The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) is considering the addition of the Belhar Confession to its set of doctrinal standards, which currently include the ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian) and Reformed confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt).
The Social Justice Club at Calvin Seminary, the pastoral school for the denomination, is sponsoring a blog to discuss the Belhar Confession, to “have the student body of the Seminary become leaders in this discussion.”
The consideration of the Belhar Confession comes at the request of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, which has asked the CRC to “consider the Belhar and respond to it.”
The Social Justice Club’s blog notes that “no confession has been added to our present three for nearly four hundred years.” The CRC has modified the text of the Reformed confessions at various points, however, such that the CRC and the RCA, which ostensibly share the same confessional standards, cannot include the text of the Heidelberg Catechism in a new jointly-published hymnal, “because the two denominations use different versions.”
The CRC also has a contemporary testimony, “Our World Belongs to God,” which occupies a position below that of the formally-recognized confessions.
The basis for considering the Belhar Confession is that the CRC does not have a confession that addresses race relations and reconciliation. Here’s a relevant section from the contemporary testimony,
We grieve that the church which shares one Spirit, one faith, one hope, and spans all time, place, race, and language has become a broken communion in a broken world.
When we struggle for the purity of the church and for the righteousness God demands, we pray for saintly courage.
When our pride or blindness blocks the unity of God’s household, we seek forgiveness.
We marvel that the Lord gathers the broken pieces to do his work, and that he blesses us still with joy, new members, and surprising evidences of unity.
We commit ourselves to seeking and expressing the oneness of all who follow Jesus.
I would think too that the relevant section of the Apostles’ Creed, as exposited by the Heidelberg Catechism, would be the clause on “the holy catholic church.”
Do Reformed churches need “a strong confession on race relations” beyond what is offered in these, and perhaps other, sections? There is a strong Protestant tradition, including that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Richard Baxter, that would contend that any such confession must begin with the confession of our sins.
Speaking of a status confessionis, what about some other documents, such as the Barmen Declaration? Are the Barmen and the Belhar statements so contextually-situated and particular that they are unfit for status as more generally-relevant confessions?