3.02.2009

The CRC & the BELHAR CONFESSION: What Hath Grand Rapids to do with Belhar?

I notice that the CRC is gearing up for its next Synodical meeting, and one of the items on the agenda is a consideration to adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth confessional standard of the denomination. See Here. In fact, one local CRC has already, independently, adopted the confession with equal binding authority as the Three Forms of Unity. This particular CRC states that they have become "the first assembly of Reformed believers in North America to formally adopt the Belhar Confession as one of its doctrinal standards. These standards define the core of what it means to be Reformed. Belhar is the first such standard to be approved by Reformed believers in 400 years."
The Belhar Confession is a confession that claims to address issues of social injustice and racial segregation The following are a few statements from the confession:


We Believe ...that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this Church; Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutises either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutisation hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

What doctrines does the confession have in mind? I know of no doctrines that would promote the absolutisim of separation of people based on color or constitutional make-up. Anyone with the least bit of knowledge knows such views are not Christian. What bothers me here is what is not said. It's too vague. I could read this and walk away thinking that any doctrine that hinders unity is to be rejected.

My concern is this: What hath Grand Rapids to do with Belhar? I have no idea as to why the CRC would need to adopt this confession, nor should. Something else is behind this. Could it have something to do with the RCA's adoption of the Belhar in 2007? Is it a statement to others who have established "separate church formations" in defense of the doctrinal tradition once held by the CRC?
The preaching of Christ breaks down all sinful constitutional barriers of race, color, and diversity. When Paul writes,"there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female", he has in mind the benefits that flow from preaching a message that, as Ephes 2 states, breaks down the middle wall of separation. When the gospel is preached in its liberating power, the social concerns outlined in the Belhar confession are remedied. It is inconceivable that a church faithfully tending to its mandate to be missional in the preaching of Christ would hold to these sinful separations. But let's say such a thing is conceivable, and there are churches dividing by race and gender. If such were the case, the Belhar Confession is extremely inadequate to address the issue because it only focuses on symptoms.
Historically, churches that have neglected the preaching of the cross have often turned to social agendas. The amount of time, energy, and money given only to the symptoms of what is the real problem is, well, astounding. This is nothing new. Christian Liberalism has showed us that when doctrinal convictions are laid to the side, an obsession for unity develops at the expense of the truth. The offense of the cross is lost. Looking at the trajectory of the CRC's movement away from its doctrinal heritage, such has been the case. We have seen the rise of false inventions in worship contrary to Q&As 96-98, the blatant disregard of God's commandments regarding women in ecclesiastical office, the adoption of paedocommunion, third-wave Pentecostalism, tolerance of practicing homosexuals (see here), an attempt at union with Rome in the removal of the "harsh" language of Q&A 80, and much more. Aren't these departures from what was once confessed divisive to the unity of the whole? Shouldn't the CRC be reaffirming what their own confessions already say? The results of doing so might be shocking. We have seen this downgrade before in history. Why did Machen write "Christianity and Liberalism"? While unity is always something that must be preserved, it is never something that is to be sought at the expense of the truth.
Now this is not to suggest that confessional churches should be unconcerned with unity issues. Of course they should. But there should be an understanding that when the church fulfills the clear mandate given from Christ to emphasize a Word and Sacrament ministry, all of these other concerns are met. We are then not just looking at symptoms but the remedy. It is in the offense of preaching the cross that unity is created and barriers are shattered.

So what is the CRC's real motivation in seeking to adopt this confession? In other words, why does the CRC really like this confession? It is not possible that the Belhar Confession is vague enough to be a cloak to call for unity at costs, even at the expense of its own confessional heritage?

Being a good steward of what we have already received in the faith once for all delivered to the saints, will, indeed, remedy the concerns of the Belhar Confession. To seek for unity at the expense of this deposit already entrusted, well, sadly, is one of the most divisive things that could be done in the church of Jesus Christ.

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