Commentaries on the Accra Confession

After the WARC General Council in Accra not only the Hungarian translation of the Accra Confession was published, but also discussions and theological work was encouraged as to the status and the content of the document. 

The prophetic voice of the document was well received, but in regard to the reception of the statement there have always been reservations which the Hungarian delegation already clearly expressed at the General Council in Ghana. Although in the theological and financial experts’ reflections in Hungary these reservations have been over and over again formulated, also in regard to the Sao Paolo Statement, the Accra Confession as a document encouraged not only a theoretical discussion, but also impacted the church’s social ministry. Reception and implementation of the document, against all the reservations, proved to be very fruitful as it came to the mission and social responsibility of the Church.

In order to provide some insight into the discussions and reflections around the Accra Confession we made a selection of commentaries published in the volume 2005/1 of the Confessio, the Quarterly Journal of the Reformed Church in Hungary. Old, but not outdated reflections giving an impression of the Hungarian reception of the Accra Confession.

You can read contributions in this selection from theologians and lay members of the Church: Dr. István Bogárdi Szabó has been Bishop of the Danubian Church District of the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) since 2003, he is Professor of Systematics and member of the Hungarian delegation in Accra.

Dr. Péter Ákos Bod is member of the RCH, works as Professor of economics, served in many different positions in former governments, He was Minister of Industry and Trade between 1990 and 1991 and the Governor of the Hungarian National Bank between 1991 and 1994.

Dr. Csaba Törő is a young member of RCH, economist and lawyer, works as Associate Professor at the Károli Gáspár Reformed Univeristy. He is former head of the European Union Department of the Office for Foreign Relations at the Hungarian National Assembly.

Dr. Tamás Béres is a Lutheran pastor, works as Professor of Systematics and Social Ethics at the Lutheran Theological University in Budapest.

  • Commentary by István Bogárdi Szabó

    The Accra Confession in the Light of the Reformed Confessional Heritage


    The document entitled “Covenanting for justice in the economy and for the earth” was born in the midst of tense discussions, often exciting, but also futile background conversations at the most recent General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (30 July – 13 August 2004) in Accra, Ghana. This document partly summarises several years of preparatory work, it partly reflects on any church-related matters which emerged in Accra. “Partly” is the right term to use, because the essence of the text was discussed on many occasions in the early 1990s on various levels of WARC meetings.[1], moreover, a very important resolution of the 1997 Debrecen Council was based on the request that the member churches study this topic in detail, in the framework of a processus confessionis.[2] The other reason for using the term “partly” is the fact that every time the need arose that the community of the Reformed Churches should declare its stance about the global economic injustice, formulate such a confession (or, indeed, any other confession) and have it consented would require a dramatic momentum.[3] The Accra Council had become a venue for this, and dramatic nature it lacked not. Following the close to a decade long preparation and research, the filing of this document was going to provide an elevating closure to the Council. In one sense it did become an elevating moment, in another, it did not. The consent was almost complete, but the “confessional status” of the so called confession itself lost its relevance. Only a few representatives voted against, and some member churches indicated before the Council that they were requesting the full revision of the preparatory document.[4]  Yet, the long preparation work which was to take the processus confessionis to a set status confessionis, practically failed. This is why in this paper the thesis entitled “Covenanting for justice in the economy and for the earth” will consistently be referred to as a “document” or statement. The reasons for this are not merely external (i.e. missed opportunities regarding content and formal reservations), but even within the text various reasons justify the use of this term.



    The document consists of 42 articles. The so-called internal passage is considered the actual “confession” (Articles 17-36). From the aspect of quantity, however, this is only about 40% of the whole document. The introduction is much lengthier as is the chapter called “The sign of times” (Articles 1-16), which signifies the presence of the confessional situation (status confessionis) and the recognition of the necessity for a declaration of faith. The closing part of the document (Articles 37-42) includes recommendations and guidance for the member churches. The use of the word “document” is made relevant by the wording of Article 15, where we read the following: “Faith commitment may be expressed in various ways according to regional and theological traditions: as confession, as confessing together, as faith stance, as being faithful to the covenant of God. We choose confession, not meaning a classical doctrinal confession, because the World Alliance of Reformed Churches cannot make such a confession, but to show the necessity and urgency of an active response to the challenges of our time and the call of Debrecen. We invite member churches to receive and respond to our common witness”. This decision relating to theory and content, that is, the clarification and definition of the document's nature and purpose necessitate further remarks. First, however, we will call attention to another, internal contradiction which appears between Article 15 and the closing section. Namely, in Article 37 we read that the document is not a confession but a form of “confessing together”: “By confessing our faith together, we covenant in obedience to God’s will as an act of faithfulness in mutual solidarity and in accountable relationships. This binds us together to work for justice in the economy and the earth both in our common global context as well as our various regional and local settings.” Furthermore, in reference to processus confessionis, Article 38 discusses that “On this common journey, some churches have already expressed their commitment in a confession of faith. We urge them to continue to translate this confession into concrete actions both regionally and locally. Other churches have already begun to engage in this process, including taking actions and we urge them to engage further, through education, confession and action. To those other churches, which are still in the process of recognition, we urge them on the basis of our mutual covenanting accountability, to deepen their education and move forward towards confession.” Article 39, however, refers to a confession again: “The General Council calls upon member churches, on the basis of this covenanting relationship, to undertake the difficult and prophetic task of interpreting this confession to their local congregations.


