An Analysis of the Belhar Confession, Part 1

The Belhar Confession is a document originating in South Africa in the problems surrounding the racism of apartheid. The bulk of the confession has to do with a rejection of racism. Both the RCA and the CRC have this document on the table right now.

It is important to notice, then, that there is much in the Belhar that is commendable. Certainly, racism is a sin. I sincerely hope that those in favor of the Belhar will not accuse detractors of being racists. I have heard from some that this accusation has in fact happened. But Galatians 3:28 is already conclusive on this point of racism, clearly rejecting it. Nevertheless, there are a number of concerns that I have concerning this document.

But first, we must ask this question: what is confession of faith? I understand it to be a summary of the Christian faith. All the confessional documents to which I subscribe are accurate summaries of what the Scripture teaches on the central aspects of the Christian faith. Belhar does not do this. Racial reconciliation is therefore one of the vitally important consequences of the Gospel. However, the Gospel itself is reconciliation between God and man, the New Perspective on Paul notwithstanding. And if racial reconciliation is based on anything other than reconciliation between God and man, then it is a false reconciliation.

The document itself is vague in places. In all honesty, there are places in the document you could drive a truck through in terms of interpreting it. Just as one example, in section 2, under the second paragraph beginning “we believe,” and in the third section, the Belhar says “that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.” So, should the church separate itself from people living in unrepentant sin, as Paul commands in 1 Corinthians 6? This document says that separation of any kind is wrong. One could argue, I suppose, that the context means only racial separation. But that is precisely the point: this document is not clear on this point. The statement is not qualified. Confessions are limiting documents, not broadening documents. They should not be documents that increase possible interpretations. There will be more on that later.

In the extreme emphasis on unity, truth is de-emphasized. I’m not so sure that North American churches even have a proper view of love. If love is not based around the truth of God’s Word, then it is not true love. Neither can one say that God is love more than God is truth, for the same Bible that tells us that God is love also tells us that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all. What I will do in the next several posts is to analyze the several portions of the confession, and why I think it is deficient.

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56 Comments

  1. J.Kru said,

    September 12, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I agree that racism is sin, after a cursory reading of the Belhar confession, I don’t see anything that I particulary disagree with. But I don’t know that Gal. 3:28 is a great prooftext against racism if you’re not an egalitarian. If we can distinguish and separate male and female in light of Gal. 3:28, why can’t we distinguish and separate between races? And if we can’t distinguish between races, then in light of Gal. 3:28, how do you maintain an complementarian position?

    Again, in the age of disclaimer, I should add that I am a complementarian with regards to gender, and I am an equalitarian with regards to race. And, like Luther, I am happy to make up words.

  2. J.Kru said,

    September 12, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I wish I could go back and edit. Last line of first para should have read “how do you maintain a complementarian position?”

  3. September 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    JK,

    Poof, fixed! An moderator genie has granted your wish.

  4. Roger Mann said,

    September 13, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    But Galatians 3:28 is already conclusive on this point of racism, clearly rejecting it.

    That depends on how one defines “racism.” If racism is defined in its primary sense as the inherent superiority of one race over another, then I don’t see how Galatians 3:28 rejects “racism.” It may or may not be true that some racial groups are superior (e.g., taller, stronger, smarter, or culturally more advanced) than others — but Galatians 3:28 itself doesn’t address that question. As one writer points out:

    “The Bible indeed says that there is no Jew and Gentile, no male and female, and so on, in Christ, but the context always has to do with the condemnation and justification of mankind. That is, whether male or female, all human persons are condemned in Adam. And whether male or female, all who believe in Christ are saved by him. The human distinctions remain. A rich person does not lose all his money just because he becomes a Christian. The money still belongs to him, and he can still purchase things that the poor cannot. This is established by God’s providence. The two were equally condemned under Adam, and now they are equally justified, and have equal access to the throne of grace. Yet their earthly standing has not changed. The same applies to race and gender.”

    Moreover, while there’s no doubt that Scripture teaches we are to love our neighbor as ourselves regardless of race, gender, or social status (Luke 10:29-37; Romans 13:8-10; etc.), does it truly condemn “racism” as defined above? I confess that I’m not at all sure that it does. For example, meta-analysis of numerous worldwide studies shows the average IQ scores among racial groups to be Asians (105), Europeans (99), Inuit (91), Southeast Asians and Amerindians (87 each), Pacific Islanders (85), Middle Easterners (including South Asians and North Africans) (84), sub-Saharan Africans (67), and Australian Aborigines (62). If we accept these findings to be generally accurate, would it then be sinful to conclude from this data that Asians are intellectually superior to Europeans, Arabs, and Africans? If so, then what moral precept has been violated?

    Also, was it “racist” for Paul to point out that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12)? If the statement was true (and it was, since Scripture records it as “true,” v. 13), then it couldn’t have been sinful for Paul to say so — regardless of how offensive it was to the Cretans or how “racist” such a statement is viewed by modern secular standards.

