The Theological Background of TCNN

The documents on the Nigerian question that will come before the 1960 Synod differ from those that were discussed at last year’s meeting in this that the doctrinal implications of this important issue are not mentioned. We trust they will not be lost sight of in this year’s discussions. After all, both the consistent championing of TCNN and the consistent opposition to this non-Reformed institution are based on opposing viewpoints and principles.

The only reasons mentioned by the Board for favoring the request of General Conference are that in this way the Church can maintain good relations in the field and retain the good will and confidence of the national Christians and that we have a moral obligation over against our sister church to help her in her need. But all this argumentation is without real value if the theological basis of TCNN is faulty. Our one obligation to our African sister church is to aid her in attaining to a clearer comprehension of the truths revealed in the Word of God and in training her future ministers in accordance with the Reformed faith.

By approving and supporting a united, interdenominational Seminary we are denying the conviction which has always motivated our Church in its work of Christian education and in the training of its ministers and missionaries, namely, that “the only theology which the Bible knows is the Reformed faith.”

There is an unacceptable principle behind the movement to foster a united, interdenominational seminary in one of our mission fields. The principle is this, to speak in general terms, that affiliation with Christian groups who mayor do disagree with us on important doctrinal questions is more important than to maintain our doctrinal distinctiveness. If one says that this is held only with respect to our mission fields, we answer that though this may be the position of some, others are more consistent and are ready to sacrifice basic denominational distinctiveness even in the home church for the sake of external unity with other denominations.

Moreover, what good reason can there be for holding that it is not so necessary to be Reformed in our mission work as in the activities of the church at home and that even the training of the future leaders on the mission field can safely be entrusted to men of conflicting doctrinal persuasions?

If anyone thinks that the cause of the TCNN is defended on purely practical grounds he should read more carefully what has been written on the subject, especially by the chief proponent of that institution.

The TCNN is the embodiment of a certain type of theology which underlies modem ecumenism. According to this kind of thinking the unity of the Church is essentially visible as well as invisible; in fact, there is no real unity ill the Church as long as there is outward division. The one thing that obscures the holiness of the Church is its lack of external unity. That is the great sin of the Church. Therefore a more ideal form of the Church is not found in Christian lands with their many denominations but in the mission fields where unity prevails to a far greater extent than in the home fields. The Church in Christian lands had better turn its back on its accumulated knowledge of the Scripture and learn from the churches in its mission fields where theological distinctions are still undeveloped and hazy.

Thoughts along this line seem to be in the mind of the principal advocate of TCNN. For example, we have in mind his article in the October 1959, issue of The Reformed Journal on “The Mystery of Christ.” We quote a few sentences from the concluding paragraph:

“From the beginning real knowledge of what the church is has come from the mission field. (italics mine). There the elemental combat between Christ and Satan takes place. There and nowhere else one finds the essence of things. Nowhere is the church more the church than on the mission field.” After enlarging on the thought that the church of Jerusalem had to learn from the churches at Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, the writer states; “But she (the Jerusalem church) did have one virtue which subsequent Jerusalems may well seek to emulate—she was willing to listen to the mission field (Acts 11 and 15 ). A large part of the contemporary church is indeed allowing itself to be taught by the mission field on the score of the unity of the church. This is no small part of the meaning of the ecumenical movement.”

The ecumenism referred to in the words just quoted is modern ecumenism, and modem ecumenism is essentially modernism as applied to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Such ecumenism is concerned about the outward unity of the church, not about its purity in doctrine. And since it holds that the unity of the church is essentially visible and outward, it would scrap all denominational distinctiveness and unite all denominations which confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior,” regardless of the interpretation of this slogan by the various church bodies. It is opposed to the formation of denominations in the mission fields and consequently to a confessional training of ministers in these fields.

We should not be so naive as to think that TCNN is regarded by those who favor it consistently as a temporary makeshift, as an inferior type of seminary justified only by the primitive conditions existing in our Nigerian field. A distinctive, Reformed seminary on that field, which is not merely a pre-seminary training school, not merely a feeder for TCNN, is abhorrent to those who believe in the ecumenicity of which the above quotation speaks and who hold that we must “allow ourselves to be taught by the mission field on the score of the unity of the church.”