Proposed Covenant Relationship Between the ARP Church and Erskine (Draft)

OUTLINE OF COVENANT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE ASSOCIATE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND ERSKINE COLLEGE AND THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY (1-24-13)

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP Church) has historically recognized the importance of Christian higher education and has exercised this priority through its support of and Board appointments for Erskine College and Theological Seminary (Erskine). For one hundred and seventy- five years, the denomination has made an extraordinary commitment – spiritual, financial, and emotional – to this vision. A high level of dedication to the vision has spanned generations because of General Synod’s understanding of the role of the church in Christian higher education, the Biblical basis for it, the far-reaching impact of Christian higher education, and the bounty of God’s grace. Our collective history has not progressed without difficulty. However, our difficulties have been surmountable because of the mutual belief that the original vision was of the Lord, that the church and Erskine were stronger together, and that, while we are small in stature, God has been pleased to use us together for larger purposes, thus making the value of the mission immeasurable.

The ARP Church’s commitment to Christian higher education has stood in that long tradition that emerged from the Reformation of believers supporting and participating in the formation of the passions, desires, intellectual pursuits, and character of future generations – a heritage of education. The reformers understood that a literate laity was vital to enjoying the fullness of the Christian life personally and was also a means by which a Christian culture could be passed on from one generation to the next.

The ARP Church’s vision to make Christian higher education an emphasis is a grand idea that requires nothing less than a grand effort. It has been this extraordinary effort, on the part of both the ARP Church and Erskine, which has sustained the 175 year relationship. However, perhaps the ARP Church has determined that Christian higher education no longer has the same priority for the denomination. Events of recent years also indicate that the execution of the original vision, including the Church’s relationship with Erskine, has created deep seated frustration and hardship for both the ARP Church and Erskine. Currently, this situation is severely impacting the ability of both the denomination and Erskine to thrive.

Albeit imperfectly, Erskine has expressed its desire to be responsive to concerns raised in recent years by the ARP Church. One source of great frustration seems to be the financial support given annually by the ARP Church to the institution. There appears to be a growing sentiment that the continued financial support of Erskine and the distractions related thereto have kept the denomination from fully prioritizing and supporting other vital ministries. Envisioning a different kind of relationship presents an opportunity for the church to reaffirm its role in Christian higher education while, at the same time, affording the denomination the ability to further advance other mission opportunities by focusing time and talent resources on other agencies in need. However, something vital will be lost if the relationship is completely severed.

Even though Erskine has become a strain upon and a distraction for the denomination, it is incumbent upon us to work to redeem this extremely painful season for both the ARP Church and Erskine. Our past achievements together do not guarantee future successes, but we greatly value our intertwined history and believe this should inform our future. We wholeheartedly affirm our shared theological commitments and high view of the church; and now our mutual relational hardships suggest a different path forward — the establishment of a new covenantal relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine.

Covenant Relationship Between Erskine College and Theological Seminary and the ARP Church

A covenant relationship between Erskine and the ARP Church would be set apart by particular distinctives that are related to Christian higher education. It is these distinctives that provide the richness and beauty found in covenantal relationships among the people of God. These distinctives include:

Humans are liturgical – we are built for worship

By our nature our fundamental orientation to the world is driven and superintended by what we love. Our mind is not what instinctively governs our actions. It is our habits and practices that serve to direct and aim these passions and desires, disposing us either towards the Sovereign or the secular.

Scholarship is informed by worship

There is a direct correlation between scholarship and worship. We worship by nature, but scholarship helps to determine what we worship. For our scholarship to be rightly oriented, our imaginations must first be inspired by a vision for the kingdom. And it is in the practices of Christian worship that the imagination is captured and shaped.

Theology governs us but we are grounded in piety

Our Christian commitment is not bound to the affirmation of certain propositions in a statement of faith. Rather, it is embodied in the life of the community. Every academic year presents a unique opportunity for Erskine and the ARP Church to imprint and influence students. The impact of doing life together during a concentrated period of time within the framework of Christian higher education can be a profoundly formational experience. The exposure and entrenchment into rhythms, rituals, patterns of life, practices, language, law, and narratives of the young, old, living, and deceased stirs the heart and mind. This is a powerful imprint that touches the whole person and shapes our thoughts, disciplines, and affections, the fruit of which we pray will encourage our students to live a Godly life (II Peter 1:5-8).

While there are certainly other distinctives that could be detailed, the important point is that worship is what humans do. Since Christian education is about shaping what we worship through both our hearts and minds, then our education must be rooted in and aimed towards worship; and it is the church that gives us the fullest expression of that in this life. Having a connection to the church is the better path by which Christian higher education can be achieved, preserved, and sustained. This is why a covenantal relationship with the ARP Church is so important.

