GS 2007 art 103

GS 2007 Article 103 – The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA)

Synod continued the discussion on the URCNA report. The advisory committee presented a revised draft of Part 3 of its proposal regarding the Theological Education component.


1.      Material

  • 1.1     See Art. 98
  • 1.2     Theol. Ed. Com.  – Notes and Minutes of Meetings to General Synod 2007

2.      Observations

  • 2.1     Synod Chatham gave the Theological Education Committee the following mandate:
  • 2.1.1    To continue working closely with the committee re theological education appointed by the URCNA synods.
  • 2.1.2    To continue the evaluation of the current situation as to theological education within the CanRC and the URCNA.
  • 2.1.3    To develop a proposal concerning theological education within the new federation keeping in mind 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.
  •  Attention should be given as to what to do in the case of an aspiring candidate to the ministry who does not have adequate instruction in significant courses in Reformed Doctrine, in Reformed Church Polity, or in Reformed Church History, as well as Reformed Homiletics.
  • 2.1.4    To keep the CPEU updated on the progress.
  • 2.1.5    To provide the CPEU with a report in sufficient time for them to produce the comprehensive report for Synod in a timely fashion.
  • 2.2     The committee includes in its report the URCNA committee’s mandate “that this committee work together with the Canadian Reformed Committee to draft proposals for theological education to our respective synods in preparation for an eventual plan of union.”
  • 2.3     The committee reports the following regarding its mandate:
  • 2.3.1    Due to reasons of health, Rev. Cl. Stam was not able to accept his re-appointment. The committee appointed Rev. R. Schouten.
  • 2.3.2    The committee met three times by itself and two times as a joint committee with the URCNA counterparts.
  • 2.3.3    In the combined meeting of November 7 and 8, 2005, it became apparent that an impasse had been reached. The members of the URCNA committee unanimously agreed that “we as a committee are not prepared to entertain any proposal for theological education that mandates at least one federational seminary.” The committee notes that “for our part we were not at liberty to ignore this condition seeing our mandate specifically states ‘the new federation should retain at least one federational theological school.’”
  • 2.3.4    Because of the impasse that has been reached, the committee did not see any benefit in having further joint committee meetings.
  • 2.3.5    The committee requests synod to give serious consideration to continuing its mandate so that the committee will be able to serve the next general synod with a finalized report.
  • 2.4     Surrey is of the understanding that there were Statements of Agreement between the URCNA and the CanRC that “the resulting united churches will retain at least one federational theological school and that the synod recommend the schools professors and teaching staff for appointment.” They ask synod to approach the URCNA with the request for more clarity seeing the impasse that has arisen between the two sub-committees.
  • 2.5     Spring Creek overtures synod to be reluctant in surrendering too easily the practice of having a seminary of the federation. They submit 2 Timothy 2:2 as being a scriptural direction towards such a seminary and further provide seven additional grounds.
  • 2.6     London is convinced that we not surrender the principle that theological training is both the task and the responsibility of the churches.
  • 2.7     Carman West agrees with the committee about the principle that we should not give up that “theological training is both the task and the responsibility of the churches.”
  • 2.8     Flamborough supports the preference for a theological training by the churches for the churches. In case that theological education would become the only stumbling block, Flamborough urges synod to consider whether holding on to the demand of a federational Theological College or Seminary is a biblical requirement.
  • 2.9     Grand Rapids agrees with the conclusion of the committee that the failure to recognize the need for at least one federational seminary in a new federation will call “into question… the future of the entire merger project.”
  • 2.10   Carman East considers an impasse regarding a federational theological seminary to be a dealbreaker.
  • 2.11   Grand Valley agrees that we as churches must maintain at least one federational seminary and support the principle “that theological training is both the task and the responsibility of the churches.”
  • 2.12   Langley proposes that synod not appoint or reappoint any of the professors from our Theological College and that synod overture URCNA Synod Schererville 2007 to likewise not appoint or reappoint any professors from the independent seminaries to their committee.
  • 2.13   Fergus North supports the need for federational theological training.

