The United Reformed Church of North America’s Theological Education Committee met by conference call on April 21, 2004. At this meeting the following motion was adopted:
The committee’s position is that a federation of churches may have a federational seminary, but it is not necessary to have one. The committee believes that it is not prudent to have a federational seminary at this time for the following reasons:
a) In the North American context a number of reliable Reformed seminaries exist.
b) While these Reformed seminaries are independent of synodical control, they are accountable in a variety of ways to the churches (e.g., board members and faculty members subscribe to the Reformed confessions; such members are under the supervision of local elders).
c) We do not want to undermine the responsibility of the consistories and classes to supervise the theological education of their members by handing that education over to a theological college.
d) There is benefit to the federation in having its ministers educated in diverse, Reformed theological settings.
e) Having a federational seminary gives it an undue advantage over other Reformed seminaries to which the churches of the URCNA have been close.
We met together with the Canadian Reformed committee on the morning of June 15, 2004, in the Bethel United Reformed Church in Calgary, Alberta, prior to the opening of the URC Synod meeting. In attendance were the Reverends John Barach, Bradd Nymeyer, Calvin Tuininga, and Mark Vander Hart, from the URCNA. The Canadian Reformed committee members present were Dr. James Visscher, Dr. Cornelis van Dam, and elder Karl Veldkamp.
The discussion at the June 15 meeting was both amiable and frank. The suggestion that our two committees merge and function as one committee has not been acceptable to the URC committee because the two committees operate with different mandates from their respective synods. The Canadian Reformed committee’s mandate says, in part, that the “new federation should retain at least one federational theological school at which the board of governors, the professors and teaching staff are appointed by synod…” (Synod Chatham, 2004, article 75). The URCNA committee has no such mandate.
The Canadian Reformed delegates indicated that they were prepared to go where the biblical evidence should take them with regard to a federationally-controlled seminary. To that end, they have challenged the URC committee to respond to and critique in some detail the Canadian Reformed position paper, “Why do the Canadian Reformed Churches have their own Seminary?”
Our committee met again by telephone conference on January 12, 2005. It was agreed that our two committees cannot merge at this time, but this would be reviewed after the next joint meeting. The proposed meeting date of February 14-16, 2005, was set aside in favor of a May 9-11 meeting. This will give our committee more time to prepare a more thorough report that responds to the Canadian Reformed position paper. Bradd Nymeyer, assisted by Robert Godfrey, and with input from all committee members, is preparing that report.
Our committee also believes that it should address the URC Synod with advice concerning the principial but especially the practical dimensions of the question of theological education. To that end, we need to review what the current United Reformed Church order and its appendices prescribe by way of the churches’ expectations for the theological competence and training that prospective ministers should have.
By way of reminder of where we have articulated points of agreement, at the joint January 13, 2004, meeting, we agreed on the following:
a) It is the task of the churches to train ministers.
b) Ministers of the churches must receive sound reformed theological training.
c) As a principle, the training of ministers should be done by ministers.
d) Such training is best accomplished in the context of institutional theological education.
e) It is acknowledged that active involvement of the churches is required for the training of ministers and to protect the confessional integrity of such training; and
f) The churches, i.e., the URCNA and the CanRC, should work towards theological education that is properly accountable to the churches.
At this point in time, it appears that a main difference between the two committees is the question of whether a synodically-controlled, federational seminary is necessary.
Respectfully submitted, Mark D. Vander Hart, Secretary Theological Education Committee United Reformed Churches in North America