A Reformed Seminary in our Largest Foreign Field?

In spite of coup d’etats, rioting, and civil war, the Church of Jesus Christ is growing in Nigeria. During the last ten years attendance at Sunday morning worship in the Tiv Church has grown from 23,000 to 163,000. In this same church the number of communicant members has risen from 1,700 to 10,500 in ten years. The numbers in the East Benue Church are also rising, but the rise in the Tiv Church is more spectacular because of the heavy population density in the Tiv area. Tiv and East Benue are the two churches with which the Christian Reformed mission is working in Nigeria. How thankful we should be for the wonderful opportunities God has given us in these critical days!

But these opportunities also present a challenge to supply an adequate number of pastors to minister to this growing body of Christians and others who are interested in the Christian faith. At present the Tiv Church of Nigeria has thirty pastors ministering to 163,000 church attenders. Most of those who are at· tending church are not members; they must still be catechized and baptized. This means that every pastor has an average of 5,433 souls under his spiritual care! This does not even mention the thousands of people surrounding every congregation who are still living in paganism and who must still be reached with the gospel by these same pastors. Although the pastors are assisted in their work by evangelists and other spiritual leaders, the need for many more pastor’s in the very near future is obvious. Already there are many vacant churches in the Tiv Church and new churches are being formed every year.

In the light of this tremendous challenge it is un· fortunate that the total pastoral training program for the Tiv Church now lies in a state of uncertainty. It is highly desirable that this state of uncertainty be re· solved as soon as possible so that the work may go on unimpeded. In the past the majority of Tiv pastors have received their training through special courses offered to them in their home area in their native language—the Tiv language. In addition a limited number of Tiv pastors have been trained in English at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, which is approximately 200 miles north of the northern border of Tiv country.



But the number of young men who are able to study for the ministry in the English language is increasing. It is the desire of the Church that those with this ability be given the opportunity to study in English. The missionaries of the Christian Reformed Church serving in Nigeria generally agree with this desire. There is difference of opinion, however, as to where this instruction in English is to be given. The Tiv Church has requested of our mission a Theological College in the Benue or Tiv area. The Church has stated that this new theological college will not cancel their relationship to T.C.N.N., but will be an addition to TC.N.N., in which they are now participating. The chairman of the Tiv Synod has told me that the grounds for this request are two-fold: (1) They fear that T.C.N.N. will not be able to accommodate all the students who will be in need of training. (2) They desire a theological training program that is more thoroughly Reformed. It is furthermore their desire that admittance to this school be open to students from anywhere in Nigeria who desire to study at such an institution. In other words enrollment would not necessarily be limited to students from the Tiv Church.

The Theological College of Northern Nigeria has also taken notice of the need for more pastors in the Church of Christ in Nigeria in general, and in the Nongo u Kristu u ken Sudan hen Tio (the Tiv Church) in particular. The T.C.N.N. Board of Governors proposes to meet this need by enlarging the school. At present TC.N.N. has about forty-five students. It is likely that if T.C.N.N. enlarges to almost twice its present size, she will be able to accommodate practically all the Tiv students who have the educational background to study for the ministry in the English language. The Christian Reformed missionaries in Nigeria definitely favor this plan over the one suggested by the Tiv Church, and are recommending the T.C.N.N. plan to the Board of Foreign Missions.

For a while the mission considered the possibility of a lower level school in Benue in addition to T.C.N.N., which would also teach students in English. But this was before the TC.N.N. expansion plan was presented. Furthermore such a lower level English school did not receive the enthusiastic endorsement of the church because such a school would still fall short of the theological college that the church is requesting. This idea has therefore been dropped, at least for the present.

This means that the Christian Reformed Church through its Board of Foreign Missions and ultimately through its Synod, has a choice to make between two possibilities. Either the total T.C.N.N. program must be endorsed and supported, or a second theological college must be opened in the Benue area. And that choice should be made with finality in 1968. Postponement of decision will hinder Church-mission relations and will hinder the advance of God’s Kingdom in Nigeria.

My decision to support the T.C.N.N. expansion plan has not been automatic; nor has it been taken without a great deal of thought and prayer. And there are other missionaries who have similar feelings. The decision to endorse the T.G.N.N. expansion plan involves a value judgment—the weighing of the good points over against the bad points, and trying to reach a sound conclusion.

On the one hand, it is obvious that instruction at T.C.N.N. is not as thoroughly Reformed as it might be at a denominational institution. Furthermore, the autonomy and desires of an indigenous African church ought not be brushed lightly aside. Some have seen ulterior motives in the request for a theological college in Benue; I feel, however, that the reasons that the Tiv Church has given for this request are sensible and should be taken at face value. ‘There is much to applaud in the desire of the church to assure herself of an adequate supply of well-trained pastors and in her desire that these men receive a truly Reformed training. All these considerations might move us to consider sympathetically the request of the Tiv Church. (In any case courtesy demands that this request which has been addressed to the Christian Reformed Church in America be given some kind of reply.)

