GS 2010 art 71

GS 2010 Article 71 – Report of the Joint Committee about Theological Education

1.         Material

  • 1.1       Acts of General Synod Smithers 2007, Article 103.
  • 1.2       Report of the Joint Committee of the Theological Education Committees of the URCNA and the CanRC (Reports to General Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010, vol. 3, pages 1-26).
  • 1.3        Letters from the Churches at Guelph (8.3.E.1), Orangeville (8.3.E.2), Burlington-Ebenezer (8.3.E.3), Hamilton-Providence (8.3.E.4), Coaldale (8.3.E.5), Edmonton-Immanuel (8.3.E.6), Owen Sound (8.3.E.7), Fergus-Maranatha (8.3.E.8), Glanbrook (8.3.E.9), Ancaster (8.3.E.10), Yarrow (8.3.E.11), Abbotsford (8.3.E.12), and Neerlandia (8.3.E.13) regarding the report of the Joint Committee.

2.         Observations

  • 2.1       General Synod Smithers 2007 (Article 103, Recommendation 4) mandated the Theological Education Committee:
    • [4.4]     To seek agreement with the URCNA committee about theological education for the new united federation:
      • [4.4.1]  On the principle of 2 Timothy 2:2.
      • [4.4.2] Taking into consideration the “joint statement” made by the theological education committees (see Consideration 3).
      • [4.4.3] While expressing the strong preference of at least one federation seminary.
      • Note: The “joint statement” referred to consists of “six statements as reported to Synod Chatham 2004” (see Synod Smithers 2007, Article 103, Consideration 3.3).
  • 2.2       C onclusion and Recommendations of the Joint Committee (pp. 8-9 of the Report):
    • [1.]          We are thankful for the harmony and brotherly manner in which we could work together, even in the circumstances where polarized and strongly cherished and held positions did not allow for easy or readily compromised solutions.
    • [2.]          We are thankful for the providential care of the Lord over our deliberations in the many times we took to traveling to undertake the work.
    • [3.]          As a fully independent model is not acceptable to the CanRC and a fully federational model is not acceptable to the URCNA, the only real viable choice of governance for theological education in a united federation would be a model where the united federation would operate with a model of two independent seminaries endorsed and approved by the general synod of a united church (i.e., Mid-America and Westminster California), with one federationally governed seminary (the Theological College in Hamilton) by way of a regional synod of Canada, or if deemed appropriate, by the general synods of the united federation meeting from time to time.
    • [4.]          For this model to gain approval or acceptance from the URCNA the members of the URCNA will need to adopt in part the federational model by way of a regional synod overseeing a federational seminary (not to mention actually adopting a church order model which includes the concept of regional synods), together with financial assessments to the churches to support the federational model.
    • [5.]          For this model to gain approval or acceptance from the CanRC, the members of the CanRC will need to adopt in part the independent model which calls for endorsement of independent seminaries, and voluntary financial support.
    • [6.]          There is agreement on the core elements of the required curriculum, whatever the model.
    • [7.]       Although we do not bring specific proposals, if the proposed hybrid model is adopted, we would envision a blended
    • system of voluntary contributions and assessments to support the federational seminary and the independent seminaries, and are confident that a counsel of experienced wise men could develop an equitable manner to do so.
    • [8.]     The synodical directions, the distinct historical experiences and the preferences for the two distinct models, do not allow the two committees to make a joint submission for consideration beyond that set out above.
    • [9.]     The two committees are of the view that they have wrestled with the distinctives thoroughly and sufficiently and that this report, inclusive of its appendices, is intended to serve the churches by laying out the clear alternatives and assist for fulsome and considered reflection and discussion in the churches regarding this matter.
    • [10.]          That the respective synods receive and approve of the work of the committees and declare that their mandates have been fulfilled and are at an end.
    • [11.]          That the respective synods receive, approve and adopt the recommended model as set out in Recommendation 3 above and direct and serve the churches in that regard.
  • 2.3       The regional synod model and scriptural and historical  considerations:
    • 2.3.1.     The church at Orangeville writes that “a federationally controlled seminary is still the best application of principle #6.” (See the six statements spelled out in Consideration 3.3 of Article 103 of the Acts of General Synod Smithers 2007 that are repeated on page 5 of the Joint Committee’s Report). Orangeville further states that it “sees it (theological education that is properly accountable to the churches) as the best out-working of 1 Tim. 3:15 and the best application of the instructions given in 2 Tim 2:2.”
    • 2.3.2    Edmonton-Immanuel finds that the statement by the URCNA about a federational seminary not being biblically mandated has neither been substantiated nor challenged by the CanRC brothers. It points to Appendix 1 of the report that outlines in great scriptural and historical detail why the CanRC have one federational seminary and regrets the lack of drawing conclusions from Appendix 1. It points to answer 103 of the HC that reads, in part, “that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained” and that this historically has been understood to mean the maintenance of schools for the ministry. It repeats the statement of Appendix 1 that “training of pastors and teachers belongs to the tasks of the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth and it is not properly the responsibility of an organization independent of the church.”
    • 2.3.3    Ancaster also disagrees with the recommended model and bases its view on the considerations of Appendix 1. It writes: “We are convinced that having a seminary run by and for the churches is a matter of principle not preference.” It notes the “glaring contrast” between the contents of Appendix 1 and Appendix 2. It notes that Appendix 2 “does not mention a single Biblical text” and “bases much of its reasoning on the observation that history has shown that denominational (i.e. synodical) supervision provides no guarantee that churches so controlled can remain firmly loyal to the Scriptures and to the Reformed confessions.” It points out that “the problem does not lie with the Biblical principle that the churches provide training for their ministers,” but occurs when “deviations from the Biblical principles are tolerated, approved and promoted.” Ancaster notes that it did not detect “a real effort on the part of the URC committee to seriously deal with the exegesis of the Biblical texts on which the very existence of the Theological College in Hamilton is founded.”
  • 2.4        Regarding oversight and governance:
    • 2.4.1    Abbotsford fully supports a “church run seminary” (the Theological College in Hamilton) and states that “a federation without at least one church run seminary is not acceptable.” It finds that the compromise reached is rather non-specific and even unclear and writes that “there needs to be clarity on the structure for governing the seminary prior to the CanRC and the URCNA being united into one federation.”
    • 2.4.2    Neerlandia does not agree with the proposed model, has a strong preference for a Theological College supervised by a General Synod and is “disappointed that there is no willingness on the part of the Synod of the United Reformed Churches to accept a compromise similar to the one made for the Union of 1892.”