    The recurring contradictions – namely, that the document occasionally calls itself and even the Council a confession (Article 4), other times it refers to itself as a shared act of confession, or “confessing together” (this latter could also be the use of a different confession, e.g. the liturgical recital of the Apostles’ Creed or a solemn joining of a Symbol) – signify that this document is more likely to be the result of a compromise rather than of a consent. Also, the recommendations which address the member churches in the name of the Council, in the closing section (further studying and interpreting the document, representing it in the member churches and the active joining of efforts with other church and secular organisations) refer to the fact that both at the Council and in the document a certain problem of ecumenical and denominational church organisations arose ever since the beginning of their formation, and it was/is still strongly manifested. This problem is none other than a responsible representation of the constituencies. The debate of the document was constantly accompanied by an unspoken tension due to the question: how will it be possible to represent this “confession” in the issuing home churches? Who will be obliged by it? What consequences will its approval bring about? On what level of church life will it be applicable (teaching, acts of liturgy, public statement)? The limitations set in the document, which clarify that this statement is not a Confession in the traditional doctrinal sense (as is the majority of the old church creeds and the confessional writings from the age of Reformation), nor is it a confessional act of unification (as are a large number of church unification documents dated from the twentieth century), nor is it a liturgical text (for which we also have numerous examples from church history), very well present the limited theological horizon of the original intention. Even as early as the mid-1990s, many pointed out the difficulties of the original objective, before the Debrecen Council. The reason for this is that theologically it is rather questionable that this will be a situation necessitating a confession of faith (state of confession), and, with it, the recognition of the necessity to create a confession, if a specific situation (the injustice of the global economic order) goes beyond the level of ethical questions and becomes a theological issue.[5] Or, if this difficulty is not a hindrance, how is it possible to reverse a theological stance which was originally born out of an ethical necessity, back to the ethical side? This is the exact action the closing passage emphasises as a requirement from the member churches. (Article 41: The Council urges the member churches to put this confession into practice) How is it possible to interpret something in the prophetic sense (Article 39.), which by itself is a prophetic interpretation (see references to Isaiah 58:6 and articles 5-14: “the sign of times”)?


    Considering these, it seems like an act of great precaution that Article 15 contains so many distinctive measures, possibly as a consequence of the critical remarks issued at the Council. This very precaution makes me feel entitled to refer to the text as a document, rather than a confession. The debate of genre and form seems insignificant as opposed to the questions of content. Regarding content, church confessions can be divided into three groups: 1) pervasive summaries of the Christian faith, 2) texts of consensus worded on the unification of churches, and 3) recalling the essence of the gospel in times of crisis (martyria). The document of Accra stands closest to the third type, and not only because it excludes the first by nature (Article 15), or because placing it in the second type was not founded well enough at the Council meeting, but because it communicates its message in such a way. The introduction (Article 1), as well as Articles 5-16 (“signs of times”) are reporting about a dramatic and critical situation, which greatly affects the integrity of faith in God and Christian discipleship (Article 16: „essential to the integrity of our faith in God and our discipleship as Christians”), and it is also a matter of life or death (Article 6: „matter of death or life”). The first – and, all in all, largest – part of the document provides an analysis on this particular situation. For one part, it presents some moving facts which are, according to the document, the “products” of the neoliberal economic globalisation. These are the gradually deepening economic chasm between the wealthy North and the poor South, the multiplication of the number of people living in poverty, the clueless situation of countries deep in depth, the collapse of public health programmes, famines, wars for economic resources, pollution, natural disasters, and the unpredictable but already perceptible consequences of climate changes. According to the document, these alarming facts belong in the category of the “signs of the times”, and it is a must to interpret them (Article 6). The fundamental reference of interpretation thus primarily is linked to the providence: “We live in a scandalous world that denies God’s call to life for all.” (Article 7). The expression “God's call to life” bears deep theological connotations for various reasons: it is reminiscent of the Protestant-Reformed teaching of creation orders, it opens up towards the term of covenant (which is the other main motif of the document), and it makes the category of “calling” (Beruf, vocatio) uniquely universal, lifting it to the level of a general life-call. This might be that special divine calling that is generated from the creation of life and divine providence. This existence will/should reach completion as a specific human life in the dimension of justice and fairness (this is where the motif of covenant joins in). The Christology of the document and the whole Council has this viewpoint. In the focus of understanding is not the “totus Christus” concept, but “the groaning of creation” (Article 5, also see Romans 8:22), the pressing signs of the times (Article 6), the scandalous world (Article 7) and the crisis caused by the neoliberal economic globalisation (Article 8). The root of all of this is summarised by the term “Empire” (Article 11: “we see that the current world (dis)order is rooted in an extremely complex and immoral economic system defended by empire”).


