3 Belhar Confession

Belhar Confession

   The Belhar Confession was adopted in 1986 by the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk of Suid Afrika (Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa [DRMC]) as a response to apartheid. The DRMC was established in 1880 as a separate Reformed church for the Black African members of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa.
   In the 1970s, the institution of apartheid led some South African blacks to adopt a form of liberation theology, which applied the biblical theme of liberation to those suffering from political oppression. Christian opposition to the oppressive situation increased after Steve Biko (1946-77), the founder of the black consciousness movement, died violently while in police custody Among the voices raised were those of Manas Buthelezi (Lutheran), Desmond Tutu (Anglican), Alan Boesak (Reformed), Frank Chikane (Pentecostal), and Albert Nolan (Roman Catholic). Boesak, a theologian with the DRMC, assumed a leading role in speaking out against the Dutch Reformed Church and its support of apartheid. He brought the case to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1982. In response, the alliance suspended the two Afrikaners Reformed churches, declared apartheid a heresy, and elected Boesak their new president.
   insisting that the very essence of Christianity was at stake, Boesak's church took a traditional Reformed approach by issuing a new confession of faith. Its model was the Barmen Declaration of 1934, which had opposed the growing Nazi power in Germany. The resulting Belhar Confession affirmed the unity of the church (as against the racially divided churches under apartheid), asserted the central role in the Gospel message of reconciliation between peoples, and declared justice and peace as basic to the nature of God.
   The Belhar Confession became a landmark document that rallied churches in South Africa and around the world to the antiapartheid cause, together with the 1985 Kairos Document, in which ecumenical leaders convened by the institute for Contextual Theology called for repentance and reconciliation as the means of getting beyond apartheid. The Belhar Confession and the Kairos Document were subsequently adopted by the South African Council of Churches, which selected as its general secretaries a series of liberation (or in South Africa, contextualizing) theologians: Desmond Tutu (1978-85), Beyers Naude (1985-88), and Frank Chikane (1988-95).
   The Belhar Confession was one of the creedal statements officially adopted by the uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (formed in 1994 by the merger of the DRMC with the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa). Other churches such as the Reformed Church of America have commended it to member congregations for study and enlightenment.
   Further reading:
   ■ Alan Boesak, Farewell to Innocence (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1977)
   ■ Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport, eds., Christianity in South Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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