May / June 2011


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May/June 2011

printable pdf version of this newsletter available here

Dear Friends,

At a regional synod in May 2011 the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) of the Western and Southern Cape accepted the “Belhar Confession” as a fourth doctrinal standard in addition to the three Reformation Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort which every Reformed minister is obliged to affirm. 1)

What is the Belhar Confession?

This Confession of 1982 takes its name from Belhar, a suburb of Cape Town, where it was composed. It describes itself as “a cry from the heart” of the non-White DRC congregations. Reputedly authored by Dirkie Smit and Russel Botman (now Stellenbosch professor and vice chancellor), the Belhar Confession (BC) is regarded as a precurser of the “Kairos Document” of 1985 which was published at the height of the “liberation struggle” and called for the overthrow of the then South African government.

The subject of the BC is unity, reconciliation and justice, and its purpose is to advance structural unity between the Dutch Reformed Church and its three multilingual (African, Coloured, and Indian) daughter churches. It pledges to resist anything which threatens such unity – i.e. all “sinful separation of people” or the “establishment of a separate church formation.” - “Refusal to earnestly pursue this visible unity … is sin.” - “Descent or any other human or social factor” should not be “a consideration in determining membership of the Church.” The Church, it says, must “witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Calling the traditional Dutch Reformed doctrine “false” and an “ideology”, it declares 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… that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need… and strive against any form of injustice… It must stand where he (God) stands, namely… with the wronged… against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.”

Of course, every Christian welcomes the noble aims of unity, reconciliation and justice, but the Belhar Confession is obviously meant to serve broader purposes than fighting racial separation. This became evident when, in 2008, Dr Allan Boesak, while Moderator of the Uniting Reformed Church (formerly the DRC Mission Churches) used the Belhar Declaration to justify homosexuality in Church and Pastorie. When the synod refused to vote in favour of this he left the assembly in anger and threatened to resign from all his offices.

Guilt Manipulation

Dr Boesak rose to prominence during the South African “liberation struggle”. Prior to 1976 he had studied Black Theology and Black Power and received a doctorate from the university of Kampen in Holland. His thesis was called: “Farewell to Innocence – A Social Ethical Study on Black Theology and Black Power.” - As he became more critical of the Dutch Reformed Church, the international ecumenical movement took notice of him and invited him to a general assembly of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) held in Ottawa, Canada, in 1982. Armed with the Belhar Declaration and claiming that a “status confessionis” existed in South Africa, Dr Boesak was warmly welcomed and straight away elected president of the WARC. Meanwhile, the White South African delegates were humiliated, and the Dutch Reformed Churches suspended from membership of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

The Belhar Confession thus became an international document, but some if its concepts remained doubtful. For instance, the words “witness by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells,” took on a political meaning in the light of statements made by liberation theologians. For in terms of liberation theology the “Kingdom of God” is equated with “socialism.” - In 1980, for instance, Bishop Desmond Tutu defined it by saying: “When justice prevails over injustice as in Zimbabwe, it shows that the kingdom of God is here already.” 2) Dr Allan Boesak explained it like this: “The New Jerusalem is no future world somewhere else. No, the new Jerusalem comes from Heaven into this reality… The New Jerusalem is no mirage from the beyond… It does not need to wait for eternity. This new Jerusalem will arise from the ashes of all that which today is called Pretoria. For the old things have passed away.” 3) - In order to bring about this new Jerusalem, liberation theologians called for world wide sanctions, civil disobedience, and prayers for the downfall of the government. They advanced the African National Congress(ANC) which in those days was still deemed a communist terrorist organisation.

Doubt was also cast upon yet another Belhar statement, namely: “God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged, and he calls his church to follow him in this.” At the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1980, Dr Boesak had declared, that whereas “the Gospel is the good news for the poor, it is the bad news for the rich.” The coming of the Kingdom would be a time ofjudgment for the rich. 4) In line with this, Bishop Tutu said: “Thank God I am black. White people will have a lot to answer for at the last judgment.” (Argus, 19.3.84) The redistribution of wealth was (and is) very important to the ecumenical movement. In Melbourne the WCC was expressing hopes that “the spiritually bankrupt churches in the capitalist countries should give their material wealth to the ‘churches of the poor’ because these are closer to God.” 5)

Although Archbishop Tutu and Dr Boesak later criticised Zimbabwe, such statements, in their essence, were never repudiated or withdrawn. Why then should the Belhar Confession (BC) mean anything different today from what it meant in the 1980s?

New Generation

Since the publication of the BC in 1982 almost thirty years have passed. A new generation has grown up into church leadership, who did not experience at first hand the revolutionary climate of those days. Apartheid has long gone. There is no racial discrimination today except affirmative action. The new generation of ministers has been trained in liberal values. They do not have the Biblical foundation and do not hold to absolutes as previous generations did. They have also been taught to view their own history in a negative light, and they do not comprehend the outstanding historic achievements of their Church and people. Hence, they see no harm in the Belhar Confession. On the contrary, tired of being accused of racism, heresy and sin, they welcome it as a bearer of peace.

