Monday, February 13, 2006

Prebyterian Outlook: Belhar Confession: Does it speak To PC(USA)’s challenges?

Belhar Confession: Does it speak To PC(USA)’s challenges?:
(free registration required)
Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter

"During the Sunday morning coffee hour, the Confession of Belhar probably isn’t at the top of the conversation list.

It’s not in the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), so lots of Presbyterians have probably never read it.

But this confession – adopted in 1986 in South Africa during the heart of the struggle over apartheid – is beginning to draw renewed interest among Reformed Christians in the United States and internationally. South African churches have been urging the rest of the world to read it for years, saying it has a message Christians need to hear.

For while it was written in a particular time and place, its themes are unity, reconciliation and justice – exactly, some contend, the issues confronting American churches in the 21st century...."

While the Confession of Belhar is not as all-purpose as the Apostle's Creed or Nicene Creed, nor as comprehensive as the Westminster Confession, it's focus on unity and equality makes it worth reading.

It may not warrant a space in our Book of Confessions, but there are many documents that have not attained "official" confessional status for the PC(USA), but are useful nonetheless. The Confession of Belhar, while not as well-known as other confessions, is certainly in this category.


Gruntled said...

I think the fact that we have a whole book of confessions means that we do not have any confession. I am all for discussing Belhar, as we do other historic confessions, but to have a confessional constitution, we really need one, or one official harmony of the confessions.

Denis Hancock said...

I hadn't quite looked at the Book of Confessions in that light, but you do have a point.

There was a time when the Westminster Confession and its catechisms were the sole confessional standard, but my memory does not go back that far. I barely remember the ruckus over the Confession of 1967, and I understand that was when the Book of Confessions came into being for the UPCUSA. So basically I don't remember a church without multiple confessions.

Having said that, I use the Apostle's Creed as my personal confession of faith as it is short and succinct.

Beyond that, I see the confessions as "snapshots" of the Church at a given point in time, reflecting the issues that were important to the people at the time. Would I use the language of the Scots Confession to characterize Catholics? Hardly. But the Scots Confession does highlight differences in doctrine that were significant at the time.

I'll have to admit tht I have not done a line for line studiy of all the confessions, but I HAVE read them all. And I am guided by them. They represent "a reliable exposition of what Scripture leads us to believe and do"

Unfortunately many have chosen to view the Book of Confessions as a menu from which to order a la carte, and I suspect that few elders and even fewer members have familiarized themselves with what they say. Officer training should spend more time on the confessions.