Tool for Using the Principles of the Belhar Confession in Planning and Evaluating
Why was this tool created?
The original idea for a simple tool such as this one developed during conversations with members of many RCA classes prior to the RCA's vote to adopt the Belhar Confession. They asked questions such as:
1. What is the value of a confession when we have the Bible itself?
2. Is there a practical twenty-first-century approach to confessional living that fits today's challenges, as opposed to having only a sixteenth-century approach to confessional living?
3. How is the Belhar Confession relevant to everyday life, and not only in liturgies spoken in church on Sundays?
This simple tool encourages practical discussions that can nurture the growth of the Belhar's three principles (unity, justice, and reconciliation) in the everyday lives of the people of God.
What is a confession?
"From the very beginnings of the church, often in times of crisis or threat, Christians have sought ways to say to the world: Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, this is who we are, what we believe, and what we intend to do. These statements of faith, including the Heidelberg Catechism and the Apostles' Creed, though centuries old and far removed from their place of origin, today still guide our understanding of Scripture and of faith, and of the life they call us to live" (Report of the Commission on Christian Unity, 2010 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 306).
What is the Belhar Confession?
The Belhar Confession is the fourth standard of unity adopted by the RCA.
In the late twentieth century the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa, like those Christian leaders centuries before them, stepped forward to confront yet another critical issue that threatened the very core of the gospel message. In this case, the church and the society in which it functioned were torn by horrible internal conflict, injustice, racism, poverty, and the subjugation of those who were disenfranchised. From this crucible of suffering emerged the Belhar Confession, a biblically based doctrinal standard of justice, reconciliation, and unity, intended to guide not only the personal lives of God's children but the body of Christ in the world as well (Report of the Commission on Christian Unity, 2010 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 306).
When can this tool be used?
Here are a few situations in which the tool may be useful. Other situations might occur to you.
1. Personal and family life: growth in relationships, get-togethers, and projects. It may also be fruitful in devotional or spiritual life development.
2. Congregational life: in informal discussions; education classes; planning or evaluating ministries, events, or end-of-year accomplishments; as part of devotional life; consensus-building and conflict resolution efforts; and before, during, or after gatherings of all sorts.
3. Consistories, classes, regional synods, General Synod, boards, General Synod Council, commissions, task forces and other teams, individuals, small groups, or entire bodies can use the tool to assess meetings or efforts. Additionally, assemblies, boards, or teams can assign a "silent observer" to quietly assess a meeting's activities using the tool and report her or his findings and recommendations at the end of an activity.
When participating in an ongoing evaluation process, a person, family, congregation, assembly, or board might want to keep a record each month to track progress on one or more of the tool's standards or sets of standards.
Should the tool be used in whole or in part?
Either way is fine. You can use the tool to cover one or all three areas of the Belhar—unity, justice, and/or reconciliation.
How should a group using the tool handle disagreements on evaluation scores or plans for improvement?
Normal consensus building or conflict resolution skills and techniques might be helpful. In situations where the disagreements occur along racial/ethnic lines or other groupings, pay special attention to the stories and reasons provided by people who share about unjust treatments. Some of those stories might contain keys for increasing opportunities for deeper unity, reconciliation, and justice.
How can I or my group receive follow-up assistance on the use of this tool or with any plans or evaluations that grow out of using it?
Your congregation, assembly, board, or group might already have resource people and teams that can be helpful. Such teams might focus on discipleship, spiritual growth, diversity, or multiracial or multicultural living.