    This document as a confession is a formal opposition to this idea and the empire ideology. It judges the fact that the empire does present the neoliberal economic globalisation as it would be without alternative, but it gives false promises and placing itself in the role of some kind of a world-saver, it demands full obedience. This pretence is idolatry (Article 10). Since this is an economic-political ideology, this ideology is thoroughly analysed in the following articles (12-16), it is compared to the state theory of classic liberalism, the cynicism of unlimited capital accumulation is judged, and the following conclusion is reached: since “global economic justice is essential to the integrity of our faith in God and our discipleship as Christians”, “therefore we confess before God and one another” (Article 16). The introduction of the document mentions a momentum which was meant to help its readers reach a shared insight. At the time of the Council, the delegates visited the forts on the Ghana beach (Elmina, Cape Coast), which were once horrible scenes of slave trade, and what they saw they linked with the global “oppression of the global economic system” (Article 3).


    Thus stand before us the premises of the confession. They are the following: 1) A general economic, political, cultural and environmental crisis (“a world of scandals”), the cause of which is the neoliberal economic globalism established by the “empire” and the ideology of this globalism as opposed to the global economic fairness. This means that the crisis which compels us to create a confession is of an economic nature. 2) The faith of the community of believers and those living in Christ's discipleship is at stake, or, at least, its integrity becomes endangered, if they do not consider the global economic justice an essential part of their faith. The unjust economic world order is thus a fact which a priori compels us to make a confession. 3) God's general invitation to life, which becomes complete in a providence that brings prosperity, is in opposition with the structures which deny life. This is a tension which forces us to confess our faith.

    These premises had to be highlighted, because the declarations of the church from decades ago (whether denominational or ecumenical declarations) even dating back to as early as the mid-1960s, describe this very reality. At a closer look, as we said before, the Kitwe declaration in 1995 and the material preparing the Debrecen Council agree almost word for word with the analysis in the Accra document. At the same time, there is a significant difference in the sense that in the focus of the document we find a metaphor of recent times' anti-America judgement. A few years ago such sociological papers were published in relation to the imperial and economic policy of the United States which was discussed by their authors using the metaphor of the “empire”. The Latin-American liberation theologians who were forced into the background at the collapse of the Soviet system, due to these analyses gained a new material for their primarily inspired by Marx’s ideology criticism. In numerous debates at the Accra Council they sometimes forcefully persevered in this premise, and distorting the motto of the first Council of the World Council of Churches (1948, “God's order and human chaos”) they talked about an economic chaos (disorder), which meant that God's order is also of an economic nature. (The fair and just economic world order is an essential part of the faith in God, Article 16). This narrowed, mono-causal reference, that is, to interpret every possible bad and good as an economic issue, has a major effect on the ”confessional” section of the document, both in the Christological and in the ecclesiological parts. The document interprets the genuineness of sin and redemption on the level of society, and within that, economy, complementing it with ecologism, a discipline which has by now made its way into the ecumenical movement, and this way it hinders not only the recognition of the necessity to confess faith but the possible approval of a confession resulting from this situation. The hindrance in reception is primarily palpable in church communities where this system of premises is not accepted. The reason for this is not that they are motivated by ideological differences or they benefit from social or economic advantages, but because their theological vision is different: possibly deeper. For example, in the case of the “empire” category, most of the delegates did not approve of the biblical-theological comments, and they did not consider the objections of Central European delegates that the one-sided wording of the document does not mention the misdemeanours of the Soviet Union and the intentions of other powers which strive to become a new empire (e.g. China), and also the fact that the document neglects to condemn terrorism.



    With all these things considered, now we must discuss the confession section of the document. Although Article 4 distorts the complete objective of the Council of the Reformed World Alliance (“Today we come to take a decision of faith commitment”), it is without a doubt that a long time of preparation preceded the codification of the confession part. This confession is included in Articles 17-36. The confession's structure is simple. First stands a series of statements (Articles 17-33) which can be divided into eight smaller parts (confitemur-condemnamus). This is followed by a confession of sins (Article 34), a declaration of commitment (Article 35) and a short doxology (Article 36). The confession includes the ideas of God's sovereignty, the unity of creation, the order of economy which is intended to serve the dignity and prosperity of life, God's justice, solidarity, Jesus' mission, the unity of the Church and Christian hope. The refusals are paired with these ideas. The logical arrangement obviously follows the form of classic Creeds and confessions known from Nicaea to Barmen: an affirmative declaration is followed by a refusal. Since the status confessionis often signifies a situation in which the integrity of the Church's faith is endangered, now we have to examine to what extent the integrity of the affirmative statements (as statements of faith) is endangered by the respective concepts, convictions and factors included in the refusal parts. The pairing at this point is on many occasions not exactly right.

