The Union Seminary of Nigeria

The proponents of a Union Seminary in Nigeria have set forth their reasons in various places with many words. It is possible to boil this literature down to a few basic arguments. Here we attempt to set forth their essential reasons and then analyze them.


1. One of the strongest arguments that the Union adherents use centers around the fact that the Nigerian Christians are in the minority. The argument runs like this: On April 2, 1960, Nigeria will become independent. Maybe, Christianity will be engulfed by unbelief. For, although the Christians total about 45% of the population in eastern and western Nigeria, in the political division where our mission work is located, Northern Nigeria, there are 19 million pagans against only 400,000 nominal Christians, inclusive of Romanists. Maybe the religious freedoms of the Christians will be taken away in part or wholly. Therefore, says the Rev. Henry J. Evenhouse, echoing Dr. Harry R. Boer, “The big issue that registers with me is the sea of Mohammedanism and the united front of Catholicism rising to threaten the Protestant movement” (ACTS OF SYNOD, 1957, p. 272). “Today the united voice of a powerful, vital Protestantism must be raised” (THE BANNER, May 23, 1958, p. 12).

This concern for the minority must not be pooh-poohed. Although these fears may prove to be ungrounded, yet realism will force us to reckon with the distinct possibility that the religious freedoms of the Christians may be curtailed. But note two matters in this connection:

a. The establishing of a Nigerian Calvinistic Seminary does not prohibit the raising of a “united voice of a powerful, vital Protestantism” against “the sea of Mohammedanism and the united front of Catholicism.” This reasoning confuses seminaries with churches. Even though a Reformed seminary is established, a united voice of the churches can still be raised. The Christians can unite in action in much the same manner as many denominations do in the National Association of Evangelicals, on issues of passports denied to missionaries or persecutions of Protestants or many other matters. Rev. Edgar H. Smith misses the point entirely when in his Postscript he emphasizes that Calvinists and Arminians are spiritually one in the Lord, and that we may not erect “barriers of denominationalism which so effectively segregate Christians from each other in the States” (The Banner, July 25, 1958, p. 20). The point at issue is not denominations, but seminaries. The continuation of Calvin Seminary in the States does not mean that the Christian Reformed Church cannot have fellowship with the denominations represented at Fuller or Westminster or Northern Baptist seminaries. Even though Nigeria should establish a Calvinistic seminary, the Christians of many and varied churches may still fellowship together and raise a united voice for Protestantism.

b. Furthermore, it is the very fact that the Christians are in a minority group over against the sea of Mohammedanism that demands that the future pastors be thoroughly grounded in the Word in a Calvinistic way and not in the compromising fashion of a Union Seminary.

Suppose, for example, that Rome or some other hostile force should eventually thoroughly dominate the United States. Who would then remain true and stable for a longer period of time? A Fuller Seminary graduate or a Calvin or Westminster graduate?

The Fuller Seminary graduate is from a union seminary. It has a library far superior in numbers to Calvin’s or Westminster’s. It has the money for expensive buildings. At its inception ten years ago it began with a salary of $12,500 for faculty members, and it was stale-studded with big names. But the professors have varying convictions. One may be from Dallas, another from Baptist Gordon, a third from Presbyterian Princeton, a fourth from the Congregational churches, and so on. The result is that on many, many issues the professors either contradict each other or avoid the issue. This means that many graduates either have not been taught important doctrines or they graduate without being absolutely sure what they believe, since they have been taught conflicting ideas.

In a time of crisis in the United States, in spite of the wealth, buildings, prestige, and names of Fuller, I would much prefer graduates of Calvin or Westminster. For their theological training has been unified and it has been more Biblically correct in contrast to that of the Fuller graduate. As a result they will be more stable and will persevere longer in the face of stiff opposition and the tendency to compromise the truth.

