It is important to reflect back on theological education in Sri Lanka in relation to the ever changing historical, social, political economic changes that have been taking place in the country. Theological education touches on all aspects of "formation for ministry and discipleship," as the working group on theological education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) underlines. Theological education is for the formation of disciples of Christ (Matt. 5:48), and thus should be a deliberate effort of the whole Christian community. The conversion or transformation that is needed through the theological education process is a transformation of a believer to become a disciple in a spiritually vibrant environment. This is exactly why we need to reflect back on what have been the purposes and methodologies of theological education.
History of Theological Education in Sri Lanka
In the past, nearly all the churches in Sri Lanka depended on India for the theological education of their students. Anglicans sent them to Bishop's College in Kolkatta, the Methodists to United Theological College in Bangalore and the Baptists mostly to Serampore College. This was based on their respective church affiliations. The Anglicans also had their own divinity school in Colombo but it did not offer any higher degrees. The others may also have had such local institutions for the initial formation of students. The Roman Catholics had their papal seminary in Kandy where all theological formation occurred. Later the papal seminary was moved to Pune, India, but they continued their ministerial formation in the national seminary in Kandy, where most of their programmes were affiliated with Rome. There were no special separate emphases on evangelism, and therefore no need for the formation that occurs today in Bible schools.
In 1963 the Anglican, Methodist and the Baptist churches decided to come together to form an institution for ecumenical theological education which grew to be the Theological College of Lanka (TCL), in Pilimatalawa, Kandy. The Presbytery of Lanka joined the federation later. The main purpose of setting up the TCL was to provide theological education in the vernacular languages of both Sinhala and Tamil. TCL has remained affiliated with the Senate of Serampore College of India for accreditation.
The college first offered a diploma in biblical studies and later developed a bachelor of theology programme. However it has been able to initiate a number of courses that are relevant to the contemporary realities in Sri Lanka. From the very beginning TCL also had a strong emphasis on lay education, the Lay Institute. The TCL is mainly involved in and limited to activities for ministerial formation in the affiliated churches. Hence it has always insisted on residential education as a formational need for spiritual practice and training. Further, the TCL has only selectively used foreign personnel in its academic programme. It is encouraging to note that the TCL has always been innovative in its programmes and in the variety of educational methodologies that have been introduced. They have learned from and incorporated from many of the creative institutions and programmes in the region.
The National Seminary of Our Lady of Sri Lanka in Ampitiya, Kandy, of the Roman Catholic Church, has continued its programmes with much dedication and commitment, along with the minor seminaries at the diocesan level.
The Lanka Bible College (LBC), in Peradeniya, Kandy, has been in operation for over 25 years, catering to a large number of candidates in biblical and pastoral training. Its programmes have been open to anyone interested and have not been restricted to ministerial formation. Residential training has not been a requirement. The LBC has been able to diversify its activities according to the evangelical and pastoral needs of the churches, groups and individuals to whom it caters. Over the years a need has been felt for a similar institution in the capital of Colombo. …