    Since I introduced the premises in detail in the previous part, here it is only necessary to mention that each of the abuses placed in opposition with God's sovereignty, covenant and providence condemns the neoliberal economic globalisation in the context of the formerly registered analyses (“the signs of times”, Articles 17-23). The sixth confessing-and-condemning part also belongs here (Articles 28-29), whose Christology is reminiscent of the Jesus image of theological liberalism.[6] Jesus' calling is introduced based on John 10:10 (“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV) or in fullness), which was also the motto of the Council. However, it removes the cross and resurrection from Jesus' service, thus distorting the verse from John as well. As a matter of fact, the fourth, fifth and seventh affirmative-condemning series of statements were written in such a style that they can be considered as discussions of factors endangering the integrity of faith and thus they compel a confession of faith (Articles 24-27, 30-31). In the fourth pair of statements ideologies opposing God's justice and the need for justice and fairness in human relationships are condemned, as they “put profits before people”. Consequently, the statement rejects “any teaching which justifies those who support, or fail to resist, such an ideology in the name of the gospel” (Article 25). The fifth statement, affirming the order of covenant which entails an obligation to an active love (Faith working through love) and justifying active resistance (to resist all forms of injustice) rejects any theology “that claims that God is only with the rich and that poverty is the fault of the poor.” Furthermore, it rejects any theology “which affirms that human interests dominate nature” (Article 27). The wording in these cases recall in their form the classic confessional writings and it seems to agree with the criteria based on which the status confessionis, as a necessity of confession becomes relevant in the cases of false teachings, concepts or practices that endanger the fundamental elements of Christian faith.


    The action against the so-called “theology of success” is fully justified. This thought is powerfully expressed in Article 27. The misconception of success theology is deeply rooted in Protestantism, and these days it primarily blooms in the circles of evangelist mission workers in Latin America and the Third World. It is legitimate to take up a confessing position against this. At the same time, some other, theological reflections of these parts may result in at least three very serious problems and on-going debates. The first of these is the unconditional justification of active resistance. “We are called to stand against any form of injustice.” (Article 26), “We reject any teaching which justifies those who support, or fail to resist, such an ideology in the name of the gospel” (Article 25). The question of active and passive resistance has been subject to very serious and deep theological-ethical debates for thousands of years. The unconditional approval of active resistance is also contradicted by two symbolic documents of the Reformed Church in Hungary: question and answer 104 of the Heidelberg Catechism in relation to the explanation of the fifth commandment, and, in even more detail, Chapter 30 of The Second Helvetic Confession. Although the statement of faith in question is not crucial to the Church itself, the intention of the document's editors is very obvious. By affirming active resistance without any further ado, and by condemning the proclaimers of passive resistance as well, they justify the theology of revolution. This explains why an embarrassing tension appeared whenever communist dictatorship or dictatorship in general, or, in another context, the question of condemning terrorism arose, and this is where the closing part of the document becomes so diffuse. This is where, without any limitation, it urges collaboration “with other communions, the ecumenical community, the community of other faiths, civil movements and people’s movements for a just economy and the integrity of creation” (Article 41). The second problem is related to the linking of economy and ecology without qualification. When the document judges theologies which proclaim that nature is ruled by human interests (Article 27), without a doubt it refers to “dominion theology" which blooms in the United States. This theology, like some kind of a Christian reconstructionist movement, relies on traditional theological insight in terms of the relationship between man and nature (and, as such, it is remarkably anti-globalist!). What the editors of the document forget is that this theological concept that they condemn is in fact a reaction to ecologism (a globalist concept!) which became dominant from the 1980s onwards, first of all in feminist and liberation theology. It is sufficient to refer to Article 17 to accept the truth of these reactions: “We believe in God, Creator and Sustainer of all life, who calls us as partners in the creation and redemption of the world.” The word “partner” might lessen the theological scandal, but the need for creation and redemption work extended to the whole world is all the more weighty. Obviously, the editors of the document did not have the original creation in mind, as this would be a contradiction in terms, and they did not mean the redemption of Christ, because that would be blasphemy. The clue of the sentence is in the word “world”, which, in the sense of the analytical and affirmative parts of the document reflects the present day ecologist concept. These aspects by all means have to be considered, but when in Article 33 we read about a commitment to global covenant which serves the earth and economic justice, the hidden meaning of previous passages comes to light as well. Here the word “world” namely changes to “earth”.


    This means that these statements in the document are remarkable not only in the sense of their theological clarity, but their ambition. As much as we know that success theology is an aberration, so we cannot be sure whether the approval of active resistance without qualification and the involvement of the so-called planetary theology into the study of redemption would be conform to Christian theology. Third is the ecclesiological definition which we read in Articles 30-31. The universal nature of the divine calling which established the Church recalls the classic confession statements, and this is the only inclusive-type wording in the document. But it is rather questionable whether this unifying deed of God which calls to men, women, children, rich (!) and poor would serve “to uphold the unity of the church and its mission”, and that this would be the condition for Christ's reconciliation to become visible. This functionalist ecclesiology switches cause and effect, since it is none other but Christ's reconciliation that provides the fundament of the Church in God's reconciliation from everlasting to everlasting.[7]The counter part of the statement rejects those intentions which in the life of the Church separate truth from unity (Article 31). However, since it does not interpret what this justice exactly means, the universal need mentioned in the previous line is sent off balance. As a consequence, and primarily touching upon the reception of the status confessionis, we have to ask the question whether the editors of the document considered the fate of those individuals in church communities who cannot make a commitment to the “truths” listed here. The closing thoughts of the “confession”, especially the confession of sins (Article 34) show very well that this question never arose. As we said before, the document largely focuses on the condemnation of neoliberal economic globalism. In this light it is conspicuous and outrageous that in the confession of sins the text only discusses the sins of others. Accepters of the declaration only acknowledge that they have become “captives”, that is, victims[8] of the contradictions of globalism, and their only regret is that they were not partners of nature. It is no longer a surprise, then, that the sin of dissension only appears as a weakness in fulfilling one's calling.



