>As noted in my previous post, the third of the URCNA “unity” committees had reported to Synod that its work with the Canadian Reformed committee was “at an impasse.”
The impasse was due to disagreement over whether a federationally-controlled seminary is biblically mandated. The CanRC committee had entered discussions with a synodical mandate that it was. The URCNA committee believed that the Bible taught no such mandate, but that each consistory should ensure that seminarians under care received solid Reformed instruction.
Due to this impasse, the two committees had not met since November of 2005. Position papers had been offered on both sides, but the committees were not able to resolve this issue.
Then the CanRC General Synod met for two weeks in May of this year. It adopted recommendations to seek agreement with the URCNA committee based on the principle of 2 Timothy 2:2, “taking into consideration” the joint statements made by the committees, “while expressing the strong preference for at least one federational seminary.”
One of the considerations listed for these recommendations states that 2 Timothy 2:2 “does not necessitate the conclusion of a ‘federational’ seminary” and that Art. 19 of the CanRC Church Order “also does not necessitate a ‘federational’ seminary.” It continues, “Therefore, it would be best, for clarity’s sake, to realize that ‘federational’ seminary is terminology that has arisen…out of current practice and is not itself the Reformed theological education principle.” Another consideration notes, “It is not acceptable in the course of dicussions and agreements leading to federative unity that…the way to unity, should reach an impasse on a matter of practice only.” Synod also replaced two members of the committee who work at the Theological College in Hamilton.
The decision was hailed by many as a major concession; however, the most conciliatory language is found in the considerations, while the actual recommendations reflect only a slight positional shift.
The analysis of the URCNA Synod Advisory Committee is instructive: “We should point out that this statement is given in the context of an extensive discussion of the matter and that even though it appears to clear the way for the two committees to continue their work, the Canadian Reformed Churches concluded their remarks by saying that they still express “a strong preference for at least on federational seminary.”
The issue generated brief discussion on the floor of Synod Schererville 2007. Rev. Rand Lankheet expressed his concern about the lack of face-to-face meetings and stressed the need to reinvigorate the committee. Rev. John Bouwers expressed concern about “implications” for the Canadian Reformed Churches. Peter Moen, Sr. made an unsuccessful motion to conclude the work of the Theological Education Committee. The Advisory Committee recommended and Synod approved the addition of Rev. Joel Dykstra as a committee member, even though the committee had not requested additional members.
What was not contested was Synod’s affirmation of the URCNA Theological Education Committee’s position that a federationally-controlled seminary is not biblically mandated.
Delegates were also united on Synod’s ruling that the churches should continue to follow URCNA Church Order Article 3, requiring a man’s consistory to assure that he receive a thoroughly Reformed theological education.
Synod encouraged the URCNA Theological Education Committee to continue its work with the CanRC committee, reiterating the committee’s original mandate “to draft proposals for theological education to our respective synods in preparation for an eventual plan of union.”
Another federative unity issue with implications for the URCNA relationship with the CanRC was that of revising CERCU’s (Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity) guidelines. The Lord willing, the next post will deal with that.
10 thoughts on “>Synod: Theological Education”
>Hi Glenda,Thanks for your reporting and your thoughts on this. One question: the CanRC Synod removed our seminary professors from our Theological Education committee. This was done because of a potential conflict of interest. Did the URC Synod reciprocate? Was this even mentioned at the URC Synod?
>That’s a very good question, Wes, considering that Mark VanderHart (from Mid-America) and Bob Godfrey (from Westminster Seminary in California) are both members of the URCNA Theological Education Committee. I think the answer is that the URCNA did not remove these men from the committee, but simply added Joel Dykstra.
>John is correct, Wes. The only “tweaking” done to the committee was the addition of Joel Dykstra. To my knowledge, the issue of the removal of the CanRC seminary professors from the CanRC committee was not even mentioned.
>I remember reading that information in the CanRC Synodical minutes. However, I also do not remember it being mentioned on the floor of the URC Synod.I’m not quite sure how there could potentially be a conflict of interest with regard to Rev. Vander Hart’s and Dr. Godfrey’s inclusion on the committee, since they have no interest in seeing their respective seminaries identified as the URCNA seminary.
>But they may have an interest in maintaining the current system, just as the CanRC profs may have an interest in maintaining our current system.
>>>>The decision was hailed by many as a major concession; however, the most conciliatory language is found in the considerations, while the actual recommendations reflect only a slight positional shift.>>>I don’t believe this properly appreciates the point that the “considerations” in a Canadian Reformed synodical decision carry considerable weight.Nor that these considerations made explicit mention that the Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches moved the discussion away from seeing this as a matter of biblical principle to a matter of historical precedent.In that context, that is far more than a “slight positional shift” but a significant move towards conciliation.
>>>>The analysis of the URCNA Synod Advisory Committee is instructive: “We should point out that this statement is given in the context of an extensive discussion of the matter and that even though it appears to clear the way for the two committees to continue their work, the Canadian Reformed Churches concluded their remarks by saying that they still express “a strong preference for at least on federational seminary.”>>>Not really. The advisory committee comments do not reflect an appreciation for the weight of the “considerations” in a Canadian Reformed synodical decision.Nor do these words capture the importance of the context of the Canadian Reformed decision – their “strong preference” is no longer to be seen as a matter of biblical principle, but as historical precedent. There’s a difference.
>>>>What was not contested was Synod’s affirmation of the URCNA Theological Education Committee’s position that a federationally-controlled seminary is not biblically mandated.>>>Our Theological Education committee has never said there can be no federationally controlled seminary. It simply wanted the synod to affirm that we need not have one “as a biblical mandate.”
>John, Kevin, and Mark have all answered the question posed by Wes in the first comment correctly to the best of my knowledge.I appreciate your interaction, Rev. Bouwers. RE: the last of your three comments: I don’t believe I ever stated that the Theo Ed Comm said there “can be no fed-cont. sem”; I said the Theo Ed believed such was not biblically-mandated.You certainly have much more experience working with the CanRC than I and I accept your assessment of the weight of “considerations” in their church polity. And I agree that they are moving away from the biblical mandate model to a historical precendent perception. It remains to be seen how God will use the recent decisions of the two Synods in the merger process.
>As to Wes’s original question, the URCNA did not reciprocate in terms of removing the Seminary professors from the committee. The fact that the Canadian Reformed did so, was, however mentioned both in committee and during discussion on the floor in plenary session. Following this mention it was even considered in the speech of one of the delegates, but never entertained as a motion.Thanks for your interaction and your work Glenda.