    • 2.4.3    Coaldale thanks the CanRC committee “for continuing to stand up for the mandate which they received from the synod, namely that governance of the seminary ought to be done by the churches.” It believes that “a seminary ought not to be independent but under the authority of the churches.” It asks “synod to continue to uphold this principle in its deliberations.” It notes that the CanRC shortly after they came into existence began working towards a federational seminary because of their conviction that “it is the best expression of how Scripture calls us to train future men for the office of the minister of the Word.” It notes that in the 40 year history of the Theological College in Hamilton the churches “have been very well served by this institution as it has been governed by the churches in common.” It states that “not only have many faithful men been trained for office, but the result has also been a genuine spirit of unity, peace and harmony among the churches in the federation.” It states that for these reasons “theological education of the churches should be under the supervision of the churches” and suggests “that another way be found for an acceptable model of supervision.”
    • 2.4.4    Guelph writes that the “regional synod model” does not present a united approach in the training of our ministers and that it creates a “unity/disunity” situation that “might lead to particular preferences and division within the churches and the federation.” It notes that the viewpoint of the CanRC has been slowly compromised during these discussions from a “requirement” to a “strong preference” to an “acceptance of independent seminaries within a hybrid format.” Guelph writes that although the curriculum standard as outlined in Appendix 3 (see the Joint Committee’s Report to Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010) has been agreed upon by the committees, “it is broad enough to allow differences in approach” and Guelph questions “whether the curriculum standard would suffice in characterizing a seminary to be considered truly Christian and Reformed.”
    • 2.4.5    Guelph further states that “the perception of a safeguard that the professors are called into the Lord’s service by one of our churches does not, in and of itself, ensure oversight over their teaching in an independent seminary that is not specifically controlled by the churches together.” Guelph finds that “if there is no federative oversight, then there is no opportunity to apply discipline for errant actions, teachings and doctrines.” It argues that “the teaching and training of our ministers must be protected by the churches for the churches,” that “it must remain based on the Word of God as confessed by the churches,” and that “therefore oversight of the theological college of the churches ought to continue to be exercised by the churches.” Guelph observes that the scriptural and historical burden of proof to not have a federative school has neither been brought forward nor defended in the report to justify the acceptance of the “regional synod model.” It states that if the Theological College is to be governed by the merged churches through the Regional Synod(s) of Canada (Appendix 4d), the General Synod of the merged churches will have the “final appeals in all matters of dispute” (Appendix 4g) and that this can only lead to dilution of the Regional Synod’s authority. Guelph notes that in a united federation, where both independent and federative seminaries are acceptable means for training for the ministry, the safeguards established by Synod Orangeville 1968 in “Qualifications of ministers trained in other seminaries” will ipso facto be removed.
    • 2.4.6    Owen Sound regards a federational seminary with proper governance as the best method to train men for the ministry of the Word, but understands that the URCNA have used independent seminaries. It would be satisfied with the hybrid model provided that such a model could function in and be financed by the future united churches.
    • 2.4.7    Fergus-Maranatha cannot support the adoption of the hybrid model since the agreements outlined in the Joint Statement of January 13, 2004, namely to i) to protect the confessional integrity of the training of ministers and ii) to ensure that the education is properly accountable to the churches, have not been met.
    • 2.4.8    Glanbrook has a strong preference for the model of a federatively owned and controlled Theological School and/ or Schools that have one board directed by the churches through Synod. It writes about the different manners of governance and the different substance and length of the degree programs at the Theological College in Hamilton and that of Mid-America and Westminster, and concludes that these differences may cause disunity among the among the churches.
    • 2.4.9    Abbotsford states that there needs to be clarity on how the churches may influence the governing of seminaries not directly run by the churches. It notes that Recommendation 3 is not specific enough, that Recommendation 4 depends on decisions still to be taken by the URNCA regarding the federational model by oversight of a regional synod and the manner of funding, and that synodical directions do not allow the two committees to make a joint submission for consideration (see Recommendation 8). It further notes with Recommendation 9 that a “fullsome and considered reflection and discussion” needs to be carried out by the churches.
    • 2.4.10 Yarrow states that the “existence of the Theological College as the Churches’ institution for theological training of future ministers needs to be non-negotiable in discussions with the United Reformed Churches of North America” and that the “Theological College must be governed by all the churches together through the General Synod rather than by some of the churches through a regional synod.”
  • 2.5          Regarding assessments:
    • 2.5.1    Glanbrook notes that there is no plan in place to fund the proposed Theological School(s). It states that a federative model ensures stable financial means to operate the School.
    • 2.5.2     Guelph observes that Recommendation 7 of the report “removes the requirement for communicant member assessment to support the training of ministers,” and that also thereby the principle of a Theological College “by the churches and for the churches” will be removed.
  • 2.6        Regarding legal issues:
    • 2.6.1    Burlington-Ebenezer supports all the 11 conclusions and recommendations of the Joint Committee’s report but notes that implementation of the hybrid model (point 3 of the Conclusions and Recommendations) could prove to be logistically challenging and wonders if “The Canadian Reformed Theological College Act (1981)” might form an obstacle since it reads that “Synod” means an assembly convened by the churches as the Synod of the Can. Ref. Churches in Canada [Acts, 1. (1) (I)].
  •  2.7      Regarding membership of the joint committee on theological  education:
    • 2.7.1    Providence-Hamilton is not enamoured with the idea of the “independent model” but is prepared to make that concession for the sake of unity. It proposes that if Synod 2010 reappoints a Theological Education committee, again to leave our seminary professors off this committee and also overture URCNA Synod London 2010 to reciprocate and leave their seminary professors off their committee. It offers as grounds the prevention of a perceived or real conflict of interest and the advancement of ecumenicity.
  • 2.8       Regarding cooperation and support by the FRCA:
    • 2.8.1     Edmonton reminds Synod 2010 of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia’s specific request at Synod Legana 2009 that the CanRC maintain a federational seminary.
    • 2.8.2    Glanbrook notes that the Australian Free Reformed Churches have expressed their thankfulness to the Theological College for the training provided and support it financially. It wonders if the proposed model would not negatively influence “our current relationship with the Australian Free Reformed Churches.”