    Analysers of classic and modern confessions give a unanimous answer to the question what makes a statement of faith a confession. On the first level, of course, it is always the intention of the one making a confession/confessing. The necessity or joy, the need or opportunity which create the status confessionis can result in an actus confessionis. On the second level, however, we have to be cautious. If the “confessor” or confessing one has the ambition to give his statements a lasting validity, the contents of his confession have to be adapted to what is lasting (this is the rule of norma normans and norma normata). For example, which ones of the confessional writings and statements of faith from the time of Reformation in the 16th century became texts of symbolic significance in many churches and why (even in churches which were founded as a result of much later missionary work), or why the thesis of Barmen composed in 1934 were raised to the level of a confession, would be hard to answer if we leave this above mentioned rule out of the equation. At the same time it is evident that the fate of a confession largely depends on its reception. As we have pointed out, the Accra document makes its own contemporary reception and processing very difficult, but, more importantly, it hinders what it would also need (as stated in its title and in some of its statements), that is, the deepening of doctrinal unity among Reformed churches.  For the most part, its text is an analysis of economic policy along debatable premises of economic policy, and its anti-globalism is obvious – but these are not theological positions. Its substantive and theological meaning is, however, an unusual mix of confessional formalism and several theological branches of the 20th century, which occasionally balance each other, and some of which consciously stand and stood against the Reformed confession heritage. It is possible that the liberation-theologians who urged the approval of this document now rest assured that a new project has been completed in Accra, it is nevertheless for certain that the statement did not fulfil the original need, nor did it give a key to humankind which suffers from economic and social injustice to effectively differentiate between true and false, clean and unclean. Perhaps the reader will understand why the author of this text did not raise his hand in approval, in the moment of adoption and registration which was meant to be so elevating.


    Translated by Katalin Burns



    [1]In the Quarterly of WARC, the Update, reports and documents of the successive consultations and ecumenical discussions have been published continuously. The results of the consultation in Kitwe (Zambia) in 1995 played a highly important role among these documents and facilitated the formulation of the Accra document a lot. Interestingly enough, the Kitwe declaration and the papers of the WARC consultation held in Geneva in 1996 one can practically read passages which than were included in the text of the Accra document without changes. [2]As it is referred to in the preamble of the document. [3]See Karl Barth’s memoires about the formulation of the Barmen Declaration. Confession cannot be planned beforehand, he says, as it is always consequence of an inescapable and imperative challenge, as thunder follows lightning. Quoted by Lukas Vischer, Towards a Common Testimony, Confessing the faith today, John Knox Series, No. 5. Genf, 1986, 31sk. [4]Reservations and calls for reformulation were not fully honoured at the Council. Those expressing reservations and no full consent came after all from Middle- and Eastern-European Countries. [5]See Ulrich Müller, Our Situation Today, Reformed World, 46/3. 1996, September. Müller warned already before the Debrecen Council from premature consensus. [6]The Social Gospel movement was classical expression of the theological liberalism from the end of the 19th Century. According to its image of Jesus, he was after all a prophet of social justice and his death demonstrated God’s love and solidarity but not en expiatory sacrifice. These theological premises were than taken up by the Liberation Theology. [7]See 54. question of the Heidelberg Catechism. [8]„We have become captivated” – the captivity or exile can freely serve as metaphor for sin, but this conclusion is not necessary from the context here.
  • Commentary by Péter Ákos Bod

    Reflection on the Accra Confession from a Reformed Economist’s Point of View

    Ghana, the former British colony (Golden Coast) hosted the general council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) which published the paper ’Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth’. It has almost been two decades since I, as an adviser of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), had the chance to visit Accra, where I also had the chance to look into the deep problems that Sub-Saharan Africa, the maverick area of the continent, has. As adviser, I had to face the limits of my own knowledge (or, I can even say, the limitedness of my own profession, the economics). We should have given forward-looking advice to a disorganized and corrupt administration governed by a flight lieutenant who came into power by a coup and an economy stricken by inflation and shortage of goods, all of this in the midst of division of different tribes and languages. As a Hungarian, I may have had a better understanding of the distress of this dominion – that was fairly well-off in times past but then drifted into a chaos in the 1980’s – than a Dutch or an American economist because where I boarded the plane to these advisory trips, I had to face (even if in a smaller scale but) the same disfunctions. We also had shortage of goods, although it never was this elementary like in the Third World, but Hungary, where they built the real existing socialism, was fairly corrupt and we have experienced inflation and decay in quality, as well as the exploitation of natural resources. In my country the dead-end of the Second World, the planned economy, meant the economic and political order and brought about lossmaking industrial companies, overuse of fertilizer in the industrial agriculture, fatigue of the road structures, shortage of telephones and, in general, the lack of quality goods. Then finally, following the end of communism, our country and the fellow post-communist nations could begin to rebuild the market economy, the parliamentary system and, all in all, to get back on the European track.