3.      Considerations

  • 3.1     Synod appreciates the number of meetings held by the joint committee and recognizes that an impasse occurred due to the committees having received apparent incompatible instructions in their mandates as it relates to a federational seminary.
  • 3.2     The church at Surrey is correct to point out that in 2001 the Statements of Agreement show that the unity committees (CPEU and CERCU) agreed that “the mandates for the proposed theological study committees of both federations contain provisions… for at least one federational theological school” (pp.152-3, Acts, Synod Neerlandia). This is likely the backdrop for the mandate which Synod Chatham gave to the committee. However, Surrey does not indicate what status the Statements of Agreement have in the URCNA. The report of the Theological Education Committee also gives no elucidation on this. In fact, Synod 2001 of the URCNA decided that the Statements of Agreement hold no official status in the URCNA. This means that we cannot simply hold the URCNA to the statement “at least one federational theological school” in the Statements of Agreement.
  • 3.3     The mandate for the theological education committee must be based on 2 Timothy 2.2, which directs us to the principle that the churches are responsible for the theological training of their students for the ministry. In this connection, it should be noted and appreciated that the two theological education committees have already come to agreement on the following six statements, as reported to Synod Chatham 2004:
    • –     It is the task of the churches to train ministers.
    • –     Ministers of the churches must receive sound reformed theological training. –   As a principle, the training of ministers should be done by ministers.
    • –     Such training is best accomplished in the context of institutional theological education.
    • –     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.
    • –     The churches, i.e., the URCNA and CanRC, should work towards theological education that is properly accountable to the churches. (p. 236, Acts of Synod Chatham)
  • These agreements indicate that the two committees are solidly united in the biblical principle of theological education being the full responsibility of the churches.
  • 3.4     The principle of 2 Timothy 2.2, which points in the direction of the churches being responsible for the training for the ministry, does not necessitate the conclusion of a ‘federational’ seminary. Article 19 of the Church Order of the CanRC also does not necessitate a federational seminary as “an institution for the training for the ministry” is not the same as federational seminary. Already it is possible under Article 19 for the churches to maintain an institution apart from that institution having to belong to the federation. Therefore, it would be best, for clarity’s sake, to realize that ‘federational’ seminary is terminology that has arisen (in the Statements of Agreement and in the mandate of Synod Chatham) out of current practice and is not itself the Reformed theological education principle. The principle remains: the churches are responsible for the training for the ministry.
  • 3.5     It is not acceptable in the course of discussions and agreements leading to federative unity that the committees, or, rather, the way to unity, should reach an impasse on a matter of practice only. There is a way forward: the mandate for the committee should leave sufficient room for a broad range of possibilities to be considered and explored based on the scriptural principle and in accordance with the agreements the committees have already made (see Cons. 3.3 above).
  • 3.6     The practice of having a federational seminary (of the churches for the churches), has a long history in the Reformed churches, and has served the CanRC well over many years. A seminary at which the board and faculty are appointed by the synods of the churches is one of the fullest ways to express the principle that the churches take responsibility for the training for the ministry. Therefore a federational seminary cannot and must not be quickly removed from the discussion of the theological education committees. Indeed, synod expresses the strong preference for the historic practice of maintaining a federational seminary. Synod appreciates the submissions of the churches at Carman East, Carman West, Fergus North, Flamborough, Grand Rapids, Grand Valley, and Spring Creek expressing preference for a federational seminary, while acknowledging the position of Flamborough that a federational seminary is not a biblical requirement. Synod expresses the desire that the next URCNA synod would mandate the URCNA theological education committee to engage the CanRC committee on all options, including the possibility of at least one federational seminary.
  • 3.7     Synod agrees with the committee’s request to continue discussions about theological education with an eye to federative unity with the URCNA.
  • 3.8     Synod sees the wisdom of Langley’s proposal to not appoint or reappoint any of the professors from our Theological College in Hamilton to the Theological Education Committee.

4.      Recommendation

Synod decide:

  • 4.1     To thank the Theological Education Committee for its work.
  • 4.2     To express appreciation for the work that Rev. Cl. Stam was able to do in his term on the committee and thank him for his work, and to approve of the appointment of Rev. R. Schouten.
  • 4.3     To reappoint the Theological Education Committee and to replace the two members of the committee who work at the Theological College in Hamilton.
  • 4.4     To mandate the committee:
    • 4.4.1    To seek agreement with the URCNA committee about theological education for the new united federation:
      •  On the principle of 2 Timothy 2.2
      •  Taking into consideration the joint statements made by the theological education committees (see Consideration 3)
      •  While expressing the strong preference for at least one federational seminary
    • 4.4.2    To convey this decision, with the observations and considerations, to the theological education committee of the URCNA in time for the next URCNA synod.