A new translation of the Heidelberg catechism was approved by voice vote on Wednesday afternoon at the 220th General Assembly. This approval now sends the catechism to the 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for approval. If passed by a 2/3 majority of the presbyteries, the catechism will be enacted at the 221st GA in 2014 and will replace the current translation in the denomination’s The Book of Confessions at that point, becoming part of the church constitution.
As part of the report, the Rev. David Stubbs, professor of ethics and theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., presented the process that the special committee, formed by the 218th General Assembly (2008), used to develop the new translation of the catechism. The translation was developed in partnership with the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in North America.
Stubbs detailed some of the translation issues the special committee faced, as well as issues of scriptural citations. “I hope this makes clear to you the scope of our work with the RCA and CRC, as well as the details of our work with scriptural citations,” he told the Assembly.
The committee also recommended approval of a motion to include the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions. The confession was approved by the 219th GA but failed to garner the 2/3 majority of presbyteries needed for the process to proceed further.
The Belhar Confession came out of the racially segregated Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. It was written in 1986 and first adopted by the “colored” Dutch Reformed Mission Church.
The Assembly considered a minority report from some committee members, presented to the Assembly by commissioner Sharon Brinks of Lake Michigan Presbytery. The minority report called for a pastoral letter to be sent to PC(USA) congregations encouraging education about racial issues, utilizing The Book of Confessions, Scripture, and the Belhar Confession. The minority report was disapproved.
In debating the main motion, commissioner Jim Thomas of Elizabeth Presbytery spoke in favor of the motion. “When I read Belhar I know I am reading the faith of the saints whose faith changed things…. To add this to our confessions is to add the faith of the global south to our constitution.”
In speaking against the motion, Douglas Megill of Lake Erie Presbytery noted that the church had recently considered the confession. “We ought to let some time elapse before we consider Belhar again,” he said.
The motion to approve adding the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions passed with 395 voting yes, 264 no and 6 abstentions.