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*more abstracts will be added as we near the beginning of the conference. 

Parallel Sessions 1

Belhar: Forty Years On! Giving Account Of The Hope That Is Within Us In A Time of Crisis.

Eugene Fortein

The drafting of the Belhar Confession is now forty years old. The Confession was born at a time of crisis when apartheid was being protected and enforced by any means necessary. In the words of the Belhar Confession, the church witnessed hope in the midst of one of the most brutal humanitarian crises of the 20th century. Forty years later, the question is: how will the Church account for hope in the current crisis? This paper seeks to show how the Belhar Confession survived the crisis of apartheid and how it holds the Church accountable to give an account of hope in the current crisis of sustaining the deliberate design of the poor and vulnerable. The paper will primarily focus on South Africa forty years ago. This is done to show how apartheid orchestrated the deliberate design of the poor and the crisis that Belhar emerged from. In addition, the paper will focus on the current crisis in South Africa, where politics have failed the poor, and how the deliberate design of the vulnerable continues. Furthermore, the paper will set out how the essence of the Belhar Confession can help the church, in the current crisis, once again give an account of the hope that never disappoints.

A Reformed Confessional perspective on racial apartheid in the history, theology, and practice in the South African Dutch Reformed Church

Johann Theron

The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has had a long history and association with the system of apartheid and its theological justification. This paper attempts to point out how the theological and practical support for racially divided churches is Biblically untenable and inconsistent with the Dutch Reformed Church’s own Confessions. A Biblical and Confessional perspective on apartheid and racial separation in theology and within the current structure of the Dutch Reformed church is explored in light of the history and development of racially divided churches. The current ecclesiastical situation is then evaluated with reference to recent synodical decisions and their implications regarding the reunification with the Uniting Reformed Church.

  

 

Belhar Blues: Liturgical Engagement within a Polarised Church​

Martin Laubscher & Wessel Wessels

The Confession of Belhar is a theological window towards a vision of a church governed by Christ in reconciliation, unity, and justice. This window towards the future holds imaginative potential for the formation of Reformed life and identity in the South African context. However, when we glance in the mirror of the reception of Belhar, particularly in the Dutch Reformed Church in the Free State, we cannot but lament the consequences of polarisation we find. Furthermore, engagement with the greater context of identity politics, race relations, class, language, gender, and ecology in relation to the liturgical potential of Belhar is wanting in many ways. Belhar Blues represents, on the one hand, our lament of this state of things. However, just as the Blues, as genre, has been an inspirational force for many, so too our lament moves towards the potential of theological, socio-ethical, and liturgical engagement within the confines of this same context we find reason to lament. 

Congregational spirituality: Faith formation in and through the congregation

Ian Nell

Each congregation has its own spirituality. Within the Reformed tradition, congregational spirituality is usually linked to faith formation. The purpose of this contribution is to address the following research question: How does faith formation take place in and through congregations? In answer to this question, attention will be paid to the following: Firstly, the function and purpose of faith formation will be looked at. Secondly, I will focus on some of the challenges that faith formation faces. Thirdly, the embodiment of faith formation is discussed. Fourthly, the connection between faith formation and desires is investigated and finally the focus is on faith formation in and through congregations where I will discuss a possible curriculum and some moments or moves on the road of faith formation.

Reformed faith formation and theological education

Doret Niemandt

This paper will hold up a mirror to the Reformed tradition’s theological education past and present and specifically in the context of the DRC.  The paper will also make proposals for the future, peering through the window towards possibilities for faith formation, theological education and Reformed spirituality.

The Reformed tradition has always maintained a high academic standard when it comes to theological education and the formation of its clergy.  The curriculum used by the DRC, modelled on the European system, still to a great extent reflects the needs of the church decades ago and is challenged by the DRC’s current ecclesiological understanding.

A missional church, as portrayed by the DRC’s policy document, requires missional clergy, or missional leadership, and thus a curriculum that supports this type of faith formation. 

