Of Christian universities and Reformed church synods

Dordt, Calvin to become universities

Calvin College and Dordt College announced this past May that they would soon be changing their names to “Calvin University” and “Dordt University,” respectively. Calvin College will change its name sometime in 2020, while Dordt College will change its name on May 13, 2019. (For seniors at Dordt, this means that the class of 2019 will be the final class to graduate from Dordt College—three days before the name-change.) Calvin College’s website gave the following announcement:

On Thursday, May 3, Calvin College’s board of trustees unanimously approved Calvin College becoming Calvin University. The move is part of Vision 2030, a statement which provides vision for the college as it fulfills its mission over the next decade.

The shift to university, which was approved during the board’s spring meeting, will happen in 2020 during the 100th anniversary year of Calvin becoming a four-year college. The board’s decision follows the unanimous endorsement of the college’s faculty senate in late April, marking the culmination of more than nine months of collaborative strategic work taken on by the Calvin community.1

What is the reason for the name change? Two things, mainly: expanded academic programs and an appeal to more international students. Writing for Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt explains:

Schools across the United States have gradually transitioned from college to university as a way to indicate graduate offerings and compete for clout in the packed higher education landscape—particularly with the influx of international students….

…Over the next two years, Calvin will make its change to a university official through legal and accrediting institutions, then will shift its governance structure. Unlike the streamlined college setup, universities typically have leadership in place for each of their schools and programs.

Counting Calvin’s upcoming name change, 15 percent of colleges affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) have dropped college for university over the past five years.

…“Typically, the change stems from an increase in graduate degree offerings and/or the desire to attract more international students,” said Rick Ostrander, CCCU vice president for academic affairs and professional programs.2

Speaking personally, the change makes sense. In­ternational students (as I once was) typically associate the term “college” with junior college or community college-level schooling, while the term “university” is clearly understood as referring to schools of higher learning. Prospective students might overlook an institution of learning simply because it refers to itself as a college rather than a university. The name change could be used to draw international students who might not otherwise consider one of these institutions of learning, and boost enrollment. This might particularly be the case for Calvin College, where international students make up 12 percent of the student body (about double the U.S. average), and where year-over-year enrollment has been falling for each of the last five years. While re­searching for this article, I came across these interesting statistics on Calvin College gleaned from a recent issue of the Calvin Chimes:

In 1998, 2,261 students—over half the student body—came from the CRC, while in the fall of 2017 only 1,175 students—around 30 percent of the student body—belonged to the CRC. This drop of over 1,000 students seems large when compared to the net loss of 300 students the institution has faced over the same two decades.

Mitigating these losses are an increasing number of AHANA students. In 1998, the 155 non-international students of color on campus composed about three percent of the population. That number has multiplied four-fold to 621 AHANA students, or sixteen percent of the student body, in the fall of 2017. This increase of nearly 500 students, combined with more than 100 additional international students, has offset much of the enrollment-loss from the historically Dutch CRC.

It is difficult to separate the diminishing enrollment at Calvin from the diminishing membership in the CRC.3

An obvious conclusion: the more international stu­dents Calvin can draw, and the more students they can draw from outside the CRC, (to whose ears the name Calvin University might sound more important than the name Calvin College), the better they can maintain their enrollment numbers.

Activities of other denominations

Just as the PRC has its annual Synod during the summer, where it makes important decisions, so do other denominations.

Perhaps the most noteworthy is the decision of a number of Reformed denominations to terminate sister-church relations with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) (RCN/GKv), who decided last June to open up all of its ecclesiastical offices—minister, elder, and deacon—to women. So far this summer I have come across reports that the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) have cut off sister-church relationships with the RCN, while the United Reformed Churches of North America have terminated their cor­responding relationship (“ecumenical contact”) with the RCN. The Canadian Reformed Churches will have their next general synod in 2019.

Also of interest, the United Reformed Churches (URC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) held their broadest denominational meetings concur­rently on the campus of Wheaton College this past June. According to John Van Dyk, editor of the Christian Re­newal, “the purpose of sharing both time and facilities was in honour of the publication of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, a new songbook for worship that the OPC and the URC prepared cooperatively, a book that most of the congregations will use for worship.”4 Elsewhere in the magazine it was mentioned that this new songbook contains 278 psalter numbers and 458 hymns. That makes a total of 736 songs. When comparing these numbers to the well-known blue Psalter Hymnal, that is a loss of 32 psalter numbers, and an addition of 275 hymns. The new Trinity Psalter Hymnal also includes both the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards, but each denomination will have to produce a separate booklet containing its own specific liturgical forms (unlike ours, which are found in the back of our Psalter.) For the URC, this marks the end to a 21-year project to produce their own unique Psalter Hymnal.

If I were to give a pessimistic analysis, I would say that not only do we see evidence again of hymns pushing out psalter numbers from the Psalter Hymnal (which, historically, happens repeatedly), but even of hymns pushing out the precious Reformed liturgical forms. I do not understand how anyone could be happy leaving the Reformed minor confessions out of the back of the Psalter. After all, they are part of our official, authoritative, and binding liturgy. Take out 55 hymns (more or less), and they would fit (including our precious Church Order).

In other news, while skimming through the Abstract of the Minutes of Synod 2018 of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), I came across two interesting matters: their work studying the issue of crema­tion and their work studying the issue of women voting. Writing for Christian Renewal, Glenda Mathes gives a helpful report on both; here I will only include some news on the issue of women voting:

The issue of whether or not women should be permitted to vote in congregational meetings has long plagued the RCUS. Rather than being a case of congregations capitulating to modern cultural pressure, allowing women to vote has been the practice of some churches for many years. Position papers approved in more recent years, however, affirm only male heads of households may vote. While most churches seem to allow only men the vote, efforts to incorporate the male-only position into the RCUS Constitution have failed so far. The denomination remains divided over this issue.

An overture last year asked: “Is voting by a woman in a congregational meeting a violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-­12?” In response, Synod 2017 established a committee to study a slightly different question: “Is voting in the church an exercise of authority according to the

Scriptures?” This year’s Synod recommitted the study paper to the Committee and changed the question to: “Does a Christian woman (single or married) exercise authority over a man when she votes?”5

As I read through the various activities of other Re­formed denominations, and as I think about the work of our own denomination, I am reminded of the fer­vent petition of the psalmist in Psalm 25:4-5, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.” And I am reminded of the exhortation of Psalm 122:6-9: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.”

1 https://calvin.edu/news/archive/calvin-college-to-become-calvin-university-by-2020.

2 Kate Shellnutt, “Goodbye, Calvin College: Christian Schools Play the ‘Name Game’,” Christianity Today, May 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/may/calvin-college-university-name-change-cccu-christian-school.html.

3 Nathan Stripp, “CRC membership decline correlates with Calvin enrollment,” Chimes, Calvin College, April 28, 2018. https://calvinchimes.org/2018/04/26/membership-in-the-crc-in-decline/. “AHANA” students are those who identify themselves as African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native-American, and are U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents.

4 Christian Renewal, July 13, 2018 (Vol. 36, #14/15), 4.

5 Mathes, Christian Renewal, 21.