Theological education has been at the heart of the Diocese of Sydney from its very beginning. With the successive arrival of the first chaplains in Sydney, the Rev Richard Johnson and the Rev Samuel Marsden, the gospel of God’s grace was clearly proclaimed to soldiers, convicts and free settlers. As clergymen, they found themselves to be among the few educated men in the colony. For this reason, it was not surprising that Samuel Marsden was also appointed a magistrate in the colony, which unfortunately associated him with the delivery of punishment, while at the same time he was seeking to preach a gospel of grace.
All of the Anglican clergy in the early days of the colony were Englishmen, trained in England, but the need for Australian-born men to be trained was recognised as early as 1827, when the Rev William and Ann Cowper sent their sixteen year old son, William Macquarie Cowper, to England for a university education to study everything ‘deemed likely to make [him] acceptable and useful among [his] fellow creatures for their eternal good’.1 William Cowper returned from England in 1836, the year in which Bishop Broughton became the first (and only) Bishop of Australia. Having served as Archdeacon of the colony for seven years, Broughton was well aware of the need for the diocese to train its own ordinands, without being solely dependent upon a supply of men from England. With financial support from England, he established St James’ College as the colony’s first theological college in 1845. Beset by complaints of the Tractarian nature of the College’s curriculum, it closed in 1849, having produced only eight students who were ordained.
Meanwhile William Cowper, upon his return to the colony, spent twenty years of ordained ministry in Stroud, yet his ministry was far reaching, including the encouragement of young men to consider entering the ordained ministry, as he privately tutored them in his own house. It was not surprising that in 1856, Cowper returned to Sydney at the invitation of Bishop Barker to take up the role of Acting Principal of Moore College, upon its establishment as a theological college for the education of men seeking ordination. Cowper brought with him three of the men he had been tutoring in Stroud, who comprised the first three students at the College upon its commencement.
Bishop Barker, within twelve months of his becoming Bishop of Sydney, had established Moore Theological College in accordance with the wishes of Thomas Moore who, having died in 1840, had left a significant sum of money for the education of young men of the ‘Protestant persuasion’. Since then, Moore College has trained thousands of men and women for gospel ministry, whether ordained or lay. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the evangelical character of the Diocese of Sydney is due in no small part to the biblical foundation in doctrine and ministry that graduates of the College receive.
That the vast majority of clergy in the Diocese of Sydney are graduates of Moore College has been the policy of successive archbishops for over a century and has been instrumental in the theological cohesiveness of the Diocese. This is because successive cohorts of graduates in ordained ministry share a common knowledge of each other as well as a common knowledge of Reformation Anglicanism. Where most other dioceses around the world pick and choose their ordinands from varying theological colleges, the variety of theological convictions gained prevents any sense of cohesion in the teaching of the Bible, let alone any camaraderie among the clergy. Yet, no one graduating from Moore College can be ignorant of the ‘Protestant persuasion’, as Thomas Moore expressed it—the Reformational understanding of justification by faith, the authority of the Bible as God’s inspired word, and the sovereignty of God over all our lives including our salvation.
The early years of the College’s student cohort were ordinands for ministry not only in Sydney, but in Melbourne and other parts of the country. In fact, Bishop Perry of Melbourne could claim at one time of ordaining more men from Moore College than the Bishop of Sydney! During his tenure as Principal in the second quarter of the twentieth century, Archdeacon T C Hammond saw the need to ensure that lay people as well as clergy received a good foundation in understanding the Bible and its teaching. Thus, the Sydney Preliminary Theological Certificate (SPTC, later branded as simply PTC) was birthed. This was a revolutionary idea, and it took some thirty years before the concept was replicated in other parts of the world under the umbrella of Theological Education by Extension (TEE). However, the PTC became a rich tool of theological education for lay people.
PTC courses flourished throughout the diocese, and continue today as a means of providing introductory material on the Old and New Testaments, Biblical Theology, Doctrine, Church History, Ethics and Christian Worship. The theological strength of the PTC, authored by members of the College faculty and regularly revised, has become a worldwide phenomenon. At the present time over 1000 students are enrolled in the PTC, from English speaking countries around the globe. In addition, the Centre for Global Mission (CGM) has translated the PTC material into over twenty languages, with new translation projects continuing to take place. Study using the PTC material has been an essential foundation for the education of both clergy and laity in dioceses as far afield as Africa and South America, and many in between.
For many years I have advocated that every Christian ought to undertake the equivalent of a year’s theological education. For most of us, we spend three to four years in either higher education or vocational education for our employment. Yet our identity as Christians far surpasses our identity as tradespersons, florists, retail managers, teachers, doctors or dentists. Our vocation as Christ’s disciples does not terminate at retirement in this life, let alone in the life to come. As the apostle Peter exhorts his readers:
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18).
Some form of theological education ought to be the aspiration of every Christian, as it is essential for ministers of the gospel.
1 W M Cowper, Autobrigraphy & Reminiscences (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1902), pp222-23.