This paper proposes a more holistic spiritual formation programme as part of theological education that cultivates a sound Reformed spirituality and enables the formation of these missional leaders. 

The roots of our faith: An apologetic investigation into the reasons why we believe

Andries Cilliers

Two recent books by authors who used to be Reformed pastors, but who now reject faith in God as confessed within the Reformed tradition, has caused some controversy and, among some Reformed Christians, also some anxiety. The questions I will raise in my presentation, based on a popular book on apologetics I wrote recently (Onder die Blaredak) will be the following:

  1. Is there a real need for a Reformed apologetics that is accessible to our congregations, or is this discussion perhaps a side-issue (relevant only to a small, privileged, educated group)?

  2. If there is such a need, how would such an apologetics look? What kind of discussion would really serve the gospel in our situation?

  3. Is there any place for the traditional “proofs” for the existence of God in such an apologetic endeavour? Or have they all been consigned to the dustbins of “modernity” or even “pre-modernity,” rendering them obsolete today?

 

The approach I follow is informed by the work of N T Wright (in his History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology and the more popular Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World). It is an approach centered on Christ, aimed at discovering the ways in which faith in Christ helps us to live meaningfully in hope and love. Apologetics, I suggest, can never be separated from a life of serving others as followers of Jesus Christ.

The wounds of the ascending Christ as mirror and window

Helgard Pretorius

 

This paper will explore the meaning and contemporary significance of the wounds borne on Christ's ascending body, as depicted in the gospel narratives and interpreted throughout the history of the Reformed tradition and beyond. This focus brings into conversation two typically Reformed emphases, namely, (1) the ascension and session of Christ and (2) a hermeneutic of the wounded Christ as a looking glass onto the humanity of God in Christ. 

Reformed spirituality: silence or prayer? 

Tinus van Zyl

The Reformed tradition is known for its emphasis on the Word, with a strong focus on theology and preaching. When it comes to spirituality, liturgy and prayer, reformed ministers usually look to other traditions for guidance and inspiration.

But is there a unique understanding of spirituality from the Reformed perspective?

The Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, was very critical of a focus on spirituality, and yet he gave a sound theological perspective on spirituality as a life lived in response to the living, acting and present God.

In a time when interest and explorations of spirituality are expanding inside and outside the church, with more and more practices of spirituality that fit into a secular, human-centered, God-less worldview, what makes our spirituality Christian?

These are some of the questions that will be explored during this session.tinu

Parallel Sessions 2

Reformed Hermeneutics: A Hermeneutic that fits the occasion?

Wynand Fourie

In this short paper, I propose the following ethos of interpretation: a Reformed hermeneutic which finds its praxis in the Christian ecumenical mission, should be characterized by an attitude of reconciliation – even as we acknowledge that all interpretations of the Bible are not equally valid and the process of interpretation is not innocent. 

Deification for All in and through Reformed Sacramental Liturgy

Dieter de Bruin

The title of this paper is littered with theological concepts that, to a greater or lesser degree, at first glance, might not sit comfortably with the modifier of Reformed and the theme of this conference. And yet, the title is not (only) meant as a facetious provocation but as an urgent plea or manifesto of sorts for the Reformation of Reformed liturgy embodying a reformed soteriology of special pastoral significance for the South African context. The window that these reflections would like to open is occasioned by the (uncomfortable) reflection of at least three mirrors:

 

1. One comes from the South-African Context, where a former URCSA minister wrote a book titled "The Bad News of the Gospel" (Die Slegte nuus van die evangelie.) The "bad" news refers, among other things, that most people will be dammed to Hell.

