Reflecting on the Confession of Belhar, Issue 113

July 5, 2017 by Presbyterian Foundation

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?

Suggestion for July reading:

Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim, eds. Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar. Louisville: Witherspoon Press, 2016.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has adopted the Confession of Belhar, making it the 12th document in The Book of Confessions. Belhar is unique, for it is the only confession that comes to us from the global south. Belhar is also in danger of not being unique, sharing with other confessions and catechisms the church’s indifference and disregard. Many Presbyterians promise to be led, guided, and instructed by the confessions, even to receive and adopt their essential tenets. But aside from the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed, which appear regularly in worship, the church’s confessions remain strangers to most Presbyterians.

Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar is an excellent way to introduce Presbyterians to our newest confession. The book takes us through the confession in 47 days. Each small section from Belhar is accompanied by a brief two-page reflection, most by pastors and other teaching elders. The confession’s Scripture references and a brief prayer are also included.

Belhar’s opening – “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” – signals that the confession is deeply theological throughout. Its cries for the unity of the church, justice, and racial reconciliation call the church to be faithful to the gospel. While Belhar emerged from the church’s 20th century anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, its call for unity, justice, and racial reconciliation calls to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the 21st century.

Although the book’s title is Lenten Reflections, it is an excellent devotional resource for any time of the year. Lent is a perfect time to introduce the Confession of Belhar to a congregation, especially to the session and deacons. But if not Lent, then Pentecost, or next autumn. Belhar’s witness is too important for the PC(USA) to let its voice be swallowed by neglect.

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