    I haven’t been to Accra ever since; some improvement might have happened during these years but I don’t have any illusions. The confessional document being formulated in Accra is about the world-scale economic injustice and the environmental destruction; and the location of the council should certainly have accentuated the urgency of the problems and hazards that modern age poses on us. We want to comment this document from Hungary; ordained pastors and laymen, both servants of religious and spiritual life. It isn’t necessary for a Hungarian Christian to observe another continent, it is enough to recognize the large gap between the rich and poor in Hungary so that we can see, even unwittingly, the exaggerated consumption of goods of dubious value and questionable products of the entertainment industry. The steady, long-time well-off Western Europe is a bit more moderate in this area, considering that consumers there didn’t grow up in the culture of shortages, of getting passports in every three years, of never-ending wait for telephone lines and waiting lists for Wartburg cars. In this awareness it’s not surprising that Hungarians are greedier consumers than their Austrian peers and more materialistic than their American fellows. However, the “developed world” – and therein Europe, which is the guiding point for us – have their own sorts of spiritual and financial problems. That is to say, the initiative is legitimate for the Hungarian Reformed community to make a resolution about the current global threads and problems and the role and duties of Christians, together with confessing Christians of other countries. The confessional document gives account of the misery of the current condition of humanity: non-moderating poverty, spreading of HIV-AIDS, armed conflicts for economic resources, despoilment of soil and other natural resources and global climate change. It summarizes all this as crisis which is directly associated with the neoliberal economic globalization, primarily with the domination of multinational companies. According to the wording of the document, we live in an imperial world (dis)order: the “empire” is referred to as an economic, cultural, political and military world-scale system maintained by the powerful nations. The paper rejects the culture that builds on the greed, the selfishness and the unlimited consumption of the neoliberal economic system, and every other system which defines itself as an order without alternative and appeals to set up a global alliance for economic justice.


    Regarding the injustice and the destruction of nature, there can’t be any difference between Hungarians and non-Hungarians, but still, a Hungarian Calvinist primarily and basically forms his or her point of view on basis of his or her experiences, just as Latin American and African participants of the council of WARC were clearly motivated by their experiences. And in the previous decades we lived in a different system, being subject of a different empire which indeed defined itself as an order without alternative in the long run, visioning the fall of capitalism and the world-scale domination of communism. Today we already know: the empire had fallen apart. The fact that many of the followers of the soviet empire managed themselves well in a completely different economic-societal system – the submergence of which they were convincing others for long – shows, that human nature is immensely “flexible”.


    Knowing the operating principle of planned economy, I welcome the fact, that the document expands the rejection of the system introduced by neoliberal capitalism to rejection of the planned economy as well, and in general to every regime that “acts contrary to God’s just rule” (chapter 19). I think this reference is very important, because of the following: The atheist state socialism is a gone and we hope that it will never return to our country. However, the disfunctions of the market economy and the hurtful consequences deriving from it can cause the affirmation of a strong state power. But we can’t forget how they forced an economic system on us, without the consideration of our country’s capabilities and traditions, all of this in the name and interests of the “national economy”; how the engineering knowledge and the creativity wilted in cause of the central planning; and how energy-consuming, environment-wrecking industrial mammoths came into being in every single socialist country. The legitimate critique of the global market economy, therefore, cannot serve as a clearing and apology for those who forced an oriental (Eastern) despotic regime on us from 1945 on upheld a state planned economy, causing huge social and economic damages. We shouldn’t allow that the legitimate critique of capitalism in the developing countries (Third World) serves as reference for the revival of the dictatorships and totalitarian systems. It doesn’t need too much courage to enumerate the threads of globalization and to disapprove the new world order: from the leaders of labour unions, through the anarchists, to George Soros, many people have pointed out the harmful consequences of cross-border cash flows. We, Hungarians, can give a lot of examples of how our national borders, that were suddenly made crossable, allowed and multiplied the inflow of cultural, commercial and even physical garbage from abroad, and what speculative dangers the limitless capital flows have. But, we also have to remember that two decades ago we prayed for crossable open borders and we sincerely hoped, that political borders created in various political situations, will once lose their roles as barriers.


    The editors of the Accra document were thinking globally, in the wholeness of the globe when they stood up for global covenant for the sake of economic justice. It is clear from that: it is not open and accessible borders that pose a problem and the most significant problems of our age would hardly be solved by making the transportation more difficult for those, who count as more fortunate in this matter (we shouldn’t forget that many people still can’t choose their place of residence freely, can’t come across borders without official obstacles or can barely manage their lives as refugees). We have to welcome the Globe becoming more open, even if we suspect, that the people supporting the free movement of people, goods and capitals, do not act out of general human values, but because they hope better conditions of profitable operation – all of this by supporting liberalization. And of course it is also true, that criminals, frauds and prostitutes often profit more of the free movement of people and goods than the peaceful crowds of society. However, we can’t forget the indignity that we have to endure because of the sealed borders or even the limited openness granted by the state; the critique of the global world, therefore, cannot conclude in a suggestion that would throw us back into a controlled world, of which we think of as something that is already behind us.


