Wednesday, July 9, 2014

GPTS in South Africa

By James F. Wright, President
Johannesburg, South Africa

James F. Wright
Lecturer in Old Testament,
Biblical Languages &
Systematic Theology
Our personal and prayerful interest with Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary dates back almost to its founding, when Dr. Morton Smith visited our country in 1988. We have very fond memories of that time, especially of taking him to Pretoria University, the official seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, to speak to their students. He gave a memorable and clear lecture on the authority of the Holy Scripture. Many of the students confessed that they had never heard this view presented in such a way before. Some left the lecture shaken and upset. That particular denomination had come to a watershed on this vital question and sadly, several of the students who heard and agreed were later compelled to leave that church in the 1990’s. 

Recent history confirms that Dr. Smith's words went mostly unheeded. That incident serves as a cameo of the declension of faith and orthodoxy that the churches in our country have suffered in the past several decades. I was just a young pastor, and I remember our interrogating Professor Smith on a whole host of questions. Church government and the relationship between church and state were areas of particular interest in which he kindly shared his insights. Over the years, we have appreciated Greenville’s uncompromising stance; Reformed evangelical orthodoxy remains the great need, notwithstanding the clamor to accommodate our humanized age.

JWTC Campus
In the same period, Dr. Tony Curto visited Johannesburg. He stayed in my home and preached in a fledgling church in Ennerdale, where we had received permission to live during the apartheid years. I remember his passionate preaching, and his willingness to sleep on a mattress on the floor in our township home. This was exactly the time when serious plans to start John Wycliffe Theological College were forming in our hearts. Thus, it was encouraging to make contact with Greenville in August 2012, when we had a request for oversight from the student in Botswana wanting to further his studies at Greenville. Kathleen Curto (GPTS registrar) warmly corresponded with us, and we prayerfully suggested that a co-operative effort might enable us to do more for Southern Africa. Kathleen referred us to the president, Dr. Joey Pipa, and to the board of GPTS. Written and Skype correspondence soon followed.

Pastor Slabbert le Curnu with the Pipas in 2013
As a result, Dr. Joey and Mrs. Sissy Pipa visited us when they came to our country in March last year. Drs. Mark Herzer and Bob McKelvey, longstanding visiting faculty, were also present; and we discussed our desires at some length. Dr. Pipa also spoke at our graduation, preached for us, and gave a short series of lectures on The Holy Spirit and the Unique Power of Preaching,” for local pastors and students. This was over and above a very demanding speaking and preaching schedule arranged by Slabbert le Cornu, a Gereformeerde (Reformed) Church pastor [and friend of 2012 GPTS graduate Louis Cloete of South Africa]. We are hopeful in the Lord that there will be much fruit from those labors. We are also thankful that our hopes of future co-operation have reached the point where we are looking forward to Dr. Pipa’s teaching our first course in the GPTS Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) program, which we will facilitate here in Johannesburg.

This will take place, Lord willing, in August when we will officially begin the MATS and sign a contract. We believe that our Lord’s hand is in this. Dr. Pipa will lecture on the “Introduction to Reformed Theology." Thinking back to Dr. Smith’s visit more than a quarter of a century ago, and the regression since then, how timeous this subject matter is. In JWTC’s proposal to GPTS last year we wrote:

It important to note that, by God’s grace, GPTS and JWTC share almost identical aims. We exist to prepare men to preach the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus. We do this from a clear confessional foundation in the Westminster Standards; we are persuaded of the sufficiency of Scripture to equip God’s men for the work of ministry - an unashamed Calvinist theology and ecclesiology.

For the past 17 years, JWTC has provided ministerial training for men who evidence a call of God to pastoral ministry and awarded a Bachelor of Theology degree in terms of our contract with North-West University in Potchefstroom. We have used visiting lecturers, mostly from the USA, who share in our theological commitments. We have not charged our students (a very diverse body of men) any fees, and have sought to persuade them to embrace a properly biblical theology and ecclesiology, a uncompromising Calvinism, so unpopular in our day of cheapened grace.

There is a very definite and strategic need for on-going training at a MA level. There are many who have a first degree in theology, even among our own graduates, whose ministries will benefit from the on-going ministerial training and preparation for research post-graduate work at the M.Th. level that an MA will provide. Presently, for students with a bachelor’s degree, we offer a B.Th. Honors degree through North-West University. However, the GPTS degree is far superior in addressing our particular aims, and we wish to add it to the program.

May the Lord keep us and establish the work of our hands long after he has taken this generation home.