Likewise, in Nigeria, if we are really afraid of the tidal wave of unbelief, our hope lies not in the externalities of outward unions that gloss over the differences, nor in big libraries, and expensive buildings; but rather our hope lies with ministers who have been trained in a unified way in a Calvinistic seminary. Those are the men who will stand the test.

If, as Dr. Boer says, the average Nigerian is “theologically undiscriminating and therefore theologically undifferentiated,” then the parallel with Fuller Seminary is ever so much more pertinent. It would be difficult for a boy brought up all his life in a totally Calvinistic environment of the Christian Reformed Church, Christian schools, and Calvin College, with twelve years of catechetical instruction, to go to Fuller for his theological training and then come out solidly convinced of the Biblicalism of Calvinism, even if we had one Calvin professor at Fuller. (Witness, for example, the attack on the infallibility of the Bible by one of the students in the Calvin Seminary student publication in the September 1958 issue of Stromata and by the editor in a later issue.) How much more difficult, then, would it be for a boy to remain true to the Reformed faith when he has come out of African paganism only one to five years previously into a church that is still as primitive in its theological thinking as Dr. Boer says it is.

History has shown that the Church often declines to Modernism through Arminianism and the “theologically undiscriminating.” If the church does not train the Nigerian Christians, and especially the theological leaders, the future pastors, in the Reformed faith, if these men are not keenly aware of the theological issues and differences involved and the true Biblical answers, then this church, too, wiIl fall. What is at stake in the question of the establishment of a Calvinistic versus a compromising Union Seminary is not simply a few points of doctrine—the five points of Calvinism or the covenant—but Christianity itself, the deity of Christ and his substitutionary atonement. Calvinism and not unionism is the best answer to Africa’s challenge to Christianity.

Thus the biggest argument for the Union Seminary—the overwhelming odds of Nigerian paganism—is the very reason why it is imperative to have a Reformed Seminary there and now. We dare not wait.



2. A second major mason that the Union Seminary adherents set forth is the “distinctive situation of the African church.” They speak of the Nigerian church as being “theologically undiscriminating,” similar to the early Christian church. They have not gone through the historical searching and struggle of the Western church in the formulating of its doctrines. It is concerned with Christ but not the Reformed faith, with the gospel but not in a specifically denominational framework, with the Bible but not the Reformed idea of inspiration. It is oblivious to “western theological distinctions” which have been conditioned by and grown out of the western—not Nigerian history. The question of Arminianism versus Calvinism is meaningless to the Nigerian. It is therefore permissible to “acquaint” the Nigerian with these western “theological refinements,” but there should not be a seminary to teach them these matters in a thorough way. They are like a “saturated sponge.” “The present ability of the brightest young African meaningfully to absorb our western theological distinctions is strictly limited” (H. Boer in THE REFORMED JOURNAL, March, 1958).

a. Regardless of the intention of the union proponents, the over-all impression given is that many doctrines that the Reformed Church holds to are western and therefore not too important. Now it is true that our awareness of Biblical doctrines did not come overnight, but grew out of often heated controversies in the course of two thousands of years. That is how the doctrines grew concerning the Trinity, the natures of Christ, grace, the atonement, the church, common grace (think of 1924), etc. But these must not be disparaged as western theological refinements with which it is best not to bother the African church. These are Biblical truths. Through his providence God chose to reveal them through the struggles of the churches in Europe and Asia Minor. If the fundamental theological distinctions concerning the Trinity or grace or sovereign grace had been understood first through doctrinal discussions by Fiji Islanders, then American, Japanese, Nigerian, and all other Christians would be obliged to appropriate them thoroughly as their own since they are Biblical. If Calvinism is not Biblical, we had better throw away the Canons of Dart. But if they are Biblical they are as good for a Nigerian as an American, as a Fiji Islander. Biblical truths are universal.