Quo Vadis Belhar?

What then is the purpose of forcing a declaration such as the Belhar Confession onto a Church and people who, by and large, are innocent of its accusations? Is it not to manipulate them away from Reformed doctrine towards a humanistic religion? Today we live in a democratic age with humanistic values. Democracy/humanism demands that all absolutes be abolished. The absolutes of God’s creation order, the absolutes of His moral Law, the absolutes of His Word and Work, all are watered down if not rejected. The only absolute which is permitted, is absolute equality. The Belhar Confession promotes equality on all levels. The fact that in 2008 it was used to try and equalise homosexual marriage and ministry with God’s ordinances was no accident. The question now is: What else is it destined to sanction? The word “apartheid” does not appear in the Confession. Apartheid is no longer the issue. The issue is equality and the rejection of all absolutes. Having adopted it as a foundation of faith, how will the Church be able to stand on the Bible when confronted with future issues of right and wrong?

The Church’s acceptance of the Belhar Confession is just one more step towards replacing Biblical Christianity with Humanism, the religion of Man, and the One World religion. Man wants to become his own master and god. It is the old old story of Adam and the apple. -

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25) “Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

May God bless you richly,

D. Scarborough.


1. The Belhar Confession is available on the internet in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. 2. Ecunews 11/1980; The Archbishop and the Bible, Gospel Defence League 1986. 3. A Boesak, Speech at the Kirchentag, Frankfurt, Germany, 21.6.1987 4. P. Beyerhaus, Aufbruch der Armen, WCC General Assembly, Melbourne 1980, p. 173. 5. Ibid., p. 178.


A Contemporary Testimony of the Christian Reformed Church, USA, 1986
Drafted in view of the secularisation of modern life and culture.


  1. God has not left this world 1 without ways of knowing him. He shows his power and majesty in the creation; he has mercifully spoken through prophets, history writers, poets, 2 gospel writers, and apostles and most clearly through the Son. The Spirit who moved humans 3 to write the Word of God 4 speaks to us in the Bible.
    1. Romans 1 - “What is known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without any excuse…”
    2. Hebrews 1 - “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe…”
    3. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 - “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
    4. 2 Peter 1:12-21 - “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
  2. The Bible is the Word of God, record and tool of his redeeming work. It is the Word of Truth, 1 fully reliable in leading us 2 to know God and have life 3 in Jesus Christ.
    1. James 1:18 - “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
    2. Acts 8:26-39 - “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus… They came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?’”
    3. John 20:30-31 - “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
  3. The Bible tells God’s mighty acts 1 in the unfolding of covenant history. 2 It is one revelation in two Testaments, which shows a single plan of salvation, and reveals God’s will infallibly. As God’s people hear the Word and do it, 3 they are equipped for discipleship, to witness to the good news; Our world belongs to God and he loves it deeply.
    1. Acts 7 - “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham… He promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land… Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision… God gave Joseph wisdom… so he made him ruler over Egypt… Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family… Then another king… dealt treacherously with our people… At that time Moses was born… He received living words to pass on to us… Our forefathers had the tabernacle of Testimony with them in the desert… But it was Solomon who built the house for him… And now you have betrayed and murdered (the Righteous One).”
    2. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 - “They all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."


  1. In our world, bent under the weight of sin, Christ gathers a new community. 1 Satan and his evil forces seek whom they may confuse and swallow, 2 but Jesus builds his church, 3 his Spirit guides, and grace abounds.
    1. 1 Peter 5:8-11 - “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… and the God of all grace… will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
    2. 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 - “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ… Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
    3. Matthew 16:13-19 - “’What about you?’ Jesus asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven… You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…’
  2. The church is the fellowship of those 1 who confess Jesus as Lord. She is the Bride of Christ, his chosen partner, 2 loved by Jesus and loving him: 3 delighting in his presence, seeking him in prayer, 4 silent before the mystery of his love.
    1. Revelation 21:9 - “One of the seven angels… said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”
    2. 1 Peter 2:4-10 - “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”
    3. Ephesians 2 - “He made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works… And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms…
    4. Colossians 1:1-23; 3:1-17 - “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel… Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
  3. Our new life in Christ 1 is celebrated and nourished in the fellowship of congregations 2 where God’s name is praised, his Word proclaimed, 3 his way taught; where sins are confessed, 4 prayers and gifts are offered, 5 and sacraments are celebrated.
    1. Acts 2:41-47 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles… And the Lord added to their number daily.”
    2. Ephesians 4:1-5.20 - “… so that the body of Christ be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ… Be imitators of God… and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…”
    3. Romans 10 - “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…”
    4. Ephesians 3:1-13 - “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
    5. Matthew 6:5-15 - “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you… This is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name…’ If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
All Scripture texts are taken from the NIV Bible. To be continued…..

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