Theological Education in Australasia

The first decade of Reformed Theological training in Australasia is history. This has been a time of unexpected developments.

In 1955 two pastors and three students gathered in a small Sunday school hall. This was the beginning. There were no suitable physical facilities; there was no library. There were doubts in the minds of various small church groups. Men were thinking that the organization of a seminary was financially impossible and ecclesiastically unwarranted. Could not ministers be called from other churches? From other countries?

But the Lord has signally blessed the endeavors of the supporters of the Reformed Theological College. An increasing number of students enrolled, representing at least six national origins. A fine old building, built as a boarding school one hundred years ago, was purchased at a low price. Classroom furniture has been acquired. The library is expanding. A hearty “thank you” is due to all those who have contributed money or books. The faculty has been enlarged. The Rev. A. Barkley, M.A. of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Rev. J. A. Schep, D. Th. were the first lecturers. The Rev. K. Runia, D. Th. joined the faculty in 1957. To enable the College to call this third lecturer, support was given by the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. In 1961 I was asked to join the faculty as lecturer in Old Testament subjects. The Christian Reformed Church assumes this added financial responsibility.

Now, at the close of the first decade, fifteen students are either serving a congregation or soon hope to be. Twenty-four young men were enrolled this past year.

At the close of the tenth year, we witnessed the retirement of Dr. J. Schep, due to age and ill health. This retirement of one of the first professors accentuates the end of the first decade of work.



As the Reformed Theological College launches out into its second decade, it is forced to make a serious study of theological training and the preparation of workers for the Lord in Australasia. The search for a successor to Dr. Schep has brought a number of these problems into focus. We cannot ignore them; responsibly and courageously we must face them.

(1) The Australian-New Zealand environment is basically British. The color bar keeps all Asians, Africans and Indians out of the country—except students who are permitted to enter for a limited time. Large numbers of West Europeans

have entered the countries here, but these are selected, to an extent, on the basis of their adaptability to British society. The greatest majority of immigrants have and still come from the United Kingdom. Now, should the College ignore this factor? If it does, it may well be considered an intentionally-established foreign institution to propagate a foreign culture and non-indigenous ecclesiastical institutions. To be thus considered would raise tremendous barners which would take years to overcome and remove. We sincerely wish to serve the entire Australasian community. (2) The first decade witnessed students coming to the College from various national backgrounds and denominations. The nations represented were; the Netherlands (predominantly), Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hongkong. The Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church and the Basel Mission church were represented. However, shldents from these various churches were or had become Reformed before they enrolled in the College.

We wish to appeal to a wider range of prospective students. The Reformed Theological College is not a denominational institution; rather, it was organized and is operated by the Association for Calvinistic Higher Education. As an independent Reformed institution we wish to draw students from varied religious environments. We want to train these men in the Reformed. faith and life.

How can we achieve our goal? We are searching for ways, praying that the Lord will open up avenues for us by which young people from the whole of the Australasian social and ecclesiastical world can come to us to be trained for the ministry and missionary service. (3) Australian academic requirements must be considered.

This problem has various facets.

Should the faculty members have post-graduate degrees? Various Australasian institutions have faculty members with a low academic standing. Should we therefore be content to equal the minimum? No; we wish to have academic recognition in the fast expanding and developing Australasian society. Hence we want to have lecturers who have at least a Master’s degree, if possible, a Doctor’s degree.

Furthermore, should we consider the study of theology as graduate or post-graduate work? In Australasia we have the choice of taking students who have matriculation standard (roughly equivalent to a Junior College diploma in the U.S.A. or those who have acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree. If we insist on a B.A. degree, theology is then considered to be post-graduate study. If we take matriculation standard, theology is placed in the graduate category. Furthermore, the proportion of theological students in various schools in Australia who acquire a B.A. degree first is small. Again. we do wish to have a properly trained ministry. But, is it really necessary to have acquired a B.A.? It is to be preferred by all means. But, if we insist on the B.A. we may well cut down our enrollment, and hence our ministry to a large segment of the Australian theological students.

