to the crisis in the church at the time it was written and speaks powerfully and universally to the truths we proclaim today. In my opinion and that of the General Assembly, it meets the requirements set by our constitution and previous opinions of the GA. Now it is up to the presbyteries to affirm that decision or not. Regardless of the outcome, I pray that our church overcomes its petty divisions, finds its sense of oneness in Christ and renews its mission in a badly broken world.

    by James K

    January 5, 2011

  70. Viola, you're continuing to misread both Belhar and Barmen, and it worries me--if someone as knowledgeable about the workings of our church as yourself is confused, then what must be going through the minds of the average members in the pews who aren't wonks like we are? I know you don't object to Belhar's repeated reminders that the church belongs to Christ, the statement "that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church" or its concluding confession that "Jesus is Lord". I know you know that Belhar quotes or references Scripture extensively (and much more than Barmen), though like most confessions without inline verse numbers. It cites Ephesians 2, 3 & 4, Matthew 5, Luke 1, 6, 7 & 16, John 13, 14 & 17, Phillipians 2, 1 Corinthians 1, 10 & 12, 2 Corinthians 1 & 5, 1 Peter 2 & 3, 2 Peter 3, Romans 6 & 12, Galatians 3 & 6, James 1, 2 & 5, Colossians 1, 2 & 3, Acts 5, Psalm 146, Amos 5, Isaiah 1, Deuteronomy 32 and Revelation 21 & 22. So why pretend they aren't there? It's frankly exasperating to argue over and over about things that aren't in either Belhar or Barmen! Doing some research for my Sunday School class on the confessions, I found on microfilm one of the paid ads the Presbyterian Lay Committee took out in the New York Times in opposition to the Confession of 1967. The parallels are startling to say the least. Westminster (very selectively quoted) is held up almost as a fifth gospel. The end of Western civilization is predicted. Church members are called upon to lobby their ministers and elders commissioned to presbytery meetings. Yet, despite the dire warnings, the church survived the adoption of a Book of Confessions with C67 in it, and even went on to reunite with the PCUS and made it into the 21st century. Based on your previously stated--and non-theological--objections to Belhar, I have to ask you and others who oppose Belhar's adoption: if one of the committees or the General Assembly had added a disclaimer at the end of the confession that read "*Nothing in this confession shall pertain to any discussion relating to the ordination or marriage of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons in the church", would you still object? I think not, and that says more about us--and our profound need for unity--than it does Belhar.

    by James K

    January 5, 2011

  71. • Hermeneutics: part THREE of THREE God continually communicates with us and His messages are multi-level. One level can address a particular issue and another level state His Universal Truth. We must be cautious when applying God’s particular message to our time and place. We can only apply God’s particular message in similar contemporary situations. When considering the Belhar Confession for inclusion into our “Book of Confessions”, I ask myself the following questions: 1. Is it necessary that a Confession reveal a particular truth and/or a universal truth which previous Confessions have not revealed? 2. Is it necessary that a Confession’s revealed truths are applicable to our contemporary situation? 3. Is it necessary that a Confession expresses God’s truths in a more compelling or understandable manner than other Confessions? 4. Are we responsible for the misuse or mis-application of the particular truth God has revealed in this Confession? In the Reformed Tradition all Confessions have “only a provisional, temporary, relative authority.” (Book of Confessions) Is this dispute on questions of authenticity, is the Belhar a true Confession or on the merits of the Belhar Confession? I believe the Belhar Confession is a God inspired, faithful to Jesus, reconciling Confession! “Is there any way to distinguish between the truth to which confessions of faith seek to bear witness and their inadequate witness to the truth?” Book of Confessions There has been an ongoing discussion about the qualifications of the Belhar Confession for inclusion in our “Book of Confessions”. Would it be possible to reference opposing positions to points in the “Book of Confessions”, Section “The Assessment of Proposed Amendments”?, (pages xxxii through xxxiv) Though this framework is not exhaustive, referencing the provided framework would go a long way in clarifying, for me, these opposing positions. Some of what I’ve read, in this discussion board, deals with the possible misuse of this Confession’s revealed truths. We cannot assume responsibility for others misuse of this Confession’s truths. For me, discussions on this subject, outside of what is the intended meaning in this Confession, are not fruitful. In closing, reading this ongoing discussion has been informative though for me, it seems this discussion is going off point, with the central theme shifting from discernment to defensive personal postures, because of this I felt it was necessary for me to write a cautionary response, to hopefully spotlight what, I see, are the vital issues in need of discussion. Please remember brothers and sisters, our lives are dedicated to discerning God’s Will, we are Christians who are “Reformed and always being reformed.” God Bless, Jim

    by JWK

    January 3, 2011

  72. • Exegesis: part TWO of THREE What is being said, by God through the Holy Spirit, to these particular people, at this particular time, in this particular place? What is the historical, cultural and societal background of this particular time and people? As I read and re-read the Belhar Confession, as I review, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, numbered points by numbered points, the “We Believe” and “Therefore, We Reject” I continually guard against my tendency to research and interpret the minutiae and miss the greater meaning. 20th century; state sponsored Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa, the establishment of separate “homelands”, the forced separation, by color and race, of human beings, yet, apartheid is not the focus of this confession. The focus is the separation of Christian believers in Christian Worship and the administering of the Sacraments based on a misguided and incorrect interpretation of the Gospel. Within its historical time and place, this Church has stated unequivocally what they stand for and reject. The Unity they stand for is a Scriptural based understanding of the unity of the “Body of Christ”. What they reject is: 2. “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;” 3. “any doctrine” “which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.” 4. “any ideology” “which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.” This speaks directly to the creation of (3) distinct churches, solely on the basis of color and race and intentionally supported by Gospel interpretation which is wrong by any standards of Christian accountability. Remember, we cannot, in good faith, attribute any meaning to this Confession which the authors did not intend to convey in this document. What is God telling these people in this particular situation? For me, Gods particular message is shown in all the “We Believe” sections of the Belhar Confession! The pressing question is; What Universal Truth, if any, has God revealed to us through this confession? This question will continually be asked and answered by each of us and those that come after us just as we continually respond to revealed truths in our historical Confessions in the “Book of Confessions”.

    by JWK

    January 3, 2011

  73. I have approached the review of the Belhar Confession in the same way and with the same attitude I approach reading the Bible. I do this because in both of these instances (Biblical Interpretation, Belhar Confession Interpretation) I am seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit on materials, I believe, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. • Translation: part ONE of THREE Is the Belhar Confession translation we are currently reviewing, a literal translation, a free translation or a translation somewhere in between these two poles? On the discussion board, it was noted that the use of the words “absolutization”, “absolutizing” were questionable; they were possibly not understandable in the context of their use. I am not a linguist, I have no direct experience in translating documents from one language to another yet I have had an experience that taught me an important lesson about translations. In high school I took four years of Spanish (it was a 4-year high school), in my 3rd year we read Don Quixote, in the “Old Spanish”. “Old Spanish” is to modern Spanish what “Old English” is to modern English. In this original language there were numerous word-plays, such as the name for Don Quixote’s magnificent charger, Rosenantes, which translates to, ‘Bag of Bones”. The intent was to show that before Don Quixote chose this animal to be his charger, this poor horse was a sway-backed, boney, cow hocked, broken down old nag, but now, as Don Quixote’s charger, it is a great steed of heroic proportions. The word-plays were a necessary part of the story gestalt. Shortly after graduating from high school I read Don Quixote in both modern Spanish and English translations, that special gestalt was missing. The important lesson I learned is; something is always lost in translation. Is what is lost important to the understanding of the document, the appreciation of the story gestalt? The primary questions for me are: 1. Is the gestalt of this confession lost or hindered by the use of the words “absolutization”, “absolutizing”? 2. Does this translation unintentionally lay road blocks to the understanding of the author’s intent? 3. Does this translation faithfully express the intent of its authors? I understand the use of these words will require some homework to correctly interpret their meaning and intent, but in general, if the answer to these questions is NO, then I believe, we can respectfully move on to the exegesis of this confessional document.

    by JWK

    January 3, 2011

  74. James, This is what that section of Barmen states: “In view of the errors of the ‘German Christians’ of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and are also thereby breaking up the unity of the German Church, we confess the following evangelical truths.” 8.09 I thank you for pointing me to something that is so very clear. Listed are the exact reasons for lack of unity, direct and pointedly the errors of the German Christians are given; indirectly and still pointedly –a lack of understanding or belief in the evangelical truths which they then go on to list. What is the very first evangelical truth? Using a great deal of Scripture, John 14:6 and John 10:1, 9. The confession states: “Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” 8.11 The fact is, Barmen in this place, lists as its first three evangelical truths, truths about Jesus Christ. As I stated before: Barmen, “doesn’t call for unity except that which is wrapped around the believer's adherence to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is why Barman is truly a confession of the church-its main point is confessing Jesus Christ.” I see I need to explain more clearly when I refer to an ‘undefined unity.’ Belhar defines what unity might look like in some cases, for instance: (and I think this is the better part of Belhar) “in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ..” That section probably states better than any other section what unity is about. But this does not define how it is that there is unity and does not define clearly enough the one who is the source of our unity. If we as Reformed Christians do not clearly state and acknowledge that in our redemption we, both as individuals and the Church, are united to Jesus Christ, we will sunder our unity even as we confess it. We must first confess Jesus Christ and in doing so confess not just that he has brought reconciliation but that with his redemption we are united to his self and therefore, he is our “wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” We must confess that we are to “grow up in him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (You will note that these are scripture references taken from Barmen) The point is this whole issue of unity is wrapped around our confession of Jesus Christ.

    by Viola Larson

    January 2, 2011

  75. James, I am a Presbyterian & a Reformed Christian who respects all other great documents regardless of the denominational background. I still call the aforementioned confessions “supreme”, because: Athanasian Creed is the first doctrinal creed on Christology & explicitly affirmed Trinity. The Augsburg Confession is one of the best confessions in presenting a systematic Christian faith. The Belgic Confession is the oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed. It is one of the best symbolical statements of Reformed doctrine. The Canons of Dort are highly doctrinal in defending the Five Points of Calvinism. They include the Heidelberg Catechism as well & are accepted as official statements of doctrine by many of the Reformed churches. Again, comparing Belhar with such giants was unbelievable. In regard with your view on the Presbyterians Family Tree & etc., I believe your dispute was a little bit extreme. A civil criticism over Belhar does not lead us to that direction. Bringing that history in Belhar’s discussion was unnecessary. As you know from day first I did not conclude anything from Belhar & my dispute was based on the nature of Belhar. If the message of Belhar has been widely mischaracterized because it’s message is undefined & unclear. Even if others had some concerns about the hidden meaning, again, it is because of the inclusive language of Belhar. You wrote: “we place our own "holier-than-thou" attitudes or identity politics above Christ's mission for the church, we are creating idols.” How can Belhar’s defenders label others for having certain political views & putting them above Christ’s mission? How did you come up with that conclusion? You condemn their faith with a louder assumption! Why did you denounce their faith instead of exploring the unsaid?! You called it “making idols!” Or, Why do you look at an open forum as “fighting, all the bloody?” We have been raised in a tradition with a history of debate & protest. Or if Belhar struggles with confessional standards, the problem is not that standards are impossible; but it is impossible to fit Belhar in those standards. How can we talk about unity & Belhar when the defenders of Belhar are labeling others with such comments? With all respect, don’t you think of these comments as forms of bias? Now I see the defenders of Belhar mischaracterize its message!! Is this the conduct that Belahr teaches to its defenders to preserve unity in the church?! Is this the standard that Belhar’s defenders identify the false doctrines and reject them?! Frankly, Now I’m more concerned about Belhar’s defenders than the Belhar by itself!

