Throughout its history the Reformed Church in America (RCA) has valued an educated clergy. Initially, those called to the ministry of Word and sacrament returned to the Netherlands for theological training. Then, in 1784, the General Synod appointed John Henry Livingston professor of theology and charged him with the responsibility of preparing men for the ministry of Word and sacrament. For a time, he instructed candidates for the ministry from his study in New York. Eventually, Livingston moved to Queen’s College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS)—America’s oldest seminary—was established. Later, the RCA would establish a second seminary—Western Theological Seminary (WTS)—in Holland, Michigan.
For many years, these two seminaries provided theological education for the ministers and missionaries serving the denomination. Eventually, amid societal shifts and cultural changes, the RCA established the Theological Education Agency (TEA) to supervise the theological education of a growing number of candidates preparing for the ministry of Word and sacrament at non-RCA seminaries. In 1999, TEA was incorporated into the Ministerial Formation Coordination Agency (MFCA), a broader denominational agency for establishing standards for theological education. In 2007 the MFCA was redefined and named the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency (MFCA).
Preparing men and women for ministry involves, of course, more than theological seminaries and academic preparation. There is also the formation for ministry that begins with membership and nurture in a congregation. Living, learning, worshiping, working, witnessing, and serving with other Christians provides an essential foundation and can serve to confirm a person’s gifts.
There is still another element in the process leading to ordination as a minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA. A church assembly, called a “classis,” is responsible for supervising and examining candidates for ordination. This manual describes that process of care and supervision.
While it is true that candidates seeking ordination in the RCA will normally have both an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university and a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary or theological school, the General Synod has also recognized that in certain special instances a candidate may need to follow an approved alternate route. This manual addresses that process as well (See "The Approved Alternate Route Process").