Advent symbolizes the coming of Christ, and the hope and anticipation that comes with celebrating his birth and presence in our life. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program publishes an annual Advent Devotional book for congregational use during the liturgical season leading up to Christmas. This year, the Advent Devotional hold special significance in that it features reflections centered on the Belhar Confession. Written in South Africa by members of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in the late 1980’s, the Belhar Confession rejects the ideas behind apartheid, or “separateness,” and states the moral and theological justification of it is a travesty of the Gospel.
Cliff Kirkpatrick, co-moderator of the General Assembly Special Committee on the Belhar Confession, Professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminar and Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) Emeritus, serves as guest editor for this year’s book, titled Proclaiming the Good News of God’s Peace: 2015 Advent Devotions Reflections on the Belhar Confession. He has worked with Peacemaking staff and writers to conceptualize the content and advise the Church on how best to use the resource. Kirkpatrick shared his thoughts on why the Belhar Confession makes a good backdrop for Advent devotional messaging.
“During Advent we wait for the coming of ‘the Word become flesh’ (John 1:14) in the birth of Jesus Christ and in his ministry of love justice and peace,” says Kirkpatrick. “Through these Advent devotions we engage in the age-old practice of praying, studying and preparing our hearts for Jesus and his ministry. Like the coming of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, the Belhar Confession comes to us from those on the margins in our time—from the so-called “colored” church in South Africa, oppressed by the violence and discrimination of apartheid yet pointing us to the good news of Jesus Christ and challenging us to follow his way of unity, reconciliation and justice.”
Kirkpatrick’s role as co-moderator of the 15-member General Assembly Special Committee is set to recommend the Belhar Confession be added to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions and develop a church-wide education process around the confession and its current-day relevance. The committee unanimously recommended the addition to the Book of Confessions, and Presbyteries voted affirmatively for that action. The final step will be a vote at the 222nd General Assembly held next year in Portland, Ore.
With the rash of gun and racial violence seen throughout the country in 2015, Kirkpatrick believes the Belhar Confession is especially relevant this year, and has applications beyond Advent.
“It’s truly providential that the Belhar Confession is coming to prominence at the very time we need it most,” he says. “With the resurgence of racism and racial violence in our society and church, having this voice calling us to repent and build a community around unity, reconciliation and justice is something we need badly in the PC(USA). These themes are important for us as we deal with way too much division in our church. I hope that congregations will not only buy the book, but also take concerted action to see that every member has an opportunity to reflect on its messages and be inspired to take action whenever Christians seek to engage the Belhar Confession.”
Congregations and individuals can pre-order Proclaiming the Good News of God’s Peace: Reflections on the Belhar Confession online at the PC (USA) church store. Each copy is .50 cents. Additional resources regarding the Belhar Confession can be accessed at pcusastore.com (click here).