But there are considerations on the other side of the ledger which have led our missionaries to an opposite conclusion. One argument stands out above them all: Nigeria is tragically divided. During the early part of the twentieth century, the 250 tribes of Nigeria were welded into one administrative unit by the force of British arms. Now that the British presence has been removed, hostilities between the peoples are coming to the fore once again. It was thought that education, Christianity, economic development, etc. would prevent open enmity between the various tribes. But the problem of tribalism extends all the way from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s oldest, to the very heart of the Christian Church. The present Civil War that is being fought between forces of the federal government is only symptomatic of a sickness that pervades the nation (and also much of Africa). There are already indications that as soon as the war between Nigeria and “Biafara” is over, new clashes will break out between other groups.

In this situation the church has a prophetic ministry. The Reformed Churches of Nigeria must proclaim God’s will for every area of life fully as much as the Reformed Churches of America. The evils of enmity, vandalism, intimidation, murder, dishonesty, bribery, and all corruption must be exposed and denounced by the Church. But how can the Church perform this work if she has not first set her own house in order? This does not mean that the Nigerian Church must be monolithic. But it does mean that Nigerian Christians should have loving fellowship with one another—a fellowship that transcends tribal lines. The lines of communication between all Christians in every part of Nigeria must be preserved, and T.C.N.N. is trying to do just that for a large area of Northern Nigeria. The problems of all Nigeria are also the problems of Benue Province, where most of the C.R.C. mission work is done. Our missionaries who work in the East Benue Church are especially fearful that a favorable answer to the Tiv Church request will cause further deterioration in relations between the two Reformed denominations that now exist in Nigeria.

All these arguments would be nullified if T.C.N.N. were not an evangelical school or if teaching at T.C.N.N. meant a denial of one’s Reformed convictions. I have been asked to teach at T.C.N.N. for one year while Dr. Harry Boer is on an extended furlough. There have been questions in my mind and yet the evangelical nature of the school, its teachers, and the missions and churches that support it is generally very clear. The instructors here have freedom to teach as they see fit, provided they do so with courtesy toward those with whom they differ. I do not feel that my teaching here has meant a repudiation of my ordination vows to uphold the Reformed faith. Neither do the Reformed graduates of T.C.N.N. seem to be any less Reformed than pastors who have been trained exclusively by Reformed teachers in either the Hausa or the Tiv languages.

In a letter to all our missionaries dated August 18, 1967, Dr. Harry Boer called our attention to a statement in the constitution of T.G.N.N. which says, “Any of the Permanent Members shall be entitled to representation on the Faculty.” The Tiv Church is a “Permanent Member” of T.C.N.N. but has never had a permanent representative on the faculty, due to the fact that Dr. Boer is a member of the East Benue Church, not of the Tiv Church. The suggestion that N.K.S.T. (the Tiv Church) is entitled to representation on the faculty is helpful. Their request for a separate seminary has been fed by definite grievances which are not immediately apparent to all and would take a long time to explain. If, however, there had been a representative of the Tiv Church 0 11 the teaching staff during the last few years, many of these grievances might never have arisen. Misunderstanding would surely have been avoided. If the Christian Reformed Church endorsed full support for T.C.N.N., and at the same time requested the Tiv Church to nominate a teacher for the T.C.N.N. faculty, the C.R.C. decision would be more palatable to the Tiv Church than a bare negative answer. I think that initially the Church would wish to nominate a missionary who is well acquainted with the life and problems of the Tiv Church. This nomination would then need the approval of the T.G.N.N. Board of Governors. There is more than one Tiv missionary who would qualify for nomination. Eventually the Church may wish to nominate one of her own nationals who has received specialized training abroad. In either case the Reformed approach at T.C.N.N. would be strengthened by the addition of another staff member. This would not work a hardship on T.C.N.N. because, if the school enlarges, more staff members will have to be added to the present faculty. In the light of the fact that even now almost fifty per cent of the students at T.C.N.N. are Reformed, and there are more students from the Tiv Church at the college than any other single denomination, this is a reasonable approach.

It has not been the primary purpose of this article to tell the Christian Reformed Church what she must do with theological training in Nigeria. It has rather been my intention to set out the facts so that the Church in America can make an intelligent decision, and to urge upon this Church the fact that this decision must be made in 1968. It is a decision that must not be postponed. The Nigerian Church needs many more pastors now, and we cannot build a sound pastoral training program in the fog of uncertainty. The Christian Reformed Church has supported its work in Nigeria with its interest, its gifts, and its prayers for many years. For this we are very grateful. It should also be said that our mission is pushing ahead with plans for the training of more pastors in the Tiv language beginning in 1969, and this should help to alleviate the pastoral shortage.

Nonetheless there are qualified younger men, able and willing to study theology in English. Men with this type of training are needed to minister to the growing number of educated Nigerians and to those living in urban centers. This need will become more acute as the years go by. We must make provision to fill this need. By God’s grace in the Nigerian Church continues to grow, but the Church needs more leaders that are well trained. The year 1968 must be one of decision for our mission in Nigeria.

Rev. Timothy Monsma has been missionary to Nigeria since 1962, and is well qualified to present his observations and conclusions in this matter.