The Belhar confession and church and society: a comparative reading in five statements
This essay offers a close comparative reading of the Belhar confession and the DRC witness document, Church and Society. It is argued (in the first statement) that although on the surface there are many similarities in content between the two documents, they are in fact theologically quite distinct (statements two to five). It is hoped that the DRC’s decision in 2011 to start a process of adopting the Belhar confession represents a return to its Reformed roots in the confessing church tradition. The year 2011 was a significant one for the family of Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa. In this year, we commemorated the 25th birthdays of two important church documents, namely the Belhar Confession and Church and Society. The Belhar document2 was adopted as draft confession by the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1982 and subsequently formally included as confession in the church orders at the general synod in the suburb of Belhar close to Cape Town in October 1986. Kerk en Samelewing3 (KS/CS) is a witness document accepted as policy guideline for the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) at the General Synod, also in October 1986, and incidentally also in Cape Town. The relative distance in time of 25 years allows for rich opportunities to reflect on the significance of these documents. In this paper, an attempt is made to read the two documents in a comparative manner. The aim is, however, to go beyond a mere comparison of content, which is addressed in the first paragraph below. The intention is to rather investigate what the significant social and theological divergences were (and still are?) so as to understand why the DRC took a quarter of a century to resolve in principle to accept the Confession of Belhar.4 For the sake of clarity and progression of argument, this paper posits five statements which are then explained in the ensuing paragraphs. Each of these statements could have been an academic paper on its own. The weakness of this essay is therefore that huge topics will be stated quite concisely in the hope that what is gained in breadth will adequately compensate for the loss in depth at some points.