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Missionary Spotlight-Contending for the truth

February 2003 | by Andrew Young

I became an active Christian late in the 1960s, at a critical juncture in the history of Reformed Presbyterianism in New Zealand.

The Principal of the Presbyterian Theological Hall, Knox College, had been charged with heresy for his unorthodox views on the Bible and the gospel.

To the amazement of Evangelical Christians, he was acquitted of the charges. This outcome endorsed the principle of radically liberal academic freedom in theological institutions. The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand was agitated as never before.

Confusion

These events created tension and confusion for young Evangelical Christians like myself who were considering entering the ministry of that church.

The tension was heightened when, in the early 1970s, some of us were reconnected with our theological roots through books published by the Banner of Truth Trust. The gap between our historic beliefs and the theology of an avowedly pluralistic church had become a chasm.

Where could eager, young Reformed Christians gain theological training, given this situation?

Members of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand trekked to the Reformed Theological College in Geelong, Australia. Candidates for ministry in Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches went either to one of the Presbyterian Halls in Australia or to Reformed Seminaries in the USA.

In many cases these men stayed in the countries of their adoption after they graduated, effectively draining New Zealand of much-needed resources.

Vision

As the years passed it became plain that there might never be a resurgence of Reformed life and witness in New Zealand without an Evangelical and Reformed training institution in our own land.

While there were nearly a hundred theological colleges in NZ, not a single one taught Reformed theology openly and consistently. By the early 1990s it was clear to many that this situation had to be rectified.

A group of leaders from Evangelical Presbyterian, Reformed and Reformed Baptist churches took the bold step of founding an Evangelical and Reformed college in February 1995.

Grace Theological College (GTC), as it was named, offered a two-year diploma programme designed to equip men and women in biblical, theological and pastoral disciplines, taught from a Reformed theological perspective.

Under the motto ‘the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness’ (Titus 1:1), it set out to nurture the godly character, intellectual maturity and pastoral skills needed to equip people for local church ministry in its various forms.

Thriving

Eight years later, the college is still small but thriving.

Its early graduates are serving throughout the country in pastoral and ministry roles. Its slowly growing student body comes from a variety of ethnic, theological and educational backgrounds.

At GTC they find themselves exposed to teaching that has proved effective in producing theological conviction and ministry skills. They also experience a quality of Christian community that is much needed in the churches of our country.

The general drift of theological education in New Zealand is toward cultural ‘relevance’ and ‘sensitivity’, but GTC remains committed to teaching the Scriptures from a Reformed theological perspective.

While this marginalises us in the wider Evangelical community, we nevertheless believe that God will honour his truth.

We have entered the new century with the optimism of faith – the kind of optimism that led Carey to both ‘expect great things from God and attempt great things for him’.

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