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.