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 31, 2010

  76. The head of the church is finally Jesus Christ Himself, and when we stoke the flames of disunity in the church for the sake of disunity, when we place our own "holier-than-thou" attitudes or identity politics above Christ's mission for the church, we are creating idols. It's good Reformed theology and it is crucial to us as a church at this time. I maintain that the only way I've seen anyone argue against Belhar is to either wildly mischaracterize what it actually says, spread innuendo about some hidden meaning that it doesn't contain, or create strangely impossible standards that no confession can meet (and ultimately standards that are non-constitutional). Ironically, the rancor that the possibility of adding Belhar to the BOC is precisely why we need a statement like it to reorient ourselves away from the constant bickering and back toward Jesus Christ. I am increasingly convinced my brethren and sistern on the right and left of this denomination are wrong about the reason for the decline in our numbers as a denomination. It isn't that we aren't dogmatically monolithic. It isn't about who we allow to serve or where we seek to influence world events. It's because we are fighting. all. the. bloody. time. And the ludicrous thing is that we keep repeating this history! We need Belhar as a reminder that, after all, we are one in Christ, and even if it's not an ideal we always live up to, for whatever reason, it's still an ideal we strive for, with God's help.

    by James K

    December 30, 2010

  77. Edward, I think we are getting to the nub of our disagreement here. I have apparently caused personal affront by daring to "unbelievably compare[] Belhar with some doctrinal and supreme confessions such as Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession or the Canons of Dort!" You are now holding four confessions not of our church, and in fact one that both Heidelberg and 2nd Helvetic are written in opposition to, as "supreme". Holding any confession as "supreme" is antithetical to the principles of our constitution, and particularly holding those we have deliberately NOT included in our constitution as "supreme" goes against the consensus of the church and therefore the principle of the rule of faith. If you are upset that the Presbyterian Church never adopted the Augsburg Confession, then by all means start the overture process and be prepared to explain why we should add the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation to our constitution. Don't take out your disappointment on Belhar! Even if the Received Ecumenical Statement had constitutional status, which it does not, it says nothing about establishing a process whereby any new addition to the constitution must first be read out of context to less than a half-dozen preselected, non-Reformed Christians to see if those persons can correctly guess what the context of the amendment might be, which is what your "survey" was. Again, if you read esp. Barmen or the Scots Confession without explaining the context, these too would cause confusion. I can hear it now: "who is this Kirk guy and why did God call him from death to life?" We may find it instructive to dialogue with other denominations on our confessions, but at the end of the day, the objections of the Roman Catholic Church never stopped us from adopting the Brief Statement, C67, Westminster, 2nd Helvetic or Heidelberg. Ultimately, we are Presbyterians and as such have a unique Reformed perspective to bring to Christianity. Our Presbyterian form of government gives us definite standards for inclusion of new confessions. We don't need to invent new ones. I also find it exasperating, if not telling, that you misquoted me in your concluding remarks. I said that we are "wracked by disunity with everyone in their own camps making idols of their VISIONS OF THEOLOGICAL PURITY OR IDENTITY POLITICS" (emp added). The "German Christians" were obsessed with the idea that they were theologically pure--that was the problem!!! In our own history, self-proclaimed "theologically pure" Presbyterians defended slavery, the subjugation of women, and segregation, and never without Scripture proofs. Self-proclaimed "theologically pure" Presbyterians rallying around J. Gresham Machen and Henry Emerson Fosdick gave us the upheavals in the 1920s. One look at the PC(USA)'s family tree shows us the fruits of such attitudes!

    by James K

    December 30, 2010

  78. Viola, I call your attention to paragraphs 8.09 and 8.28 (as numbered in our current BOC). Barmen does indeed call for unity without going into detail. It also uses the threat of "breaking up the unity" as the reason to "confess the [six] evangelical truths"! It ends by saying the Confessional Synod "entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, hope and love." Belhar, in turn, DOES define what it means by unity in exhausting detail in sections 2, 3 and 4. It also DOES proclaim the Lordship of Christ in sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and the concluding paragraph that even INCLUDES THE PHRASE "Jesus is Lord." Not only is Belhar being held to standards the existing confessions could never meet, it is now being accused of failing to contain language that it does, in fact, contain!

    by James K

    December 28, 2010

  79. James, I am totally aware of the various confessions that have not been included in the Book of Confession. However, we consider and respect them as confessional documents for their confessional nature, purpose and language. But, what I am not aware of it is that you unbelievably compared Belhar with some doctrinal and supreme confessions such as Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession or the Canons of Dort! I refuse to use the word “Balderdash.” But, there is no need to bring down the level of the chief historical documents just to raise Belhar! Again, comparing Belhar with Barmen is a big gamble that Belhar has no chance to prevail. I strongly agree with Viola in regard with Barmen, and see no need for further comments. In regard with my notes on the appendix, please read my comments carefully. I never referred to the Appendix of the Book of Order as a part of our constitution and/or our confession. I did quote those lines from the appendix to explain why reading Belhar to few non-Reformed Christian was OK. The appendix reflects the understanding and views of our church toward ecumenical communion with others. Respectfully, your conclusion on my quotes from the appendix was not applicable. Finally, I see more sense in viewing disunity in our denomination because of “…visions of theological purity…” (As you mentioned). We owe the Barmen Confession to the few determined church leaders who opposed the impurity in the church in Germany. We have to honor and praise God for those who have visions of theological purity in the church. I never imagined that our church one day would criticize those with pure theological visions! WOW!! May God have mercy on us!

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 28, 2010

  80. James, I would like to answer part of the question you asked Edward. "If your selected group of 5 heard the Barmen Declaration without any explanation or context, would they similarly be befuddled by ITS calls for an undefined unity?" No! Because Barmen does not call for an unidentified unity. It Confesses Jesus Christ as the only Lord above any other so called Lord. And in fact it doesn't call for unity except that which is wrapped around the believer's adherence to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is why Barman is truly a confession of the church-its main point is confessing Jesus Christ.

    by Viola Larson

    December 27, 2010

  81. Edward, we're beginning to talk in circles now, but I still submit that you are holding Belhar to a standard that no other of our current confessions would meet. Any confession, particularly one written in times of crisis, makes no sense without context. If your selected group of 5 heard the Barmen Declaration without any explanation or context, would they similarly be befuddled by ITS calls for an undefined unity? Would they understand why an American church would adopt a document opposing "German Christians"? I now see a circular argument brewing: in deciding whether to add Belhar to the Book of Confessions, we can't look at it as a confession, because it is not yet in the Book of Confessions. Balderdash. There are hundreds, if not thousands of confessions in existence, not just the 11 we happened to have chosen. E.g., we don't use the Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession or the Canons of Dort, but they are confessional statements of churches with whom we are in various types of ecumenical communion. And once again, we as Presbyterians are never satisfied with one document having the last and final word on the subject, otherwise, there'd be no need for a Book of Confessions because it's all deftly handled by the four first chapters of the Form of Government. No, instead our Book of Confessions contains deliberate overlap as they reflect the church's stance in different contexts. It is telling that you refer to Appendix D of the Book of Order ("Visible Marks of Churches Uniting in Christ"). On the cover page is a reference to G-15.0203(c), which states that such ecumenical "statements SHALL NOT BE PART OF THE CONSTITUTION of the Presbyterian Church (USA)" (emphasis mine). The presbyteries rejected the amendments necessary to put the CUIC document into constitutional force, so the document remains for our contemplation "only under the guidance of the Constitution". Belhar is a solidly Reformed statement of faith, with its rejection of idolatry that even those in the Church are prone to. In a time when our denomination is wracked by disunity with everyone in their own camps making idols of their visions of theological purity or identity politics, we need a strong, compelling message of unity to gather around. We need Belhar for the living of these days.

    by James K

    December 27, 2010

  82. Merry Christmas to all! James, in response to your biggest question/concern about my survey and questioning the Reformed belief of those who commented about Belhar, I have to say that three (out of five) were Reformed Christians, and two of them were Catholic. However, if the message of Belhar is unity, I believe we as Presbyterians can and will continue to have serious ecumenical conversations with all denominations, and even other faiths about our theology and our confessions. I would like to draw your attention to the appendixes of the Book of Order, specifically, Appendix 1. (Report of the 18th Plenary of the Consultation on Church Union, gathered in St. Louis, January 20-24, 1999.) In that Plenary Report we read: “…we seek dialogues in ever widening circles, including discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the churches of Pentecostal, Holiness, and Baptist traditions, and other historic black churches. …in a still larger circle, we seek to be in conversation with representatives of Judaism and Islam and other living faiths, as well as in cooperation with all persons and movements of good will and human affirmation.” With such hunger to widening circle of conversation and dialogues and sharing our views and confessions with all, I don’t see any concern in reading a general article so called “Belhar” to few non-Reformed Christians! At this time, Belhar is JUST an article, not a confession. Considering Belhar as a confession and limiting it to only Reformed Christians is a little bit rush in our judgment toward Belhar. I don’t see any concern to share Belahr with others! I simply read Belhar to my friends, without any conversation over Reformed theological views and etc. I just examined the language of Belhar and it didn’t pass. Again, I emphasize that not only Belhar does not have a profound message of racism, but also, it presents an undefined unity. I invite you to compare Belhar with the clear definition of unity in the church written in Appendix 1, section IV of the Book of Order. You will see how Belhar is poor in becoming a confession in a confessional, historical, and theologically rich church such as PCUSA.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 27, 2010

  83. Amy, your view in opposing Belhar is interesting. Your respectful outlook toward using biblical views is respectful. I do appreciate your zeal in challenging all of us to be “students of Bible.” Although, I am not in favor of including Belahar as a new confession in our church, however, in some aspects of your dispute, the conclusions from the Bible verses seem to be a little bit literally. For instance what Jesus meant in Luke 12:51 is not about division IN the CHURCH, it talks about the division in the WORLD. When He talks about the EARTH, he refers to the point that the whole world would not accept the Gospel. It talks about a division between believers and non-believers. It never talks about an intention for creating division within the church. Or, your interpretation from the Corinthians talks about minor ethical differences (1 Cor. 11:18) and some holy measurements in the church (1 Cor. 11:19) in order to purify the church and make it holy. Those divisions are not intentional. But in general, your views were new and eye-opening in some aspects. You have some good points that with a careful enhancement can open a new chapter in reviewing Belhar. Thanks.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 23, 2010

  84. Amy, the explanations and histories surrounding the Barmen Declaration, Confession of 1967 and the Scots Confession, to pick the most obvious examples, never "fade away", leaving only the text of the confession itself. Again, the reason we have a Book of Confessions instead of a single standard is that each is inextricably linked to its history, its time and place. As has already been discussed, I object to your proof-texting of Christ's words on bringing division to the world between those who would follow him and those who would not, which is what he was talking about in the context of the passage you cite. If there is a single theme that links Jesus' relationship with his disciples and Acts and Paul's letters, it is the necessity within the Church for unity in Christ. Paul was always trying to resolve differences and prevent schism. Again, I believe that the message of Belhar, which follows and expands upon the traditions we already hold in 2nd Helvetic, that schism for schism's sake, disunity for disunity's sake, is an idol. When the people of the Church set themselves against each other for the silliest of reasons, it damages that body of Christ. I'll take your "there is a place for division, disunity and hatred" and return you "love your enemies".

    by James K

    December 21, 2010

  85. Edward, there are many concerns I have about the anecdotal nature of your field research, but the biggest one is regardless of the race, level of education, or occupation of the people you selected for your "survey", are any of them Reformed Christians? If you read any of the confessions out of context to someone who is not a confessional Christian, it will not make sense. I like Charles' image of race as the water Belhar swims in. Context means EVERYTHING to a confession, which is why we have a book of them. Despite the wildly varying historical settings and crises or turning points they are written to address, they each in a unique way proclaim those Essential Tenets of the Reformed Faith that we officers promise to be guided by. Were these EPs and ministers you spoke to equally spooked by the Brief Statement of Faith? I know all too well the arguments and anxiety its surrounding its drafting and adoption. Further, if we are so disunited that even speaking about "undefined unity" (and I disagree that it is undefined in Belhar) risks schism as you imply, then it simply points even more clearly to the need to adopt Belhar. Disagreement over confessions is nothing new to us. NO confession has ever been adopted without controversy, going back all the way to the Nicene Creed. Again, you are setting up standards for Belhar that no other confession could possibly meet!

