On September 9 a TV station in Chattanooga reported that the “Highland Park Baptist Church [was] Relocating and Renaming.”1 The Highland Park Baptist Church (HPBC) will henceforth be known as the Church of the Highlands.
The report noted that,
“In 1946, Highland Park Baptist Church started Tennessee Temple University. While the church is relocating and renaming, Tennessee Temple University will remain in the Highland Park neighborhood.”Is the name change simply because the church will be relocating out of the Hype Park neighborhood? That is a reasonable answer, but certainly not the only reason. It is widely known that HPBC has steadily been moving away from its historic Baptist, separatist roots.
This kind of news is becoming all too common among once independent Baptist, separatist churches. The same is increasingly true of some colleges. Northland International University (NIU) was originally founded 36 years ago as the Northland Baptist Bible College (NBBC). It may be impossible to know for certain which change came first, but we do know that along with the name change the former NBBC as NIU has drifted from its fundamentalist, separatist moorings.2
In recent years there has developed a “tendency toward generic Christianity.” (Millard Erikson and James Heflin on Old Wine in New Skins, pp 50-ff). The trend, these authors say, is toward a “doctrinally generic Christianity” where the “specifics” of doctrine are dismissed or unimportant. One of the most visible symbols of this trend is the decision of denominational tags from the church name. In my mind this is a dangerous trend. It seems to me that the engine driving such change is the belief that specific labels inhibit church growth i.e., the expansion of community.
Community is being elevated above theology, growth becomes more important than truth.
In earlier times the theology of a church was reflected in its name. To me, that approach still has great merit. The reason is this: generality in name of leads to a loss of specificity in belief. Covering our beliefs, hiding our theology by masking our identity and camouflaging our name may indeed attract a larger crowd (most contemporary consumers think little of “brand loyalty”), but it has great potential to jeopardize and weaken our doctrine, our truth-claims. It produces an environment where beliefs tend to be minimized, changed and in some cases even abandoned as irrelevant to mission, unimportant to ministry (Erickson and Heflin).
Whatever their liabilities (and there are some), names reflect our belief-system. They say something about us. They announce to others who we are and what we believe. Even today, in our postmodern world, names like Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist alert us to a basic set of beliefs. The name becomes a summary statement of certain basic theological commitments. One of the reasons our name “Baptist” still has merit is because it identifies for honest seekers who we are and what we believe. And it represents our belief-system, the theological bedrock which is the enduring ground of our belonging. (Dr. Douglas McLachlan, President’s Page: Philosophy of Ministry, 1998)Has anything changed from the time of this writing in 1998? Of course, Northland dropped “Baptist” from its name. Dr. McLachlan wrote,
“Even today, in our postmodern world, names like Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist alert us to a basic set of beliefs. The name becomes a summary statement of certain basic theological commitments. One of the reasons our name “Baptist” still has merit is because it identifies for honest seekers who we are and what we believe.”That statement begs the question from honest seekers: Since Northland dropped their name “Baptist Bible,” we ask- who are they, what are NIU’s basic theological commitments and what do they believe? Sincere questions such as these one might expect clear, precise, unambiguous answers from the University president, Matt Olson. Yet, those answers (to date) have not been forthcoming.
Dr. McLachlan wrote, “specifics’ of doctrine are dismissed or unimportant.” In Matt Olson’s Confidence in the Next Generation article on the Grace Bible Church, a member of CJ Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, a major specific of doctrine is not even mentioned. A doctrine that the current official NIU doctrinal position states was “temporary,” must be “rejected, opposed” and “cannot accept.” That major doctrine is Charismatic theology, which teaches that the sign gifts of tongues, prophecy and healings are active and should be sought after today. Yet, Matt Olson praised this church and its pastor.3
Has Dr. McLachlan Contributed to the Changes at NIU?
Dr. McLachlan played a role in the initial wave of visible changes that Matt Olson has brought to the former NBBC. Dr. McLachlan contributed to the new trajectory of NIU with his being one of the three (Sam Horn, Les Ollila) who traveled with Matt Olson to call on John MacArthur, Phil Johnson and Rick Holland at Grace Community Church. From that meeting (April 2010) came the invitation to Rick Holland to speak to NIU’s impressionable young people in the college chapel.4
Dr. McLachlan wrote, “One of the reasons our name ‘Baptist’ still has merit is because it identifies for honest seekers who we are and what we believe.” Northland, your name was changed. You are no longer the “Baptist Bible College.” Who then are you and what do you believe?
1) WRCB-TV, accessed Sept. 10, 2012.
2) Is NIU “Unchanged?”
3) Is NIU “Opposed to and Reject[ing of] the Modern Charismatic Movement?”
4) Resolved Founder, Rick Holland, Speaks to NIU Students