 

2. This echos the trenchant remark by theologian David Bentley Hart that "modern Western humanity came in large measure to refuse to believe in or worship such a God (…an abyss of pure, predestining omnipotence, whose majesty was revealed at once in his unmerited mercy towards the elect and his righteous wrath against the derelict ) was ineluctable, and in some sense extremely commendable (no one, after all, can be faulted for preferring atheism to Calvinism…"

 

3. A recent book by Khaled Anatolios, Deification through the cross, traces an ecumenical soteriology exemplified in the eastern liturgy. 

 

Could it be that Reformed Liturgy could invite along with Liturgical Theologian David Fagerberg (everybody!) into synergistic ascent into deification? 

Who can appeal to the Reformation of the 16th century?

Karola Radler

From reading Karl Barth’s Reformation as Decision (Reformation als Entscheidung. Munich: Ch. Kaiser 1933, 5–24) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Protestantism without Reformation” (DBWE 15:431–460) this paper will comparatively explore their respective positions regarding the eligibility for appealing to the Reformation of the 16th century in contemporary times. Although Barth writes on the occasion of the 1933 celebrations of Luther’s 450th anniversary of his death and Bonhoeffer reflects in 1939 on the Church in the North-American context, both inquire into that which grounds the Protestant Church throughout the ages and inasmuch it remains the centre within the church’s contemporary form. For both the foundation of the Church of the Reformation may be found in confession, truth, scripture or the reconciling person of Jesus Christ and may become expressed in national, social, political, and cultural content, in natural theology, or in an actual irreversible, final decision. Their perspectives within their historic-political context of the 1930s, their backgrounds in the different traditions of the Reformed and Lutheran church, and their geographical places in Germany and North America respectively, provide additional components for instructive reflections and openings toward evaluating church-state relations and for foundational insights regarding democratic theory and human dignity.

Means of Grace or Magic; Sacrament or Superstition: The Curious Case of Fr Andres Arango

 Peter Langerman

In this paper I shall take the recent case of the Rev Andres Arango, who was fired from his diocese for using the wrong language formula in baptism, and use that incident to interrogate the different views of the Catholic and Reformed traditions to the sacraments. I shall begin this journey by going back into the history of Christianity to the Donatist controversy, especially as that controversy relates to the administration of the sacraments, of the fourth century CE. I shall outline the way in which Augustine of Hippo dealt with that crisis and the implications for the administration of the sacraments. Following from that, I shall track the development of the attitudes to the sacraments, especially in the Reformation and the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century , and the way in which that shaped the way in which the two traditions came to regard the sacraments. I shall look at statements in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially the WCC’s Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification to chart some of the progress that has been made in discussions between the two traditions in the ecumenical space. Finally,  I shall examine contemporary attitudes to the sacraments in Roman Catholic and Reformed theology and practice to suggest a way forward.

19th Century American Liturgical Controversy and the Battle for the Soul of the German Reformed Church

Michael Stell

In the Nineteenth Century in America, there were massive shifts in people’s understanding of Religion, largely due to what Nathan Hatch call the “democratization” of American religion. This shift in religious understanding was seen in a variety of well-known historical examples such as the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Second Great Awakening. However, there were many lesser-known ways in which this democratizing spirit was evidenced in nearly every aspect of American ecclesial life. One of these lesser-known examples was the liturgical controversy in the German Reformed Church in the mid-19th Century. In this paper, I will explore this controversy which stretched for over a quarter of a century. 

Missionale mobiliteit

Nelus Niemandt 

In hierdie navorsing word aandag gegee aan missionale mobiliteit. Missionale mobiliteit verwys in die algemeen na ‘n missionale grondhouding wat dui op openheid, die vermoë om grense te oorskrei en die bereidwilligheid om nuwe terrein te verken. Gestuurdes (sendelinge) is uit die aard van die missionale opdrag eerder “handelaars” as “hekwagters”. eerder mobiel as staties. Gestuurdes reik uit na ander, verwelkom vreemdelinge, eet wat aan hulle voorgesit word en skuif grense. 

