Time for Decision in Nigeria

The request of the no Mission Field of the Christian Reformed Church in Nigeria for a Reformed Seminary has created a good deal of excitement in that denomination. In view of the fact that the Foreign Mission Board of the Christian Reformed Church will be asked to decide on this request at its next meeting, the Editorial Board of TORCH AND TRUMPET felt it worthwhile to present the issues at stake in this request. Following are two articles that lay bare the salient questions in this matter.

A Call for Help

“It is necessary that we have teaching in the Reformed Faith, that is both correct and right. Thus when we come together with our 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 to give them. If we do not have this seminary we will be lost among them and other teachings will swallow u.s up. We will not have roots to stand firm.”

With this plea, the church of our Tiv mission 6eld in Nigeria (called by one of our missionaries “the fastest growing church in the world») has come asking us to help it give truly Reformed training to its pastors. Strange as it might seem, this request is meeting with opposition instead of the enthusiastic agreement and support one might expect: from a Reformed church and its missionaries.

What more important contribution could be made to the welfare of these churches than that of helping them to get the best training possible for their future pastors? In one foreign field after another—in Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Korea—our natural and proper concern for the developing churches has prompted us to help in establishing or maintaining Reformed seminaries for training the ministry. How does it come about that on the largest and most flourishing mission field of all a request for such help is greeted with opposition?

Historical Survey

Our interest as a church in the missionary effort in Nigeria began when workers from our church began to labor there, not under the administration of our own church mission board, but under an interdenominational agency. When our church took over responsibility for a share in the work of that field we agreed to continue cooperating with the other organization. With such cooperation in general no one can find fault. In this case, however, ecumenical pressures and sympathies that arose also among our missionaries led to the development, not of a seminary specifically committed to the Reformed fait.h, but of one dedicated to broader cooperation in which the diverse beliefs held by the various cooperating groups would be taught. The development of this Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN) raised questions in the field, in the board and throughout the church and in 1958 provoked a controversy that led to the appointment of a synodical study committee. When that committee made its divided report in 1959 the Synod decided that “the Christian Reformed Church participate in TCNN only to the extent of loaning Dr. H. Boer as a teacher of Reformed Theology in the TCNN”; explained 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 instructed “the Christian Reformed Board of Missions and the Nigeria General Conference to maintain and develop the Reformed Pastor’s Training program in Nigeria with a view to hopefully establishing a Reformed Theological Seminary” (Acts 1959, pp. 46, 47).

Despite this considered decision of the Synod, missionary leadership on the field continued to favor the union school and to oppose the idea of a specifically Reformed Seminary. In 1966 the Nigeria General Conference asked that our church give financial help to enlarge the facilities of the TCNN. But the Board denied this request on the basis of the Synod’s policy decision in 1959. The 1966 Synod referred the whole matter back to the Board for study.

The Practical Argument

Now the Tiv Church, much the larger of the two native church organizations on our field, has requested a Reformed Seminary. The first of the two grounds is the one of principle quoted at the beginning of this article. It is supported by a second, advancing the practical consideration that the TCNN cannot adequately supply Tiv needs. To appreciate that we need to consider a few facts about those churches. As was reported in The Banner (July 28, ]967, p. 4), “In our own mission area, the gospel is preached in more than sixteen hundred places each Sunday, or more than twice as many places in Nigeria as in the Christian Reformed Churches in the United States and Canada.” “The Church among the Tiv continues to be the fastest growing church in the world. The number of adult baptisms averages about thirty every Sunday.” The Tiv church communicant membership has been increasing at about 150% per five years and in 1965 totaled 8,105, but attendance at its services has been increasing much more rapidly and has reached 130,000 or about 13% of the approximately 1,000,000 population of the Tiv tribe. In this situation these Tiv churches-with about 10,000 communicant members, a much larger missionary opportunity and only about 30 pastors state that “Beginning in 1967 to 1971 we will need 70 pastors.” The TCNN which has a total of about 50 students, the Tiv churches’ letter points out, “is not only for us but there are eight other churches which she must supply.” How can a school for 50 students which must train ministers of 9 different churches adequately provide for the Tiv who alone need 70 pastors in the immediate future? The Tiv churches are now asking for a Reformed Seminary on our own field as the practical way to meet these great and increasing needs. The practicality of such a school has been demonstrated for more than a decade by the pastor’s training courses which have been taught on the field and which need only to be further developed to produce the seminary which is being requested.

“Ecumenical” Opposition to a Reformed School

Why are some missionaries opposing the reasonable request of this church on the field? The reasons for their opposition always come down to one: a school committed to the Reformed faith would interfere with the church unity across tribal and denominational lines which the union school symbolizes and was designed to promote. The desire for a Reformed school is misrepresented as though it constitutes a kind of selfish isolationism that has no heart for the needs of fellow Christians or for the larger cause of the advance of the gospel in Africa. The request of the Tiv church, far from reflecting indifference to the welfare of their fellow-Christians, argues that they need such a Reformed school in order to carry out their responsibilities as Reformed churches witnessing to the whole truth of the gospel in the ecumenical fellowship of other Christians with deviating teachings. The Tiv churches say they must have solidly Reformed training in order to share the riches of the gospel with the others and not be swept along with their errors. Their simple statement reveals an appreciation for the fact that real church unity, the kind for which Christ prayed, is one that grows out of loyalty to his Word and not one of compromise with aberrations from it.

The Rights of a Reformed Church

A very important fact, on which some of our missionaries were insistent in the past (although now they seem oblivious to it) is that in the Tiv church which makes this request we are dealing with a self-governing, independent Reformed church with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as our own denomination has. That Church has asked us for help to obtain a school to train its ministers in the Reformed faith. It states that it must have such a school if its own spiritual life is to be adequately rooted in the biblical faith and if it is to maintain that faith among its fellow Christians as well as proclaim it to the world. May we answer that church, “We refuse to help you because some of our missionaries tell us that in Africa you do not need such a school, that Africans lacking our peculiar 400 year post-Reformation history cannot appreciate Reformed doctrines anyway, and that some white missionaries know better what you need and ought to have than you yourselves do?” I hope that our churches have too deep an appreciation of the universality of the Reformed faith and too much respect for a sister Reformed church even to consider giving them such an outrageous answer. Does not their request, despite 10 years of ecumenical pressure to the contrary, prove their concern for the Reformed faith? Are we or our white missionaries, in 1968, going to force an independent African church to compromise the Reformed faith it wants to maintain by compelling it to be satisfied with an ecumenical school which we ourselves a decade ago could not in good conscience support? When this church asks for help to establish a Reformed school to train its ministers for one of the biggest church and missionary opportunities in the world, I hope and pray that the Lord will give us enough of an appreciation for the tremendous issues that are at stake so that we will thankfully and gladly give them all of the help they need, and that we will give them this help as quickly as possible.

Rev. Peter De Jong, pastor of the First Sarnia Christian. Reformed. Church, has been close to the principles in this question. He served as Foreign Missionary to China for several years, and was a member of the Foreign Mission Board of the Christian Reformed Church when the Theological College of Northern Nigeria was first organized.