    So perhaps the real issue as far as Scripture is concerned isn’t “racism” per se, but whether we mistreat or love as ourselves members of different racial groups, genders, or social classes. What do you think?

    By the way, I didn’t know the Bible supported the existence of “genies!” :-)

  5. Roger Mann said,

    September 14, 2009 at 12:31 am

    By the way, I want to make clear that I believe The Confession of Belhar is absolutely correct when it says, “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.” Since Christ’s cross-work spiritually reconciles all believers with one another, Christians should never segregate themselves on the basis of race, gender, or social status. This ought to be the case regardless of any distinctions that may or may not be inherent between the various races.

  6. September 14, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Lane,

    This looks like typical liberal social theology. While there are some good parts, it is clearly political in nature. The PC(USA) and other liberal churches eat this stuff up.

    BTW, you linked to the PC(USA) version that has been altered to use their pitiful “inclusive” language. You can get the real version as an MS Word document in English at the URCSA website here.

  7. September 14, 2009 at 8:05 am

    If there’s any doubt about my observation of the connection with the Belhar Confession and a liberal social agenda, read the URCSA’s study on homosexuality (linked on their news page). I recommend keeping the Compazine handy if you do, though. They literally twist the Word of God into an unrecognizable pretzel and trample the righteousness of God under foot, while at the same time claiming to use a Reformed hermeneutic.

    Perhaps the PC(USA), et al, are cozying up to the Belhar Confession in preparation for using the URCSA study on homosexuality as some kind of justification for opening their own sluice gates even further.

  8. J.Kru said,

    September 14, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Thanks, admin.

    As for “racism” being a sense of “inherent superiority,” I agree that some are races are generally taller, shorter, smarter, better dancers, etc. Of course, some things are genetic and some are cultural, and some . . . well, who knows?

    But if the “superiority” refers to a moral superiority, or the superiority of having God’s favor, then yes, Galatians does defeat that. And that’s the problem of racism that we face – no one gets bent out of shape for hearing that Norwegians are taller than Koreans. But to say that God has favored the white man and given Africans Cain’s curse is wrong, and that seems to be the attitude that Galatians is addressing.

  9. Roger Mann said,

    September 14, 2009 at 11:19 am

    And that’s the problem of racism that we face – no one gets bent out of shape for hearing that Norwegians are taller than Koreans.

    True. But many people get very bent out of shape at the suggestion that one racial group may be generally smarter than another racial group — worldwide IQ studies notwithstanding. I say “may” be generally smarter, because I don’t believe empirical studies “prove” anything one way or the other. All conclusions drawn from an empirical/inductive approach are necessarily invalid. To me it’s an open question that’s morally neutral.

    But to say that God has favored the white man and given Africans Cain’s curse is wrong, and that seems to be the attitude that Galatians is addressing.

    I agree with you to a point. There’s no doubt that God has “favored” men of every race, for Christ has redeemed sinful men unto God “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). No ethnic or racial group is excluded from the gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; etc.). But would it not be fair to say that up to this point in history God has graciously favored European nations with the gospel in a way that He has not favored other nations (a trend that now seems to be reversing; e.g., conversion in Asia and Africa seems to be on the rise, while Europe becomes more and more godless)?

    By the way, what do you make of Canaan being cursed for the sin of his father Ham (Genesis 9:22-27; cf. Joshua 9:4)? Wasn’t this curse the result of Ham being morally inferior to his brothers Shem and Japheth in this instance? (Note: I’m not in any sense implying that Africans/Blacks = Canaanites here. I’m honestly interested in what you or others believe the text to be teaching)

  10. J.Kru said,

    September 14, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    What I’m trying to preserve is along the lines of unconditional election. It’s true that Europeans had thousands of years before the Gospel flourished in sub-sarahan Africa, North America, etc. But that’s not because of an inherent condition of Europeans.

    Certainly Ham was morally inferior to his brothers. But as people with the full picture, we can look back and ask “why were Shem and Japheth morally superior?” Only by God’s grace.

    I’m not sure if you had something specific in mind that you’re driving at?

  11. Paige Britton said,

    September 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    In reading the Belhar, I notice these two things: one, that it is entirely appropriate to its original context — these things certainly needed to be spelled out, given the history of apartheid in SA; and two, that it isn’t styled, anyway, as a “confession of faith,” but simply as a “confession.” Maybe we don’t need to expect too much of it, for that reason.

    That liberal denominations embrace it is hardly surprising, given their strong affection for social activism. Is it too much to suggest, though, that we are distant enough in time now from “enforced separation of people on a racial basis” on our own soil, that this document really doesn’t quite address the very real racial problems that still persist in our culture? Perhaps it is not wrong to affirm that church complicity with government-sponsored apartheid is sinful; but aren’t there more relevant things that we could think of to affirm and reject, given our own present-day context?

  12. Zrim said,

    September 14, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Reformedmusings,

    I quite agree that the Belhar is a thinly veiled function of leftish social gospel.