Hierdie missionale grondhouding word in dié navorsing in verband gebring met die werk van predikante, die Gereformeerde kerkregtelike verstaan van die verhouding tussen ‘n predikante en ‘n gemeente, en die waarde van mobiliteit. 

Dar word aandag gegee aan die verband tussen missionale ekklesiologie en mobiliteit deur te verwys na die volgende aspekte (1) Stephan Paas se kritiek op beweging en mobiliteit by geïnstitusionaliseerde kerke; (2) die belang van innovasie en grensverskuiwing as missionale grondhouding; (3) die rol van veerkragtigheid en aanpasbaarheid (4) die wisselwerking tussen liminaliteit en stagnasie en (5) die rol van roeping in ‘n predikant se koppeling aan ‘n spesifieke gemeente

Die Protestantse Kerk in Nederland se insigte en praktyke m.b.t mobiliteit van predikante word as ‘n gevallestudie van ‘n Gereformeerde benadering tot mobiliteit voorgehou. Die navorsing word afgesluit deur die insigte te integreer en toe te pas op die situasie in die NG Kerk. Daar word aandag gegee aan die missionale fokus in die NG Kerk, die beroepstelsel en die uitdagings met betrekking tot die vestiging van ‘n kultuur van mobiliteit.

 

Parallel Sessions 3

 

Remembering Mary, mother of Jesus: Reformed biblical interpretation and female

Corporeality

Nina Müller van Velden

Central to the Reformed tradition stands the pillar of sola Scriptura. Yet what exactly the meaning of “Scripture alone” entails and especially how the practical expressions thereof could and should take place, remains an ongoing conversation. The relationship between the various elements of biblical interpretation, namely Scripture as text, tradition, the interpreter, and the socio-historical and chronological gap which exists between ancient historical and contemporary settings, raise numerous questions – and opinions – about the manner in which the interpretation of biblical writings, under the guidance of the Spirit, can take place.

 

Part of the ongoing hermeneutical discussions includes the role of the subjectivity of the interpreter. In some Reformed circles, there is an insistence on objective, value-free interpretative practices; a modernistic fallacy which has, time and again, been pointed out by especially ideological critical biblical scholars. Interpretative subjectivity, however, is quickly highlighted when one asks: which female biblical characters are remembered in the Reformed tradition (or not), and more specifically, how are they remembered? That such a choice can be made, in the first place, already points to the role of the interpreter’s ideological choices in biblical interpretation. The how of such a choice – its practical expression, past and present – strengthens the pervasiveness of such choices which extend far beyond merely individual preference. Interpretative subjectivity and ideological thrusts are dynamic, powerful mechanisms that lie at the heart of humanity; and the Reformed tradition and its biblical

interpretative practices are certainly not exempt from it. 

 

In this presentation, I will explore how interpretative subjectivity finds tangible expression in the selective memory of female biblical characters in the Reformed tradition – also a figure as central as Mary, mother of Jesus. I contend that a measure of ecclesial reactivity still undergirds the manner in which Mary finds herself simultaneously central to the content and confessions of the Reformed tradition as the exemplary elect virgin, yet also marginalized concerning her female embodiment, her role as prophet, and her flesh-and-blood involvement as mother and witness to the incarnate Christ – during and beyond pregnancy and birth. As a Reformed biblical scholar, my exploration of the potential of re-membering Mary, mother of Jesus, will be done from the perspective of gender hermeneutics and with a focus on Luke 1:39-56. As such I seek to address the question: who is Mary, mother of Jesus, aside from her confessed virginity?

