are we still friends?

Man, my brother and another pastor both sent me a copy of an e-mail from Matt Olson entitled "Open Letter to Friends in Ministry". I haven’t gotten my own personal copy, even though I know I am in Matt’s database. I wonder what that means? I think maybe we aren’t friends anymore.

Well, seriously, there are some issues between us, and I am still concerned about Northland and the direction it is going. Some of the things in Matt’s letter stretch credulity to the breaking point.

For example, consider the first sentence of this paragraph, Matt appears to be backing down somewhat from his recent invitations of Rick Holland and Bruce Ware to speak and teach at Northland:

We did not see that having these speakers would be a significant problem. Biblically, we worked through a process of decision making and felt these choices and the context in which they were made were consistent with what we have always believed. Knowing now that these decisions might be confusing, misunderstood, or miscommunicated, we would likely have planned differently. We have no desire to distract from our focus here or on the field of ministry.

Really Matt? "We did not see that having these speakers would be a significant problem." Hello??? Do you think we are so naïve as to believe that?

Let me refresh your memory, Matt. Rick Holland was the reason Dr. Olilla pulled out of speaking at a Pro-Teens conference just a couple of years ago. There were a couple of discussions on Sharper Iron that discussed it at some length (see here and here).1 What changed between 2005 and 2010? (Hint: it wasn’t Rick Holland.)

And Bruce Ware? Man… you didn’t see that would be a significant problem for other fundamentalists? Did you sleep through all those preacher boy classes we had together, Matt?

It is simply unbelievable that you didn’t see a huge negative reaction coming.

What might be believable is that you thought the fundamentalist world was being transformed into the image being touted by certain seminarians and that the rest of the fundamentalist world [the old-style fighters] was a minor irritation that could be ignored.

And when Matt says this:

Knowing now that these decisions might be confusing, misunderstood, or miscommunicated, we would likely have planned differently.

We wonders, we really does, what he means by this. "Likely have planned differently," eh??? How so? How would you plan differently?

Matt goes on to say:

We affirm that Northland stands in the historic tradition of Fundamentalism and is committed to remain as an independent, Baptist, separatist institution.

Well, we’ll see.

Matt seems way too defensive in justifying his invitation of these new evangelicals to his campus, as if this is merely par for the course for an academic institution, what’s the big deal?

What’s the big deal about creating confusion among impressionable students?

  • Is it ok, now, to cooperate with the MacArthur crowd?
  • Would we encourage, now, our graduates to attend Southern Seminary?
  • Are the pastors of students who take separatistic positions against these groups to be suspected as ‘hyper-fundamentalists’ or (gasp) legalists?

What is the big deal, after all?

I am afraid the big deal is that a lot of fundamentalist pastors like me are no longer recommending Northland and a precipitous drop in enrollment is about to ensue.



  1. some of the internal links in these discussions might be dead []


  1. Keith says:

    I’m not twisting in the wind at all. Every day I work with Christians from something like 30 different “local churches” and we have a great deal of real, practical unity. And, everybody involved in this discussion as well as those being discussed would say that hopefully they are just looking at Scripture and letting it determine their positions.

    I think Don is right. With the post before Kent’s last one, it occured to me that Kent and I are talking about different things.

    Local church only makes no sense to me (what of the Jerusalem council, why were the letters passed around to multiple congregations, are the various “local” churches supposed to be disunited — where’s “It’s just in the Bible” for that? etc.). And, apparently catholicity makes no sense to Kent (I’m sure he’s got his list of parentheticals that would fit here).

    Kent you say you didn’t criticize anyone for condescension, but you did say, “Ben’s way of dealing with this kind of challenge, I’ve found, is to ridicule.” I’d say ridicule and condescension are close cousins if not twins.

    You say that you never ever said that the unity for which Christ prayed was identical to what the Father and He had and have. But, you did say, “We welcome true, biblical unity, like Jesus had with the Father . . . Jesus believed and practiced EXACTLY as the Father, obedient in EVERYTHING the Father said, COMPLETELY in the Father’s will.” I think I see now the primary analogy you were trying to make. Nevertheless, you must admit that what you wrote could be taken to suggest that our unity must be like what you describe in the final sentence of that paragraph.

    You say, “I believe that being of one mind, one judgment, one heart doesn’t mean sinless perfection. However, it does mean that we have the same belief and practice. A church believes and practices the same. Someone may sin, but the sin isn’t accepted or acceptable. A different doctrine isn’t acceptable either.”
    Now that’s interesting. Some to agree with, some to disagree with or clarify.

    I agree that unity does not require sinless perfection — in any way including the ways of belief (doctrine) or practice.