3.         Considerations

  • 3.1         Ten of the 13 churches that wrote to synod about the report of the Joint Committee stated one or more of the following: A federationally governed seminary or a seminary that is run by and for the churches:
    • 3.1.1    Is a requirement for the merged churches and not a strong preference.
    • 3.1.2    Is the best out-working of 1 Tim 3:15 and the best application of the instructions given in 2 Tim 2:2, and therefore is the best method to train men for the ministry of the Word.
    • 3.1.3    Upholds the principle that governance of the seminary ought to be done by the churches.
    • 3.1.4    Applies the principle that training of pastors and teachers belongs to the tasks of the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth and that it is not properly the responsibility of an organization independent of the churches.
  • 3.2       Many faithful men have been trained for the office of minister of the Word at the Theological College in Hamilton during its existence of more than 40 years and it has resulted in a genuine spirit of unity, peace and harmony among the churches.
  • 3.3       The regional synod model does not ensure that training for the ministry is properly accountable to all the churches.
  • 3.4       A federative model with an assessment per communicant member ensures a stable funding for an institution for the training of men for the ministry of the Word.

4.         Recommendation

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1       To express thanks and gratitude to the Theological Education Committee for examining and discussing different models for the training for the ministry and the governance thereof.
  • 4.2       Not to accept the regional synod model of theological education as proposed by the joint committee.
  • 4.3       To reappoint a theological education committee to re-examine and discuss with our brothers in the URCNA the possibilities of operating at least one theological seminary by and for the churches, to ensure that such a seminary is accountable to and properly governed by the churches. Further, that the committee promotes adequate funding for such an institution(s) by means of an assessment per communicant member.
  • 4.4       To instruct the Theological Education Committee to encourage the brothers of the URCNA to examine and interact with the biblical, historical and practical reasons for operating one institution for the training for the ministry as described in Appendix 1 of the report of the Joint Committee, summarized in Lord’s Day 38 (Question and Answer 103) and regulated in Article 19 CO of the CanRC.


A proposal to amend Consideration 3.1 to read “Ten of the 13 churches that wrote to synod about the report of the Joint Committee correctly stated one or more of the following:” was defeated.