Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Theological Education of Students for the Ministry

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
At our last held Synod at Vineland in June of this year, important decisions were made pertaining to the theological education of our students for the ministry. Because some of these decisions may not be clear to everyone, the editor asked me to expand on the decisions which have been made, as well as explain some of the plans of the Theological Education Committee.

Foremost is our strong conviction that we as Free Reformed Churches must engage in our own theological training of students for the ministry in our denomination. This is an issue which repeatedly has been brought up at our annual synodical meetings. After much deliberation synod has now decided to move into this new venture for our churches.

There have always been two major problems in addressing the issue of theological education. The first one has always been available man-power and the scholarship to provide an academically acceptable theological education. Besides, there are considerable costs involved to run a theological seminary.

Considering the first problem, we can observe that the existing academic scholarship has increased during the past years. Several of our ministers have completed or are completing studies for a Master's degree in Theological studies. Some have even completed a Ph.D. dissertation or are currently completing one. Based on these observations we can state that within the Free Reformed Churches there are several men who have the academic requirements to teach at a seminary level.

The second concern relates to the finances. To operate a seminary can involve costs varying from $100.000 to $150.000 per year. We have hope and expectation that seeing the repeated requests from the local congregations to establish a form of Free Reformed theological training for our students that the willingness is present among our membership to contribute for such a cause. There are some among us who have been greatly blessed by the Lord with financial assets and who are willing to give some special and substantial support for this cause.

We hereby solicit finds and donations to be remitted to the treasurer of the Theological Seminary, Mr. John Tamminga, 1324 Roseau Place, Burlington, Ont. L7M 4A6 Canada. American churches are requested to donate their funds directly to the Treasurer of the Grand Rapids Free Reformed Congregation.

At our last synod, held at Vineland, upon proposal of the Theological Education Committee Synod examined brother Gerald M. Bilkes, a son of Rev. L.W. Bilkes. Brother Bilkes currently serves as an elder of the Clifton congregation and is hoping to receive his Ph.D. in Theological Old Testament studies this fall from Princeton Seminary, New Jersey. His doctoral dissertation deals with the function of God's law in the work of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah. The interview with brother Bilkes was focused upon the personal fear of the Lord, his relationship to the Free Reformed Churches, his personal sense of calling, and his academic qualifications. This interview was greatly appreciated by all the delegates and Synod could unanimously appoint brother Gerald Bilkes to the position of theological instructor of Old and New Testament for our students, starting November 1, 1998. The first two or three months will be used for preparation of the various course material and if all goes well, actual instruction can commence for the second semester of the academic year 1998-1999, starting February 1999.

Realizing that we are but a small denomination and that we must be wise and prudent in managing our very limited resources while at the same time we want to uphold a spiritual and academic high level of instruction, the Theological education Committee has had various contacts with the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations, a young denomination which has quite recently seceded from the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. This new denomination numbers around 2,000 members spread over about 8 congregations in Canada and the United States. It currently being served by three ministers, Revs. J.R. Beeke, J. Greendyk and B. Elshout. The Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations are also in the process of establishing a Seminary, called the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS), located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As they are theologically close to our denomination, share the same love for Scriptural-experiential preaching and also base their theological studies upon the Reformation as well as the second Reformation and Puritanism, contacts have been established with this seminary.

The proposal is now being examined by the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Churches (HNRC) to consider if it would be feasible to combine the theological education effort of our two denominations. This would entail that both denominations provide theological instructors as well as necessary funding. Students from both our denominations would study at this seminary. The Theological Education Committee of the Free Reformed Churches (FRC) has proposed brother Gerald Bilkes as a theological instructor on behalf of the FRC to the delegates of the HNRC. In the meantime these delegates have met with brother Bilkes and desire to propose him to their synodical meeting this fall. Upon approval brother Bilkes would then be full-time theological instructor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, teaching all the students the Old and New Testament subjects.

In anticipation of this joint venture our last held Synod approved that two of our three students continue their theological education at the PRTS, starting this fall. Therefore the students Moerdyk and Schoeman are scheduled to move this summer to Grand Rapids, while student Koopman, being in his final year at the Theological Seminary of the Canadian Reformed Churches, is scheduled to complete his studies at this institution.

The advantages of this possible joint venture are very clear. The financial burden as well as the burden of providing theologically competent instructors would be shared by both denominations, while there would also be mutual theological benefits because as denominations we have similar theological-experiential leanings. There are still details which have to be worked out, such as training input from other ministers. Our Synod has stated that if this joint venture in theological training is not satisfactory that we then must proceed with our own FRC theological seminary. Such effort would require substantial in man-power as well as finances.

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