CHARACTER OF THE THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL
The Gereformeerde Kerke in Suid-Afrika (GKSA) has been training ministers of the Word at the Theological School (TSP) since the latter’s founding in 1869, making it an institution of the churches for the churches.
The TSP functions in accordance to the Word of God and the Three Formularies of Unity, viz. The Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt.
The mission of the TSP is to train students, the churches send to the TSP, on this basis into well-equipped shepherds and teachers to fulfil their calling in the churches. This training includes instruction in theological science and research of God’s revelatory truth that knowledge, insight and principles may be formulated and applied to the challenges of the time and in fulfillment of the needs of the church and society. The training is predominantly intended to serve the Christian community, but also society as a whole in South Africa by means of reformed principles, a reformational mind-set and Calvinistic tenets.
The fourth general synod of the GKSA made the decision, in May 1869, in a small little church building in Potchefstroom to open a theological school with the aid of the Lord. This “little old church” can be found right next to the current church building of the Gereformeerde Kerk Potchefstroom.
This decision was taken during the synod 10 years after the founding of the first Gereformeerde Kerk in Rustenburg in 1859 by only 14 churches and their four ministers. A decision made in faith. They were but a handful of churches with no expectation of financial aid from the authorities and no infrastructure to speak of at all. Yet, they were of the conviction that it was their duty to ensure the training of ministers of the Word independent government involvement.
Historians are in agreement on 1869 being the year that both the theological school and the university (now the Potchefstroom campus of the NWU) came into being. The university eventually became independent of the TSP and after all these years both institutions still exist independently side by side. The agreement between the GKSA, as owners of the TSP, and the Council of the NWU has created a unique bond between these two institutions.
The early years
It was clear right from the founding of the GKSA on 11 February 1859 that provision would have to be made for the training of ministers of the Word. Rev. D. Postma stipulated in his proposed church order, already designed and formulated prior to the founding of the church in Rustenburg, the need for the training of ministers and ensured that this matter be included on the agenda of the first church assemblies of 1862.
The need for establishing a theological school grew over the years as did the churches’ support for this incentive, leading to the courageous decision in 1869 to open a theological school in Burgersdorp. The weekend of 26-29 November 1869
The Theological School in Burgersdorp: 1869-1905
The churches and curators of the fledgling school highly prized a scientific approach to training and decided, for example, to compile the theological course in accordance to that of the Theological School of the Christelike Afgeskeie Gereformeerde Kerk in the Netherlands.
Rev. Postma and Rev. Jan Lion-Cachet took charge of the training of students during the early years, in conjunction with their ministry in the Burgersdorp congregation.
The wish for introductory training, in preparation for theological studies, and the ideal of a preparatory institution led to the establishment of a literature department.
The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) caused great upheaval in church life as well as the activities of the Theological School. The students from the Transvaal and Free State were called to join the commandos and the school was closed for long periods during the war. The first synod after the war occurred in 1904 where important decisions over the future of the School would have to be made.
J.D. du Toit and Ferdinand Postma took up theological studies at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam during the war years, with a renewed conviction that the School needed to be moved to a new milieu. Synod 1904 saw a young Dr. J.D. du Toit, fresh in his post at the Potchefstroom congregation, eager to offer suggestions over the future of the School.
The Theological School Potchefstroom
The period 1905–1919
The Synod of April 1904 in Middelburg Cape came to the surprising decision, upon the suggestion of Dr. J.D. du Toit, to re-establish the Theological School in Potchefstroom. Alternative locales such as Pretoria, Middelburg Cape and especially Steynsburg were considered, but Dr. du Toit and his brother-in-law, Rev. P. Postma of Pretoria, had already consulted with the Transvaal congregations and the city council of Potchefstroom that supported his recommendation with an amount of £3 010 cash and the necessary land for the erection of the institution. The proposal was gratefully accepted. The TSP opened its doors in February 1905 in Potchefstroom, already sporting a boarding house and school building.
Ferdinand Postma, who served as head of the literature department, interrupted his lecturing duties for approximately two years (1912-1914) to obtain his doctorate at the Vrije Universiteit and resumed these duties in 1914. J.D. du Toit succeeded Lion-Cachet as professor in theology in 1911 and in 1914 Dr. S.O. Los from the Netherlands was called as professor of theology, providing the TSP and its literature department with three doctors by 1914. It was indeed the start of a new era and would serve the scientific approach to training all the better.
As a result of the conscience clause of the University Act of 1916, the literature department was released from its commitment to the TSP and the church in 1919 to operate independently as the Potchefstroomse Universiteitskollege (Potchefstroom University College), officially setting aside the Christian ethos. The aspiration of J.D. du Toit and F. Postma of an open university based in Christianity for South Africa, in emulation of the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, was not quite a reality just yet. The curators, together with the Council of the College, then fought for a fully-fledged Christian university.
The period 1919–1951
In 1921 the authorities recognised the institution as an affiliate college of the University of South Africa and thus incorporated, followed by legal recognition of the Christian character of the PUK in 1933. The state would only come to confer the status of full and autonomous entity on the university, namely the Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys (PUK), in 1950.
A unique bond and relationship grew between the two independent institutions of the TSP and the PUK. The curatorium and the Council of the PUK already decided in 1920 on mutual representation on the Council of the PUK and the Senate of the TSP.
The curatorium of the TSP and University entered into a contractual agreement in 1945, subsequently amended in accordance with the prevailing circumstances.
The PUK opened a theology department in 1922 and the Faculty of Theology has offered training in theology as science since 1930.
The period 1951-1994
The period from 1951-1994 can be described as one of growth and consolidation. The TSP and Faculty of Theology expanded and gained their rightful place in both the national and internal context, the number of professors increased and a Reformed theology was built.
The PUK and TSP celebrated their 100-year affiliation in 1969 and their 125th anniversary in 1994. The year 1994 also marked the end of an era upon decisions reached, by the synod, over the future of theological training.
The period 1994 to date
The National Synods of Potchefstroom, Midlands and Soutpansberg agreed in 1994 to consolidate the theological training at the schools in Potchefstroom, Hammanskraal and the Heidelberg Theological Seminary in Venda into one theological school in Potchefstroom. Training now occurs at the TSP since 1995 and the constitution of the curatorium has been revised to be representative of all stakeholder churches.
The government decided in 2004 to merge the PUK and University of North-West in Mafikeng into a new institution by the name of the North-West-University (NWU), comprising of three campuses: Potchefstroom, Mafikeng and the Vaal Triangle. The GKSA then entered into a new agreement with the NWU, approved at the Synod of 2006.
THE BUILDING COMPLEX
The TSP is currently housed in its third building in Potchefstroom: the first (Molen Street) was erected in 1905, the second (Borcherd Street, known as the Old Theological School) in 1922 and the third (between Van der Hoff Drive and Molen Street, right across from the second building) in 1951. The current building complex forms part of the church building of the Gereformeerde Kerk Potchefstroom Die Bult and portrays the wall of the Reformation in Geneva on the east side. The well-equipped library was appropriately named after Prof. Jan Lion-Cachet and is connected to the Ferdinand Postma Library of the NWU. The GKSA’s church archive and archive offices can also be found at the TSP.