    But, hearkening back to our exchange about Coral Ridge and your disagreement that Kennedy’s ministry heavily trafficked in a rightish social gospel, I am wondering why you recognize social gospel here but not in Kennedy? Is it that you understand social gospel to be synonymous with only leftish social concerns and that rightish ones, by definition, can never be vulnerable to the charge? Was the Methodist social project known as abolitionism social gospel, or has enough time lapsed that even otherwise confessional Presbyterians want in on that evangelical cultural clout?

    But if social gospel is the art of making relevant true religion to the fleeting felt needs of society, right or left; if it is to tell Jesus to slide a bit over in his throne to make way for any tradition of men; if it is to suggest that the gospel has an obvious implication to the passing cares of this world, then I don’t see how Kennedy’s legacy is any less guilty than what lurks behind the Belhar.

  13. Steven Carr said,

    September 14, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    “But if social gospel is the art of making relevant true religion to the fleeting felt needs of society, right or left; if it is to tell Jesus to slide a bit over in his throne to make way for any tradition of men…”

    Zrim,

    If you are going to make a charge, then you need to show the evidence. Where is your evidence that this is what Dr. Kennedy was doing?

    “if it has an obvious implication to the passing cares of this world…”

    Were you just thoughtless in this statement, or do you honestly believe the gospel has no implication whatsoever to the cares of this world?

  14. Steven Carr said,

    September 14, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Lane,

    Great post. At Kuyper College, nearly everyone was on the bandwagon cheering for the Belhar. Nearly, I say, except for a faithful remnant who believe that theology should not be replaced with sociology as queen of the sciences.

  15. September 15, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Zrim,

    I’d like to believe that you’re just kidding. Do you seriously not think there’s any difference between the human-centered social gospel that substitutes sociology and psychology for the gospel of Jesus Christ, versus spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ IAW the Great Commission while working to also get Christians to live out their faith in all areas of their lives?

    It’s not fundamentally a question of left vs. right, but of the gospel of Jesus Christ lived out in the lives of believers vs. a false gospel centered around the idols of human-centered sociology and psychology. I don’t know how to put it any clearer.

  16. Zrim said,

    September 15, 2009 at 9:11 am

    If you are going to make a charge, then you need to show the evidence. Where is your evidence that this is what Dr. Kennedy was doing [trafficking in a social gospel of the right]?

    Steven, are you saying you can’t peruse the Coral Ridge homepage and see it?

    Were you just thoughtless in this statement, or do you honestly believe the gospel has no implication whatsoever to the cares of this world?

    Well, this is that is the basic premise of transformationism and broad evangelicalism, that the gospel is relevant to the temporal, fleeting felt needs of this life (from the trivial to the enduring). Are you saying you’re sympathetic to transformationism and broad evangelicalism? But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world. I’m not sure how this sort of statement makes the world safe for any form of transformationism.

    I’d like to believe that you’re just kidding. Do you seriously not think there’s any difference between the human-centered social gospel that substitutes sociology and psychology for the gospel of Jesus Christ, versus spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ IAW the Great Commission while working to also get Christians to live out their faith in all areas of their lives?

    RM, I think there are social gospels that are based on gutted theological orthodoxy. These seem to be the more consistent systems. But there are also social gospels that have retained theological orthodoxy. These seem to be inconsistent systems.

    It’s not fundamentally a question of left vs. right, but of the gospel of Jesus Christ lived out in the lives of believers vs. a false gospel centered around the idols of human-centered sociology and psychology. I don’t know how to put it any clearer.

    I agree that there is a life to be lived in light of the gospel believed (I hope you don’t mean that the gospel is lived)—only pilgrims who live with a destination in mind can truly be said to live purposefully, while those yet fixated on their present surrounding tend to live less so, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. And I agree that some have traded in truth for the idols of human-centered sociology and psychology. But what about the idols of human-centered cultural clout and relevancy, power and influence? What exactly is so pilgrim-esque about taking America back for Christ?

    But I feel your pain at not being able to put it any clearer. It’s hard to describe a color without using its name.

  17. September 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Zrim,

    OK, we’re off topic and wasting our time on this. We’ve already has this discussion and got nowhere. Let’s get back to the topic of Lane’s post.

  18. Andrew said,

    September 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    All sounds v. interesting. Does anyone know of any online history/sources for the reformed churches in S. Africa?

  19. Jamin Hubner said,

    September 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Well stated; the CRC gatherings this past June should never have even considered putting the Belhar on the same plane as the Heidelberg…the more attention a person gives towards racism, the more a person cultivates the soil for it. If race isn’t such a big deal (which it isn’t, scripturally, soteriologically, and eternally speaking), too much attention given to it will probably lead towards some form of racism.

  20. Paige Britton said,

    September 16, 2009 at 5:36 am

    I suppose one could ask why some denominations / churches believe a formal statement (“confession”) about racism is necessary. From a conservative p.o.v., it looks like just another trendy thing to say – especially, as I noted above, since this particular one doesn’t actually seem relevant to the situation on the ground in our place & time in the USA (i.e., the Belhar really focuses on institutionalized racism, not the racism of the heart). Perhaps because it’s so high-profile, coming out of SA’s apartheid situation, it looks to some like a good thing to sign on to, since rejecting or critiquing it puts one in the awkward position of seeming to endorse what it rejects.