    by James K

    December 21, 2010

  86. An adage: “a gentleman means what he says and says what he means.” Belhar is no gentleman. It's not enough to explain what is "intended" in the accompanying literature. Explanations and histories fade away, the confession will remain. As such, how can students of the Bible NOT object to phrases such as “separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin.” Really? Might we not be found to be opposing God himself if we approve this? God certainly is a person and he hates “haughty eyes and a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans” (Proverbs 6:16 ff) as well as a number of other things and people! Or what about how that same sentence continues, “Anything that threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.” Really? Doesn’t Jesus say, “ Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). Since he is literally threatening unity, Belhar urges us to resist him! As the Bible says, “divisions must come, for only so will it become clear who among you is genuine” (1 Corinthians 11:19). These quotes are not proof texts. This a theme that runs throughout the Bible; there is a place for division, enmity and hatred. The problem with the Belhar is that it refuses to acknowledge this place and makes a false idol of unity. After all, was this really the way to oppose apartheid in the Republic of South Africa? Should not their churches have known something was terribly wrong when they looked around and saw that they had shut out believing neighbors because they were black? Shouldn’t they have feared for their very souls as they were effectively shutting out another non-white neighbor, namely Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we be afraid of the very same thing? The U.S. has not grappled with the legacy of slavery to this day. Do we even begin to understand how deep this particular wound runs? Belhar does not speak to our "peculiar institution and its legacy, nor (IMO) does it address the root of apartheid. The thirst for and necessity of unity runs deep in the Bible. Tom Wright has pointed out that God's promise to Abraham that “all nations shall be blessed” is the remedy to the division at Babel and is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus and glimpsed at Pentecost. Every day that brother is separated from brother is a day we when we are simply witnessing once again to our own deadness. This is the message of Ezekiel 37. We are the valley of dry bones but the answer will come not when we deny the place of division in our churches, while at the same time exalting unity to a place that is beyond it. Are we going to try to be students of the Bible or not? If not, there’s certainly room for a few more pages but if we are going to be students of the Bible, if we really long for unity like the Bible longs for unity then we can’t in good conscience place Belhar in our constitution.

    by Amy Kosari

    December 20, 2010

  87. Charles, I was thinking that I would be done with my comments after my last note! A large amount of debate between James and I in the previous notes were based on the Belhar’s view on racism. What I learned was that the matter of racism is still an issue in our church and etc. For instance, James on his notes of November 22nd wrote: “Racism is far, far from being "declared clearly and profoundly in the past". It is alive and well today, even in the Church, and the hardest part is that it is now pernicious and subtle. That's where Belhar comes in.” As you see, the reason for Belhar’s coming in has been mentioned due to racism. Again, James on his note on November 30th writes: “…I very strongly disagree that C67 speaks more about racism in the Church than Belhar…” Also, on December 5th, Eric Fair raised the matter of racism in his church and links it with Belhar as he says: “…we badly need Belhar…” That’s why I didn’t believe on Belhar’s strong message on racism. Based on the practicality and based on Belhar’s language, the matter of racism is not the message of Belhar. Now, as you mentioned that unity is the main subject in Belhar, I can only say “Amen.” But, it raises a new question about how do we define unity? Again, the general and inclusive language of Belhar leaves many concerns and questions for those who read Belhar. Recently I was in Moderators’ Conference in Louisville and there was a massive concern about the inclusiveness of Belhar. Our Moderator heard all those concerns. We can’t deny that the message of unity is sweet, but at the same time an undefined unity creates anxious. I saw and heard those concerns form the moderators of our presbyteries. Those were the concerns of our church, not strangers. Again, I am not concluding anything else from Belhar and I prefer to discuss on the nature of Belhar only (at this time). But, if our church is seriously concerned about Belhar, we can’t easily talk about an undefined unity. We need to be very careful that voting on a confession that has already created lots of concerns rather than unity not only won’t bring unity, but also, may jeopardize our existing unity. I pray that Belhar won’t be a costly paradox on the matter of unity for our denomination at this time and in the future.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 15, 2010

  88. Edward, that is interesting research. I describe race and racism as the water that Belhar swims in, not a matter that is addressed head-on over and over. From my Outlook piece: "Sometimes when we hear the term prophetic we think of the righteous church speaking to the unrighteous society. In this case, the word is to the church: how can the church of Jesus Christ allow itself to be divided by race to the point where communion cannot be shared? It is the church and its unity that is the focus of Belhar. This is why Belhar is not as pointed on racism as is the Confession of 1967. Belhar is not about racism, per se. It is about how the church’s unity in Christ is threatened when the church allows itself to be shaped by anti-gospel forces." Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 15, 2010

  89. Charles, I would like to thank you and your office for the opportunity to share our views over the Belahar. Beside standing on all my theological and confessional views on Belhar in this forum, I did something different and practical. I read the Belhar over and over and read it to the people who did not know the background and reason for composing Belhar. I read it to the following people: 1) a friend of mine who is an African American and Executive Director of a company in field of human and social services; 2) a Cambodian student with Master degree in Sociology; 3) to a Mexican lady and Office Manager of a foster care company; 4) to a Caucasian with doctorate degree in English literature; 5) to a Kenyan Director of Development in an multicultural business. I did not tell them ABOUT the Belhar. I simply read it to them and asked them what they concluded from the message of Belhar. None of them mentioned anything about racism and racial conflicts!!! They all stated that the message of Belhar is about unity. This was an eye opening action that the matter of racism has been mentioned in Belhar only in two TINY references under 11.3 paragraphs 3 and 5. I realized that we all are focusing on notes ABOUT Belhar rather than Belhar by itself. The whole Belhar is talking about unity in an inclusive form, not racism. Please try it. Do not read ABOUT Belhar or its background. Simply read it, and you will find me true. I conclude my notes on Belhar in this forum by repeating my two fundamental questions: B) WHY do we need Belhar as a confession while the matter of racism has been considered in a stronger way in C67 and even A Brief Statement of Faith? Why do we need it while we have a mechanism that is functioning very well in handling racism in our denomination? B) HOW does Belhar examine the false doctrines? The simple and general/inclusive language of Belhar lacks the message of racism and lacks the theological standards to determine and reject a false doctrine. Thank you again.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 15, 2010

  90. This discussion has been going on for over 4 months with about 90 different posts. I'm impressed with the overall level of the discussion. I say all the time that it is really hard to amend the Book of Confessions . . . and that is a good thing. I'm pleased with this vigorous discussion. I'm eager to see where it leads us from here. Keep those cards and letters coming . . . Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 10, 2010

  91. Charles, I think that "absolutization" is a term that Calvin would have approved of, especially in light of his opinion that the human mind "is a perpetual factory of idols". It's in our nature to try to turn just about anything into an idol, and it's particularly dangerous in church. A dear friend was actually on the committee that wrote the Brief Statement, and she says that she and another committee member--having been duly pigeonholed as Liberal and Conservative--agreed wholeheartedly on the need for the line "to unmask idolatries in Church and culture". Add "absolutization" to the list!

    by James K

    December 10, 2010

  92. Edward, this is rapidly becoming repetitive, but I'll make one more attempt. ALL of the Confessions were written in response to address some crisis in the Church, especially 2nd Helvetic and Heidelberg. I suggest you read up on Elector Frederick III. I still maintain that you are holding Belhar up to an impossible standard, under which none of the existing confessions would be permissible. It is in my opinion disingenuous to say that Belhar's rejections of false doctrine lack an appeal to Biblical authority. This site unfortunately does not allow for bullet points, so I'll just quote in a stream: "We believe…that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience… that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis; that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel…denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel [and] must be considered ideology and false doctrine." I'm not even pointing out the DIRECT QUOTES FROM SCRIPTURE in the text of the confession. Does Belhar have holes? If by "holes" you mean it is not comprehensive enough to cover every bit of minutia in Reformed doctrine, then yes. And none of our confessions do, which is why we went from having simply Westminster to having a whole book of them!

    by James K

    December 10, 2010

  93. Hi all, Allow me to share a few interesting points, not so much theological, but from the ground here in South Africa. Also, may I please urge all of you to refer to South Africa as in the Republic of South Africa and not Africa when speaking of Belhar, as Apartheid was law within the borders of our country only and NOT a regional within the continent of Africa. While I was a student, I was organist of a white NG KERK (Dutch Reformed Church) in the city of Cape Town at a time (about 2001/2002) when conventions were being set up discussing ways and means of reuniting the divided church. Of course Belhar was and remains central to this end. Some within the old white church view the confession with suspicion and therefore refuse to accept it as they feel it is there to shame them. There have also been some objections to it from the old black church, though why that is, I cannot and have never bee nable to fathom. One of the more futile arguments coming from all sides in the debate on reunification is the question of church culture and style. Again, many from all sides claim there would be problems adjusting to the different styles and cultures, and there are many more reasons and arguments put foward to delay the process. Believe me, there are many people and ministers from all backgrounds within the divided Dutch Reformed Churches who want unification and want it now. One would have thought that Belhar would have been a wonderful way forward, but it's proved quite devisive. All these problems must be viewed against the backdrop of our incredibly complex multicultural society in South Africa. We are also politically quite complex, and as you can imagine, add all that to the mix and then try unifying the church. Good luck.

    by Kevin Kraak

    December 9, 2010

  94. James, 1) needless to mention that there are numerous differences between the confessions documented in the Book of Confessions. Some of them are brief; and the others are longer. The purpose behind each is different. Apostles’ Creed is a general document of Christian faith, while The Scotts, Westminster, and the Second Helvetic present theological discussions of the Reformed faith. The Nicene, Barmen and C67 focus on some specific critical issues. The Heidelberg and the two Catechisms are mainly for the purpose of Christian education, and the Brief Statement is about the unity. Therefore, the main dispute is not over number of the biblical verses or how many times each confession rejects the false doctrines. My question is that “HOW” does Belhar reject the false doctrines? For instance the Scotts Confession lists three marks by which the church is known: “the true preaching of the Word of God,…the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus,… and lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribed.” (3.18) Or when the Second Helvetic says, “the lawful and sincere preaching of the Word of God as it was delivered to us is the books and…” (5.134) and again Second Helvetc talks about return to “Scripture alone” (5.014), and also Second Helvetic “Works and worship which choose arbitrarily are not pleasing God.” (5.116) or The Heidelberg makes it very clear by saying, “we must not try to be wiser than God.” (4.098). All these standards (and not merely bible verses) were main elements of Reformed confessions about finding God’s Word and God’s Church among human counterfeits. In the16th century, the Reformed Churches were sometimes practically interchangeable with school, because of the emphasis on the Word of God. All those confessions and Reformed movement and high bars established Bible’s authority over the church and to reject the Roman Catholic phony practices. Now, when we look at Belhar, we see it naked and without all those Reformed elements in its rejection with the false doctrines. The only scale in Belhar to reject those false doctrines is “any doctrine that threats the visible unity of the church”!!! I hope you see the difference. Belhar has many holes and is naked in regard with such standards. I am not raising the bars. The Reformed confessions lead us to those high bars in order to restrict our worship and faith to what Scripture approves. I skip answering point two (02), because of the length of my answer to point (01). I briefly answer point 3. I didn’t mean to look at Belhar as a non-American confession. As we all know almost all the confessions are European confessions and non-Americans. My emphasis was on the simple and general language of Behalr. The other confessions are not that much general and simple (loose) in language.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 8, 2010

  95. I've been thinking about the critique of the absolutization language. I hadn't thought of it before this discussion. I was doing a bit of research today that gave me a bit more insight on the use of the term. The theological/biblical argument for apartheid in the 1940s flowed out of reading the great Dutch Theologian Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper believed that , in creation, God had ordained spheres of sovereignty where there were different authorities. So, for instance, there is a distinction between church and state because they each have authority over separate spheres in human life. In the theology that developed in South Africa, there was the belief that the brotherhood of all races was a spiritual ideal that would be realized in heaven, that the natural diversity of races was a divine ordinance of God. This natural, and God-given, diversity should be honored and maintained, with each race living up to its nature, character, and gifts: “the division of the human species into races, peoples, and tongues was a conscious deed of God.” (G.B.A Groenewald) Citations: Genesis 10-11, 15:8, Deuteronomy 32:8, Amos 9:7, and Acts 2:8ff. He also cited Calvin saying that every people or nation is rightly enclosed within its own boundaries. What I find interesting is that many today might resonate with much that was argued--valuing peoples for their particular gifts, etc. The problem was when this celebration of natural diversity was absolutized into an ideology, an idolatry. So the valuing of different gifts ended up becoming a tool of oppression. I'm inclined to think that absolutizing is the right term. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 7, 2010

  96. Richard, In addition to the comments here, you might check recent postings at the Presbyterian Outlook: http://pres-outlook.com/reports-a-resources/presbyterian-heritage-articles/10707.html http://pres-outlook.com/reports-a-resources/presbyterian-heritage-articles/10706.html http://pres-outlook.com/news-and-analysis/1-news-a-analysis/1149.html http://pres-outlook.com/home/amendment-resources/10698--why-we-need-belhar.html

