Two liberal Afrikaner theologians, Dirkie Smit and Jaap Durand from the University of the Western Cape, along with Gustav Bam and Allan Boesak, the leading theologian of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (a church among the mixed-race people in South Africa, especially in the Cape) were primarily responsible for composing the Belhar Confession in 1982. Boesak was also the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches at the time. The confession was named after the suburb Belhar in Cape Town, where the DRMC’s synod of 1982 were held. It was officially adopted as a confession of faith in the DRMC in 1986.1
After the Marxist takeover of South Africa in 1994, the main church among the Afrikaner people, the Dutch Reformed Church, has been eagerly involved in attaining ecclesiastical unity with both the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa and the DRMC (now the Uniting Church in South Africa). Naturally, the Belhar Confession is one of the main points of discussion in the unity-talks between the churches, since the DRC, as a traditionally Reformed Church, only adheres to the Three Forms of Unity, and unity would necessarily imply accepting Belhar as a fourth. There is a lot of division about the Confession of Belhar within the DRC, and the denomination has decided not to compel existing members to submit to the confession. The DRC has, however, offered to compel only new members of the DRCSA to submit to the confession, and to ask existing members to voluntarily submit to it, but this offer was turned down by the URCSA.2 Recently, however, the DRC’s presbytery of the Western Cape has accepted the confession at their 2011 synod with a 80% vote in favour of the additional confession. They have also appealed to the general synod of the DRC, which meets later this year, to reconsider the full adoption of the confession.3
This confession, originally only a subject of debate within South African churches, has also become internationally accepted by liberals (claiming to be Reformed Christians) including the general synods of the United Protestant Church in Belgium4 and the Reformed Church in America.5 The Christian Reformed Church in America6 and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are also considering the adoption of this confession.7
The purpose of this article is to show that full adoption of the Belhar Confession places a church outside of orthodox Protestant Christianity, due to the heresies proclaimed by it.
Weak Arguments Against Belhar
From within the more pragmatic circles of the DRC, some have offered rather weak anti-Belhar reasonings. Sadly, these insufficient, self-contradicting arguments with nearly no biblical foundation are the most popular in the DRC today.
The first of these is the contextual argument. Some argue that Belhar was a very good and useful document during the anti-apartheid struggle, but has become rather irrelevant since the system’s collapse. This argument can easily be refuted by pointing out the much bigger contextual difference between both the sixteenth-century Reformation and the Protestant confessional movement of the seventeenth century, and our modern, twenty-first century context. This would necessarily mean that in order to reject Belhar on contextual considerations, the historic creeds and confessions of the Church must also be rejected, or perhaps drastically revised. Furthermore, the criterion for the orthodoxy of any statement of beliefs by the church is not primarily its contextual significance, but its biblical foundation.
A second argument against Belhar is that it is a political statement, rather than a doctrinal one. Now, those making this objection need to realize that there is nothing wrong with a biblical doctrine having political application. The Bible is full of prescriptions on political issues, and the idea that religion and politics do not mix is a common misconception. Furthermore, this objection from within the DRC is refuted by Belhar’s supporters’ claim that the Belgic Confession is also a political document, since Article 36 concerns the civil government, and confessions are to be read as a whole. So, this second anti-Belhar objection does not hold ground either.
The final insufficient argument against Belhar is that it really adds nothing new to the already-existing confessions, and that the three historic church creeds, as well as the Three Forms of Unity, sufficiently cover the issues addressed by Belhar. This statement is just plainly untrue. Belhar does indeed say a lot of things that the historic creeds and confessions do not, and the reason for this is because it is not solely based on Scripture like the historic confessions, but rather teaches many man-made doctrines. I will proceed to identify these.
The Heresies Taught by the Belhar Confession
Let me just start off by saying that the Trinitarian formula in the introduction and conclusion, in addition to the acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship before the concluding formula, is indeed orthodox and solidly biblical. The same can be said of the first two statements of paragraph two, namely that there is only one, universal body of Christ that consists of believers reconciled with God and one another. Apart from this, not much else in the confession is based on Scripture.8
Belhar teaches in its second paragraph that “unity is…both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain.” When we understand what the drafters of this confession mean, we will see that this is directly contradictory to Scripture. Unity is, in fact, a gift to the Church in Christ and through the working of God’s Spirit (John 11:52; Rom. 12:5; Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 4:4-7; Col. 3:11-15), and it is extremely important to believe that this unity transcends all racial, gender, and cultural boundaries. But it does not follow that the globally diverse nature of the Church must lead to locally diverse churches and multiracial lands. To call it “an obligation and something to be pursued and sought” is to treat unity as an inherent good to be pursued alongside of the other three functions of the church, and is therefore to idolize it. The marks of the true Church of Christ are beautifully stipulated in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession. They are the faithful preaching of the true gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the practice of church discipline. Establishing or pursuing unity is not there. Unity is good insofar as it is in Christ, but nonetheless the spiritual and transracial unity among Christians worldwide does not call for the forced unity of local peoples. The church has the obligation to preserve proper unity by loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 4:2-3), but nowhere in Scripture will you find the command to disregard God’s created order and diversity in order to establish an artificial unity. Belhar completely ignores our responsibility to preserve God-created diversity, according to His ordained social order. The Lord commands us to take care of and have a unique affection toward our own kinsmen (Rom. 9:3; I Tim. 5:8).