    So, are such formal statements about social & institutional sins necessary for the church to make? Ought they to be called “confessions”? (What if it were a real confession – “We the church confess that we have done this wrong…”!) Is the Belhar “Confession” didactic (teaching the congregation a summary of what they ought to believe), or is it really just PR (showing the world that the church is on the same wavelength)?

    And, to Jamin’s point, is it best to avoid the topic altogether, so as to avoid stirring up the problem further? Or is it wise, in the right context, to name the sin of racism and teach against it? (But does it require a formal confession to accomplish this? How about just a steady reinforcement of God’s inclusion of “every race & tribe & tongue” in his plan of redemption?)

  21. Zrim said,

    September 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Perhaps because it’s so high-profile, coming out of SA’s apartheid situation, it looks to some like a good thing to sign on to, since rejecting or critiquing it puts one in the awkward position of seeming to endorse what it rejects… are such formal statements about social & institutional sins necessary for the church to make?

    Paige,

    The conundrum of clearly defining things like “racism” and “sexism” aside, there are lots of bad behaviors in the world. As an adherent of the spirituality of the church, one question I have is, Where is the line drawn? Should we have “confessions” about writing bad mortgages? That seems like a relevant issue these days, but I’m not sure it rises to anything close to churchly concern.

    Also, I would ask the same questions you do about wisdom, etc. when it comes to drafting reports on socio-political issues like women in the military and abortion.

  22. J.Kru said,

    September 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I don’t know that a confession level document is necessary to address bad mortgages. But Scripture addresses honesty and fair weights and measures. We should be happy to apply Scripture to things like mortgages. (I don’t know a great deal about the bad mortgage thing, so don’t carry that too far.)

    Likewise, Scripture also speaks either directly about, or provides principles that apply to: about women and their roles, murder, children, race relations, etc. Why should we be hesitant to apply the Bible to modern concerns? If those things are too “earthy” for the Bible, I don’t see how things eating meat could be so spiritual as to warrant the Apostle’s attention.

  23. Zrim said,

    September 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Why should we be hesitant to apply the Bible to modern concerns?

    J. Kru, I think that’s the $64 question. If it is acceptable to “apply the Bible to modern concerns,” I fail to see what is finally so wrong with Joel Osteen (assuming you agree that he is an example of a train wreck). The only thing I can think of is that what is meant is that we ought not apply the Bible to trivial or crass earthly concerns. Yet when it comes to more serious and enduring (yet no less temporal) social concerns, well, the rules curiously change. But how is Joel’s individual prosperity gospel really any different from the Belhar’s race-relations prosperity gospel? I mean, even if we gain material wealth or social harmony in the here and now, we all still have to face judgment in the hereafter, and isn’t that the Bible’s sole concern?

    The mantra of modern liberalism was that “The world sets the church’s agenda.” Precisely what is the principled difference between that and “We should not be hesitant to apply the Bible to modern concerns”?

  24. J.Kru said,

    September 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    The problem with Osteen is that he is mistaken about some things and silent about others. He is correct that the Bible does have something to say about money. He’s all crossed up as to what it actually says. Furthermore (I’m sort of assuming – I don’t mean to be unfair to Joel, it’s just that I can’t handle him for more than about 4 minutes or so) he is silent as to the indicatives that would cause the imperatives. You don’t have action in the Bible without a reason for that action. I suspect that if Joel got his reasoning correct, he would get his application correct.

    If it is correct for the Jerusalem council to give instructions regarding eating meat with blood, or for James to give instructions regarding widows and orphans, or God to give instructions on making treaties with other nations, I don’t know why you would want to avoid telling people what the Bible says about those things.

    Do we agree that the Bible does, in fact, address those things?

  25. Paige Britton said,

    September 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    If we are people who’ve been brought from death to life, and who have been plunked back down into the mess of the fallen world where Christ found us, then “what’s worth doing” (or caring about, or speaking about) is probably going to intersect BOTH the religious and the secular, the immaterial and the material realms. If your “spiritual act of worship” is you offering your whole body as a living sacrifice, well, then, you’re embodied in a world, so embodiment in the world is part of spirituality. It’s the character of God’s Spirit that makes what we do or say “spiritual,” not the religiousness of those activities.

    But that is all about the people of God infiltrating enemy territory. I don’t think, in contrast, that the *church’s* message, confessional or preached, is supposed to be “applying the Bible to modern concerns.” It’s supposed to be declaring the gospel to the nations, and feeding the sheep. (But I am not sure it is wrong for churches to contribute to the general education of the flock by providing classes on budgeting, etc. — just maybe not on Sunday morning. But that is just me.)

  26. Zrim said,

    September 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    J.Kru,

    I fear too much talk of Osteen might earn the off-topic whistle.