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 6, 2010

  97. What are the pro's and con's of approving the adoption of Belhar?

    by Richard Hoffman

    December 6, 2010

  98. Edward, I'll use your numbering convention for clarity. (1) The objection to Belhar lacking in-line Biblical citations applies equally to the Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed, Scots Confession, Heidelberg, Westminster, C67 and the Brief Statement. While reducing the Book of Confessions to 2nd Helvetic and Barmen would certainly streamline it, I don't think that's ever been the goal. Of course, if our standard is to reject as false the confessions that reject doctrines as false, we'll have to say goodbye to Barmen--which does it 7 times--and 2nd Helvetic 4 times by my count. An empty constitution? I realize this is fanciful, but I am simply taking the same standard you're applying to Belhar and applying it to the other confessions. You're setting a bar that is impossibly high and, more to the point, inappropriate to the way that we Presbyterians govern ourselves and understand what having confessions in our constitution means. (2) Note your list of churches that use the Apostles' Creed does not include the Eastern Orthodox. Unless you're willing to dismiss that entire tradition as apostate, you cannot say that the Apostles' Creed is universal amongst ALL Christians. But then universal acceptance among all Christendom has never been a requirement for our confessions. Our theology is Reformed and unique. (3) Unless you can point to some secret hidden text in Belhar, it says nothing about sexual orientation. There are those in the church who are convinced it does. Whether you think they are expressing "concerns" or making "assumptions" (and I think it's a bit of both), it's the responsibility of those who have studied the subject--particularly those of us who are officers in the church--to clear up these misconceptions. Are some people in the church concerned that adopting Belhar will lead to a gag order against anything negative said about homosexuality? Yes, and their concerns are misguided. Were there people in the church who were convinced that the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was a secret attempt by the NCC to convert all Presbyterians to Communism? Yes, and their concerns were misguided as well. We can address concerns without validating them. As far as "implementation of" confessions written in other countries "in a very complicated culture like America that changes rapidly", well, we've been doing it for centuries.

    by James K

    December 6, 2010

  99. Eric, the matter with the church that you attend is not necessarily the issue with racism. The immigrants have their own bias and their own guards too. In addition, the new immigrants try to keep their backgrounds and identity by isolation and not getting melted in the big pot of western culture. At least it may take one or two generations to see some changes. Furthermore, if a church does not have ethnic ministries and etc. you may seek the problem in evangelism and mission of that church rather than issue with racism. The matter of racism in our culture is evident, but not in the constitution of PCUSA. The matter of a confession needs to be considered as a constitutional matter, not based on some local examples.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 6, 2010

  100. Charles and James, I) I did not mean that Belhar does not refer to bible verses. It cites many verses in sections 11.2, and 11.4. But, my point was that in the main text of the confession (not the Accompanying Letter), Belhar rejects doctrines (six times), without referring to a biblical standard. Then, in regard with the current issue in our church, I emphasized that we do not have a major concern in our church system. I didn’t mean that issue of racism does not exist in Christian communities. It will remain even after Belhar’s adoption. We may find racists within our membership in PCUSA. However, it does not mean that our church system (PCUSA) ignores such issue. It is part of our constitution. Why do we need to have the same topic in less than 50 years? I was one of the three speakers in the opening session of GA, in San Jose (year 2008). I presented a personal testimony of racism. The matter of racism presented by all three speakers (including myself) was not as a result of failure in PCUSA’s system (constitution), and a matter within our church. On the contrary, I saw myself within a loving church that was willing to hear me and offer healing to hurt people like me. The message of belhar is not strange to me. I read it with my heart. Maybe more than anyone, I have to vote for Belhar. However, as I mentioned in my previous notes, I see it as a respectful article, but not necessarily as a confession of the church in PCUSA. II) James, Apostles’ Creed is widely accepted among other denominations and regardless of historical conflicts between West and East, it has been adopted by Roman (Latin-rite) Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, churches of the Anglican Communion ,Western Orthodox churches, Methodists, Congregationalists and many Baptists. Also, repeating divinity of Christ and matter of racism are two different things. All confessions are linked to the principles of our faith and if we repeat those principles, because we build our new confessions based on those absolute truths. They are formulas of our theology and our confessions. Repeating formulas in science for proving other things is for the same purpose. This reputation is fundamental and essential. But message of racism is not a fundamental formula for our theology and confession. If we have repeated it once, we don’t need to do it again. III) James, In regard with your comments toward the critics of Caleb, Viola, Phil, John, Chris, Peggy, Karen, Ed, Melissa and others and their comments about inclusiveness of belhar, I have to tell that in such an open forum like Belhar discussion, I prefer to consider their comments as concerns and not merely assumption as you mentioned. Implementation of Belhar with its simple and general language (with some serious holes in the structure) in a very complicated culture like America that changes rapidly, certainly creates some concerns (wrong or right.) I believe the purpose of our forum is to hear those concerns.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 6, 2010

  101. I've attended a 2,000 member PCUSA church for more than 20 years. It is located in an old steel town where immigration has altered the racial make-up of the city in an undeniable way. And yet the membership of the church remains almost entirely white. The Belhar Confession is needed. It is needed badly.

    by Eric Fair

    December 5, 2010

  102. To everyone in general and Charles in particular, thank you for this lively discussion. As I mentioned earlier, I was inspired to explore this in a Sunday School setting, and as of yesterday, I am now committed to leading a discussion in January on the confessions at my church, and the response has been tremendous so far. I hope this is a sign of a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology, which I think has a powerful message for humanity in the 21st century.

    by James K

    December 3, 2010

  103. Edward, it is incorrect to say that the Apostles' Creed is universal. It is a purely Western creed--at the Council of Florence, the reaction from the Orthodox was "we do not possess and have never seen this creed of the apostles!" The fact that the proximate cause of the Great Schism itself was the Eastern objection to the Roman addition of "filioque" points to even the Nicene Creed in our Book of Confessions not being a universally-accepted one. However, and more to the point, our constitution deliberately avoids prioritizing the confessions, whether by form (creed or catechism) or in descending order of acceptance by other denominations (which would land the Scots Confession at the bottom). These may be valid categories in which to use in an academic setting, but that is not the question at hand. The question at hand is the constitution. I also reject as false the notion that once a confession touches on an issue, it never needs to be addressed again. Why, then, do we have eleven confessions that acknowledge the divinity of Christ? Can't we just use the Nicene Creed and be done with it? No, because again, as the constitution itself says, "the creeds and confessions of this church reflect a particular stance within the history of God's people." They will necessarily have overlap because they are talking about the same church that worships the same God. The only things that change over time are the particular people in the church and the world outside. I also reject as false the notion that Belhar is somehow not Biblically based. Both Charles and I have provided links to the list of Scripture references made within the text. Shall we discard those without them, including the Nicene and Apostles' (which, again, do not even talk about the Bible)? Belhar does quote Scripture directly as do some, but not all, of other confessions. I also reject as false the notion that "we don't have major racism divisions in our system as PCUSA", though with all my heart I wish it were true. Look around! My concern over the "elephant in the room" was not addressed to you, Edward, but to comments like those made by Caleb, Viola, Phil, John, Chris, Peggy, Karen, Ed, Melissa and others. My frustration with the "theological" arguments against Belhar is that they all rely so heavily on misguided assumptions about what's in the text itself (it does not "simply & over & over rejects doctrines!" nor does it make its claims "not on the Word of God" as you write) and the nature of what our constitution says confessions are for and how they relate to one another. That's what's so frustrating about debates in the PC(USA) in general these days: everyone is so wedded to their political camps that nobody trusts anyone else enough to have an honest, rational discussion. And ironically, that's something that Belhar speaks powerfully to.

    by James K

    December 3, 2010

  104. Edward, As for Scripture being the only basis, the authors of Belhar agree with you. From Article 2 of the Accompanying Letter: "We are aware that the only authority for such a confession and the only grounds on which it may be made are the Holy scriptures as the Word of God. Being fully aware of the risks involved in taking this step, we are nevertheless convinced that we have no alternative. Furthermore, we are aware that no other motives or convictions, however valid they may be, would give us the right to confess in this way. An act of confession may only be made by the Church for the sake of its purity and credibility and that of its message. As solemnly as we are able, we hereby declare before everyone that our only motive lies in our fear that the truth and power of the gospel itself is threatened in this situation. We do not wish to serve any group interests, advance the cause of any factions, promote any theologies or achieve any ulterior purposes. Yet, having said this, we know that our deepest intentions may only be judged at their true value by God before whom all is revealed. We do not make this confession from God’s throne and from on high, but before God’s throne and before other human beings. We plead therefore, that this Confession should not be misused by anyone with ulterior motives and also that it should not be resisted to serve such motives. Our earnest desire is to lay no false stumbling blocks in the way, but to point to the true stumbling block Jesus Christ the rock."

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 3, 2010

  105. James, 1) I believe that Nicene & Apostles’ Creeds are two ecumenical/universal documents accepted by other denominations as well and are pillars of Christianity that reflect theological formulation of Christianity. Although, PCUSA considers creeds and confessions/declarations/Statement in one book, however, creeds are different in application. Other denominations may not accept PCUSA’s confessions, but all denominations have a common view over the above-mentioned creeds, because the application of Nicene and Apostles Creeds are different. 2) In regard with C67, the message of racism is not a single line. You may not find the vocabulary “WITHIN” in that confession, but when it says, “CONGREGATIONS”, or “groups of Christians” who exclude, dominate, or…(C67-9.42 &9.44) it talks about rejecting racism within. Also, the matter of rejecting racism in our church system already IS part of our constitution. (Book of Order G-9.0105 and etc.) If some individulas create divisions, we have to seek the problem not in our confessions/constitution/system. The problem is in the heart of people. We don’t have major racism divisions in our system as PCUSA. Belhar brings the same message that already IS our current constitution. As “A Brief Statement of Faith” explains: “No confession of faith looks merely to the past; every confession seeks to cast the light of a priceless heritage on the needs of the present moment, and so to shape the future.” 3) Confessions are subordinate standards. As with the C67, Barmen makes explicit reference to obedience to the Word of God, which limits the authority of all confessions. Confessions are not Word of God; they lead us to the Word of God. But, the problem with Belhar is that the confession and the church are the authority, not the Word of God. We cannot find any solid and biblical standards to reject doctrines. Belhar claims an authority based on its message, not the Word of God. Belhar simply & over & over rejects doctrines! The question is: “Based on what standard you reject a doctrine?” For rejecting a doctrine we need doctrinal views, not ecclesiastical/ political/institutional views. There is a big HOLE in Belhar. It lacks biblical standards. It does not lead to the Word of God. It leads you to a uniformed church. But, we already have a united church. Finally, if you review my notes from the time that I started sharing my comments on Belhar, my critics were not based what we can conclude from Belhar as you named it as "having an elephant in the room." I didn’t question inclusiveness of Belhar, (although it is another concern with Belhar.) I criticized the nature and language of Belhar. My critics were and are theologically, not assumptions. I hoped a civil discussion that is required for such theological subject would remain on Belhar only. Labeling comments and redirecting the discussion/attention to other aspects (the elephants that you mentioned) will not protect deficiencies of Belhar as a confession.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    December 3, 2010

  106. I believe that the phrase "which absolutizes . . . in such a way that this absolutization" is "so verabsoluteer dat hierdie verabsolutering" in the original.

    by CharlesAWiley

    December 2, 2010

  107. Does anyone know what word was used in the original that got translated as "absolutization." I'm wondering what was intended by the authors and if a word other than absolutization might have been a better choice.

    by Dennis Zimmerman

    December 2, 2010

  108. Chuck, do you get that impression from the Confession of 1967? It's in our constitution now, and it says: "The reconciliation of man through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God's good creation. Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world's poor is the cause of his disciples. The church cannot condone poverty, whether it is the product of unjust social structures, exploitation of the defenseless, lack of national resources, absence of technological understanding, or rapid expansion of populations. The church calls every man to use his abilities, his possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to him by God for the maintenance of his family and the advancement of the common welfare. It encourages those forces in human society that raise men's hopes for better conditions and provide them with opportunity for a decent living. A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God."

    by James K

    November 30, 2010

  109. Edward, you are making a distinction between "creed" and "confession" that does not exist in the Presbyterian constitution. I suppose "confessions" may broadly be categorized as "creeds" or "catechisms", but we very deliberately do not prioritize any of them over another. I very strongly disagree that C67 speaks more about racism in the Church than Belhar, and the fact that you can only point to a single sentence in C67 bears this out. That sentence does NOT address DIVISION WITHIN the church, which Belhar does, and which 2nd Helvetic touches on. C67 touches on disunity as "distortion", but it does not speak to the forms of it the way Belhar does. I also can't agree with your earlier assertion that Belhar doesn't "protect the Gospel" (as if this were the function of a confession). It certainly quotes the Gospels a lot! Again, there is an elephant in the room here. Belhar represents something frightening to some in our denomination. To the rest of us, it is a refreshing call to seek out our unity in Christ. I for one am tired of the coded messages and assumptions of ulterior motives. Belhar is a genuinely Reformed confession with a timely message for the PCUSA today. Let's examine it on its merits, comparing it honestly with other confessions, and decide whether it meets the requirements for inclusion in our constitution.

    by James K

    November 30, 2010

  110. Just a tiny correction on my previous note (last lines). I accidently wrote: "..., ignoring an existing confession does validate ...." Please read it "... does NOT validate..."