b. It should be noted, further, that it is impossible to avoid taking a stand on many theological issues. Any thinking person cannot possibly avoid making a judgment as to whether he is going to baptize an infant or not, whether the bread is changed into the body of Christ or not, whether Christ died for all or not. Perhaps many of the African church members have a blank mind on these issues because they are indeed from a primitive background and have not yet been confronted with problems. But surely a pastor who is going to be leading the Church of Christ will be thinking and questioning, and he cannot by any stretch of the imagination fail to make judgments as to whether the “western theological refinements,” such as the Trinity, covenant, infant baptism, and sovereign grace of God are Biblical or not. Either you practice infant baptism or you do not. Either you believe Christ died for all or you deny it. Either you practice Congregationalism or Presbyterianism or some other form of church government. A pastor cannot live in an abstraction. A thinking person as a leader of a church has to take a stand in his own mind.

And we question the accuracy of Dr. Boer’s remark that “the present ability of the brightest young African meaningfully to absorb our western theological distinctions is strictly limited.” For a published letter (dated Sept. 8, 1958) to his supporting church from one of the Nigerian missionaries (who, incidentally, is for the Union Seminary ) shows that not only have the ministers taken a stand on Calvinism but even the ordinary people have. He writes: “One of the interesting things I found out is the Arminian position of the people on the matter of the Limited Atonement of Christ. Due to DRCM teachings, they were all universalists on the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ. However, when shown from the Scriptures that Jesus died only for his own elect people, they immediately see the error of their view and recognize the authority of the Word of God.” This shows that the people are already making decisions on these matters.

c. Furthermore, to treat the great doctrines of the church as something that is “western,” with which we will not trouble the Nigerian church, is a slap against the Holy Spirit. It is wrong to h’eat the Nigerians as if the Holy Spirit had never guided the church, by leaving them in a mental state that is similar to the days of the first centuries. The Holy Spirit has been active over the centuries, constantly leading the church to a new realization of Biblical truths and doctrines. It would be most ungrateful and unwise to put the people back before the days of the non-African controversies concerning the Trinity, person of Christ, Pelagianism—yes, and such matters as the “filioque” question -and expect the Nigerians to develop their own theology in their own environment and history. The Holy Spirit has led the holy, catholic (universal) church—and that includes Nigeria—into the truth. To neglect his labor is an affront to his necessity and importance. This is basically the error of Fundamentalism: no creed but Christ. Just go back to the Bible. Forget the Canons of Dort as a western distinction. Disregard the Spirit’s leading. Do “not preach the gospel of the Reformed churches”; “preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” (That My House May Be Filled, p. 39). It may well be asked: Just who is theologically undiscriminating?


3. Another objection to a Calvin Seminary of Nigeria is that “separated theological education would run counter to all the feelings and the desires of the church” in Nigeria (Evenhouse, Acts OF SYNOD, 1957, p. 272). The argument is that the Nigerian church is a “master in her own house” (Dr. Boer), and if she does not see the need of a thoroughly Reformed training, the Christian Reformed Church of America may not lord it over her.

It must be admitted that all that our church does must be done with tact, consideration, and thoughtfulness for this young Nigerian church. At the same time, just because the Nigerian church is not, as Dr. Boer says, as theologically mature as our own church, nor as aware of the dangers fraught in a Union Seminary for a people of a primitive land, we must lead it in some ways as a father guides a child. We must not give way to its theological indiscrimination any more than we would to the theological . immaturity of a boy. If our missionaries are convinced of the value of the Reformed faith, convinced that it is not mere bagatelle, and that the future of the Nigeria church as a whole depends in great measure on a sound theological training, I believe that with great tact and love we can show the Nigerian church the reasonableness of this course of action.