    But, given that we come from two different sets of presupps (me 2K and you more transformational), my larger point is that Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world, that not nearly enough valuation is given to the otherworldliness of Christianity, and that both something like Osteen and Belhar are simply different manifestations of a this-worldly Christianity. But, yes, the Bible does address those things. I am not at all clear, however, on how that translates into this-worldly Christianity. Isn’t this the genius of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism?

  27. J.Kru said,

    September 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I’m sure we’ll cross swords over this again, so we won’t take up Lane’s bandwidth to do so. Or those other guys. (I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years and just figured out a few weeks ago that there is more than one author on this blog. Ha!)

    I suppose that Osteen and Belhar are in fact different manifestations of the same thing. But where Osteen is demonstrably wrong in so many ways, I hope that Belhar is correct. All the same, that they are the same type of thing isn’t to say that that type is actually wrong.

    I don’t know that is precisely the genius of Machen. He is the guy, after all, who said that “Christians should by no means adopt a negative attitude toward art, government, science, literature, and the other achievements of mankind, but should consecrate these things to the service of God.”

  28. Roger Mann said,

    September 18, 2009 at 12:19 am

    10. J. Kru wrote,

    What I’m trying to preserve is along the lines of unconditional election. It’s true that Europeans had thousands of years before the Gospel flourished in sub-sarahan Africa, North America, etc. But that’s not because of an inherent condition of Europeans.

    I agree wholeheartedly. The only reason Europe was blessed with the spread of the gospel more than other continents is because of God’s providential control and unconditional election of individuals for salvation. Nevertheless, the result of God’s providence was a moral superiority of Europeans over other peoples of the world. While guilty of many heinous crimes, Christian Europe was morally superior to the pagan East, the Islamic Middle-East, and animistic sub-Saharan Africa. While it’s not “politically correct” to say that nowadays, to argue otherwise would be to deny the transformative power of God’s Word.

    Certainly Ham was morally inferior to his brothers. But as people with the full picture, we can look back and ask “why were Shem and Japheth morally superior?” Only by God’s grace.

    That’s possible. But it’s more likely that Ham was a recipient of God’s grace as well. After all, Peter says that God “did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people [including Ham], a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly…the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment…” (2 Peter 2:5, 9). If Ham wasn’t one of the “godly” whom the Lord delivered from His judgment, then this passage doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, the “curse” didn’t come upon Ham because of his sin, but rather upon Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27) and his descendants (Joshua 9:21-23, 27; Judges 2:28-30). And Scripture seems to clearly teach that the Canaanites were morally inferior to the Israelites — many of whom were unregenerate themselves (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 20:16-18; etc.).

    I’m not sure if you had something specific in mind that you’re driving at?

    Just that Galatians 3:28 doesn’t “defeat” the notion that certain races or ethnic groups are “morally superior” to others, as you asserted. The Bible simply doesn’t support such a notion. For example, certain nations and cities are routinely described as being more wicked or morally inferior to others. If Nineveh wasn’t more wicked (Jonah 1:2) than other cities in the region, then why was God threatening to destroy it (Jonah 3:4)? Therefore, Galatians 3:28 only teaches that all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, have equal access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. It simply doesn’t address the issue of “racism” per se.

  29. J.Kru said,

    September 18, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I don’t have a way to measure morality, so it’s hard to say. How many gossips equal one fornicator? How many fornicators equal one witch? What is the slander to homosexual ratio? I just don’t know, so I couldn’t really assert that one way or another. I know that the Gospel sanctifies, no doubt. But what was the starting point? Common grace plays into this as well. What kind of common grace did Africa have vs. the Anglo-Saxons? You might run the race full tilt, but if your starting point is halfway back, it is still hard to keep up.

    Would you say that Christian Uganda is now morally superior to post-Christian Europe?

  30. Roger Mann said,

    September 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I know that the Gospel sanctifies, no doubt. But what was the starting point? Common grace plays into this as well. What kind of common grace did Africa have vs. the Anglo-Saxons? You might run the race full tilt, but if your starting point is halfway back, it is still hard to keep up.

    If by “common grace” you mean God’s absolute control over the sin of individuals and nations, then I would agree. And you are correct to point out, that by using our own flawed judgment, it would be quite difficult to determine which nations or regions of the world are morally inferior to others. My only point is that Scripture itself records that certain nations were more wicked than others, and therefore we shouldn’t deny this fact in order to sound more palatable to the godless world. Let God be true and every man a liar!

    Would you say that Christian Uganda is now morally superior to post-Christian Europe?

    While I don’t know much about modern-day Uganda, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is morally superior than post-Christian Europe! (have you seen Amsterdam lately?) And if current trends continue, Africa will reap the benefits of the spread of the gospel, while Europe continues its slide into atheistic immorality. At that point it will probably be quite evident that Uganda is morally superior to post-Christian Europe.

  31. Tim Harris said,

    September 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Is it the point of the confession, that Japanese Christians should use whatever influence they have in politics, to ensure that as many Irishmen as want to move to Japan should be allowed to do so, and to live wherever they want and work wherever they want?