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    November 27, 2010

  111. James, thank you for the substantial views that you brought to this discussion. However, I see it differently. There is difference between Creeds and Confessions. (Since addressing the differences are not the subject of our discussion, I do not go into details.) But, the major difference is in application. A creed tells you what you must believe, and a confession affirms what you do believe. A creed excludes, and a confession includes. Apostles' Creed and Nicene are creeds, and Belhar is a Confession. That’s why when we want to include and affirm something we need to be specific about the biblical (gospel) aspects. Since, we have a confession, it needs to specify/affirm what we do believe and the need for addressing biblical views is essential. In regard with the C67, I would like again to quote that confession that specifically talks about the church call and again C67 talks about the reconciliation WITHIN. It says: “…the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups or Christians who EXCLUDE, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, …resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.” (Reconciliation In Society- Part a). To be honest, Belhar does not have the strong and specific language that C67 has in regard with racism. It clearly talks about within and without the church. Again, as I mentioned in my previous note, the issue of racism will continue even after Belhar, but again, ignoring an existing confession does validate us to adopt a new confession with the same message that even is not stronger than the existing one (C67).

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    November 26, 2010

  112. After reading this confession I get the impression that it is being implied that free market capitalism is evil. (despite the fact that hunger and human misery seems to increase in quantity and severity in the countries with lesser economic freedom)

    by Chuck Borum

    November 25, 2010

  113. Edward, as I noted before, neither the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds mention the Gospels. Shall we dispense with those as well? The Confessions by necessity have overlap, since they are referring to the same Church that believes in the same God. Since each was written in response to a specific crisis or turning point in the Church. Barmen is the most obvious, but there were very specific circumstances for the others as well. The Scots Confession was written in the midst of the struggle for control of Scotland by John Knox's Protestants against Mary Queen of Scots' Catholics. Since that dispute had been settled for over 400 years, why add it to the Book of Confessions in 1967? Because it has a timely message in it for the modern Church. Racism is far, far from being "declared clearly and profoundly in the past". It is alive and well today, even in the Church, and the hardest part is that it is now pernicious and subtle. That's where Belhar comes in. The sections from the Confession of 1967 that you reference refer to "Reconciliation in SOCIETY" (emp mine). It doesn't address, as Belhar does, reconciliation WITHIN the CHURCH, and that is something desperately needed in these days. Indeed, the Brief Statement calls us to "unmask idolatries in Church and culture". As I mentioned, Scots and 2nd Helvetic touch on disunity for disunity's sake as wrong, but Belhar emphasizes it loudly. The "solas" don't have Confessional status in and of themselves, but Belhar follows their spirit by rejecting the notion of a sixth sola, Sola Gens (One's Clan Alone).

    by James K

    November 22, 2010

  114. Charles, I will try to explain my points according to your three points: 1) I do agree that a confession continues to be a word to the Church regardless of time. By using “current” I didn’t mean the “time”. I meant tthe matter of racism has already been declared clearly and profoundly in the past. The previous confessions such as C67 under “Reconciliation in Society” 9.44 clearly says”…he overcomes the barriers between brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real of imaginary.” My point was that why do we need to reinvent the wheels while we already have such confession. According to your beautiful view, why the message of C67 can’t be continued to be a word to the church? Our offices and wheels in PCUSA run clearly and accurately in dealing with racial and ethnic differences. 2) Again as you mentioned it clearly, the matter of a divided church still continues in Africa even after the fall of Apartheid. Even after adoption of belhar in Africa. Because, if people dare to disobey the Word of God, how much more they will disobey a confession. If churches in U.S. disobeyed C67 and Reconciliation in Society 9.44, how Belhar’s adoption will solve this issue? Belhar can be considered as an article for reminder, but not a confession. Otherwise, we may have another confession after few years for poverty, or racial divisions or etc. from different countries because the matter of racisim and poverty still continues!! Not acting on an existing confession does not pave the route for adopting a new confession with teh same message. 3) I don’t see that Belhar talks about the “…diversity in opposition to the claims of the Gospel.” The exact language of Belhar says: “ 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.” Do you see the difference? Belhar does not protects the gospel. It never talks about breaking the gospel. It protects the church! It protects an institutional form of unity. This is another big difference between Belhar and Barmen. In Barmen, the church belongs to God and the emphasis is on God. In Belhar, the emphasize is the church. See the difference?! In Belhar we as a reformed church shift from the Word of God to the church. This was one of the main difference between the Reformed church the Roman Catholic. We lose Sola scriptura in adopting belhar. It rejects the absolutism against teh church not the gospel.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    November 21, 2010

  115. Edward, Thanks for your well-argued comment. Three notes: 1) The Theological Declaration of Barmen was first adopted as a confession by the PCUSA over 40 years after the fall of Nazi Germany and the "German Christians" mentioned in the document. Many Christians around the world believe that this confession made in the context of Nazi Germany continues to be a word to the Church. Does Belhar continue to be a word to the Church? 2) While apartheid has fallen, the Reformed church in South Africa continues to be divided along racial lines. Denominations in the U.S. continue to be divided along racial lines as well. Does Belhar help us deal with these continuing situations? 3) I read the "absolutizes" language in a quite different way than you do. I read Belhar as saying that the absolute truth of the Gospel requires that we not absolutize natural diversity in opposition to the claims of the Gospel. What do you think? Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    November 21, 2010

  116. Belhar Confession does not stress a current subject in the Body of Christ. The root and main/core subject in the Belhar Confession is based on the issue of Apartheid and legal racism that ended in South Africa in year1994. Since Apartheid is not a current issue in the state and the church neither in Africa nor in United States, the Belhar Confession does not stress a vital and urgent matter that needs to be considered as an official and new confession in PCUSA. It is necessary to mention that the matter of racism has been addressed in other existing confessions of PCUSA such as C67. In addition, the current existing offices and advocates in PCUSA clearly and profoundly reject the matter of racism in the world and in the Body of Christ. Also, as Karl Barth once said,"The gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question mark against all truths." Karl Barth not only said this, he spent his life setting question marks, in the name of Christ, against all manner of "truths" and liberlalism. Rejecting absoultism is rejecting the five solos (=alone) of Reformed theology and opening the door for diverse convictions and liberalism. This won't help the unity in the body of Christ as the Belhar points it out. Our unity is not in inclusiveness and an instutitional unity. We are united in our five Solos of our theology. Solo means "alone" that is referring to absolutism.

    by Edward W. Eissabake

    November 21, 2010

  117. On Belhar as a "political" document. Belhar is political, but no more so than C67, Barmen, or even Nicaea. I actually find it remarkable that Belhar's focus is not on apartheid in South African society, but on what is happening within the church. We often speak of the church being co-opted by or reflecting the culture. In this case, it was the church that became the model for the apartheid society. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    November 15, 2010

  118. James, Unfortunately most of the "old" confessions can do as much harm as good to modern readers. While the contain pervasive, universal truths about humanity's relationship to God, and beautiful metaphoric images of our faith; much of it is lost to the young, educated, modern eye that has a hard time getting past language that distorts much of what we know about reality (natural or scientific world). Old confessions have a place in worship tradition but it is a shame when that tradition drags into the church unsupported bias about nature, e.g., the current arguments over revisiting translations. That is why I like Belhar except for that opprobrious "absolutization" word. It is a shame so many folks read things into Belhar that are not there. It could be words like that don't help its case. I'd guess 90% of congregations wouldn't have a clue what it means and might well read it negatively to the whole confession's detriment. The spiritual impact of Confessions that seem more preoccupied with the writers' words than message suffers. As I said, in my opinion confessions do not belong on first purpose in the academy but in the practicing church and choice of language tells where it is aimed. A word that can't be understood in terms of real life can't be used very well.

    by Henry Paris

    November 15, 2010

  119. Henry, while I like and agree with your concluding sentence, I have to point out that it applies to every single Confession of the Church, from the Nicene Creed to the Brief Statement. It'd be nice if all our doctrines were self-evident. The fact is that as Presbyterians, we believe the Church has to and is indeed called to make statements like these. We don't do it lightly, hence the higher bar than other alterations to our Constitution. I understand and share your concern over translations, as we have already run into this problem with the German of the Heidelberg Cathechism. Charles, thanks for the opportunity to discuss this in a civil manner. I for one have been inspired to study the Book of Confessions and some books that have been written about it, and I plan to offer to lead a Sunday School discussion on our Confessions in the not-too-distant future.

    by James K

    November 11, 2010

  120. Well, Viola, with respect, what you say is the purpose of the Confessions is not what our Constitution says--which has been repeated ad infinitum here. This is what I mean by a desperate need to educate ourselves--members and leaders alike--on what it means to be a Confessional Church. My OPC friend gets it, even though I disagree with him on many specifics. The Scots Confession and the Second Helvetic Confession do indeed speak to division as a means of maintaining the purity of the Church, even going so far as to plant the seeds of suspicion against "the reprobate...found in the fellowship of the chosen" (3.25 in the BOC) who "while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered" (5.139). However, in the very next section, of which you quote but skip over the meaning, we are told not to "undertake to exclude, reject or cut off THOSE WHOM THE LORD DOES NOT WANT TO HAVE EXCLUDED OR REJECTED, and those whom we cannot eliminate WITHOUT LOSS TO THE CHURCH" (5.140, emph. mine). This is where Belhar is needed in our Book of Confessions. The Reformed Confessions in particular speak to the need in their time of disunity to preserve purity, yet 2nd Helvetic acknowledges that this should only be done where the gospel demands it. Belhar speaks powerfully to a concrete example of abuse of this responsibility--dividing the church over race. Belhar does not exclude a possibility of division, but says in no uncertain terms that it must be only for God's reasons, not sinful humans', and we must have the awareness to discern the difference.

    by James K

    November 11, 2010

  121. The Belhar document captures quite an expansive view of what Scripture says is Christ's call to us, and at the same time, manages it in a fairly concise, to-the-point manner. My only problem with it is the arcane (and bad English) usage in section 3 of the words "absolutization" and "absolutizing", and its limitation to race and color. Absolutization is a poorly constructed short-hand that most folks in the church will not appreciate. Meaning, both spiritual and didactic, is better served by using more descriptive words, such as "“that establishes as supreme in relation to all else…”for "absolutizing " and "absolutism" for "absolutization in that section. (Unless the authors meant something else.) A Confession is a docment for the people, not the academy. I recognize the original purpose of the document pertains to reconcilliation with regard to race and color. However, this document strikes me as a powerful and broad expression of the essence of Christianity if that section 3 were modified, even though it is generalized elsewhere in the document. This is a small point, though. Perhaps if more ministers were preaching the practice of this theological statement to session and congregation, and living it ourselves, we'd be a better church for it; and probably a better world.

