November 18, 2017

Questions for Matt Olson and Northland International University

by Don Johnson

A recent article by Matt Olson, president of Northland International University, reports on a visit to Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia, PA. In “Confidence in the Next Generation” Matt says:

My soul was refreshed and encouraged as I saw a variety of things taking place at Grace. At Grace they focus on Christ in all that they do. This was evidenced by their worship, expository preaching, and deliberateness of their service. This is a church that is multi-ethnic, has a heart for the city, thriving with young people, and getting ready to launch a church plant in the next 9-12 months into another part of the city. They get what matters most.

From the way Matt writes, it sounds like several Northland grads are involved in the ministry of this church and a NIU staffer will continue to be on the staff of Northland while moving to Philadelphia and becoming part of this church.

One would expect a Christian college president to be pleased with graduates who are busy serving the Lord. We are sure that there are some good things being done by those in this church. Yet there are some matters of fact here that raise questions in our mind concerning what this connection means for Northland International University and for those other churches and ministries that support it with dollars and students.

The fact is that Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia is a part of the Sovereign Grace Family of Churches, the group led by C. J. Mahaney, among others. As part of the SGM movement, it appears that they fully embrace the official SGM self-designation as “evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic” as is seen in the Grace Bible Church statement of faith, found here:

Empowered by the Spirit

In addition to effecting regeneration and sanctification, the Holy Spirit also empowers believers for Christian witness and service. While all genuine believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit at conversion, the New Testament indicates the importance of an ongoing, empowering work of the Spirit subsequent to conversion as well. Being indwelt by the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit are theologically distinct experiences. The Holy Spirit desires to fill each believer continually with increased power for Christian life and witness, and imparts his supernatural gifts for the edification of the Body and for various works of ministry in the world. All the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first-century are available today, are vital for the mission of the church, and are to be earnestly desired and practiced.[1]

The Church

… All members of the Church universal are to be a vital and committed part of a local church. In this context they are called to walk out the New Covenant as the people of God, and demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of God. The ascended Christ has given gift ministries to the church (including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) for the equipping of Christ’s body that it might mature and grow.[2]

For the SGM self-designation as charismatic see this page on the SGM web-site and the SGM doctrinal statement here. It is fairly well known that SGM holds to charismatic gifts and considers itself to be part of the charismatic movement. It may be less well known that SGM includes in this understanding the belief in the continuing presence of apostles in the church and the gift of prophecy in addition to the more spectacular gift of tongues.

For the doctrine of apostolic ministry today, see Dave Harvey’s “Church Planting and Apostolic Ministry on C. J. Mahaney’s blog. This comes from Jan 19, 2010.

Harvey says:

Jesus gave the commission to ordinary men—men who would receive a unique commissioning as Apostles by the risen Christ. Joined by Paul of Tarsus, they would be the essential human agents in the proclamation of the gospel and the establishment of the church after the ascension of Christ. These men would play a unique and unrepeatable role in redemptive history. There are no contemporary reproductions of these men and their role. They are long gone.

Yet the mission they undertook remains. So the question: did “apostolic ministry” cease with the passing of the first apostles?

If we’re talking about the writers of the Scriptures, yes. Apostles of that brand are done, gone, they’ve left the building. However, this does not mean that they were the last men God would call and grace to extend the mission of the gospel through church planting. Such men are still around and quite essential. Here’s the thing: the continuity between the original recipients of the Great Commission and the present practitioners who extend it on behalf of the church is not one of office, authority, or anointing. It is function. As Jeff Purswell, the other guy (the smart one) sharing C.J.’s blog, says, “The function of first century apostles finds its ongoing expression in the efforts of those called and gifted to lead the church into missions.”

This “apostolic function” persists primarily to help the church reach the world with the gospel.

It is true that SGM appears to have backed away from the term ‘apostle’ somewhat as is seen in this article by Andrew Mahr from Jan 18, 2011: “What happened to the apostolic team?” Nevertheless, it is troubling that any modern church would consider it appropriate to use the term ‘apostle’ or ‘apostolic’ in describing anyone alive and ministering today. The requirements for apostleship were laid out by the apostle Peter in Acts 1:

Acts 1.21-23 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

Apostles are those who had companied with Christ from the baptism of John through the resurrection and were then ordained to be a witness of that resurrection. The apostle Paul was one appointed by Christ later, as “one born out of due season,” but who likewise was a witness of the resurrection. No one alive today has actually witnessed the resurrected Christ. All believers today take the resurrection by faith in the recorded witness of the apostolic band. There are no apostles today.

Thus, it is verytroubling when a church or group of churches claims to be carrying on ‘apostolic’ ministry including living ‘apostles’ at the present time. That SGM continues to believe in present day ‘apostles’ is evident from their doctrinal statement and the doctrinal statement of Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia.

