The Problem With Fundamentalism


On a personal note today, I would like to wish my brother-in-law, Brian, a very happy birthday.  We celebrated Saturday night by having dinner at Menches Brothers and then going to see Star Trek.  By the way, I give it a hearty two thumbs up!  Sunday, we had lunch at my in-laws where we did lunch, gifts, cake, and ice cream.

It was a very active weekend.  I finally got a “honey do” project done and we picked up some great things at the community-wide yard sale in Navarre.  It was a lot of fun.  Also, there are a couple of upcoming dates that you should be aware of.  I will be speaking at Mt. Eaton Community Church in Mt. Eaton, Ohio, on June 28th in their morning service at 10:30am and also on July 19th at my former church in Shelby, Ohio, CORE Community Church.  I’m looking forward to both dates!

It is shaping up to be a very busy few weeks for me.  Next week, my wife and I will be traveling up the Detroit area to visit friends and family.  The following weekend I will have class Friday night and Saturday (with about four papers due for this one class) and will attend services at my former church in Shelby, Ohio, the one I will be speaking at in July.  Following the service, we will attend Jocelyn Steven’s graduation party.  The following weekend was the original date for the Mt. Eaton sermon, but that has just been moved so it looks like I have a free weekend!  The weekend after that, Kandice and I will be traveling to Columbus to celebrate my brother-in-law, Tim, graduate from Ohio State.

Speaking of family, today’s blog topic is one that strikes home for me.  The problem with fundamentalism, in my opinion, is big.  I have a great many friends and family that are fundamentalists.  I hearken back to the definition that I used before.  Fundamentalism is an evangelical movement started in the late 19th and early 20th century in reaction to Protestant Liberalism characterized by adherence to “the fundamentals” and a separation from culture.  After New Evangelicalism (which we will talk about later), fundamentalists became characterized by being primarily dispensational and premillenial in their theology.

Let’s start with the positive.  There are elements of fundamentalism that I agree with, so much so that I would describe myself as “fundamentalistic,” but not a fundamentalist.  When fundamentalism emerged in the early 20th century, it was in reaction to Protestant Liberalism, a school of theology that was not biblical or evangelical.  It is important to note here that the nature of theology seems to be reactionary rather than proactionary.  A wonderful example is the Nicene Creed, which talks more about what Jesus is not rather than what it is.  Given that this is the nature of theology, we cannot fault fundamentalism for reacting against something as heretical as Protestant Liberalism.

First among the positives is that like evangelicalism, it emphasizes the Bible as the Word of God, usually couching the argument as presenting the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.  This, in my opinion, is a positive thing for fundamentalism.  Secondly, like evangelicalism, emphasis is placed on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, particularly on the substitutionary atonement model, which I also primarily agree with.  Third, there is a belief in personal conversion that comes as a result of accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and His death on the cross for your sins.

Negatively though, when New Evangelicalism began to reengage culture in the mid-20th century, fundamentalism did not go with it.  Instead, it began to emphasize belief in other things that were not originally fundamentals such as premillenialism and dispensationalism.  Primarily at issue it seems is the idea of separatism.  Taking the hard line are Closed Fundamentalists.  In this movement, almost anything contemporary in culture is viewed as evil, in particular, movies and music.  Complete abstinence from alcohol is often emphasized, sometimes even to the point that it is not even used for medicinal purposes.  A sub sect of Closed Fundamentalists is what is called “KJV only,” meaning that they believe that the King James Version is the only acceptable version of the Bible.  A sub sect of that sub sect believes that the KJV is exalted even over the original language.

It is often hard to identify specific denominations that fall into the Closed Fundamentalist category because many of them are “independent, Bible-believing” churches; however it seems that most are primarily Baptist.  It is easier to identify this group by certain colleges and universities that cater to these specific beliefs, particularly Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina and Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida.

