Does the Belhar Confession rise to the level of a confession? Interesting question, but it’s not the question we’re being asked to consider.
The Belhar is not a ‘comprehensive’ confession, in the same the way that the Belgic Confession is a confession.
In the 16th century Guido de Bres (author of the Belgic Confession) was moved to write a statement of faith that responded to the persecution of Philip II, both in order to show that the Reformed expression of the faith was truly Christian and to distinguish the Reformed from the Anabaptist understanding of the relationship between church and state.
In the 20th century the Belhar confession arose out of the context of apartheid, in order to declare the true gospel. The Dutch Reformed Church blessed the civil policies of apartheid, by teaching that God ordained the separation of the church and non-reconciliation between races, and by practicing the faith in a way that avoided questions of justice (ironically enough, citing article 36 of the Belgic Confession to justify their practice).
The contexts were different; the confessions are different. The Belgic is comprehensive; the Belhar is specific.
Problem is, the comparison is a red herring. No one is asking the RCA whether the Belhar is a confession. No one is asking whether the Belhar is a confession in the same way that the Belgic is a confession.
What is being asked is whether God is speaking to the church through the Belhar.
What is being asked is whether we will agree to read the Scriptures through this lens.
There’s little doubt that unity, reconciliation, and justice are Biblical themes. The question is whether we will agree to be bound by these Biblical emphases.
Are we willing to declare that unity, reconciliation, and justice are Biblical norms?
If the answer is yes, then the question “does the Belhar rise to the level of a confession” is a semantic quibble.
If the answer is yes, then you’re arguing over the definition of a confession – but not discerning whether the RCA should be bound by the Scriptures.
If the answer is no, (though how one could say they are Biblical norms and then say we don’t want to be bound by them is unthinkable to me) then by all means, one should vote against the Belhar.
But it seems to me that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that unity, reconciliation, and justice are Biblical themes, and at the same time argue that the RCA should not be bound by them – at least not if the Scriptures are our only rule of faith and practice.
You may wish to argue that the Belhar should be more specific. Then again, the Heidelberg Catechism could be more specific, as could the Belgic Confession and the Canons of the Synod of Dort.
So, if you claim that the Belhar just isn’t comprehensive enough to be a confession, what is the real issue?