Imagining Justice? Ambiguities and opportunities of a theology of justice for Reformed churches in South Africa today

Marius Louw 

This paper will seek to reimagine how a theology of justice might look for Reformed churches in South Africa today. To do this, we will, firstly, investigate two major theological shifts that influence our (Reformed) reflection on justice at present – that is (i) recent Pauline scholarship on the doctrine of justification (Wright, Martyn, Campbell, Gaventa etc.); and (ii) the growing awareness of theological social imagination (Jennings, Katongole, Ward, Kelsey etc.). Hereafter, we will briefly examine a well-known but often neglected ambiguity (Elphick, Moodie, Kinghorn etc.) in the Dutch Reformed Church’s theology of justice in the past few decades. That is, in the words of Elphick (2012), “an unwillingness to extend spiritual equality to the social, political and economic spheres.” The concern in this section is not so much historical or sociological as it is theological: How did a reformed theology (specifically, the reformed doctrine of justification) hinder or help social justice in this troublesome past? These first two sections will enable us to venture into a creative rereading of “tradition against tradition” (Smit, Boesak). In this last section, we ask: what can reformed communities contribute to ongoing dialogues on social justice? In this final section, we will, more specifically, seek to reimagine the relationship between the reformed doctrine of justification and justice.

Apartheid then and now: Where are we heading?

Marthie Momberg

In 2017 the General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches unanimously adopted Action 55. It states that “the integrity of Christian faith and praxis is at stake” when the Bible is used to justify the oppression of the Palestinians. Amongst other actions, member churches are encouraged to “examine their mission, education, and investment relationships with Israel and Palestine … and to respond as they understand the Reformed Communion’s commitments to human rights and the protections of international law”. While all the South Africans in Leipzig supported this resolution, their respective churches’ official statements on Palestine-Israel differ. Some problematize support for Zionism, some have no officially declared positions, and some have statements that support exceptionalist theologies. 

The issue at stake is close to home. Theological discernment on Israel and the Palestinians can no longer ignore the meta-narratives of asymmetric injustice and state violence fuelled by the ideology of Zionism. Through the years several international bodies have compared Israel’s practices to those of apartheid as defined by international law. Recently, in-depth reports by Amnesty International (2022), Human Rights Watch (2021), and also the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem (2021) have detailed evidence of Israel’s Apartheid in occupied Palestine and in Israel. WhileIsrael’s apartheid is not identical to South African apartheid and simplistic comparisons must be avoided, the variances in the positions of South African Reformed churches deserve attention. I plan to reflect on what these differences tell us about the past and where we are heading in the contexts of renewal and transformation.

Reformed Identity and Identity Politics: Mapping theological positions in discourse on human sexuality 

Michelle Boonzaaier & Louis van der Riet

This presentation seeks to plot and map the theological arguments and positions taken by Reformed churches and theologians when engaging on issues of human sexuality. Such a graphic display could assist in relating theological positions to one another, and dispelling the binary notion of inclusion vs exclusion by making the complexity of intersecting theological convictions visible. Offering such a mirror to church leaders in the Reformed tradition could assist allies in positioning themselves theologically, and coming to greater understanding of how those marginalized because of their sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and expression (could) experience flourishing and justice. Gender and sexuality have been some of the most divisive and contested topics facing the unity of churches in the reformed traditions, and this presentation seeks to provide church leaders with a tool to allow for a diversity of (Reformed) theological positions to be understood, and therefore welcomed in both policy and practice. This tool could also provide a window into understanding issues of identity through intersectionality, and its appropriation. It could help church leaders to navigate growing polarization, and allow for the diversity of traditions that have always existed within the Reformed tradition to be better grasped, particularly in relation to issues of Christian anthropology.

What could we gain from the “hybrid theology” of Andrew Murray Jnr?

Isabel Murray

 

Recently someone explained to me the benefits of having a “hybrid car” in the current South African circumstances. I was intrigued by the ingeniousness of this “two-engine-motor” which, in encountering political, economic and social obstacles, comes up tops every time. Is this not what we need in terms of a true South African theology? A theology which will enable us to move seemingly fluidly from one life challenge, sphere and discipline to another? A theology often portrayed by Andrew Murray (Jnr)?  

