The Board of Missions and TCNN

The Theological College of Northern Nigeria has been the center of much discussion at the Board of Foreign Missions, at Synod, and on the Mission field. The issue surrounding the TCNN is much more important than many realize. It concerns our mission policy on the Nigeria field and others. And it also is a test case as to whether a Reformed Church has the vigor of conviction to stand by its rich heritage. The issue of TCNN is one that has confronted our synods since 1955. In 1955 the question of some kind of United Theological training in Nigeria came on the Synodical scene, At that time synod decided to lend a teacher for native pastor training. But synod was careful always to spell out that our goal on the mission field in Nigeria is to establish a Reformed Theological School. It warned repeatedly against the dangers involved in a union seminary. It therefore charged the Board of Foreign Missions to work towards the goal of a Reformed Theological Seminary for our mission field in Nigeria, and warned the missionaries on the field against the dangers of a union seminary. Synod of 1966 adopted the following recommendation: “That Synod instruct the C.R.B.F.M. to review the church’s policy on the matter of Seminary training in Nigeria that will maintain the demand for consistently .Reformed training of pastors and present to the Synod of 1967 a statement of policy that will meet the needs on the field.” Synod of 1967 extended,the mandate of the GR.B.F.M. for one year due to developments on the mission field. One wonders just what developments on a mission field have to do with a church’s mission policy regarding seminary training, but so synod decided.

What happened on the field that changed the Board’s mind so that it asked for another year’s time? It was a request from the Tiv Synod that a Reformed Seminary be established on the Tiv field. The request reads this way, “However there is another great matter which we would desire you to do in the name of the Lord; that is a Reformed Seminary to give us knowledge of the Word of God in the true Reformed faith.

…These are the reasons that this should be done:

1. In these days it is very necessary for the Christians of Africa to be united as it is necessary for Africa to be united on the things of national concern. And we are continuing to be united. Therefore it is so necessary that we have teaching in the Reformed faith that is both correct and right. Thus when we come together with our other brethren and their teachings, they will not be able to change us by their teachings, and we will be strong in our faith. Even more we will have something we can give them. If we do not have this seminary we will be lost among them, and other teachings will swallow us up. We will not have roots in order to stand firm.

2. Another reason for having a Reformed Seminary is this, the Theological College of Northern Nigeria cannot adequately supply our needs. In a short time there will not be room for all our men to enter that we will need in the future. The TCNN is not only for us, but there are eight churches that she must supply. She must therefore allow students on a quota basis. But now we need many workers, that is pastors for NKST. Our church is growing very quickly. Beginning in 1967 to 1971, we will need seventy pastors. Because of this fact, we need a Reformed Seminary for the Reformed churches in this land.

What will the CRBFM and Synod do with this request? Surely there is but one answer: A request for a Reformed Seminary on a Reformed Mission field will be heartily endorsed by a Reformed Mission Board and Synod! Being Reformed is not an addendum to true faith, but it is its very essence and fullness. To say less is to declare that being Reformed is less than being truly Biblical. To a Reformed person it should be clear as crystal that on any mission field only the Reformed truth will be proclaimed for it alone agrees fully with Scripture. If this is not so it should be shown from Scripture.

At least one, who claims to be truly Reformed, questions this. He is convinced that a union seminary can serve the needs of a Reformed mission field as well, if not better, than a Reformed seminary. Dr. H. R. Boer, in the Reformed Journal of December 1967, declares, “I can conceive of nothing that is more calculated to mar and shame the Reformed image in Nigeria than for us to disown TCNN (a union seminary, C.T.) as an adequate training center for the future ministry of the churches which we serve.” (p. 13) Dr. Boer is concerned that if a Reformed seminary should be established in Nigeria that it will open “the way for a division in Reformed theological education” and it would tamper with TCNN which is “to tamper with the unity of the Fellowship.” (The Fellowship of Churches consisting of eight member bodies C.T.)

Dr. Boer’s concern is apparently based on his seeing the Reformed faith as an addendum to true Christianity. He writes (among other things), “If we want the noble word Reformed to become synonymous with isolationism, aiding and abetting tribalism, forsaking the mainstream, breach of faith with the fellowship in the Church, then let us by all means become unfaithful to our own missions principles and put our own historically conditioned (I underline, CT.) framework of theological education above the interests of the Lord Christ in Nigeria.” (p. 13) As I see it, synod has warned against precisely this kind of thinking when it warned against the dangers of a union seminary. Dr. Boer sees the need for a distinctly Reformed seminary in America, but not in Africa. Why? Because Reformed equals teaching historically conditioned truth, that is, an addendum to true faith. In Africa we can therefore teach something less than what is Reformed, and there preaching and teaching the Gospel can be done in another way unconditioned by history, whatever that may mean.