Then there is the question concerning the granting of a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Should we seek to obtain a charter from the state to grant the B.A.? Is it warranted for us to devote time and finances to the improvement of our facilities and library and to insist on a faculty with degrees so as to obtain a charter?

We are convinced that we must seriously grapple with the problems involved in the academic sphere. However, we are even more convinced that degrees and high standards may well be a detriment. If these in any way quench the Spirit of God and if they induce scholars to weaken or even betray a positive stand for the Reformed Faith they are detrimental. Furthermore, the possession of degrees in no way guarantees a Spirit filled life, a love filled heart, an enthusiastic defense of the Reformed faith, nor a diligent and sincere desire to propagate the truth. These are absolutely necessary for a professor of theology in a Reformed Seminary.

(4) Ecumenicity is a living issue in theological institutions and churches existing today. The Reformed churches of Australia and New Zealand have taken a positive stand against affiliation with the World Council of Churches or with any of its related bodies. The churches have done so deliberately and were fully conscious of what they were doing. The very existence of the Reformed churches in Australasia testifies to the protest of dedicated Reformed Christians against the liberalism in theology and the unfaithfulness in Christian life and discipline so prevalent in Australia. An affiliation with an organization comprised of churches which condone and even propagate that which is contrary to God’s Word would deny the right of the Reformed churches to exist.

However the churches in Australasia are very conscious of their ecumenical calling and responsibilities. Witness their enthusiastic participation in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.

In the light of the churches’ stand, what should the College do when selecting faculty members? If the College is to have the confidence and support of the church members it must honor the stand of the churches. More, each faculty member should be convinced in his heart and be prepared to fully and conscientiously support the stand taken by the churches.

(5) In Australia there is a constant demand for that type of training which often is termed “Bible College training.” Many young people are eager to take a few years of concentrated work in Biblical studies in preparation for foreign mission and/or home-evangelistic work. The Reformed Bible Institute in Grand Rapids testifies to such a demand in U.S. and Canada. To erect a Bible Institute in addition to the College is impossible from various points of view. Should we then seriously consider the development of a Bible College course in our Theological College? If we do not oHer such a course the young people will enroll in other institutions with varied theological emphases. But, if we do wish to prepare a curriculum for Bible college students, should we combine it in part with the regular theological curriculum? Or, should added courses be offered? If so, which? Who would be qualified and able to teach these extra courses? Should we seek to appoint a lecturer who meets the academic standards for teaching in New Testament theology and simultaneously teaches the New Testament Bible college students at their level? Are such men available?

The Reformed Churches and the Reformed Theological College were raised up by men and women who, loving the truth of God’s Word, wished to preserve and propagate their heritage. In the Australasian world the forces militating against such an ambitious programme are many. Other groups have said they wish to remain faithful to their heritage. But the fact is they are finding it very difficult.

Permit me to cite an example. The Baptist church of Australia until recently could say it was one of the few churches in Australia that remained faithful to the inspired. infallible Word of God. However, students now graduating from Baptist theological colleges are openly accepting the higher critical views regarding Scripture. They are taught to be uncritical of the critical and to regard the historic conservative evangelical point of view as “open to question.” Simultaneous with this trend in the theological halls is the movement to affiliate with the World Council of Churches. Recently, by a small majority vote, the Baptist church decided to affiliate with the World Council of Churches. Subsequent to that, a Christian Fellowship group has been organized within the Baptist denomination with the stated purpose to maintain and defend and propagate their historic Baptist heritage and to continue to call men everywhere to a true repentance and a life of faith.

Will the Reformed churches remain true to their stated intentions? Much depends indeed on what stand the Reformed Theological College takes in regard to many of the vital current issues discussed in the Christian world today.

May the Lord of all Wisdom give all that is required to be faithful to Him and His revealed will, to understand it more fully and to propagate it fearlessly.

Ten years is a short time in the lives of men and nations. Within that brief span the Reformed churches which have sprung up in Australasia have attained a measure of maturity in their attempt to witness for the historic Christian faith in lands which have been largely secularized.

In this article Prof. George van Groningen of the Reformed Theological College, located in Geelong Victoria, introduces us to the problem which face this institution as it enters the second decade of its history.