The Belhar Confession has its roots in the
struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa. This "outcry of faith" and
"call for faithfulness and repentance" was first drafted in 1982 by the
Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) under the leadership of Allan Boesak.
The DRMC took the lead in declaring that apartheid constituted a status
confessionis in which the truth of the gospel was at stake.
The Dutch Reformed Mission Church formally
adopted the Belhar Confession in 1986. It is now one of the "standards of
unity" of the new Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA).
Belhar's theological confrontation of the sin of racism has made possible
reconciliation among Reformed churches in Southern Africa and has aided the
process of reconciliation within the nation of South Africa.
Belhar's relevance is not confined to Southern
Africa. It addresses three key issues of concern to all churches: unity of
the church and unity among all people, reconciliation within church and
society, and God's justice. As one member of the URCSA has said, "We carry
this confession on behalf of all the Reformed churches. We do not think of
it as ours alone." The Belhar Confession was provisionally adopted for two
years of testing by the RCA's 2007 General Synod.
Confession of Belhar
1. We believe
in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and
cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the
beginning of the world and will do to the end.
2. We believe
in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from
the entire human family.
that Christ's work of reconciliation is made
manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been
reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);
that unity is, therefore, 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 (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the
world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and
groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that
anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must
be resisted (John 17:20-23);
that this unity of the people of God must be
manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another;
that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we
are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and
blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of
one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit,
are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup,
confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share
one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of
the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the
new humanity; together know and bear one another's burdens, thereby
fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one
another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one
another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in
this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this
unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph.
4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor.
that this unity can be established only in
freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts,
opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages
and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities
for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom.
12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);
that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only
condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
which absolutizes either natural diversity or the
sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders
or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the
establishment of a separate church formation;
which professes that this spiritual unity is
truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same
confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of
diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue
this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
which explicitly or implicitly maintains that
descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in
determining membership of the church.
3. We believe
that God has entrusted the church with the
message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is
called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the
church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is
witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in
which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2
Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
that God's lifegiving Word and Spirit has
conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of
irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God's lifegiving
Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can
open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17Ė6:23,
Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1Ė4:6);
that the credibility of this message is seriously
affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land
which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of
people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and
that any teaching which attempts to legitimate
such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to
venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of
prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling
power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name
of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the
grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the
ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.
4. We believe
that God has revealed himself as the one who
wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
that God, in a world full of injustice and
enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the
that God calls the church to follow him in this,
for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to
that God supports the downtrodden, protects the
stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
that for God pure and undefiled religion is to
visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
that God wishes to teach the church to do what is
good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14;
Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke
7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);
that the church must therefore stand by people in
any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the
church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so
that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an
that the church as the possession of God must
stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged;
that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful
and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and
Therefore, we reject any ideology
which would legitimate forms of injustice and any
doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the
5. We believe
that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to
confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human
laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph.
4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).
Jesus is Lord.
To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.
Note: This is a translation of the original
Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch
Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed
Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the
Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language
text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church