    In order to avoid all doctrinal error and disagreement at all times, without exception, an entire congregation would have to be perfect in that specific area. How could that occur without sinless perfection?

    Further, if in your scheme, someone may sin in some way– even though it’s not acceptable — why may someone not err (sin) in doctrine without it being acceptable? And, what do you do while someone is repenting of their sin — how do you bring them along in unity? Why can’t that be done with doctrine and practice?

    Finally for now, you say, “The teaching of a pastor brings a church into one doctrine and practice.” So, can the pastors of different local churches teach different things and each be in different one doctrine and practice? And, if so, how is that not really multiple doctrines and practices? Was Jesus praying merely that each congregation get along (and defer to their pastor), or that the unity be in the truth — which is truly one?

  2. Keith,

    You said,
    “I don’t know who you are referencing here. It sure isn’t the T4G or TGC — whom Don has refernced. The leaders of these groups — while willing to fellowship with those who don’t share all their views (even soteriologically) speak openly of their soteriological Calvinism. To the point that some have claimed they are together for Calvinism.”

    That is exactly my point. It is not difficult to see the issue of politically correct speech in fellowships like the FBF and in schools like Northland and BJU. This is true in a lot of state fellowships/associations of churches and even conventions like the SBC. Anyone who speaks in any negative way regarding Calvinism will be excluded from leadership or from the “platform” in order to avoid division and to maintain a pseudo-unity. This allows Calvinism (Reformed Soteriology) to become the definitive qualifier of “the Gospel.”

    This happened in the FBF last year. One man in leadership spoke out once in criticism of Calvinism and you saw a landslide of ridicule against him.

    You also said,
    “The Gospel Coalition folks would say that the Gospel is at the center of soteriology, sanctification, ecclesiology, worship, missions, and well everything. Did you get in (soteriology) by grace but now you have to remain in (sanctification) by works? No, you got in to Christ by grace and you grow in Christlikeness by grace and you will be glorified by grace. That’s the gospel. It is the gospel of grace in Christ. Everything results from that. If it doesn’t, it is chaff.”

    From what I read of what you say in this thread, you use the word “grace” in the Reformed sense of Monergistic Sovereignty (Causation; i.e. God is the cause of all things). That is really the definition of the “Perseverance of the Saints;” the saints will persevere because God will cause them to persevere, rather than “preserve” them. Again, we are all using the same words, but are talking different theological languages because those words have completely different meaning to you than what they do to most of the others in this thread.

    This is the tension Northland has put itself into by saying they are just not going to talk about these issues. Like another school recently who took the position, “We have many friends on both sides of this issue and we agree with our friends.” This is similar to what someone wrote in this thread (but now has been deleted), “I am a non-Calvinist, but I am not anti-Calvinism.” This is the heart of the problem; trying to take a neutral position on something you believe is unscriptural in order to maintain some kind of pseudo-unity.

    Why else would a Baptist school allow a Presbyterian (which is really what MacArthur is) like Holland speak at their chapels? Why is it we are seeing so many young men coming out of these schools and taking Baptist churches and turning them into Reformed Baptist churches? There is another name for Reformed Baptists=PRESBYTERIANS. These kids go into these schools as Baptists and are coming out as some kind of Presbyterian aberrations somewhere between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.

    • Lance, I don’t believe all that is true. Fundamentalism has always included Calvinists and Non-Calvinists, perhaps even some Arminians.

      As for

      This is similar to what someone wrote in this thread (but now has been deleted), “I am a non-Calvinist, but I am not anti-Calvinism.”

      Well, that would be me, and I am pretty sure I didn’t delete myself.

      I think Calvinism fails to understand Scripture, but it isn’t un-Scriptural. It is an error, not a heresy. Where I have a problem with Calvinists is when they talk and act as if they are the only ones holding the truth and the only ones with a pure gospel. As if they have arrived and completely know the mind of God.


      Let’s not get the Calvinism debated started here. That isn’t the subject of this thread and isn’t the reason for my objections about the goings on at Northland.

      For our Calvinist friends reading this thread, please let Lance’s comments on this point go. I’ll not allow the discussion to head in that direction.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Keith says:

    Don, No problem leaving the calvinism debate alone. The following comments aren’t intended to further that debate, but if you think they do, I’ll understand deletion.

    I just want to take this opportunity to demonstrate that I don’t automatically oppose anything related to fundamentalism . . .

    Lance you claim that in schools BJU, “Anyone who speaks in any negative way regarding Calvinism will be excluded from leadership or from the “platform” in order to avoid division and to maintain a pseudo-unity.”