In addition to apostles, SGM believes in the gift of prophecy as an ongoing ministry of the Spirit beyond the first century of the church. You can listen to Bob Kauflin teaching about the gift of prophecy here. The current SGM definition of ‘New Testament prophecy’ allows for prophets to be less than 100% accurate, but still, to them, prophecy is a direct communication of truth from God to the individual prophet. Kauflin considers himself to be a prophet and to receive words from God especially in composing his music. We have a lot of difficulty with the style of music that Kauflin and other SGM people produce, but this observer has even more difficulty with the claim that somehow the words that appear in their songs are direct prophecies from the Lord. The canon is closed. There are no more inspired words coming from God.[3] The continuing gift of prophecy is a huge problem when it comes to the foundational doctrine of inspiration. When God inspires apostles and prophets, the product is without error, we believe. What are we to make of a group that insists these two offices continue to exist today?

These claims of on-going prophecy and prophets, the continuing presence of apostles among them, the affirmation of all the gifts of the first century (including tongues), the self-designation as ‘Charismatic’ all cause us to strongly question any association with such ministries by fundamentalist Baptists. We especially raise these questions of institutions that make such straightforward statements of separation as these that follow:

Ecclesiastical Separation
The university’s position is not to cooperate with any organization or movement that is connected with apostasy or that places less than primary emphasis on the authority of the Word of God.
Northland International University does not accept the philosophy, position, or practice of the National Council of Churches in America or the World Council of Churches. Further-more, Northland is opposed to Liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, Hyper-Calvinism, and the Charismatic Movement.

2011-2013 Graduate School Academic Catalog, Northland Graduate School of Northland International University, p. 9, emphasis added.

We believe God has given spiritual gifts to Christians to serve in and through the local church. Every believer has at least one gift, and the use of the gifts is always for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. Among the gifts listed in the Bible, we believe that sign gifts (miracles, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy) were temporary in nature and given to the church in its infant state before the completion of the canon of Scripture.Therefore, we reject the modern Charismatic Movement and the confusion it has brought. (Romans 12:6–8; I Corinthians 12:1–11, 13:8; Ephesians 4:11–12)

2011-2013 Graduate School Academic Catalog, Northland Graduate School of Northland International University, p. 12, emphasis added.

We believe God has called believers to live a life characterized by personal, ecclesiastical, and even familial separation. Personally we are to refrain from all things that would de?le us or bring shame to the name of Christ which we bear. We are called to live a life characterized by holiness and purity and to be an example of what the believer is to be like to a watching world.Ecclesiastically we are called upon to refrain from cooperation or alliances with groups which do not stand unashamedly for the truths revealed in the Word of God. Thus, we cannot accept the position reflected in the Ecumenical Movement, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, or the various branches of the Charismatic Movement. We believe cooperation should be limited to those of like precious faith. (Romans 16:17; I Corinthians 6:19–20; II Corinthians 6:14–17;I Thessalonians 5:22;II Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; I John 2:15, 17; II John 9, 10)

2011-2013 Graduate School Academic Catalog, Northland Graduate School of Northland International University, p. 12, emphasis added.

In consideration of the clearly Charismatic doctrine of Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia and of the published separation doctrine of Northland International University, some questions arise:

  1. Are we to look for a modified statement of faith from Northland International University that removes the doctrine of separation from the Charismatic Movement?
  2. Are we to expect any change in the teaching in the classrooms of NIU concerning the Charismatic movement and separation from it? Will cooperation with the Charismatic movement be encouraged or at least tolerated by the administration and faculty of NIU?
  3. In the event that no change is to be made to the NIU statements of faith and policy, or in the classroom instruction, are we to look for the dismissal of the current NIU staffer when he joins the Charismatic Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia?

I raise these questions because many fundamentalist Baptist pastors have similar questions as they observe the goings-on at Northland International University. I think it is reasonable to expect some public clarity on these questions if the administration of NIU expects fundamentalist Baptists to continue to support the ministry of NIU.

Finally, a few housekeeping matters:

1) Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

2) Our friend Matt Olson made his comments regarding Grace Bible Church publicly and his and NIU’s published position with respect to the Charismatic movement is a public matter. We see no biblical requirement for us to make direct contact with Matt in order to raise our questions in public. Nevertheless, we have personally contacted Matt and expressed our concerns. He is aware of the contents of this article and we invite him to make the future policy of NIU publicly available. He is welcome to publish a response here on P&D or wherever would suit him best. We think the conversation about this issue is something that fundamentalists need to have if some of us are going to be open to cooperation / fellowship with Charismatic churches.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria and serves on the FBFI board as chair of the Communications Committee which is responsible for this blog.

  1. Emphasis added []
  2. Emphasis added. []
  3. For more documentation of the view that New Testament prophecy need not be 100% accurate, see Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy. I find Grudem’s exegesis on this point to be very poor, but the reader should judge for himself. []

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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