  32. Paige Britton said,

    September 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    That sounds about right, given the back end of the confession (the political action part is near the tail of section 4, as far as I can tell).

    For me, your example begs the question once again of whether there is a difference between what individual Christians decide is worth doing or speaking about on planet earth, and what the visible church as an institution ought to do (and be seen doing!). Is this confession really just calling for individual action in the public & political arena? Or is it politicizing the church?

  33. September 19, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Paige, RE #20 & #32,

    You asked why they might write such a document. I believe that the answer is tied up in the history of South Africa and the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

    In those days, the ANC was a Marxist terrorist organization that was conducting car bomb attacks, torturing prisoners in reeducation camps in Angola, attacking government buildings and international corporations doing business with South Africa. Many innocent men, women, and children were killed and wounded. The ANC was officially listed as a terrorist organization by the US, the UK, and other countries until relatively recently.

    Note carefully: Apartheid was and is very wrong, but that doesn’t excuse murdering civilians.

    If the ANC was to ever come to political power and be recognized internationally, they needed top cover from a good spin machine. Terrorist sympathizers like Desmond Tutu were happy to provide that cover for the Marxist ANC. I believe that the Belhar Confession was one of the key elements of that spin. The time of its writing was not a coincidence. As such, it was a political document wrapped in religious clothing. The writers were less interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ than in legitimizing Marxist terrorists.

    The spin worked, as the ANC now rules over the country they once terrorized and killed. The terrorists of the 1980’s are the government ministers of the 2000’s. To get there, they made promises that they cannot hope to keep. If you’ve been to SA in the last few years, you can see that the “proletariat” who were promised free housing, etc.,are getting very restless, in some cases rioting, because the ANC has come to realize those promises either cost money they don’t have, or would ruin the country. Another irony is that the ANC depends on those they once tried to kill for their economic survival, lest they become another Zimbabwe – an outcome that literally haunts South Africa’s leadership.

    Knowing this history puts an interesting perspective on the leadership of the RCA, CRC, PC(USA), etc.

  34. September 19, 2009 at 9:52 am

    RE #29 and #30,

    The declaration or acceptance of “moral superiority” almost inevitably leads to either manifest indifference or genocide. We who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone confess that this is because of Christ alone. There was nothing in us that caused God to elect us from the ranks of our fellow sinners (Rom 5, 6-8; Eph 2:8, 9). We were not morally superior then or now. We were/are saved solely by God’s grace and mercy, and at a terrible cost to His Son. If we lose sight of this, then we lose sight of the gospel itself. We do well to remember the example our Lord provided in Luke 18:9-14.

  35. Paige Britton said,

    September 19, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Bob,
    You wrote, “I believe that the Belhar Confession was one of the key elements of that spin. The time of its writing was not a coincidence. As such, it was a political document wrapped in religious clothing. The writers were less interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ than in legitimizing Marxist terrorists.”

    Wowee. Thanks for filling out the context for me, there. Of course, I am a product of a lot of that spin — I know who the good guys were in SA because I was taught about heroes in school! — so now I get to go back and re-learn a few things about the decades of my growing-up. You’ve presented a deeper reason to reject the Belhar than just its association with certain American denominations. (But are you really hinting that the leadership of the RCA, CRC, & PC(USA) are Marxist sympathizers? or are they just “less interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ than in legitimizing their own liberal agendas”?)

  36. September 19, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Paige,

    I’ll be charitable and vote for the latter. Although, you need a micrometer to measure the difference between those two positions.

  37. J.Kru said,

    September 19, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    #34, a qualified agreement.

    I felt uncomfortable with the term “moral superiority” and I now find myself wondering “what is the point here?” Maybe Roger will chime in. I would agree that if we use the term “morally superior” to infer that there is less need of grace, then there is obviously no morally superior people group. At the same time, in the best possible light, Mr. Mann is simply highlighting the fact that the gospel sanctifies, and those who have been living in and under the Gospel for some time ought to be demonstrably more sanctified than those who haven’t. I think that’s fair to say, although I’m not sure what you might do with that information even if you were to possess it. Mr. Mann?

  38. Zrim said,

    September 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    J.Kru,

    Mr. Mann is simply highlighting the fact that the gospel sanctifies, and those who have been living in and under the Gospel for some time ought to be demonstrably more sanctified than those who haven’t.

    I am wondering how that could possibly work. It would seem that one generation of believers would have to be able to physically pass down their personal sanctification to the next generation in order for it to be possible that any cumulative effect takes place, such that we could say, “This nation is morally superior to that one.” But, as we know, each, in a manner of speaking, takes his sanctification with him into glory, leaving junior to start from zero.

    Besides, isn’t to be “more sanctified” this side of glory really to be more aware of personal sin than to be self-improved? And isn’t to be sanctified really more mysterious than immediate, such that it has a limited cash value to the here and now? And doesn’t Calvinism teach that we are always more sinful than not, and doesn’t the Reformed witness teach that even the holiest amongst us make but the slightest advance in this life and that our good works are but filthy rags? In the end, the suggestion of a morally superior nation over against another, as that little voice in you seems to rightly suggest, seems like utter folly.