    I think it’s inacurate to say that BJU inappropriately favors Calvinism (I’m defending BJU here — can you believe it Don — not calvinism). I don’t think their “don’t talk about it” approach to the calvnism/arminianism debate is the best, but I think it developed to keep obnoxious calvinists (yes there are too many) quiet — not the other way around. To accuse them of being partisan calvinists strains credulity (ha).

    Lance, sorry for misunderstanding your previous post. You wrote, “Their acceptable Gospel is as broad a stream as the reductionism of Only Believism to the extremes of Lordship Salvation and Calvinism’s Soteriology of Monergism and/or Limited Atonement.” To me, that sounded like you were criticizing individuals for being unclear about their doctrinal committments — which I think just isn’t the case.

    However, if I understand your clarification, what you’re really concerned about is that they are really heavy-handed calvinists who merely pay lip service to not limiting fellowship/gospel to calvinism. Is that it? If so, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Again, I’ll have to agree with Don (gasp) here. There is a difference between disagreement and disunity. Wesley and Whitefield disagreed, but they were united in Christ, and in their better moments that unity even worked itself out practically.

    I disagree with baptists about church governement and the sacraments — that doesn’t mean that I must be at odds with them in every way. I have real, practical, deep fellowship with many. Yes our unity is limited when it comes to our areas of disagreement, but it is not obliterated.

    Lance, you ask: “How can we take a text like Ephesians 4:1-6 and apply it in any real & practical way to some universal, intangible, mystical entity?”

    I never said that that verse is applied to an intangible, mystical entity. What I (and most Christians through most of history) am saying is that those verses apply to my interaction with every tangible, physical Christian church member I come into contact with — those in my particular congregation as well as those in other congregations. Are you really saying your obedience to those verses is limited to your congregation? Do you not have to be humble, gentle, and patient with Christians who aren’t in your congregation?

    You say, “How can we “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit” if we never can never have it in the first place?”

    I never said that we can not have it in the first place. What I said was that there is no area of life — including doctrine or practice — in which you will have it perfectly, EXACTLY like the Son with the Father. I believe that we absolutely CAN have it substantially and increasingly. However, sin affects everything. Therefore, until all sin is gone, no one will have anything perfectly. Not having it perfectly does not mean not having it at all.

    Lance, could you point me to a systematic theology or other resource that uses “theanthropic union” the way you do? I have never encoutered that use previously.

    Finally, to say that MacArthur is a presbyterian and to say that Reformed Baptists = Presbyterians are both absolutely inaccurate statements.

    MacArthur is a dispensationalist, credo baptist, independent — you don’t know much about presbyterians if you think that any of those things fit in our scheme.

    Reformed Baptists have a long, long heritage, which is most definitely not presbyterian. Neither they nor we appreciate the confusion.

  4. Keith,

    “A great deal of unity” isn’t even unity. It isn’t the unity described in the NT. Putting up with a few different doctrines and practices isn’t something we see anywhere in the NT. Getting together despite different doctrine and practice isn’t unity. Fellowship, which I think is something closely related to unity is based on all the truth. All of it.

    I’m local only, but I’m still just dealing with the passages on unity and fellowship.

    What is the Jerusalem council? In Acts 15, leaders from two churches got together to solve a problem they had with each other. They came together, by the way, not to disregard doctrine. Doctrine was going to separate them if they didn’t come to agreement on it.

    I don’t see a universal church in the Bible and if you do, you will struggle with understanding unity, which is why, I believe, this is the most debated topic in Christianity.

    I didn’t criticize for ridicule either, but for ridicule, cold shoulder—the whole package. If he just ridiculed, it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but Ben practices the hit-and-run. It’s a common “fundamentalist” tactic. And you said I condescended. Maybe I did from your perspective, but I thought I was attempting to have you interact with John 17.

    Unity like Jesus had with the Father was practical and it relates to everything the Father says, not just soteriology. The truth that unity does not require sinless perfection does not mean that unity disregards some belief and practice. The doctrine is regularly disciplined through the teaching of the pastor (Eph 4), the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 10-11), personal and corporate correction (Mt 18:15-17; etc.), to stay one loaf, one mind, one heart, one judgment, one mouth.

    You seem to be theology by hypothetical. Even though people sin, if the blood of Christ is cleansing them of all sin, they still walk in the light as He is in the light. Your “if they aren’t sinlessly perfect” argument isn’t a scriptural argument. Sinless perfect isn’t what is necessary for unity on all doctrine and practice. And people who are being discipled, growing, are doing so around the same doctrine and practice. They’re less than same doctrine isn’t being accepted. It is being disciplined or discipled. They aren’t going to be discipled if different doctrine or practice is excused.