4. Another major reason given for a Union Seminary may be best stated in the words of Dr. Boer in THE BANNER of May 23, 1958, p. 22, “Finally, working together with others in this undertaking [of establishing a Union Seminary]…is an unavoidable moral obligation on the part of the Christian Reformed Church to do so. When in 1939 we took over the Nigerian field…we solemnly covenanted to work with the other missions to bring into being a single Church of Christ in the Sudan…we cannot, except at the price of being flagrant breakers of the covenant and pledge made by us in 1939, deliberately place obstacles in the way of bringing an ultimate union about.”

a. In answer to this it should be observed that again there is confusion between the ideas of denominations and seminaries. The report of the Board of Mission to the 1938 Synod was speaking in terms of denominations and not of seminaries. It spoke of “the idea of forming an African Church based upon the doctrinal basis of the· world’s Evangelical Alliance” (Acts of Synod, 1938, p. 269 ). Absolutely nothing was said about forbidding our mission stations to teach the Reformed truth. We would not be “flagrant breakers of the covenant and pledge made by us in 1939” if we established a Reformed seminary. But even if teaching the truth and the whole truth as it is found in Reformed theology were breaking a covenant (which it is not), then by all means we should break it. We may not fall into the error of sacrificing truth for the sake of unity. This is precisely the ecumenical error of Rome and the Modernists. It is very well possible, however, to work toward one African church and still prepare ministers in the whole truth of the Bible. In fact, what other honorable way is there to unity than that based on truth?

b. Moreover, the records of our synodical decisions reveal that it was never the intention or understanding of our church that we would take over the Nigerian field on the condition that we abandon the Reformed faith or refuse to teach our men in a thoroughly Reformed fashion. The Synod of 1938 did speak of upholding the principle of the indigenous church in Africa and not attempting to establish our own denomination in this field. But just before that there is a sentence that is often omitted by the Union Seminary proponents and yet t hat shows the true perspective. It reads: “Although, evidently, it will not be possible to get control of this field in the sense of absolutely separating it from the affiliation with the S.U.M., yet it seems possible to get sufficient control over the gospel work in this field as to insure its positive Reformed character” (Acts of Synod, 1938, p. 269) . And then in the actual decision of our church to take over the field, one of the reasons for doing so was that “it is possible for our Church to obtain doctrinal and ecclesiastical control of this field” (Acts of Synod, 1939, p. 89). Further, in 1945, Synod clarified the 1939 principle of working toward forming one African church. It declared that it endorsed the “policy of church union as now in effect on our Nigerian field. The term ‘church union’ may raise in our minds the specter of denominations seeking to unite organically. That is not the connotation of the term as applied to Nigeria. It refers to a rather loose organization, a spiritual fellowship, with only advisory powers” (Acts of Synod, 1945, p. 45). Synod then adopted three resolutions “in order to safeguard our Reformed beliefs and practices on the Nigerian field,” namely:

1.) “Our branch shall be called the Christian Reformed Branch…”

2.) The Christian Reformed Branch “shall retain the right to call its own pastors and to develop the church life according to our Reformed principles.”

3.) “The Field Council shall continue to refrain from interfering with the right of our branch to determine its own creed.”

Thus the important documents of 1938, 1939, and 1945 show that while we are working for “church union” in Nigeria, this union is “a rather loose organization, a spiritual fellowship with only advisory powers.” It in no way curtails the church’s right “to develop the church life according to our Reformed principles,” and this would include teaching pastors the Reformed truth, whether it be as we have always done or in a more organized Calvinistic Seminary in Nigeria. Thus there would be no flagrant breaking of a covenant made in years gone by, as some would lead us to believe.


5. Some reason that it is not feasible to establish a Reformed Seminary because the number of students is too small for the sizable staff needed for a solid education. One missionary speaks of a school of only four students (“Postscript,” THE BANNER, July 25, 1958).

Certainly this must be a concern. Yet at times ten men have been taught by the missionaries, and last year ten were ordained into the ministry (Acts of Synod, 1958, p. 215). Missionary Tadema expects fifteen students for the next class in Zaki Biam. All evidence points to an increase and not a decrease in this number. The church itself is growing. Our field will be enlarged considerably when we take over the Dutch Reformed Church mission. And more men will be available because of the present tremendous strides in elementary and secondary education in all Nigeria. It is imperative that we do not look back but ahead to see the great growth that will come to the Nigeria church.