The request of our Tiv brethren comes like a refreshing breeze across the ocean. These brethren are undoubtedly convinced that only the Reformed faith is the truly Scriptural one, and therefore the only answer to the needs of and unity in Africa. They contend that if the cause of Christ is to triumph in Nigeria it will triumph only in the Truth. In disagreement with Dr. Boer’s contentions, they assert that to tamper with the Reformed truth is to mar the unity and spiritual welfare of the churches of Nigeria. Dr. Boer ought to stand with these brethren, and declare that those who are truly Reformed nave something we can give” to those who are not Reformed. Dr. Boer ought to see it more clearly than anyone else, that a union seminary harms, if not defeats the cause of Christ in Nigeria. A union seminary can only bring the confusion of uncertain sounds where the clear unwavering light of the Gospel ought to shine as the Reformed teachings alone convey it.

It is strange that such a self-evident fact should be questioned. Dr. Boer is bold to state that “The 1959 decision never found an echo in the heart of the Christian Reformed Church. And it has never been observed.” (p. 14) And also, “The Christian Reformed community, not least the missionaries, has shown a deep and abiding interest in TCNN,” and “We cannot in good conscience and with a sense of miSSiOnary responsibility, live any longer by 1959.” (p. 14) Are these contentions correct? Do the facts bear it out?

Assuming that our synods are really the “heart” of the C.R.C., what has been the “echo” in the heart of our denomination? What have our synods said about TCNN? A few quotations will indicate the insistence of our synods that 1959 synod’s decision be carried out, even with haste. Synod of 1959 said that, “The Christian Reformed Church participate in the T.C.N.N. only to the extent of loaning Dr. H. Boar as teacher of Reformed Theology in the T.C.N.N.,” and “that in view of its total commitment to the Reformed faith it cannot see its way clear to be co-responsible for the college which may present many different doctrines,” and “Synod instruct the Christian Reformed Board of Missions and N.G.C. to maintain and develop the Reformed Pastor’s Training program in Nigeria with a view to hopefully establishing a Reformed. Theological Seminary.” Synod of 1960 reiterated what synod 1959 decided but added significant words to it, stating, “That Synod refer this matter to the full Board of Foreign Missions for consideration and action as soon as possible in the light of the decision of 1959.” (I underline, GT.) Synod 1961 said, that “The special goal of the establishment of a Reformed seminary shall be kept in view and held before the native churches as the desired objective,” and “The Board and N.G.G (be) instructed to maintain and develop the objective of 1959 ‘to hopefully establishing a Reformed Theological Seminary,’” and further “that the missionaries must be reminded of the dangers of a union seminary.” Synod of 1966 spoke the same language and called again for the maintaining of the demand for a consistently “Reformed training of pastors” on the mission field.

What then has changed, that the Christian Reformed Church should now be called to compromise its Reformed. heritage in giving full support to a union seminary? Are the circumstances on the field different? Are the needs of the Nigerians or of the Nigeria churches any different? Dr. Boer really does not give any real grounds for his contentions. Neither does he give an explanation of the problems he sees surrounding a Reformed seminary in Nigeria. We fail to see his problems. Rather, we see the problems that will arise should we as a Reformed church deny our faith and sell out our heritage by refusing the request of the Tiv Synod and supporting TCNN.

I am aware that there are problems on the field involving inter-tribal issues. But the question is, how shall we face these? The burning issue is not how we will keep an outward unity by training all future pastors in the same school, but rather, what kind of training will assure real unity and win over the obstacles that now loom before us? No, no circumstances can change the demand to be vigorously true to God’s Word. Circumstances can only lend urgency to such a demand. And that demand is before us now. Are we as a Reformed Church ready to face the issue with the Reformed truth? Or are we going to deny our faith by mixing our witness in a confusion of teachings in a union seminary? What will our answer be?

Rev. Cecil W. Tuininga is pastor of the Telkwa, B.C., Canada, Christian Reformed Church.