In 2010, the Reformed Church in America General Synod adopted the Belhar Confession as one of its doctrinal standards. This was a monumental decision for the denomination, as the most recent standard before Belhar was adopted hundreds of years ago. The adoption of the Belhar Confession was one of the deciding factors in my decision to seek ordination in this specific denomination. If a denomination could adopt a document that spoke about what it is for (unity, justice, reconciliation) instead of what it is against, I wanted to be part of the leadership of that denomination!
The Belhar Confession has its roots in the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa. This “outcry of faith” and “call for faithfulness and repentance,” as the confession describes itself, 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 in Southern Africa (URCSA). Belhar’s theological condemnation of the sin of racism has made reconciliation possible among Reformed churches in Southern Africa and has aided the process of reconciliation within the nation of South Africa.
Liturgy is a unique opportunity to physically and verbally enact what we imagine the reign of God to look like. In liturgy, the people of God work out the reality of God’s justice. For my ordination, I created a dramatic reading using some of the words from the Belhar Confession and a portion of Isaiah 58. I chose a diverse representation of readers, who circled the sanctuary as they read this piece. I used this physical enactment to theologically communicate that the Word is the essence in which we move. Scripture need not only be read only from the front of the sanctuary. Rather, Scripture grounds our movements in all our acts of justice and reconciliation, including – in the case of Belhar – racial reconciliation.
Liturgy is a unique opportunity to physically and verbally enact what we imagine the reign of God to look like.
I served on the Belhar Implementation Task Force for the RCA and contributed this liturgy to the denomination. It has been used now at several ordinations other than my own. In liturgy, the people of God work out the reality of God’s justice. I offer this dramatic reading here for those who are interested in liturgically enacting justice, unity, and reconciliation in their worship practices.
A Liturgy from Isaiah 58 & the Belhar Confession – Rev. Jes Kast-Keat
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Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?[i]
God calls the church to follow him in this: to bring justice to the oppressed and give bread to the hungry. We are to protect the stranger and free the prisoner.[ii]
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.[iii]
The church must stand by people in any form of suffering and need. We must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;[iv][/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.[v]
The church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ we must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.[vi]
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.[vii]
ALL: Holy Spirit, guide our footsteps in this call to follow You. To God be the glory, Amen.[/ezcol_1half_end]
[i] Is 58:6-7
[ii] Belhar 4c
[iii] Is 58:8-9a
[iv] Belhar 4h
[v] Is 58:9b-10
[vi] Belhar 4i
[vii] Is 58:11-12
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