    by Henry Paris

    November 11, 2010

  122. James I believe that confessions are only meant to do one thing-confess Jesus Christ. They are not to be about us but about our Lord. As Arthur C. Cochrane in his chapter on the nature of a confession, in his book “The Church’s confession under Hitler,” writes: "While the Church confesses certain doctrines and dogmas and supplies answers to specific questions, it does so only I order to bear witness to Christ. It confesses a Living person who is the Lord and thus calls for a personal relationship of trust and obedience to him—not to the Confession as such or to the doctrines contained in it. …" And this is certainly true of the Second Helvetic Confession, (which is one of my favorites), For instance about Christ: "We further believe and teach that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was predestinated or foreordained from eternity by the Father to be the Savior of the world. And we believe that he was born, not only when he assumed flesh of the Virgin Mary, and not only before the foundation of the world was laid, but by the Father before all eternity in an inexpressible manner. For Isaiah said: ‘Who can tell his generation?’ (53:8)" Or "Wherefore, we quite openly profess and preach that Jesus Christ is the sole Redeemer and Savior of the world, the King and High Priest, the true awaited Messiah, that Holy and blessed one whom all the types of the law and predictions of the prophets prefigured and promised …(5.077b)" Christ’s two natures, his resurrection all that he is are given in the Second Helvetic Confession, And yes there are some wonderful words about Church unity. Speaking of the fact that all who are in the Church are not the true Church the author of the Confession writes: "Hence we must be very careful not to judge before the time, nor undertake to exclude, reject or cut off those whom the Lord does not want to have excluded or rejected, and those whom we cannot eliminate without loss to the Church. On the other hand we must be vigilant lest while the pious snore the wicked gain ground and do harm to the Church. … (5.140)" "Unity consists not in outward rites and ceremonies, but rather in the truth and unity of the Catholic faith. The catholic faith is not given to us by human laws, but by Holy Scriptures, of which the Apostles’ Creed is a compendium.” (5.141)" It is about confessing Jesus Christ.

    by Viola Larson

    November 9, 2010

  123. Viola, I just don't see that when I read Belhar and compare it to our other Confessions. We've talked about the three things Confessions say (who we are, what we belive, what we intend to do). We also note 7 areas of commonality between them: 1. Jesus Christ is the one truly human and truly divine Mediator, Lord and Savior, 2. they confess the doctrine of the Trinity, 3. for Reformed Confessions, acknowledge the unique authority of Scripture and agree on principles of right interpretation, 4. assume or articulate...the Holy Spirit as the source of all right interpretation of Scripture and true Christian faith & life, 5. Reformed theology concerning true preaching of the Word and right administration of the Sacraments, 7. God's sovereign claim on both personal and corporate life, and 8. comparison with the literature of other traditions reveals the distinctively Reformed understanding of faith and life ("Confessional Nature of the Church Report", 1986). We also acknowledge that the Confessions have substantial differences between them by necessity. The Apostles' Creed doesn't mention Scripture once. The Nicene Creed does it only once, almost in passing, when talking about the resurrection of Christ. If the objection is that Belhar speaks more about what Christ wants for the Church than the nature of Christ Himself, well, check out the Second Helvetic Confession. It says some beautiful things about Christ, but it's much more concerned with reacting to the Roman Catholic Church, yet it even acknowledges the problems with disunity. Belhar follows the general pattern of both Barmen and the Confession of 1967: state the doctrine we embrace, then reject the false doctrine. Like those two (and arguably every Confession), Belhar is primarily concerned with a specific issue. We are not talking about chucking Westminster into the trash can and replacing it with Belhar (though the OPC thinks we did it with C67). We're talking about adding it to a very diverse collection that we admit is deliberately contradictory in places. As always, I'm fascinated by the political implications being piled on Belhar that are simply not present in the text. Sometimes a Confession is just a Confession.

    by James K

    November 9, 2010

  124. James, for me it isn't that Belhar is political and you are right Barmen is and was political in the sense that it made the point one must choose between Lords. Shall it be Jesus Christ or Hitler. And that is what is wrong with Belhar. It does not confess Jesus Christ strong enough, so that in attending to unity some of what it means to confess Jesus Christ is lost. Because of that any belief that keeps the church from unity could be cast away. That is why sexuality and other issues have become a part of this debate. Think about what Barmen states above all else: First John 10:1, 9. and then: "Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation." (8.11-8.12) It then goes on to say more about Jesus Christ. That is how it is like the Nicene Creed and all others. And the Confessing Church in Germany knew that by upholding Jesus Christ in this way they were going to cause disunity. But not so Belhar, unity trumps a clear confession of who Jesus Christ is, and so we lose our way with it. It worked for a particular time and place but it is not a universal creed because it does not clearly and forcefully confess Jesus Christ.

    by Viola Larson

    November 7, 2010

  125. The original English translation of Belhar had somewhere near 20 male pronouns for God. In re-doing the translation 18 of these were easily dealt with. Two remain: one reflexive pronoun and another objective case. These two were awkward to change, and so were left as they were. It has become the standard English translation. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    November 6, 2010

  126. Why do we call this PCUSA translation an "inclusive" translation when God is referred to as "He"? Just asking. . .

    by d. hamilton

    November 6, 2010

  127. The more I ponder this, the more I am convinced that the problem here is not with the Belhar Confession itself--far more radical ideas are included in the Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967--but with a fundamental misunderstanding of how Confessions work in ANY Presbyterian Church. I know an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) minister who treats the Westminster Confession like a 5th Gospel (though he'd deny it), but to his credit he knows it backwards and forwards and applies it consistently. We need to do a better job of educating not just our congregations, but our SESSIONS on what the Confessions mean and how they fit in to the way we govern ourselves as a connectional Church.

    by James K

    November 4, 2010

  128. Understood, Charles. I'm expressing my exasperation that a Confession of the Church is somehow being considered a secret means of inserting the so-called "homosexual agenda" into the Church. Believe it or not, a sizeable minority of the Session at my childhood church still believes this about the 1990 blue hymnal. To all, note that the only time I even mentioned homosexuality was in regards to the fact that the Barmen Declaration was a stand against a regime that persecuted them. Belhar very clearly deals not with sexual orientation, but racial identity and the need for unity and reconciliation in the church. Timeless and timely messages, indeed. Melissa, I strongly disagree with you on many points, but I'll concentrate on the Confessional in this conversation. For Scriptural references in the text of the Confession, see http://images.rca.org/docs/aboutus/ByWordAndSpirit.pdf Confessions have never been intended to "excite someone about the work of the Spirit in their life", though some (particularly the Brief Statement) speak beautifully to this. We as Presbyterians believe first and foremost that the Confessions are the collective declaration of the entire Church in which it declares to the world (1) who amd what it is (2) what it believes and (3) what it resolves to do. "While confessional standards are subordinate to the Scriptures, they are, nonetheless, standards." I was attempting to demonstrate, in my previous post, how over the centuries when the Church tries to answer these three statements, it more often than not becomes a political statement. To put it another way, the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are both current Confessions in our Church. Do either of them encourage us to "be the Bible to others who do not know"? Do either of them even mention Scripture? I think the greater issues at play here are the failure of the Church to adequately explain our Constitution in the pews, as well as the sense of distrust among the various camps within our denomination that has become so toxic that even the smallest things become The Greatest Threat To The Church Ever. I seriously think that had it not been there in the first place, there are those who would be screaming about an attempt to add the Nicene Creed to the Book of Confessions today.

    by James K

    November 3, 2010

  129. I am fine with folks discussing sexuality as it pertains to Belhar, but this is not the place for full court press debate on that issue in particular. We'll continue to keep a light hand on moderation. Thank you.

    by CharlesAWiley

    November 3, 2010

  130. James Please understand I have nothing aganist Homosexuals being members and worshiping in church we all after all have our sins and afflections to deal with. But I abhor any atempt to mainstream of them into aceptance as normal or to to use the church as a pulpit for that end. If you look at the "progressive" churches this is exactly what they are advocating or in some cases actualy doing. Ordaining a nonrepentant is infact advocating the sin. Dean

    by Dean Bartlett

    November 2, 2010

  131. Where does scripture support, or not, the claims of the Confession and how does that affect your maturation as a Christian and the spreading of the Gospel through your living of life? How does all this discussion help the individual outside of the will of God learn about God; encourage the individual to mature in their faith, and give themselves to God for his use to carry His message to the world? I keep hearing "what might happen to my truth as I understand it." How do any of the Confessions excite someone about the work of the Spirit in their life that they are actually willing to submit to God and offer themselves - body, soul, and mind - to serve and love God 24/7/365 and be the Bible to others who do not know? If you speak of homosexuality, you open bedroom doors to non-creative, as in procreation as God commanded, acts of selfish people; just as heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouse. There are complications medical, emotional, physical, and spiritual with both. If you speak of any single topic, social, economic, justice, etc., you isolate a part of the person and ignore the rest. You feed, clothe, or house the person but you forget to tell them about GOD! or you tell them about God and only meet one physical need, ignoring the emotional and spiritual needs. If you speak of racial overtones, you speak that the outside matters more than the heart, supporting scripture that man (2nd definition for those who have a small vocabulary) only judges the outside and God sees the heart. How will they know if we keep injecting our rights and privileges to own the Scripture?

    by melissa

    November 2, 2010

  132. I'm fascinated by the objection to the Belhar Confession being its perceived status as "a political statement, not a confession". Have you read the Book of Confessions lately? Indeed, if the Confessions are, as the Constitution says, the Church's declaration to its members and the world "who and what it is, what it believes, and what it intends to do", then isn't every Confession at some level a political statement? "In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the church and are also thereby breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess... We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the church’s vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State." --Theological Declaration of Barmen "The church is called to bring all men to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess. ... Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. ... A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God." -Confession of 1967 "It is the duty of the people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues,to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted...." --Westminster Confession "This is why we abandon the teaching of the Roman Church and withdraw from its sacraments; firstly, because their ministers are not true ministers of Christ Jesus (indeed they even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation to baptize)" -Scots Confession

    by James K

    October 28, 2010

  133. Fw: Calvin Seminary Panel Discussion on Belhar - Tuesday, Oct. 12 (Watch Live) That would be 4:30 pm Pacific time this coming Tuesday - before Classis :) on Thursday Calvin Seminary is hosting a panel discussion on the Belhar Confession next week Tuesday, October 12, at 7:30pm. John Cooper, Victoria Proctor-Gibbs, and Peter Borgdorff will dialogue on the Belhar Confession. Thea Leunk will moderate the discussion. One question that will be addressed is "Should the Christian Reformed Church adopt the Belhar?" Free and open to the public. Please join us. Re: Calvin Seminary Panel Discussion on Belhar - Tuesday, Oct. 12 (Watch Live) The panel discussion WILL be recorded and broadcast live (if technology cooperates). Links will be available on the CTS Lecture Archive page [1]. http://www.calvinseminary.edu/calendar/lectureCalendar.php?archive=1 /"...a box will appear in the top left of page that says something like "listen/watch live." Be patient for a couple of minutes so the IT guys can get things going (or if we start a couple minutes late). If for some reason it doesn't work it will definitely be on the archive within days of the event."/

    by Dave Watson

    October 6, 2010

  134. See the Calvin Seminary Forum (Fall 2010) on the Belhar http://www.calvinseminary.edu/pubs/forum/10fall.pdf Reflections on The Belhar Confession 3 Confession of Belhar 5 Making Shalom: The Belhar Confession by Mariano Avila 6 Adopting the Belhar:Confession or Testimony? by Lyle D. Bierma 8 Necessary Testimony—Flawed Confession? by John Bolt 10 Context and Confusion: What Does the Belhar Confess? by John Cooper 12 The Belhar Speaks Today by Ronald J. Feenstra Departments Formation for Ministry 14 Dear Brothers and Sisters, From biblical times till the present, Christians have united the church, fought heresy, testified to outsiders, defied persecution, taught newcomers, and worshiped God—all by the use of creeds and confessions. Also by the use of catechisms, canons, and testimonies. These documents are of immense value, especially when people care deeply about them. So it is with the Belhar Confession. Forged in the fires of racial injustice in South Africa in 1986, the Belhar Confession speaks eloquently to the need for unity, reconciliation, and justice in the church. The church should witness to these great realities, model them to the world, and become an agent for spreading them. All because of the costly work of Jesus Christ—the one through whom God was reconciling the world to himself. In 2009, the Synod of the CRCNA, in an unprecedented move, proposed to Synod 2012 “the adoption of the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.” Response to Synod’s proposal has varied, including among the members of our faculty. In this issue we expose some of our own thinking. Professor Mariano Avila writes movingly of how the Belhar is a cry from the heart “that we will never understand unless we hear it with our hearts.” Professor Lyle Bierma writes of the purposes of confessions and applauds the Belhar as an apt instrument for these purposes. Professor John Bolt provides a sobering review of global “blood sins” and commends the Belhar for its “powerful and necessary testimony” against such sins. But he observes that the Belhar lacks a gospel emphasis on repentance and forgiveness as the heart of reconciliation—and, really, the only real hope for it. Professor John Cooper frames his discussion of the Belhar Confession ecumenically: the CRCNA belongs to the World Communion of Reformed Churches, an organization big enough to include confessional churches, like our own, but also churches with progressive agendas and universalist tendencies. The problem with the Belhar is that it is ambiguous enough to be claimed as a friend by both kinds of churches. Professor Ronald Feenstra finds in the Belhar a compelling call to American Christians to embody the gospel message—which, like that of the prophets, does make God “in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.” President Plantinga