6. Perhaps the second greatest argument for a Union Seminary is · the desire to influence the other churches in Northern Nigeria. It is expressed in the title of an article by Dr. Boer in THE BANNER: “Involvement or Isolation?” (May 23, 1958). He asks if “we have sufficient confidence in its [i. e., Reformed heritage strength and integrity to enter into the market place with it. Must we in Nigeria confine our message in the field of theological education to our own area or have we a vision of the whole of the great North…?””The Rev. Henry Evenhouse poses the same question when he asks: “Have we the faith in our Reformed witness that it will carry on in the midst of a complex world situation…?” He argues that the train for the Union Seminary is going togo on whether we like it or not, and therefore we might as well stay on and thereby have some influence in the rest of Northern Nigeria. If not, “the train will stop long enough for us to get off, and then proceed to its goal” (THE BANNER, May 23, 1958).

Personally, I consider this one of the more powerful arguments for a Union Seminary. I do not think we can lightly cast aside this concern for the rest of Northern Nigeria. But here are two points to ponder.

a. We must be careful not to overestimate the influence we will have in the rest of Nigeria. Remember, that influence is a two-way street. If one Reformed professor will try to influence the students from other churches, the four non-Reformed men will not be standing by idle. They, too, will have an influence on the Nigerian students from our church, the brightest of whom, says

Dr. Boer, are strictly limited in absorbing meaningfully our western theological distinctions. Furthermore, if the Reformed professor is to be one who believes he should preach the gospel but not the Reformed faith, I wonder how much influence we really will have with others.

b. The antithesis set up in the title “Involvement or Isolation?” is a false one. It is not a question of either-or. This is exactly the same type of specious argumentation that the Reformed Church in America uses in its official attack against Christian education in the United States. They accuse the Christian schools of being isolationistic, withdrawing from the battle front, and being afraid to witness in the market-place of the public schools.

But the goal of Christian schools in America or a Calvinistic Seminary in Nigeria is not isolationism. On the contrary, it is just the opposite: involvement. The goal is not to flee the world but to train the pupil well, so thoroughly, in the whole counsel of God (and not just in a piece-meal, part-time, supplementary program of a Union Seminary) that he will be able to get involved in the world, and not be overcome, but conquer.

It may well be that the best impact we can make is not through a Union Seminary with a weak voice, but rather by · developing strong African leaders through a Reformed training in a Reformed Seminary, men who, being trained in a Calvinistic way in the context of their own culture, will be able to speak out with great effect to their fellow Africans. In this country, for example, Westminster Seminary carries a weight in the United States church scene out of all proportion to her size. Professors Wilson, Machen, Allis, Young, Stonehouse, Murray, and Van Til have had a tremendous weight and influence in many non-Reformed circles.

In conclusion, I would like to add that if in addition to our own Reformed Seminary we can also have an influence in the proposed Union Seminary by having a professor there, I believe that would be wise under certain conditions. If, for example, Fuller Seminary would allow us to have a professor of Reformed convictions on its faculty who could teach without any compromise at all, it would be well worth it for the Christian Reformed Church to pay the salary so that it could have an influence for the Reformed faith there. So also in Nigeria I can envision the desirability of a similar work and the payment not only of a salary but also of more—for support of buildings, for example—if that would mean that we would have an influence on this theological training. But this should be done only under certain conditions. The professor should be able to teach the truth and the whole truth at all times. And the student body of our churches in Nigeria should receive its theological training in its own Calvin Seminary.

If they should be drawn away to an insipid training at a compromise seminary because one Reformed professor is there, the purpose of a Reformed Seminary would be defeated.

But in any case, because of the surrounding sea of paganism in Nigeria and because we should have well trained men who can make an impact not only in our own mission field, but also in all Northern Nigeria, our church should encourage the immediate establishment of a Calvin Seminary of Nigeria that will teach “the whole counsel of God.”