    So what are those things that need real courage to be recognized and articulated? I believe that nowadays’ global market economy and modern technology jointly pose a great danger, because it multiplies the effects of human weaknesses, faults, sins and mistakes. But the trespasses, themselves, are not new. The greed and selfishness, mentioned in the document are not new, nor is the bad stewardship towards the nature. It is one of our time’s biggest controversy, that today’s generations exceed past generations (for example our predecessors from half a century ago) not only in their capacity of destruction of nature but also in the knowledge for its protection; they are more advanced not only in the economic damages they can cause but also in the capacity how they can increase economic effectiveness. We could do the right and beneficial thing, but we don’t. Even if that certain “empire” does exist, it is probably in the souls of the people of developed and rich countries. Thousands of tollmen of the culture of consumerism can only prosper because millions are addicted and live in consume-dependency. There have always been naïve, weak crowds, who were easy to manipulate. Why is that we feel their vulnerability more severely nowadays? Maybe because those people, who think responsibly, can see and feel: even though the treasures of the modern knowledge are accessible, more and more people are satisfied and do with ignorance; it is common sense that dopes and drugs “curing” sadness have severe consequences, and still too many people use them; we know well the deceits of sects and false prophets, and still more people turn to these or simply turn a blind eye to the words of the church. We can, thus, blame a hardly definable empire for the world’s condition, but that also features self-delusion. Our and our fellow-creatures’ errors in matters of the world probably derives from us being weakened in faith and true knowledge, on this Globe with more crossable borders. So first, believers and churches have to examine after all themselves critically: with what kind of values can we oppose the ephemeral joys of consumption, what kind of spiritual enrichment can we offer against the eternal desire to possess treasures on earth? Our fellow-creatures feel or suspect the dangers surrounding the world’s progress. The editors of the Accra document fairly quote Apostle Paul’s words: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8.22). But Paul didn’t speak to the Romans about the secular empires’ power in these passages, but the hope that lives even in great misery. Maybe we get closer to the way out of the critical situation if we read on Paul’s words and we apply them to the current conditions: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12, 12-13).


    Translated by Dalma Kalácska


  • Commentary by Csaba Törő

    Elimination of the Myth of Eternal Return

    The passionate and confessional message of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches from Accra, confronted me anew with the universal phenomenon of unbelief, senselessness and global injustice and their extremely destructive and most importantly unacceptable consequences. The civilizational achievements of the humanity exemplified in many fascinating ways the fruits of the divine gift of dynamism, creativity, innovation and sense of beauty. The ability of creative work and structuring unfolding in self-organizing and protective community enhanced and transformed the crude, but in itself fragile, rough and rudimentary being into human life. The creative exercise of virtues and abilities and their joint exploitation created very different manifestations in civilisation of organized life. However, the emergence of civilizations were mostly followed by their painful extinction, their spectacular crash or their slow but inevitable self-abolition. Ruins of materialized, built and graven cultures can be found all over the world. These relics of past ages fascinate travellers visiting them. However, while (or despite of) admiring these previously developed life forms, sophisticated aesthetic formations and technological solutions, it is not soon realized that these are remnants of passed golden ages, which doesn’t evince us of conquering violence, but instead they speak of their nature of civilizational self-abolition, making them  into a memory with historic value. As Arnold Toynbee masterfully pointed out in his civilizational studies: due to their cultural determination and by dramatic changes in their natural circumstances, civilisations inevitably had to meet their fate. From the abandoned Indian towns of Arizona, through Easter Island, to the ruins of wilted city-states in Anatolia, the mementos of civilizations’ self-abolishment remind us how they all ended, who couldn’t preserve themselves though they followed their goals with determination. They lived within smaller social boundaries, than us, but they followed the same path, that defines our current, globalized civilization as well.


    They regarded the opportunities of life and the natural resources exploitable and not as gifts that should be preserved, just as the modern Western “secular religion”, the economic and cultural neoliberalism teaches us. This, however, is not “the religion of freedom” but the constant diminution of the collective circles of our freedom. An unscrupulously cynical and arrogant philosophy and worldview cripples the possibility to protect the choice of real and free lifestyles, to preserve faiths and beliefs and to let the natural conditions of these to exist.  The current exclusive, immediate and earthly offer of salvation presents itself not only as a temptation that can also be refused, but as an inevitable dogma.  The domination of current economic doctrines and social consequences of the world-scale extension of western modernity doesn’t derive from their logical flawlessness or moral victory, but from its recognition and institutionalization as official political “state religions”. However, the officially and openly stated “credo” of the globalized world offers the self-liberating “summum bonum” of material consumption only with the pretention of having no alternative. It doesn’t leave choice or freedom of it apart from the baffling abundance of commodities because the worshipping of the idol of constant growth and expansion cannot allow that. As soon as the revolution of enlightenment and modernity is able to shake off their fetters of humility and moderation deriving from the Christian faith, and manages to deliberate the individual from what it owes to its own Creator and to the community making its existence meaningful, the way towards self-fulfilling consumption and accumulation is opened. To tolerate inequalities on personal and social levels, the men got its commandments which are not carved in stone anymore, but are written on paper as human rights.


