From the Pastor March/April 2017

If you have been to worship recently, you’ve noticed that we’ve been using a few different Affirmations of Faith, and if you were at the January Soup Supper, you were part of a discussion about those new Affirmations of Faith. For those of you who were not there, a quick review:

The new Affirmations of Faith were adapted from the Belhar Confession, the most recent addition to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Confessions.

These are not confessions like the Prayer of Confession we say each week. “Confessions” in this sense refer to statements of what we believe and why.

The Book of Confessions is one part of the Constitution of the PCUSA. The other half is the Book of Order.

The Book of Confessions details what we, as a denomination, believe, while the Book of Order gives us a system for putting those beliefs into practice.

Like the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the PCUSA can be amended. Any changes to the Book of Order or Book of Confessions must be approved by the General Assembly and the Presbyteries.

The Belhar Confession was added to the Book of Confessions in 2015. It was originally written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in the early 1982, and adopted as an official confession of faith of that church in 1986. The confession emphasizes the unity of the church, naming unity as both a gift and a goal of the church. At the time, South Africa was still ruled by the apartheid system, a system explicitly designed to keep whites and non-whites separated. Supporters of apartheid used the Bible to justify their system, claiming that God wanted people of different races to be kept apart.

The writers of the Belhar Confession rejected this interpretation, and confessed their belief in a God who stands with the poor and oppressed, and calls for the church to oppose any system of oppression, even if to do so puts the church at risk.

I’ve been using it in church for a few reasons. First of all, our faith is complex, and it cannot be distilled to a single statement. Also, I get bored easily and I was ready for a change. Furthermore, the new affirmation of faith gives us a window into our larger tradition and into the larger, global church. One of the things I love about our tradition is that it allows for change, or, perhaps most accurately, it allows for our understanding of God to grow and deepen. When we add new a confession, it doesn’t mean we get rid of an old one. Rather, we will build on the old.

The Book of Confessions is a great example of our faith in action, a faith that seeks to understand what it believes and why, a faith that speaks to certain people in certain places at a certain time, but is not bound by those places and times. It is a dynamic faith befitting a dynamic God that cannot even be bound by death.

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