  39. Roger Mann said,

    September 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    # 37. I would agree that if we use the term “morally superior” to infer that there is less need of grace, then there is obviously no morally superior people group.

    I would agree with that as well. However, while “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), it’s also true that some people are guilty of “greater sin” than others (John 19:11), and will be punished with “greater damnation” than others (Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 12:47-48; 20:47). We are not all guilty of the same degree of sin, nor deserving of the same degree of punishment. This is true of both individuals and people-groups (e.g., Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:12). Thus, Scripture itself records the fact that certain individuals and people-groups (e.g., Sodomites, Canaanites, etc.) were more wicked than others. So what’s the practical difference in saying that certain people-groups may be morally inferior to others, or that certain people-groups may be morally superior to others? I’m simply trying to be intellectually honest with everything that Scripture teaches on this subject.

    At the same time, in the best possible light, Mr. Mann is simply highlighting the fact that the gospel sanctifies, and those who have been living in and under the Gospel for some time ought to be demonstrably more sanctified than those who haven’t.

    Yes, that’s true as well. Genuine believers are morally superior to unbelievers, who are still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5) and held “captive by [Satan] to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). Paul writes:

    “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

    “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you [believers] are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

    To argue that believers are not morally superior to unbelievers is to deny the transformative power of the gospel — plain and simple!

    I think that’s fair to say, although I’m not sure what you might do with that information even if you were to possess it. Mr. Mann?

    Accurately understanding and representing what Scripture teaches on this matter is good enough for me. While the Bible teaches that we are all guilty sinners in need of God’s grace for salvation, it simply doesn’t teach that we are all guilty of the same degree of sin, nor deserving of the same degree of punishment.

  40. Paige Britton said,

    September 21, 2009 at 5:32 am

    “To argue that believers are not morally superior to unbelievers is to deny the transformative power of the gospel — plain and simple!”

    If “morally superior” is understood to mean “posse non peccare,” and includes the idea of “simul iustus et peccator,” (sp?), then I think it’s legitimate to keep using this phrase. But “moral superiority” has, for me, anyway, a connotation of something belonging to a person, an inherent quality; and really, any righteousness that a believer displays is “not I who live, but Christ living in me.” I would even say that we are UNITED to the only morally superior Being, but we ourselves cannot claim moral superiority over any other sinners. (Though I understand, I think, that Roger means to focus on the lived-out results of the “transformative power of the gospel” — visible righteous behavior — rather than a completely accomplished internal change.)

  41. J.Kru said,

    September 21, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Zrim – sanctification is not just about putting off sin, but also about putting on righteousness. Certainly, Junior’s sanctification is starting at zero. Or wherever, I don’t know, but Junior doesn’t start at 10 just cause daddy made it to 20. Agreed.

    However, the effects of our sanctification work their ways out of us, and into the streets. You can’t help this but happen.

    Just imagine, for example, that all of the people in high market finance were believers who took seriously their obligation to obey God (as a response to his justifying work, etc.). They would have acted with honesty, and not tried to take undue risks with other people’s money.

    Imagine that the city of Detroit was run by Christians. No, they’re not instituting the death penalty for homosexuals. But they are seeking out corruption to destroy it, they are submitting honest budgets and not spending money if they don’t need to, etc.

    Now, it’s not just people who have corruption, it’s the structures that those people have set up which are also corrupted. I’m not trying to pick on Congress, but let’s take the tax code. There are all kinds of problems with it. It could take three generations of people to edit and revise the tax code. The first generation might tackle the issue of unjust taxes, reflecting on what “justice” is, BIblically, and how, exactly to apply that to taxes. The next generation might be able to implement some of that. The third generation might deal with structures of taxation . . . what are we taxing, do we really need to be so complex, etc.

    So while we all start at “zero,” we also get to build on the righteousness of previous generations, or we don’t get to, and we have to start over.

  42. Todd said,

    September 21, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    J. Kru,

    Your scenario only works if everyone becomes believers in those arenas. But since we already have the parable of the soils, the many called but few chosen, the godly promised persecution, in other words, the many promises that your scenario will not happen, why worry about it?

  43. J.Kru said,

    September 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Well, I’ve been banging the “why worry” drum for a few posts here myself.

    It works if some become believers in those areas. I don’t think it requires “all.” The church did, after all, start as a pretty small group.

    If you’re eschatalogical view is that the church will be relatively weak, persecuted, and without influence, then no, it wouldn’t work. Your interpretation of the verses you mention would probably need to be analyzed in more depth than I’m willing to give here.

  44. Todd said,

    September 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    J.Kru,

    Yes, if this is a Post vs. A-mil difference, don’t need to go there.

  45. J.Kru said,

    September 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks for that. I’m not even sure if I’m post-mil or “positive” a-mil. I just heard one of the few living Reformed pre-mils make a very good case for that as well, so all I can say is that for now, I’m a hung jury.