Belhar continues by stating “that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin.” This is virtually a word-for-word contradiction of so many Scriptural passages. God separated peoples and groups from each other by His providence (Acts 17:26), the children of God need to be at enmity with the world (James 4:4), and we have a biblical mandate to hate God’s enemies (Ps. 15:4; 139:21-22). This statement is a direct rebellion against God and nothing but a well-disguised attempt to re-establish a Tower of Babel (or “global village”) on earth. Furthermore, the confession continues to disregard unity as a fundamentally invisible and internal work of the Spirit. By confessing that the unity must become visible lest we sin, this confession in essence rejects the Reformation’s distinction between the visible and invisible church9 in favor of Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Later in this paragraph, the composers of this confession reveal their unregenerate nature by stating that “this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint,” as if the church has not always been one in Christ, no matter what the socio-political circumstances in which she might find herself. What the composers really mean to say is that they are Marxists being oppressed by the biblical doctrines of race and nationhood, and therefore disregard the biblical definition of unity in Christ to the glory of God. They want cultural Marxist, man-centered unity, a “unity” which erases all distinctions. At the end of this paragraph, the confession goes on to say that if the separation of people leads to a different church formation, it is sinful. Apart from having no Scriptural foundation, this statement is both irrational and unpractical. Even if the Marxists would succeed in their ideal of creating a global, cosmopolitan state, it would be impossible to ignore the vast geographical separation between peoples. The travelling costs would economically ruin the church if all Christians were obliged to worship together in one place every Sunday, but that is what Belhar must consistently advocate: geographical separation hinders the visible unity of the Church!
Paragraph three continues on the same cultural Marxist trend as the second paragraph, and is summarized at the end with the rejection of any doctrine which “sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and colour.” The question to be asked to those who support this statement is, Who created racial differences, both cultural and genetic? If these differences were man-made, resulting from a rebellious human attempt to diversify God’s monotonous creation, this statement would make a legitimate point. However, no Bible-believing Christian can deny that the separation of people is the work of God for his purposes (Gen 10:5; 11:8; Deut. 32:8; Acts 17:26-27; Rev. 7:9). Therefore, the preservation of this diversity is not forced, but simply an acknowledgement of God’s magnificent, diverse creation. The destruction of this diversity through integration is that which is forced, and it is also a denial of Christ’s Lordship over his creation.
No element of the Belhar Confession reveals its deceptive intent as much as its structure. Paragraphs two and three twist Scripture to support cultural Marxism, and after deceiving the ignorant reader, the confession then proceeds to promote the doctrines of revolutionary Marxism in paragraph four. The confession states that God is “in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged and that he calls his church to follow him in this.” It proceeds to affirm “that the church as the possession of God must stand where he stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged.” Now, if this sounds too close to full-blown communism for comfort, it’s because it is. This is merely an echo of the same old slogans the Soviet Bolshevists, the South African Communist Party and other Revolutionary Marxists have used through the years. It’s just another attempt of the Devil’s minions to twist the truth and make a lie sound good. This heresy is commonly referred to as “liberation theology,” which is a bit of a misnomer. The Bible does teach a form of liberation theology – the liberation of God’s elect from sin and death through the atonement of Jesus Christ. But what it doesn’t teach is the cultural and revolutionary Marxism promoted by Belhar. Contrary to this heresy, Rev. Brett McAtee rightly states that the Scriptural truth is that God “is not in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged unless the destitute, the poor, and the wronged are in Christ. Sinners, outside of Christ, are not more special to God simply because they are destitute, poor, and wronged. Indeed, sinners outside of Christ being destitute, poor, and wronged, may be living proof that God is revealing his opposition and wrath against them.” Conversely, “God is, in a special way, the God of the prosperous, rich, and treated right, when they are in Christ.”10
When taken as a whole, the Belhar Confession is an unbiblical, anti-Christian document that attempts to poison Christ’s Church with false doctrine. It is in no way an authoritive confession on Christian unity, but rather another Marxist manifesto, colored with some good orthodox Christian teachings. These good teachings only contribute to the document’s deceptiveness and effectiveness in misleading Christ’s flock. It promotes doctrines hostile to biblical truth. It contradicts orthodox Protestant ecclesiology, and by rejecting the biblical view of race and nationhood, it is in direct opposition to both Afrikaner Calvinism in particular and white Christian ethno-nationalism in general.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belhar_Confession ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belhar_Confession ↩
- http://www.beeld.com/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Kaapse-sinode-aanvaar-Belhar-20110510 ↩
- http://vpkb.be/site/terminologie/ ↩
- http://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=6636 ↩
- http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_belhar.cfm ↩
- http://www.pcusa.org/ga218/news/ga08078.htm ↩
- http://www.warc.ch/pc/20th/02.html ↩
- John Calvin, 1559. Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.i.7 ↩
- http://ironink.org/index.php?blog=1&title=christian_reformed_church_synod_4_report&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1#comments ↩