Article excerpt

For much of its recorded history, Burma has been a Buddhist country. (1) Although Buddhism has never officially been declared to be the state religion, it is the most favoured religion, even though religious freedom is mentioned in the state constitution. The graceful golden shrines reflected in rice paddies are a well-known symbol of Burma.

The seed of Christianity sown by the Catholic mission and the Protestant mission, under the hard labour of Adoniram Judson, has grown and become fruitful in the country. (2) Christianity is one of the most vibrant and dynamic religions in Myanmar and has become a significant element in Myanmar society. Its impact is felt practically everywhere in the country, particularly among the Karen, Kachin, Chin and Wah.

Theological education was begun in the country by the missionaries and, as in other Asian countries, in response to the pressing need to training church workers to meet the needs of their mission work. To a certain degree such schools inherited the theological traditions from their founders. They are church-based and run by the respective churches, conventions, ethnic associations or general assemblies.

However, after the year 1980, theological seminaries in Myanmar became more independent, operated and supported by local founders who approached friends from abroad. Such schools in various denominations focus their training on denominational values and needs. A few seminaries became more academically or ecumenically oriented.

Church divisions and theological trends

Particularly after the 1970s, the number of denominations in Myanmar increased. Similar to the history of Protestant churches elsewhere, divisions occurred for a variety of reasons. "The true reason for division and the stated reason for division are never the same. The heart of man is too deceitful for any of us to trust anyone causing division." (3) As another had pointed out, "Every schism is bound to raise serious theological issues, either at once or by its mere continuance". (4) Among other reasons, differences in theological traditions were one of the reasons for church divisions in Myanmar. (5) Denominational self-centeredness and fragmentation have prevailed in the country.

The fragmentation of denominations in Myanmar has resulted in the establishment of numerous theological institutions. It is estimated that there now are about a hundred theological seminaries in the capital of Yangon. (6) Therefore, theological education is difficult, considering the complexity and variety of theological trends, organizations, and institutions involved in theological education. The so-called "liberal vs. fundamentalist" controversy is one reason for the mushrooming of theological schools, with significant differences among ecumenical, fundamental, evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

Within the Protestant Churches, four main bodies have worked in the country side by side: (1) the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC, founded in 1914); (2) the Association for Theological Education in Myanmar (ATEM, founded in 1986), which is a cooperating body of MCC; (3) the Myanmar Evangelical Christian Fellowship (MECF) which operates four Bible Schools and three discipleship training centers in Myanmar; and (4) the Myanmar Christian Mission Corporation (MCMC, formerly called Myanmar Christ Mission Board) which operates a number of theological seminaries. In 2001 these formed the "four-bodies network" (MCC-ATEM-MECF-MCMC), and annually have organized workshops/seminars on various topics.

There are 43 Bible schools/colleges under the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) (7) in which 22 institutions are members of ATEM, comprised of 34 member schools, representing 14 major denominations under the umbrella of the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC). Out of 34 schools, 12 are Yangon-based and 22 are regional-based. Only the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT) offers an MTh program and was recently accredited by ATESEA; nine schools offer the M. …