  46. September 21, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Until a few years ago, Dr. R.C. Sproul used to say that he was a panmil – that it would all pan out in the end.

  47. Zrim said,

    September 21, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    J.Kru,

    Just imagine, for example, that all of the people in high market finance were believers who took seriously their obligation to obey God (as a response to his justifying work, etc.). They would have acted with honesty, and not tried to take undue risks with other people’s money.
    Imagine that the city of Detroit was run by Christians. No, they’re not instituting the death penalty for homosexuals. But they are seeking out corruption to destroy it, they are submitting honest budgets and not spending money if they don’t need to, etc.

    Imagine that the city of Detroit was run by Christians. No, they’re not instituting the death penalty for homosexuals. But they are seeking out corruption to destroy it, they are submitting honest budgets and not spending money if they don’t need to, etc.

    “Imagine there’s no heaven…”

    Yeow, really? I live in Grand Rapids where there are 1.5 churches on every corner. If ever there were a city that contained generations upon generations of “believers who took seriously their obligation to obey God” this is it. And, yet, it has all the same problems as any other city I’ve lived in or visited. So what gives? Don’t get me wrong, southwest Michigan a great place to raise kids, but so is northwest Michigan where there was scant a transformer for miles upon miles when I was growing up there. I wish your Lennon-like religious fantasies were true, but I’m just way too Calvinist to pick up what you’re both laying down.

    And if Roger Mann is right, then what about the church at Corinth? It hardly seems that Paul’s point was that that section of the world inhabited by believers was morally superior to another one that wasn’t. In fact, he says that they are guilty of things even the pagans wouldn’t be found doing.

    Heavens, for all the Calvinists here I wonder why so paltry the doctrine of sin, total depravity (not utter depravity), skepticism (not cynicism) and realism (not pessimism). When did Calvinism turn so gosh-darn sunny?

  48. J.Kru said,

    September 21, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    “I wish your Lennon-like religious fantasies were true, but I’m just way too Calvinist to pick up what you’re both laying down.”

    The problem is you’re not Calvinist enough. I don’t know how you got the Beatles in this, but I’m sure you think that they have enough common grace to rule the world.

    Maybe the problem in Detroit is that a bunch of Pastors told their churches in Detroit that they should just worry about spiritual things, and that the world could run the schools and government.

    Or maybe they just need to repent.

  49. Paige Britton said,

    September 22, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Sometimes, actually, those who need the help have been trained by the church to be consumers of mercy, but not be transformed by the gospel in the long run, which would also explain the lack of change in any area. A friend is leading a two-year-old PCA church plant in the main city in our area, and he has observed that the ‘hood is so burnt out by short-term missions that they assume anyone who offers them a hand is only in it for a limited amount of time, so they don’t get the idea of being part of a long-term community of saints. My friend says he’s looking at five to seven years before the neighbors realize his church hasn’t gone away yet and might actually be saying something worth listening to.

  50. September 22, 2009 at 7:20 am

    (Off topic) By the way, Paige, great article in the most recent Modern Reformation magazine!

  51. Zrim said,

    September 22, 2009 at 7:32 am

    J.Kru,

    Or maybe the problem in Detroit, just like in every square inch of earth, is that sinners sin because they’re sinners and not because they aren’t Christians. I wonder if neo-Calvinists ever really think about how they sound. To paleo-Calvinist ears it’s just plain silly.

    If you’re right about how sanctification plays out in the here and now then I should be able to go to my sheriff here in Grand Rapids and say, “I have an idea to help the city’s budget problems. Scale back on the police force, because this city is teeming with Christians who are serious about obeying God. That means less crime.”

    But my guess is that he’ll blanch. In which case, I’m grateful that the members of the left-hand kingdom take human sin more seriously than many members of the right-hand kingdom.

  52. Paige Britton said,

    September 22, 2009 at 8:03 am

    (off topic back!) Hi Jeff,
    Thanks!!! I’m glad you liked it! Do you remember me from Bethesda? I met you once, loooooong ago. I’m still in touch with your bro. :)

  53. September 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I do remember you, but you are right about it being a long time! I’m still in touch with my brother a bit too. ;)

  54. Paige Britton said,

    September 25, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Hey, Zrim,
    I’m piecing together an understanding of the 2Kt view & its alternatives, as I’m pretty weak on the vocabulary (if not the concepts). Can you help me understand where “transformationalism” falls on the spectrum? Thanks!

  55. Zrim said,

    September 25, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Paige,

    First, call me exacting and petty (it’s ok, Calvinists should be used to that), but it’s more “2K” than “2Kt.” The latter is used as a theonomic slur against the viral poisons of 2K heresies. It derives from “R2Kt,” which is correctly parsed as one who is a “Radical Two Kingdom type.”

    Second, my guess is that the moderators would deem such a conversation as off-topic. Thus…

    Third, if you’re so inclined come on over to my blog and maybe we can exchange emails for a more off-line exchange.

  56. Paige Britton said,

    September 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    No prob. I thought the “t” was for “theology,” sorry. :) Will do.


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