    by Dave Watson

    October 6, 2010

  135. One last comment on The Belhar Confession despite the outlawing of apartheid the Dutch Reformed Church is STILL as split along racial lines as it ever was. Also in america the reformed churches to date have not pased the Confession into their version of the book of order. But already in one the Confession is being used as the rational for ordaining homosexuals as elders amd pastors. Dean

    by Dean Bartlett

    October 1, 2010

  136. I would agree with what I think Dean is saying. The confession may not be the root of our division, but even spending time on it is in my eyes most definitely a symptom of the disease. What I was trying to say in my original ramble is that we have become a talking church and not a doing church and I think that is due to the corruption of open discussion in our ranks. I don't know what -ism I would fall into, hopefully none, but I do think we have lost the reason we do anything at all. Discussion is a good thing, but not when it becomes the be all and end all. And, our discussion have a tendency to form ranks where this side or that side don't feel comfort or welcome. It's almost partisan issues where one side knows or understands more than the other so let's straighten them out. Are we serving God in all of this type of distraction? If so, I would like to know where. I'm sorry, but I think we have lost the awe-filled awareness of there being something out there greater than we are, who moves things we cannot. Discussion is good, but not when it becomes a waste of time achieving absolutely nothing where intellects are puffed up and eyes directed toward humans, and not the one we are to serve.

    by Ed Peterson

    September 30, 2010

  137. Dean, I hope and pray that you are wrong, but whether you are right or wrong, I don't think Belhar has anything to do with it. Belhar arose out of a church much more theologically conservative than the PCUSA (http://www.vgksa.org.za/), and has been or is being considered as a confessional standard in two North American church bodies that are more theologically conservative than the PCUSA: the Reformed Church in America (https://www.rca.org/belhar) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (http://www.crcna.org/pages/belhar.cfm). Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 29, 2010

  138. Charles I have done hours and days of research and have come to the conclusion that there is another split coming in the presbyterian church the liberial i.e. progressives are once again trying to weaking the message of the church into a religion of man rather than of god and trying to weed out the more conservative poeple and change the church for their gain. All I can due is pray that this dies in the vote. of noy I and my mine will vote with our feet.

    by Dean Bartlett

    September 28, 2010

  139. Dean, There is no doubt that Belhar reflects a political issue, but it actually addresses the issue in the church, not the apartheid state. It states that the church cannot abide such divisions. So I'm not sure how you can maintain that it is principally about the public policy of the state. I would encourage you and others to also see how Belhar is being considered in the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church--to other Reformed bodies considering Belhar. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 26, 2010

  140. In Fact after reading the "confession" and the comments here posted my points are really a rehash 1. The Confession is a political statment as it really adds nothing to the Book not already included. 2. Belhar was injected into the Church to enforce (or enhance) the change in public policy of the state.

    by Dean Bartlett

    September 26, 2010

  141. Debra, if you go to http://oga.pcusa.org/pdf/proposed_amendments2.pdfyou can find the text of Belhar with the scripture references (as endnotes) along with introductory material and a study guide. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 25, 2010

  142. Thanks for this page. I'm looking for annotations similar to what exist for our present confessions - scripture references, especially - as we are taking the study of Belhar as a devotional practice and not just learning ABOUT it. Thanks.

    by Debra Avery

    September 25, 2010

  143. I am a lowly DCE and youth ministry type, so I wouldn't even begin to weigh in with any scholarly weaponry (disunity in those statements?). I have looked at the social gospel of Jesus and have understood what we are called to do as one who believes in Jesus Christ. But, (and here goes the simple man on the street stuff here), I am amazed that after all of these years we have the need to define what we believe. Call it naive, but I have to tell you that Peter's confession, that wonderful, simple creed is enough. Has anyone here even thought that what all these comments are doing is defining disunity? Most certainly, we need to speak to injustice, but I personally believe that God is in charge, not us. The PCUSA constitution grows more than our membership. We pick and talk, but to what end. Is there a time to simply do, just do? Love first...get out there in the trenches and just love --- this is not trip back to the 60's, trust me. But, when others attempt to line up the troops for whateve cause there is, I think we tend to forget that we can fix nothing, as in God will sort things out. Let Him. Speak the truth in love, but let's not get so hungup in discussions that fool us into thinking we're actually doing something. Speak the truth in love. And pray to the God who is the actual doer. He's been doing this a lot longer than we have and much better. For sure, we can't shove our heads into the sand. For sure, there are more things out there than we can count that are off the mark in so many different ways. But, do we ever, ever return to thoughts of hope? Do we ever stop to see the joys and wonders of creation? Do we ever celebrate or have we just gotten so good at looking for the cause and the crooked that we become dedicated to that rather than telling the truth, the story of God's grace and love and the joys in that and remembering we don't save anyone. God does. I'm not saying that there aren't battles to be addresssed. But, have we ever thought how far away we have gotten from the basics, the simple basics of You are the Christ? (not a very good Presbyterian, am I?) I don't know. Go ahead a blast me. But, I''l never forget the old words of my grandfather - we can't ever get know how we live with God when we're so worried about getting everyone else straightened out. IF we have a lot of weeds in our garden, we don't really have the right to tell anyone how to be a farmer.

    by Ed Peterson

    September 24, 2010

  144. I was at GA as a Volunteer, and watched the Committee hash this one out. I agree with the majority of the Committee that this is not a confession, but rather a political statement. Why the Plenary Session went forward with this is beyond fathom. I'm not against the Presbyterian Church making policical statements, so call this what it is; not a Confession to be formalized and repeated in the Congregations during worship.

    by Karen Bartel

    September 23, 2010

  145. While perhaps prophetic in its original South African context, I am concerned that in the PCUSA today Belhar will be used by those with power to browbeat dissenters into line - especially those who are guilty of the sin of "absolutization". I'm not sure what this word means, but I fear it will be used to demonize those who have firm convictions about something and who dare to believe they may actually be right. Also, while Eph. 2, and specifically Christ's work of reconciliation are referenced in Belhar, the Christological basis for unity is not fleshed out. I believe that if a typical group of Presbyterians got together to talk about what we really believe about what it means to be reconciled to God and to one another in Christ, we would realize how disunited we are - and disunited on matters that are at the heart of our faith. A strong call for unity in a climate where people don't agree on gospel essentials like the reconciling work of Christ, and don't really trust one another is going be met with a lot of suspicion.

    by Bill Hoffman

    September 17, 2010

  146. There are already homosexuals in the Presbyterian Church -- and every other church. Our polity does not disallow membership to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation.

    by Cynthia Holder Rich

    September 16, 2010

  147. Great Confession, but the PCUSA will misuse it to allow homosexuals into the church.

    by Caleb Carter

    September 14, 2010

  148. The Belhar Confession addressed an issue in which the church was divided by the laws of the State---Christians accepted those divisions--dialogue was difficult in such circumstances. The issues that divide us right now are not so very different--if we fail to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ as they profess their faith then we are not working for the unity of the Church. Sins of greed and money are mentioned many more times than sexual "sins". We need to first hear the confession of faith, accept it as valid whatever the race, perhaps whether male or female, and certainly the more uncomfortable the difference--the harder we need to listen. How do we live out our faith in Christ Jesus in the condition in which we find ourselves? We need to listen more and talk less! Perhaps then we can truly assist one another in finding ways to live in faithfulness to Christ no matter whether we are rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, black, white, indian or asian--male or female. Christ claims us as we are and calls us to live as God's children in unity.

    by Susan B. Peterson

    September 13, 2010

  149. I am also glad to find this conversation. I am very interested in the Belhar and am always interested when conversation about it veers from race. Race and state-mandated and Church-supported racial division is the ground from which this Confession springs. It's curious to me that the debate on this is largely a debate, not on race or the need for unity in Christ that transcends race, but on other issues. Meanwhile, we in the PCUSA have a long way to go to find this same unity. So why is this not the centerpiece of the conversation?

    by Cynthia Holder Rich

    September 7, 2010

  150. I came to this page to read the Belhar Confession in preparation for a discussion of the General Assembly and was surprised to see this discussion that is going on. I think this is a great Confession and we should whole-heartedly adopt it for our Book of Confessions. It seems to me that the argument concerning the use that may be made of it in support of making ordination standards more inclusive is not a particularly valid argument. It is possible for people to use any number of things to support or oppose purposes for which they were not intended. This confession was clearly not intended to further the cause of more inclusive ordination standards. Our beloved church (the PC(USA) as well as other denominations) seems to be so hung up on sexual matters that all - make that many - discussions gravitate toward arguments about things sexual. I guess that testifies to how important that subject is to humans. But everything is NOT about sex. Belhar is a beautiful confession coming out of a difficult time in the life of Reformed Christians. Just as we see the value in Barmen - without trying to tie it to things sexual - we should see Belhar and value Belhar for what it is. It is a testimony of belief in a reconciling God to a people forcibly separated in spite of their common faith. It has much of value to say to us in the PC(USA) concerning how we believe we are called to live together as children of a God who loves us all - flawed and sinful as we all are.

    by Doris B. Mabrey

    August 28, 2010

  151. I hope all of you will appreciate the study documents that will be soon coming out for Presbyteries. The study goes through the content of the document. It then closes by focusing questions on the constitutional description of the confessions: “. . . who and what it is, . . .” 1. What does The Belhar Confession tell us and the world about what and who we (the church) are? 2. How does this add to what the documents in our Book of Confessions say about who and what we (the church) are? “. . . what it believes . . .” 1. What does The Belhar Confession tell us and the world about what we (the church) believe? 2. How does this add to what the documents in our Book of Confessions say about what we (the church) believe? “. . . what we resolve to do . . .” What does The Belhar Confession commit us to do? These are important questions.

    by CharlesAWiley

    August 26, 2010

  152. Tom, And anyone else who believes that gays and lesbians should be ordained I have yet to read or hear that any of you believe that Belhar will not help this happen. And in fact Jane Spahr was the first person to testify against Sacramento's overture to not adopt Belhar on the grounds that LGBT people needed Belhar for that purpose. So is this one of the reasons you want Belhar included in the Book of Confessions?

    by Viola Larson

    August 26, 2010

  153. I like Belhar for a good many reasons, but most importantly for me, it's a family portrait forged in the suffering of South Africa. Like most of our confessional documents, with the exception of "1967" and "Brief," Belhar's been crafted on other soil. But crafted in the love of Christ, and what that love means for the way in which nations deal with its people, and the manner in which the church bears witness to God's love. If we adopt Belhar, we adopt it as a witness to faithfulness, an example, a guide, as are all our creedal statements, and it will take its place in the Book of Confessions, with no one statement taking precedence over the other; but each and all, within the limits of their time and culture, giving historical witness to the timeless love of God in Christ.

    by Tom Eggebeen

    August 24, 2010

  154. The call to unity may seem to be strident, but The Church in the USA could learn a lot from the South Africans. That they could reunite in so short a time should encourage us to continue to work together and to continue to talk to the new groups that try to divide The Church. For this reason it \will be a helpful addition to the to the Book of Confessions

    by Dale Tullier

    August 20, 2010

  155. Michael, Technically, any change to a confession is amending the confession. The only changes to confessions since the adoption of the Book of Confessions have been retranslations: a new translation of the Nicene Creed was done about a decade ago adn now Heidelberg. If you read the text of the recommendation from the Special Committee on the Heidelberg Catechism you should understand that the decision to retranslate had little to do with the infamous question 87. And in fact, members of the special committee who are quite committed to the current ordination standards of the church wholeheartedly support the new translation. The process was pretty remarkable in that the conservative/progressive divide was not decisive in the committee's work. The fact is that our current translation is just not that good--in fact it was the commitment to historical and biblical accuracy that drove the committee to its unanimous recommendation. Now, as to Belhar, the text we are looking at is now the standard English translation world-wide. When dealing with translated documents, the notion of "accept or reject" is not nuanced enough, and translation always involves judgment. But given the fact that the URCSA now uses the version we are looking at, I think we're safe. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    August 19, 2010

