The Belhar Confession
Before starting seminary and subsequently interning at an RCA Church, I was a member of the PCA, so the discussion about the Belhar Confession is new to me. My only familiarity with it comes from a read through of the Confession itself and the Calvin Theological Seminary Forum issue devoted to it. From my perspective, adding a confession to the CRC or RCA ought not to focus on what a confession does not say, but what it does. Is it able to add or contribute to the doctrinal statements already accepted? While I appreciated the concerns several of the professors had with the Belhar, the CRC and RCA already have 144 pages worth of confessional statements which fill these holes. The most important question, I believe, is, “Do these four pages add something the other 144 are missing?” I believe it does. Our current political situation and its relationship to the church is dramatically different from what existed during the time the Three Forms of Unity were written, as evidenced by the CRC’s 1958 revision the Belgic Confession’s Article 36. The church no longer has a close relationship to the state. In light of that, how does the Gospel speak to the injustice perpetrated by the government and other institutions? There is the typical response from the staunchly conservative which says something along the lines of, “That’s a thing of this world. It does not matter. Let’s just get as many souls saved and beam ‘em out of here.” The semi-Gnosticism of this view, in my mind, fails to understand what it means for God to have created this world and His endeavors to make it new in Jesus, culminating in the resurrection of the body. The other view, which I believe is more biblical, says, “What happens to us in this life, in the bodies created for us by God, has an eternal significance which will be redeemed ultimately when we are raised bodily with Christ. So the Gospel has much to say about injustice in this life. When sinful people create systems and institutions which perpetuate sinful behavior, the Gospel confronts it and part of the mission of the Church to the world is standing up for the downtrodden on behalf of Christ for the sake of the Gospel.” It is this view the Belhar Confession takes. I believe the question of how the Church relates to the sins of institutions and the role it has in social justice/mercy ministries is one of the most important questions of our day. It brings to the surface differing understandings of the Church, salvation, resurrection, creation, and the very nature of the Gospel. The Belhar adds to our confessional statements a profound stance on the interaction between these issues missing in the more systematic structure of our previous confessions. It fills a hole in them. Let the Three Forms of Unity, then, also fill in the holes of the Belhar.