The Reformed Theological College of Nigeria – A Milestone

This month Reformed people everywhere may well take notice of an event that may have incalculable significance for the future of our Reformed faith. The Tiv Church of Nigeria, which has been characterized as “the fastest growing church in the world” is opening its own seminary to train men for pastoral and missionary witness to the Reformed faith. How many Reformed churches are there in the world in these times of general spiritual decline which are showing significant growth at all? When the fastest growing church we know, a Reformed church(!) opens a school dedicated to teaching without compromise and with evangelistic zeal the whole biblical faith, is this not an event that should call for general thanksgiving to God?

The beginnings will, to be sure, be small (although many times larger than our own were) and the accommodations somewhat makeshift and unimposing, but since when has spiritual potential had any detectable relationship to size or capital assets? The spirit of dedication and sacrifice and the determination being shown by our African brethren makes their new venture far more exciting and promising than many an enterprise begun with much more elaborate material resources but on more doubtful spiritual foundations.

The Beginnings of the School. Summarizing the available details about the new school (on which readers of the TORCH AND TRUMPET were already given some information in the first article in last Decemher’s issue), we note that the Synod of the NKST (The Church of Christ in the Sudan among the Tiv) at its meeting on November 10-13, 1970 accepted the recommendation of the Reformed Seminary Planning Committee to open the new school, and it proceeded to appoint two of its men as teachers. Mr. Iyortyom Achineku, the Principal, is a graduate of our Reformed Bible Institute in Grand Rapids, has an A.B. from Barrington College, Barrington, Rhode Island, and has been teaching at the Mkar Teachers’ College in Nigeria. The other teacher, Rev. Paul Agba is a diploma (higher level) graduate of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria and has been teaching at the Benue Bible Institute on our mission field. Both have shown a lively interest in Reformed Christianity.

The Synod instructed each of its seven classes to appoint a delegate to the Board of Governors of the new school. That Board, meeting on November 14, appointed Rev. Isholibo Sai, chairman; Rev. Agena Nomsule, secretary; and Mr. Peter Ayaka, treasurer; and it appointed a committee to formulate a constitution for the school. At a later meeting on November 25 the Board interviewed twenty-five students who had passed the entrance examination (out of 99 who had taken it), regularly admitted twelve of them to the new school and accepted five others on probation, so that the first class is to begin with a total of 17 students.

The school is to open in temporary quarters at our vacant Shangev-Tiev mission station, although the Synod has decided to build on a permanent location near the city of Makurdi. Considerable sacrifices are demanded of the Tiv church as it undertakes this venture, but they demonstrate the more the intensity of their determination and zeal for the Reformed Faith.

The members of the Shangev-Tiv congregation have volunteered to help build dormitories for the students. Teachers and students will be beginning their school work in an isolated station where everything is a bit rundown and teachers may be making financial sacrifices, but our African brothers are going ahead with a firm faith that God will prosper their endeavor for Him and His gospel. An indication of their enthusiasm is found in the fact that one pastor even volunteered to relinquish his parsonage to the principal if the school were located at his station.

The Constitution. The proposed Constitution for the seminary. almost all the articles of which have now been accepted by the Tiv Church, contains several items that may be of general interest. The object for which the school is established is “to provide a four year course of training to students from every part of Nigeria who wish to study for the Gospel ministry from an evangelical and Reformed perspective” and “to assist those who have already entered pastoral work to carry out their work more effectively.” “The doctrinal basis of the College shall be the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Heidelberg Catechism.” The school will “seek to maintain a spirit of unity with the Reformed churches throughout the world and with all evangelical churches in the nation of Nigeria.”

The proprietor of the school is the Tiv church. The Board of Governors is to be composed of one representative chosen by each of the seven classes of the Tiv church, two representatives chosen by our mission, two representatives chosen by the other sister church on our mission field, the E.K.A.S. Lardin Benue, two members at large who are laymen chosen by the Tiv Synod, and the Board treasurer. The principal is to attend meetings but not vote. Offices are normally to be held for three years. Connected with the school there is to be a “Women’s School” which all students’ wives are to attend in order to be trained to become able pastors’ wives.

