by Toya Richards
Throughout church history, ecclesial bodies have composed Confessions as a way to publicly articulate and affirm what they as a church believe. African theologian Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak says there are four themes of a Confession – unity, reconciliation, justice and inclusivity, These, he contends, have shaped the witness of the church in South Africa, and today are still especially relevant for congregations there as well as in the global church.
Boesak, a major player in the Christian struggle against apartheid in his homeland of South Africa, will share those and other views during an upcoming lecture at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His talk is part of the Seminary’s Festival of Theology and Reunion, scheduled for April 25-28.
The event will explore the theme “The Global Church: Implications for Mission and Ministry,” and Boesak’s is one of three lectures planned during the festival. Through lectures, worship, and talk back sessions the event will explore why the Church, particularly in the global south, is flourishing through unity and diversity and what Mainline churches in North America can learn from them.
Also lecturing are the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Visiting Professor of Ecumenical and Global Ministries at Louisville Seminary, and Dr. Kathryn Johnson, the Paul Tudor Jones Professor of Church History and Professor of Historical Theology at Louisville Seminary. Johnson is currently on a three-year leave to serve the Lutheran World Federation as Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Studies and Global Mission.
The festival will include various other events and activities, including a moderator’s dinner with the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and a Women’s Center breakfast.
Boesak, a member of the Provincial Parliament in Cape Town with the Congress of the People Party, will center his lecture on the “The Confession of Belhar,” a confession adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (now the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) in 1986.
The Confession responds to “a serious threat to the integrity of the Gospel and the witness of the Church, the ideology and theology of apartheid, which we have identified as idolatry,” Boesak said.
“Although the Belhar Confession was at first meant as an expression of our faith in South Africa in a particular situation, I will show how the Confession cannot and is not meant to be bound to that situation, but in fact speaks to situations worldwide today where the Church is seriously wrestling with the challenges to our faith,” he said.
Boesak believes the challenges of unity, reconciliation, inclusivity, and justice are global challenges, and that churches in the United States are confronted with them “in ways that are both universal and unique.”
Can churches in the U.S. respond with prophetic faithfulness to the challenges in their own situations, and are there ways in which our confessing together can lead to joint, ecumenical action for the sake of justice and humanity, Boesak asked.
“I would like for the [lecture] participants to take away from our discussions the conviction that such a common faith witness is possible; that faith can make a contribution to changing the world,” he said.
“We are engaged for the sake of Christ and humanity in this process not because we believe in a perfect society, but because we cannot be satisfied with this imperfect world,” Boesak continued. “Our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord demands a response to injustice, in whichever form it may manifest itself.”
The annual Festival of Theology is open to the public, and the endowed Greenhoe and Caldwell Lectureships enable the Seminary to bring to Louisville, Ky., nationally recognized theologians, authors, scholars, teachers, practitioners, and preachers, and to offer the event for a minimal general fee of $20 per person. All lectures and preaching will take place in the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel on the Seminary campus, with discussion sessions held in nearby classrooms.
The Festival of Theology is being held in conjunction with the Louisville Seminary Alum Reunion, during which the Alum Association Board of Directors conducts its business. Some events associated with the Reunion include reservation fees. For a detailed schedule of events or to learn more about the speakers and preachers, visit the Festival webpage.