The contemporary view on church unity within the Dutch Reformed family of churches: Theological reflection on the perspectives of the leadership of the DRCA

Joseph Pali

The DRCA is one of the churches in the Dutch Reformed family of churches. It is also one of the churches to propose the vision of unity amongst the Dutch Reformed family of churches. However, along the way it lost the vision and eventually incurred division, encountered conflicts, and survived in isolation. The DRCA now has withdrawn its participation in church unity discussions due to various reasons. The research question of this study is: Has the DRCA abandoned its vision on church unity? The aim of the study is to find out the contemporary view of the DRCA leadership regarding church unity amongst all the DRCA family of churches. The study is empirical and will use hermeneutical theory to guide the process of interpretation and analyses of the data.

Parallel Sessions 4

Can the Truth Set the Dutch Reformed Church Free? Historical-theological reflections on truth-telling as both a mirror and window amidst divisive discourses

Louis van der Riet 

This contribution considers the theological intersections in the claims to truth made in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) when two issues of Christian anthropology are in view: race and human sexuality. For the DRC, doing theology has always been an attempt at avowing truth. As a truth-seeking community, it struggled for, and against, the ideology of apartheid. This reforming struggle birthed confessions of truth and led to attempts at discerning moments of truth, thereby leaving a theological legacy and carving out a theological landscape in the Reformed tradition. The contours of this inheritance remain important for doing theology after apartheid, as theological analyses of what it could mean to tell the truth remain at the center of ongoing divisions in the DRC, most notably in the discourse on human sexuality. By reflecting on how truth functions in present and past divisive discourses, the hermeneutical, ethical, and indeed spiritual differences in the DRC could become more reflective surfaces. 

Death, Conflict and Scandal: workshopping goodness through ritual

Marileen Steyn 

With the Reformation in the 16th century, and more specifically with Calvinism, came a devaluation of ritual. Luckily, in many places the church, semper reformanda, has rediscovered the value thereof. The Dutch Reformed Church is among those who have started to pay attention to rituals in and outside the church over the past few decades. 

 

In this session, I will present my research on Dutch Reformed Churches that went through liminality and trauma following the loss of a minister due to death, conflict or scandal. At first glance, it seems as though rituals are still largely absent. Closer inspection shows that rituals can also easily go unnoticed. 

 

Rituals that are classically recognisable are often overlooked by the participants therein while the rituals that are identified by participants as important are easily overlooked by formal definitions of ritual. However, the invitation is to look beyond what acts constitute ritual (or not) but rather to pay attention to the role these acts or rituals play in times of liminality and trauma.

 

When looking at rituals through the lens of performance studies, these rituals can be understood as workshops that prepare the participants for their rehearsal and performance as Body of Christ in the theatre of the world. By workshopping goodness in its various contexts, it might also become possible to embody goodness outside of ritual in a world of liminality and trauma.

 

Polemic, prophetic, poetic. Talking about God in the Reformed Tradition 

Lisel Joubert

 

This paper will focus on the role of polemical theology in a growing ecumenical world 500 years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Historically the Reformation is associated with polemical discourse over against the Roman Catholic tradition and within the burgeoning Protestant traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist etc.). In these polemical discourses the interpretation and use of the Bible also played an important role. This paper will put the following questions on the table: Does polemical theology still have a place? Is polemical discourse conducive to alleviate conflict within the Dutch Reformed Church in the present? What is the difference between being polemical and being prophetic? What role does the Bible play in these different types of discourses and what are the other possible and more creative forms of theological speech that the Reformed tradition can retrieve and explore?

 

The Symbolic and Sacramental Reading of the Bible – Sacral or Sacrilege?

Chris van Wyk 

The Dutch Reformed Church's General Synod in 2015 approved a report named “Science and Faith”. This report denigrated an empirical and rational reading of the Bible and Reformed Confessions in favour of a symbolic and sacramental reading. The premise was that this was the only way to embrace the "divine" in the text. Reading it differently would "do the text an injustice". Synods were encouraged to give financial and logistical support to spread the content of this report: "to articulate the DR Church's perspective on the relationship between our Christian faith and science."