A Missionary Triumph. Looking at this new development in the perspective of our churches’ missionary history we may welcome it as a demonstration of the way the Lord has prospered the work begun many years ago from our churches’ home base when Johanna Veenstra first set out for Africa. Our churches from the time they became officially responsible for the work were always concerned about reaching out with the gospel, in the spirit of cooperation with others who preceded us and accompanied us in Christ’s work in that part of the world, while also always remaining uncompromisingly faithful to the full, biblical, Reformed faith. The decision in 1939 to begin working officially in Nigeria, the later decision to add the work among the Tiv, and notably the decision in 1959 dealing with the subject of pastors’ training all bear witness to our churches’ total commitment to the Reformed faith.” That commitment the Synod of 1959 saw as leading it towards “the establishment of a Reformed Theological Seminary.” (Acts 1959, pp. 46, 47.)

Unfortunately, in the last three years our synods have permitted themselves to be diverted from this fixed objective of “total commitment to the Reformed faith” by ecumenical pressures toward compromise. Our spiritual daughter, our Nigerian sister church, has refused to permit itself to be so diverted. After attempting in vain to get our help to begin a school devoted exclusively to training men in the Reformed faith, she has at great personal cost set out to give such training with or without our official help! Is this not a missionary triumph when the daughter puts the mother to shame by her sacrificial zeal for the faith we are all supposed to hold?

This remarkable development is also a tribute under God’s blessing to the faithful labors of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa which for forty years worked to establish the gospel among the Tiv. To that church belonged the pioneering hardships and decades of patient effort that preceded our dozen or so years in that field. And the kind of unflinching commitment to the whole gospel which the missionary pioneers among the Tiv people taught them now comes to expression in the dedication of these African Christians to a Reformed school.

An “Indigenous” Success. The coming of this school set up by the African church on its own initiative is also a remarkable demonstration of the way God has prospered our churches’ efforts of the last twenty years to promote a genuinely “indigenous” policy in our missionary labors. About 1950 our churches became convinced that our missionary efforts should be more consistently directed toward the establishing of self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting churches. On our African field that aim had been more consistently kept in view than on some others. Now in the decision of the Tiv church we are seeing about as plain an example as one could discover of the success with which God has prospered these missionary efforts to establish churches that support and promote the spread of the gospel with or without outside help.

Opportunities Unlimited. Just think of the missionary opportunities and challenges that face this African church. According to last available reports, some 200,000 people are attending its meetings, by far the largest number of them not yet confessing church members but inquirers who seek and need extra help. Until recently there were only about thirty some pastors looking after this work. How can one pastor begin to look after the spiritual needs of 6,000 or 7,000 people, especially when most of them need extra guidance? These pastors are, of course, assisted by other church members, but when one considers that this work among the one million member Tiv tribe is growing at a fantastic rate, isn’t it obvious that the need for well-trained men to lead in the bringing of the gospel there is one of the greatest that could be imagined?

Now when that Reformed Church in Nigeria has set out to train men to meet her need as well as those of others beyond her own borders for well-trained Reformed missionary leadership, can we think of a work anywhere in the world that has a stronger claim upon our deepest sympathy and prayerful and active support? It is to be hoped that our churches will awaken to realize the tremendous work the Lord has begun and is causing to grow out of our missionary labors and will seize the opportunity to help in it. Naturally, this new school faces many needs which severely tax the very limited material resources of this spiritually strong church. Buildings in the temporary quarters need repairs. Books are needed for the library. For the permanent buildings the church estimates that it needs 25,000 British pounds which equal about $60,000. Contributions to this new seminary may be sent to the treasurer,

Mr. Peter Ayaka
Mkar P.A. via Cboko
Benue-Plateau Nigeria

Checks drawn on any bank in North America should be made out to the Church of Christ in the Sudan among the Tiv. Or money may be sent by international money order or international certified check.

Peter De Jong is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan.