On the question of whether the RCA needs a new confession in this area, I find Dirk Naudé’s discussion of the characteristics of a confession helpful. In his book Neither Calendar Nor Clock: Perspectives on the Belhar Confession (Eerdmans, 2010), he discusses the characteristics of a confession. I list them here in outline form:
1. A confession witnesses to the revelation of God in Scripture
a. “Reformed creeds derive their authority from their correspondence to Scripture, as Scripture is both the basis of the creed’s certainty and its judge” (85).
b.“The temptation yielded to by modern Protestantism is to grant to history, or ‘significant historical events,’ a character of revelation not fundamentally… different from the Bible.” (85)
2. A confession gives insight into God’s revelation for the moment
a. A “here and now” confession relevant to the questions and issues confronting our time and place.
3. A confession is a spontaneous statement.
a. Prompted by the Holy Spirit.
b. Doxology: honors God by confessing the truth.
c. Historically conditioned by the issues of its time: it is part of the church’s battle against “theological lies and half-truths” (93).
4. A confession is formulated by a concrete Christian community within a geographically limited area.
a. Confessions grow out of particular communities of faith—bottom up, rather than top down.
5. A confession expresses an important aspect of the will of God.
a. It will address matters of doctrine and life.
b. Unity: “Confession of the true doctrine is exactly aimed at restoring the unity of faith already broken by the half-truths!” (98, emphasis added)
6. A confession addresses both insiders and outsiders.
a. Purpose: “to reply to a counterdoctrine that already has public status” (99).
b. A missionary activity: those who are not Christians are surrounded by a Christianity that has fallen into error.
7. The act of confession:
a. Is against yourself first—where are we guilty?
b. Is a fairly substantial redefinition of self-understanding and identity.
c. Requires a link to catechesis, liturgy, and interchurch dialogue.
d. Will involve witness and service to the world.
As I think about this outline in light of the RCA’s current discussion on marriage and sexuality, three points stand out.
First, point 1b helpfully crystallizes that what’s at stake is the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Most of the arguments for same-sex marriage that I have heard in the RCA, whether at the level of the Classis, Regional Synod, or General Synod, have not been careful appeals to Scripture but appeals to ‘experience’ or ‘human nature’ or ‘maximizing freedom and ending oppression’ or ‘being on the right side of history.’ Part of what these appeals share in common is that they, for one reason or another, set aside Scripture as the final authoritative Word. If two parties don’t share the same basis of ultimate appeal, they cannot be said to be unified in any clear and functional way. Even when the appeal does attempt to appeal to Scripture, as in the case of James Brownson, his arguments fall short at the end of the day (see my article in Trinity Journal 38 (2017), summarized in PowerPoint form here). William Loader, the foremost Bible scholar on ancient sexuality and himself an affirming theologian, even argues that the Bible itself cannot be interpreted in such a way as to affirm same-sex marriage (Loader is affirming in part because he consciously sets aside the authority and sufficiency of Scripture here; I believe Brownson's unwillingness to do this is part of what skews his reading of history and ancient sexuality.).
Second, point 5b helpfully addresses the question of unity. Those within the RCA who affirm and practice same-sex marriage often appeal to unity above all. Naudé helpfully reminds us that unity has to be centered around biblical doctrine. That is, unity stems in part from having Standards of Unity. The source of disunity in the RCA are the half-truths about human nature, marriage, and human sexuality that have been circulating for decades now by those committed to altering the church’s stance on marriage. However, those on the more conservative-leaning side of the RCA have often purveyed, implicitly or explicitly, less than biblical views of the body, marriage, and sexuality, which is why the Catechism seeks (in line with 7a above) to address more broadly the ways in which we are all guilty of adopting a less-than-biblical view of marriage and sexuality.
Finally, point 6 helpfully reminds us that drawing clear lines is something that is essential for both discipleship and evangelism. People need to know what it means to take up their cross and follow Jesus. I think it’s fair to say that in the RCA there are people with radically different ideas of what it means to follow Jesus, perhaps to the extent that there is not even a unified view of who Jesus is. A confession, then, is not aimed at dividing but at uniting us around what should unite us—Jesus, the true and living Word, who has revealed who he is and who we are to be in Scripture, the living and active Word used by the Spirit to convict, edify, admonish, and grow the church so that we may be more and more conformed to the image of Jesus for the glory of God’s holy name.
Based on Naudé’s helpful criteria, then, I would say the answer to the original question is yes.