    Fellowship is based upon the truth, so churches with different doctrine and practice will be affected in their fellowship with one another. They will not be in fellowship. Churches fellowship based upon doctrine and practice. There isn’t more than one doctrine and practice in the Bible.

    The unity Jesus prayed for is fulfilled in the church. I believe that can be shown internally in John 17, but also through the rest of the NT.

  5. Keith says:

    “Fellowship, which I think is something closely related to unity is based on all the truth. All of it.”

    Then you don’t have any fellowship because you do not understand or properly apply all of the truth — unless you have attained perfection.

    If you are just saying that you must act on what you know — fine, no disagreement. We all have the responsibility to act upon what we understand the Bible to say.

    However, if you are saying that you can know and apply with certainty and accuracy all of truth, every last bit of it — well your view of the effects of sin is far weaker than mine.

    Of the Jerusalem Council, you say, “In Acts 15, leaders from two churches got together to solve a problem they had with each other.” Why did they bother to do this if all that matters is the local assembly? Why didn’t they each just mind their own business and stay united within their separate congregations? And, when they solved the problem, were they united or divided? And, did it/does it matter?

    Further, the council did a bit more than you suggest. Acts 15 tells us that the apostles and elders who were present composed and sent a letter to the Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. These apostles and elders called themselves the “brothers” of all those Gentile Christians, and they told them what to do: “28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”

    Through and through, this is the work and language and attitude of unity across multiple congregations. Nothing hypothetical or intangible about it at all.

  6. Keith,

    OK. I don’t think we’ll get anywhere, because you are settled in this, ‘since there is no sinless perfection, then unity can’t practically be around all of Scripture,’ a position not found in any particular passage as well as contradicts others, based on reasoning.

    They got together in Acts 15 because members from the Jerusalem church were causing problems for the church at Antioch. The Antioch church wanted those to stop. Churches do fellowship with each other based on doctrine and practice, not on the disregarding or ignoring of doctrine and practice.

    This is probably it for me here, Keith.

  7. Keith says:

    I don’t think I ever wrote: ‘since there is no sinless perfection, then unity can’t practically be around all of Scripture.’

    That is what you keep hearing me say, but it is not what I’m saying. Of course unity must be around all of Scripture as one knows and understands it.

    However, since no one except Jesus can know and apply all of truth from day one, there has to be a way of maintaining unity while people are growing and learning and when people come to different conclusions on less clear teachings.

    There can be no Christian unity (even though there can be civility) between those who say Jesus has risen and those who don’t. Between those who say salvation is by grace and those who don’t.

    But there can be Christian unity (or at least fellowship) between those, to give just one example, who think baptism requires full immersion and those who think it just requires water. Both cannot be right, but which ever one is in error is not in violation of such clear Scriptural teaching as to require ultimate disunity or disfellowship. Perhaps separate congregations will help preserve unity in this case — prevent conflict and disunity ever time there is a baptism. However, most of the time these separate congregations can still acknowledge their ultimate unity in Christ.

    I don’t think we’ll get anywhere as long as you are settled in your “Local Only” paradigm with all of the logical results which flow from holding that paradigm (which is not taught in any passage). So, that’s probably it for me too.

  8. d4v34x says:

    I think the Acts 15 passage is also helpful in that the Council reached a sort of middle ground that, to an extent, accomodated the “troublers” from Jerusalem.

    No I Cor. 8 type exhortation given at all.

  9. Brian Ernsberger says:

    And to think, this all started because Don voiced his concerns about the open letter sent out by Dr. Olson where he states Northland’s changing unchanging position.
    Threads do have a way of getting afield from their starting point.

  10. Keith,

    1 Cor 12:27. The body of Christ is local only. Paul excluded himself. He said, “ye are the body of Christ.” If the body of Christ was all believers, he would have said, “we are the body of Christ.”

    If the Lord’s Table is the communion of Christ’s body, when do all believers ever partake in that communion together? (1 Cor 10:16ff)

    A church is an assembly, see the meaning of ekklesia. When do all believers ever assemble? Unassembled and assembly is a contradiction in terms.


    The “council” was two churches, leaders from each. I think a lot of baggage comes with the modern understanding of council (council of Nicea, council of Trent, etc.). They were attempting to keep in fellowship with each, but it was based upon doctrine. It’s something I try to do too, that is keep true fellowship, which is only around the truth.

    • Well, Kent, in 1 Cor 12.13, Paul says “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

      There is a pattern where Paul is teaching them something they ought to know and he includes himself in that number, but then he turns to exhortation and uses “you”. Check Romans 6 for a pretty dramatic contrast between “we, our, us” and “ye, you, your”. The transition is in 6.11.

      So I think you are not considering the context in limiting 1 Cor 12.27 this way.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3