Therefore, the new relationship envisioned would maintain Erskine College and Theological Seminary as the educational institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in order that Erskine may continue its work as an expression of the educational mission of the ARP Church to exist to glorify God by equipping students to flourish as whole persons for lives of worship and service.

Shared Commitments

The hallmarks of the covenantal relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine College and Theological Seminary should be defined by these shared commitments:

1. We are mutually committed to reformed theology.

We profess clearly and without qualification the apostolic faith as it is revealed authoritatively in the Holy Scriptures, summarized in the creeds and councils of the undivided church, and restored by the Reformation.

2. We are mutually committed to the principles embodied in General Synod’s Statement of the Philosophy of Christian Higher Education.

This document is foundational to Erskine’s mission and has held immense value over the years as a source of guidance.

3. We are mutually committed to sustain and constantly improve an academically rigorous curriculum.

The curriculum is rooted in the belief that God is the source of all Truth regardless of where it may be found. Truth is what equips us to study and discuss that which is secular without fear. Additionally, the college will continue a commitment to the liberal arts where the emphasis is on educating the whole person and for the seminary to equip persons who are called to pursue careers in ministry.

4. We are mutually committed to championing the seminary as a viable academic option for current and future ministers of the ARP Church.

In addition to serving the ARP community, the seminary will continue to seek other appropriate reformed alliances or initiatives, that without compromise will provide Erskine the opportunity to educate others for service in the church through cooperative programs.

5. We are mutually committed to communicate regularly in a manner that is informative, edifying, and redemptive.

We will do so through duly appointed representatives of Erskine and the ARP Church.

6. We are mutually committed to cultivate a synergistic relationship for optimal fruitfulness.

The successful relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine holds much potential for both entities.

7. We are mutually committed to expressing gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ for our past 175 years together.

We will continue to faithfully solicit the power of the Holy Spirit to move mightily among both the ARP Church and Erskine for the revival of His church and ultimately for His glory.

Individual Commitments by Erskine and the ARP Church

Erskine’s Commitments

In addition to our shared values this covenant relationship will also be marked by Erskine’s commitment to the ARP Church as evidenced by Erskine: (1) acknowledging the rich heritage of faithful and sacrificial support from the ARP Church; (2) recognizing itself as an educational institution of the ARP Church; (3) seeking recommendations from the ARP Church for potential board members; and (4) seeking joint opportunities to labor together on projects that hold the possibility of enriching our relationship while furthering the missions of both the ARP Church and Erskine.

ARP Church’s Commitments

The covenant relationship will also be marked by the ARP Church’s commitment to

Erskine through: (1) praying for its spiritual fortitude, leadership, protection, financial well-being, faculty, students, and friends; (2) promoting Erskine’s educational opportunities and encouraging the students of the denomination to consider the college and seminary as viable undergraduate and graduate option(s); (3) identifying ministers and laymen who would be possible candidates to serve as speakers for chapel and/or convocation, to participate in special projects, to serve on the Board of Trustees, etc.; and (4) encouraging individuals and congregations to support Erskine financially as God leads and enables them without any yearly financial obligation on the part of the General Synod.

This covenant relationship is a cooperative one between the agreeing parties in recognition of the mutual purposes served. It is more than mere “affiliation” or “historic.” While it would include the discontinuation of any financial obligation by the General Synod and the cessation of board member appointment by the General Synod, its expected outcome would be to strengthen rather than weaken the relationship as God-honoring through an explicit covenantal bond to which each body genuinely commits.

How Does this Covenant Relationship get Established, Changed, and By Whom?

Established

A covenant is an agreement; thus, for a covenant to succeed, all parties must commit themselves to it. As this applies to the proposed new relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine, the Erskine Board could discuss and consider the concept at its February and/or May 2013 meetings and be prepared to address it at the 2013 General Synod meeting. Simultaneously, one or more Presbyteries could draft Memorials to be presented at the 2013 meeting of the General Synod which would describe and recommend the covenantal relationship as outlined above or the covenantal relationship could come recommended to the General Synod otherwise.

Changes and By Whom

If the covenant is entered into but does not seem to be working as intended or as needed then this relationship agreement can be modified. An important part of the covenant is a commitment to communication through which issues that arise can be dealt with as necessary. The covenant relationship itself can be revisited if necessary. Bearing in mind that institutional reform takes time and space to bring forth fruit, this agreement should be given a minimum of five years before re-evaluating.

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