    We try to confront the often inescapable social erosion, which weighs on the meaningful life in dignity, by proclaiming of ever new typesof human rights. New generations of human rights are being formulated, usually with the functions of programmatic norms. Apart from social and economic rights, these target to codify and hopefully secure the rights to preserve a certain quality and characteristics of the natural environment. Furthermore, nowadays the attempt has been made to accept the right to development as a human right, while the protection of cultural and natural environment of aboriginals (basically the right for preservation of their identity) is also being voiced by sublime agreements. The global social and economic order of our age is built on a therapy offered by universally recommended and applied “informative”, “modernizing” and “energizing” recipes, which promote open societies. But the most embarrassing side effect of these recipes is the huge inequalities and injustices not only in the current “global space” but also in time and between generations.  The efforts directed at exploiting and polluting our current spiritual and natural environment are simultaneously ruining the moral and natural world of future generations. The biggest irresponsibility that our age’s neoliberal hegemony can commit is exactly the unacceptable dissipation of the things left for the future generations. In spite of the attempts to resolve the unacceptable injustices and senselessness, the landscape of the human spirit and the generously created world for humans becomes the target of effectively destructive, mercifully utilitarian and ruthlessly short-sighted efforts. As the plague of locust caused by our current global civilization is continuously crushing the spiritual and natural reserves of renewal, it also foreshadows the loss of the possibility of human restart and restoration without further destruction and severe traumas.


    Slowly but surely, humanity achieves the irreversible ruination of the gifts of creation and the elimination of the myth about the eternal return, the ancient spiritual need of human beings, emphasised by Mircea Eliade.


    Translated by Dalma Kalácska

  • Commentary by Tamás Béres

    Social Phenomena and Apocalyptic language

    It was a long time ago, that in the underpass of Baross square in Budapest the philosopher-humourist György Sándor annoyed people in the crowd asking them to pronounce the word pluralism flawlessly. Since then, Hungarian society has changed a lot: the term pluralism is not a tongue-twister anymore, which pronounced correctly, would assure us of the benefits of the western societies’ achievements. Nowadays the pluralism is not a blessing anymore over here, but natural language of our lifestyle, which bounds us to the Euro-Atlantic culture which we share as our own. In this diverse and multi-level language the definitions are neither uniformly available, especially when we want to describe the current global processes and their complexity on Earth. This applies also to the decisive terms in the understanding of the Accra document, globalization and neoliberalism which are not unproblematic either. As long as it is a widespread phenomenon to use the expression of globalization also in the terms of “mondialisation” and thus missing to make any distinction between good and bad, or blurring the line between them, only very few people among its agents or representatives would identify themselves with the attribute of neoliberal, which includes divergent moments.


    In this context the Accra declaration obviously does not want to go into detail as of terminology; it takes for granted, that there exists a world-shaping power, an aggressive and ruthless economic intention today, which is ready to do anything for its own material enrichment, even through the cadavers of the Earth’s social and natural cultures. And the document calls this power neoliberalism or rather neoliberal economic globalization. Based on the presence of the mentioned characteristics of the neoliberal economic globalization (see chapter 9), the document assumes that time has come to formulate its action with a rhetoric typical of the eschatological or even apocalyptical literature. This is also emphasized by the Biblical references (for example Isaiah 58,6; Luke 1,52-53; John 10,10; Romans 8,22), by the choice of the expressions (like “the signs of the times” used in the first subtitle, which in lack of a reference to Pope John XIII is not used part of an ecumenical language, but rather in its biblical-apocalyptic sense), as well as by its theological method, inasmuch as it makes the object of the confession an external phenomenon, basically from a non-religious area.


    Although in the accompanying explication of the document the authors emphasize that it is not the first time in history that the community of the church chooses confession as genre to address social issues, it is the Accra document’s distinctive feature that it takes an abuse within the social-economic heteropraxis as motif of the Confession, which in the Christian tradition normally emerges from the relationship of the orthodoxy and orthopraxis. In its advocacy for the justice in the economy and on the earth it gets close to the rhetoric of the liberation theology. The self-understanding of the editors in the background of the resolution of the Accra document is obviously and prominently based on the sense of responsibility, which the church as God’s partner (co-worker) and one of the best organized international organization should assume and adopt as its own. In this sense it may have a chance as “God’s soldier” champion in the practical defense of theodicy against any claim and pretention of an economic, political or military power, which defies the sole and supreme power of God (see paragraph 19). In this endeavor it commits itself with firm belief in victory “to seek a global covenant for justice in the economy and the earth” (see paragraphs 32-33) as well as “to changing, renewing and restoring the economy and the earth”. Formulated as the last idea of the confession, the intention of restoring the economy and the earth becomes particularly expressive if we recall the use of the term in cosmological sense from the history of dogmatics, namely Origen who spoke of it as God’s final act after the redemption of the whole world.


    Looking at these theological considerations, the Accra confession is characterized by extreme, revolutionary form of Consequent Eschatology (see chapter 35), which according to my knowledge is close to the Suisse Reformation represented by Zwingli. In this case, the Accra document as a faith-based statement which is in conformity with one of the constitutive theological tradition of the issuing church community, expressed in a social action program is an answer to the economic, social and environmental injustices and abuses affecting the whole of the Earth.


    Translated by Bianka Bénó

Contact us

Click here if you are interested in twinning.


Reformed Church in Hungary

Address: H-1146 Budapest, Abonyi utca 21.   

PO Box: 1140 Budapest 70, Pf. 5

Phone/Fax: + 36 1 460 0708 


Our church through American eyes

We encourage you to read our  former GM intern Kearstin Bailey's blog about her time, spent in Hungary.