This paper holds up a mirror to the elevation of that hermeneutic. The question at hand is: "Does the symbolic and sacramental reading of the Bible offer one access to the sacred in the text or is it rather a sacrilege?" Three ways of reading the text in a sacramental way will be compared to evaluate this hermeneutic. The way this hermeneutic illustrates a gradual eclipse of the grammatical-historical method by the historical criticism method in the decisions of the General Synod on the authority and use of Scripture from 1986 to 2015 will be shown. This also implies that the General Synod has progressively moved away from a position of "Christ the Transformer of Culture" to "Christ of Culture" (in the model of H Richard Niebuhr), the default liberal position. A way forward to embrace the Reformed hermeneutic of Sola et Tota Scriptura will be proposed.

Re-evangelisation of the DRC: A Macedonian call to be reformed into a Church

Jaco Botha 

There has within the DRC recently been calls for the reformation of theological education. This paper aims to take part in this conversation with a more challenging topic, one which aims to reconcile and not divide. 

 

Reformation is the embodied practice of being continuously transformed into a people of God. This is the work of theological formation or just plainly discipleship. It is also the work of transformation, not only of the person but of the systems in our care. 

 

The paper will aim to present a challenge to theological formation of the DRC/URCSA Seminary by presenting a theory and practice based approach which aims not to teach but to invite. The invitation is one of vulnerability and asks for lament and hope to be held in one heart. This paper aims to present a pedagogy of encounter that challenges whiteness and promotes worship as the telos of our life together.

 

The paper will make use of ecumenical and contemporary African voices to articulate this pedagogy and will also lean on empirical evidence to allude to some contours in an emerging way of formation which is deeply embedded in the encounter of the other before God.

Parallel Sessions 5

Unfinished Business: Considering the Belhar Confession’s Prophetic Critique

Jayson Gribble, Dewald Jacobs, Ashwin Thyssen

In August 1982 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches declared apartheid a theological heresy, following this a status confessionis was declared. Later that year the Dutch Reformed Mission Church took to the task responding to the status confessionis with the drafting of the Belhar Confession; this was then accepted by its General Synod for adoption at the succeeding sitting.  In 1986 the Belhar Confession’s three pillars of unity, reconciliation and justice were adopted as an expression of the denomination’s faith, on the level of the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort). 

Since 1986 much has changed – URCSA was formed (merging two of the Dutch Reformed churches) and South Africa is now a democratic republic – thus, it may prove helpful to return to the prophetic critique offered by the Belhar Confession. In the important and timely work Belhar Confession (2017), Plaatjies-Van Huffel considers the work of the Confession unfinished. For her the doctrinal statement requires correcting of all forms of injustice in society. At present gender-based violence, anti-LGBTI+ violence, and xenophobic violence require a theological response. This paper, then, seeks to draw on the insights of the Belhar Confession to respond to these forms of violence. It is argued that the Belhar Confession’s unfinished business is, in fact, its prophetic critique which requires the correcting of injustice in society. 

The use of church order to instill discipline and order amongst the ministers in the DRCA FS: Biblical and Practical reflections

Joseph Pali

Church order has essential role to play to instill discipline and order. It is the responsibility of every church member especially the leadership to insist on applying the church order to instill discipline and order. However, recent study on conflicts in the DRCA FS indicates that ministers in the DRCA FS are to blame for the increasing conflicts in the DRCA FS. Ministers in the DRCA FS ignore and deliberately disobey the prescripts of the church order for their own personal gain and to avoid discipline. The research questions of this study are: How is the church order used in the DRCA FS? What is the potential future of the DRCA FS regarding discipline and order amongst its ministers? The study is empirical and will use hermeneutical theory to guide the process of interpretation and analyses of the data.

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