  156. Charles, I wonder if it is correct to say that we no longer amend confessions, but merely accept or reject historic confessions? As Chris pointed out, we are now in the process of amending Heidelburg. And the copy of Belhar here is an inclusive language version amended by OGA. It seems that we are asked to amend whatever disturbs the progressive fringe of the church, while sacrificing both historicity and biblical accuracy.

    by Michael Neubert

    August 19, 2010

  157. Karen, Jesus clearly says that the onset of the Kingdom will divide people. And he prays that his followers will all be one. The fundamental separation is church/world. The church is called to reconciliation and unity. That's the way I see it. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    August 15, 2010

  158. I have just preached a sermon on Luke 12:49-52 where Jesus is very clear that he came to bring fire, not peace and division, not unity- that he came to bring a divsision that would in fact separate and divide families, etc. How do we "square this" with the theology of inclusion/reconciliation?

    by Rev. Karen Blatt

    August 15, 2010

  159. Rob, You ask "Is it dangerous to "hang on to truth at all costs?” and then give examples of hanging on to something that is not the truth. It is like one of the commissioners said during the plenary. Homosexuality is either sin or it is not. It can't be both. And truth is truth. If something is true hang on to it at all cost. That is your calling as a Christian since you are called by the one who is truth. Just be sure that it is truth.

    by Viola Larson

    August 6, 2010

  160. Dave thanks for putting up the pdf file. I do have additional articles on my blog. If you scroll way down at the bottom of my blog my subjects are there on the left just click on Belhar. That won't catch them all but most. The blog is www.naminghisgrace.blogspot.com

    by Viola Larson

    August 6, 2010

  161. As far as I am aware, having a Book of Confessions does not give one confession precedence over another. It acknowledges that the language the Church uses to confess what it believes does change over time. Confessions generally do not "shut down debate". If we're worried that the Belhar Confession's language may be used to quiet the debate over GLBT people in the church (we should be so lucky!), then the Brief Statement calls us "to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, [and] to hear the voices of peoples long silenced". I also find it unhelpful to point out that Belhar neither states that "we must listen to only Jesus Christ as he is known in Scripture" or defines "marriage of being between a man and a woman." Not every Confession touches every possible subject; that's why we have a book of them. The Apostle's Creed doesn't mention Scripture or marriage, either, but we still say it every week in my congregation. Unity of the church is a recurring theme in our Constitution and with good reason. Just a quick search through the Book of Confessions, and we find 1 reference in the Scots Confession, 1 in Heidelberg, 10 in the Second Helvetic, and 1 in 1967. The Book of Order says, "the unity of the Church is the gift of its Lord". There are times when schism may become necessary. The Reformers obviously thought so, as did the brave souls of Barmen (who, it is worth pointing out, fought against a regime that persecuted homosexual people). However, schism for schism's sake, schism in the name of segregating ourselves from those with whom we have genuine disagreement, schism in the name of pure Holier-than-Thouism IS most definitely sin. I cannot think of a confession more relevant to the current state of the Church.

    by James K

    August 5, 2010

  162. Interesting comments, all. Thank you very much for the thoughts shared thus far. As a member of the Theology and Theological Institutions committee along with you, Viola, I appreciate your perspective very much. But here is an important question I think needs to be asked: what happens when members of the same body understand perspectives of truth differently from one another? Is it dangerous to "hang on to truth" at all costs? Remember that in South Africa, faithful folks there truly believed that apartheid was biblically mandated. In America, churches used the story of Ham to not only condone, but encourage the enslavement of Africans. And for a century later, good, faithful Christians used Paul's household code in Ephesians to justify the subordination of women. Thus, these folks all thought that they were clinging to "truth" too. The power of Belhar is that it stands against the misuse of Scripture and theology in such oppressive ways. But on a very different level, I also love Belhar because, imho, it calls us to live in a state of tension, at times, as we live into and for something greater than any of our own individual perspectives and interpretations of truth. For example, I don't agree that Scripture condemns loving, monogamous, homosexual relationships as sinful. I believe that each time the O.T. speaks of sexual sin it does so from a perspecitve of male over female domination, and when Paul speaks of it in Romans 1 his perspective is that we are ALL sinners--each and every last one of us--and thus we shouldn't waste so many of our breaths trying to judge some as adequate and some as not. Now, that said, I ALSO believe that others have every right to disagree with me, and to interpret Scripture differently, too. And yet, can we not still be united in Christ? Can we not disagree and yet still live in one church, under one faith, with one baptism into on God of us all? Can we not disagree at times and yet remain unabashadly committed to one another, as is Christ's plea in his ultimate prayer? This is the beauty of Belhar.

    by Rob

    August 2, 2010

  163. I would encurage anyone to read some of the material referenced on this page, especially the recent discussion by Dr. John Bolt in the Christian Courier http://www.centralavecrc.org/Belhar%20Resouces.pdf

    by Dave Watson

    July 28, 2010

  164. In the study guide to Belhar, it states that the Confession was drafted by South Africans encouraged by the success of the civil rights movement in the U. S. to end segregation. The PC(USA)'s Confession of 1967 certainly grew out of that movement. And the Confession of 1967, to me, more clearly calls for actions to establish racial equality than the Belhar. So, I think that the Belhar is not needed by the PC(USA) on grounds of racial concern, and, further, that it would be detrimental because of the door that it opens for misuse to demonize any "absolute" Biblical standards. Such misuse has already been made by persons and groups in the PC(USA). It will be interesting, though, to see Presbyterians looking to the Confessions in denominational discussions.

    by Peggy Hedden

    July 27, 2010

  165. "When we adopted a Book of Confessions, the amending of particular confessions stopped." Except the Heidelberg Confession?

    by Chris Enoch

    July 21, 2010

  166. I am reminded that our Lord, in John 17, did not *command* unity - he prayed for it knowing (in my opinion) that because of the fallen nature of humanity, it was humanly unachievable. Seems that Belhar commands unity, perhaps at all costs. I think we need to pray for it, but not command it at the exclusion of truth.

    by Chris Enoch

    July 21, 2010

  167. Here's the irony in all this: Just by being "Protestant" we're participating in disunity - we're protesting something! That doesn't sound unifying.

    by Brian

    July 20, 2010

  168. Charles, the part you quoted is one of the parts that I do like in Belhar. However there are other parts for instance, “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;" And because there is nothing in Belhar that states we must listen to only Jesus Christ as he is known in the Holy Sriptures as Barmen insists, or nothing that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman as the Confession of 1967 does, or nothing that speaks about the sin of homosexuality as Westminster does-it is wide open to those who want to use it that way. There is unity in the body of Christ and sometimes we sin and break that unity, sometimes in a minor way As Paul did with Barnabas, sometime in an awful major way as in South Africa or Germany. That is sin. But there are times when for the sake of unity and truth unity will and must be broken. That doesn't mean we go out looking for a fight that just means we hang on to Christ and the truth refusing anykind of consensus. That is what happened to all the great reformers. But some have already declared they will use Belhar in the way I believe it is possible to use it. Rev. Janet Edwards was the first person to testify against our overture for that very reason.

    by Viola Larson

    July 18, 2010

  169. Charles, Belhar could be used to shut down debate on topics other than racism. For example, debate about homosexuality has already been tainted by proponents of homosexuality accusing their opponents of being homophobic and hate-mongers. Proponents of homosexuality could also point to Belhar and accuse their opponents of being divisive and thereby attempt to prevent meaningful discussion. Same thing with abortion or any other hot-button issue in the church.

    by John

    July 18, 2010

  170. John, You lost me with the "stifle debate" remark. Belhar came out of a situation where the Reformed church was separated into four, white, black, colored, and Indian. Folks of these four groups could not live near each other, worship together, receive the Lord's Supper together, etc. Are you concerned that Belhar "stifles debate" on the appropriateness of apartheid? Belhar is pretty clear that human beings do not create the unity of the church: "that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God's Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain;" Charles Wiley, Office of Theology and Worship

    by CharlesAWiley

    July 17, 2010

  171. The notion that any collection of humans can achieve and maintain unity is idealistic. We can be challenged simply to plan an event or activity together, never mind achieving and maintaining unity on matters of doctrine. Although the focus of Belhar appears to be racism, this confession could be used to stifle debate on other matters, too. The "caution flag" should be waving on this one!

    by John

    July 17, 2010

  172. Viola, I wasn't in the room for much of the Belhar discussion. I noticed you when you had a chance to respond to the amendment to your overture, but then didn't see you when it was over. I totally agree with you that unity and truth must be held together. A unity that abandons truth is no real unity. And a truth with no regard to unity is not God's truth. Nonetheless, I believe you still are too hard on Belhar. I find these words very persuasive on this count: "• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another's burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; 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;" Charles Wiley, Office of Theology and Worship

    by CharlesAWiley

    July 16, 2010

  173. Hi Charles, I saw you in Committee 16 but you never looked my way. I guess I should have come up and introduced myself--sorry about that. Anyway I wanted to say I have heard John 17 used before, and I agree it is a wonderful text on unity, but there is more. Jesus prays "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ..." So it is a combination of truth and unity for his Church that Jesus is praying for. I don't believe that Belhar is clear enough about that. And for a Christian unity must be based on the truth of God's word or it isn't Christian unity at all.

    by Viola Larson

    July 16, 2010

  174. By definition, sin is seperation (disunity) from God. Therefore, anything that would cause another to define sin as "not sin" would also create disunity. The Word is very clear that "sexual orientation" that causes one to have sexual relationship outside of the union defined by God (one man, one woman) in the beginning would be a sin and would, therefore, drive disunity. Therefore, it would be inconsistant and sinful (and therefore drive disunity) to modify the confesion to include sexual orientation as suggested above. That may not be culturally popular right now, but the Truth is not dictated by what we want or don't want.

    by Phil

    July 16, 2010

  175. Charles, That is good information to know. Thanks for the clarification.

    by Scott Flowerday

    July 16, 2010

  176. When Westminster was our only confession, the church amended it several times. When we adopted a Book of Confessions, the amending of particular confessions stopped. In "ASSESSMENT OF PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE BOOK OF CONFESSIONS" (found as a preface to the BoC), there is a distinction between new confessions and historic confessions. These historic confessions come to us, more or less, as is. We either adopt them or we do not. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    July 16, 2010

  177. Charles, I wasn't aware there were such rules. Didn't the Church ammend the Westminster Confession? Obviously it can be done under certain circumstances.

    by Scott Flowerday

    July 16, 2010

  178. Scott, One of the limitations of adopting a historic confession is that we cannot edit it. We take it as it comes and make a decision on that text. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    July 14, 2010

  179. I think this is a very good confession and could be a great confession with a little editing to read: "which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race, color, gender or sexual orientation and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ."

    by Scott Flowerday

    July 13, 2010

  180. Kevin, Interesting comment. If disagreement on pieces of business is sin, then Presbyterians are in deep trouble. The situation in South Africa was that Christians in the Reformed churches were split into four churches: white, colored, black, and Indian. These churches were not to worship together, take communion together, or live in the same places. The New Testament calls us to unity over and over (John 17, Ephesians 1-4, etc.), but we have a number of instances of disagreement (Paul and Peter at the Jerusalem council, the parting of Paul and Silas) that did not rise to disunity. In our system of parity of elders and ministers, I can't imagine that the senior pastor could determine disunity. How do you think about disagreement and disunity?

    by CharlesWiley

    July 12, 2010

  181. So disunity is sinful? I thought that all those long Session meetings late into the night when we couldn't agree on some item was just the Presbyterian way of hashing out the business of the church. Does Belhar mean if a particular perspective does not contribute to unity it is sinful and subject to dismissal? Unity by whose measure, the senior pastor's?

    by Kevin Ivey

    July 11, 2010

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