By Jeff Gissing, at jeffgissing.com
All creeds and confessions are created in a context, and that context is important both in understanding them and applying them to the life of the church. Some creeds and confessions manage to plumb the depths of the faith in a way that remains true across many times and many cultures.
Others, are profoundly limited in their ability to rightly confess the faith outside of the immediate context in which they were written. The Belhar Confession is an example of such a confession–it served well in its immediate context, but is not robust enough to carry the weight of the church’s confession to the world. It’s not without merit, so we’ll consider those before we consider it’s weaknesses.
First, it speaks clearly to the issue of the racism and systemic injustice codified in the South African Apartheid system. Apartheid was an evil system–a profound rejection of the image of God in humanity as well as Christian gospel that affirms all people to be equally condemned before God apart from Christ–black and white, male and female, Jew and Greek.
Second, Belhar comes from the global south. It represents the witness of Christians outside of our predominantly european tradition. As reformed theologian Kevin DeYoung notes, “It is a brief confession and in many ways quite beautiful, a doctrinal statement filled with some precious truths that the white church in South Africa had tragically lost.”
Third–and this is a strength and weakness simultaneously–it is mostly an extended arrangement of Scriptures. In one sense, the Confession is biblical–in the sense that it is comprised of mostly biblical witnesses. At the same time, it is also–at points–sub-biblical in that I query the way in which the witness of Scripture is arranged in this confession.
As mentioned above, Belhar is an extended biblical quotation. However, one of it’s weaknesses is that it’s theological framework does not align with that of classic reformed theology or the Canon of Scripture
Related article: In Overwhelming Vote, GA Approves Belhar