Taking a bit of a softer line are the Open Fundamentalists.  Open Fundamentalists are not quite as dogmatic on nonessential issues, but contemporary cultural issues are, at the very least, viewed with suspicion, particularly in the area of music.  Some contemporary music may be acceptable, but certainly not all.  Some movies are acceptable, but certainly not all.  Usually, complete abstinence from alcohol is still the standard.  A popular university that could be labeled as Open Fundamentalist is Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Let me pause here and make something perfectly clear.  This is not about being Baptist. For those of you that know me well, you know that I grew up Southern Baptist.  Indeed, I have been Baptist most of my life.  The church that I am a member of now, while officially nondenominational, is primarily Baptist in its doctrine.  I do not hate Baptists. I do not hate any denomination; although there is a few that have become heretical.  This is not about what denomination you belong to. This is about separation. How separate is a believer to be in the world?

The only thing the Bible commands us to be separate from is sin. The Bible never commands to avoid the appearance of sin.  It only commands us to avoid sin.  This ought to be the thing that sets us apart from the world, not the mere appearance of godliness.  This “avoid the appearance of evil” passage is from the King James Version of 1 Thessalonians 5:22.  In the original Greek, the word “appearance” is not there.  In my opinion, this is a badly translated passage.  The ESV reads, “Abstain from every form of evil” which is much closer to the original Greek.  I am not sure about you, but I have a hard enough time avoiding sin than to additionally be concerned about how I appear to other people.  The only person that I should be concerned about my appearance is Jesus Christ.

Often when I say the above, one of the first questions I get is “What about the principle of the weaker brother?”  It is true that Paul said that he would rather not eat meat at all than to offend others, but I think that it is important to remember that the principle of the weaker brother requires one thing: A weaker brother. The principle of the weaker brother is only for those Christians who are new in their faith.  The person that has been a Christian for years upon years and says that they are offended by my actions are not actually being offended, they are being judgmental. The only standard that I am to conform to is that standard set forth by the Word of God.  For someone to judge me by any other standard is not only rude, it is sin. Don’t argue with me about it; argue with Christ.  He said it (Matthew 7:1).

Think about it this way: Wasn’t it Jesus who expounded on the letter of the law and went to man’s intentions?  For example, it is not the mere act of adultery that makes it sin.  Jesus said that if you look on another woman with lust, you have sinned.  Jesus went to the heart of the matter; in other words, what are your intentions?  Jesus did not care about appearances.  He ate and drank with sinners and was accused of being a drunk (Matthew 9).

Common sense dictates that if a person who is truly seeking God with all their heart and is genuine in their faith is having a hard time by something that I do (and they are not being judgmental) that I believe is permissible, then I should not do that thing in front of them or around them.  This really should be a temporary thing, though.  The goal for the weaker brother is to get stronger.

I also think there is an element to this debate that of often missed.  It is the idea of the sacred versus the secular.  I very much do not believe in this concept.  Everything belongs to God. Music belongs to God, no matter what style.  Movies belong to God.  Are we using these things to glorify God?  Is our every breath, our every heartbeat, our very passions glorifying to God?  The biblical command is not to separate from these things; the biblical command is whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.  I will openly admit, it is very hard to break out of the sacred versus secular mindset, but I really think that it is something that is crucial for the believer.

I said in one of my earlier blog posts that the definition of the essentials of Christianity is “the Apostles’ Creed with a relational emphasis.”  This is where the relational emphasis comes in.  As a Christian who has been liberated from the letter of the law by the death, burial, and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ, my focus should be not on the point of the letter of the law, but the point where something comes between me and my Savior. The Bible is our handbook and our guideline for this.  If it violates the Word of God, it violates my relationship with God.  There are times, however, when the Holy Spirit will reveal to someone that something is not right.  I have met people who genuinely believe that they should not listen to certain kinds of music because it violates their relationship with God.  I think this is admirable.  I applaud it!  And heaven forbid that I should come in between them and God.  But they certainly do not try and forbid others from doing the same because they understand that this is about their relationship and they don’t try to bend the Bible to fit a new definition of godliness.

To sum all of this up:

1.        The only thing the Bible commands us to be separate from is sin.
2.        The only person that I should be concerned about my appearance is Jesus Christ.
3.        The only standard that I am to conform to is that standard set forth by the Word of God.  For someone to judge me by any other standard is not only rude, it is sin.
4.        The principle of the weaker brother does not always apply.  The goal for the weaker brother is to get stronger.
5.        Everything belongs to God.
As a Christian who has been liberated from the letter of the law by the death, burial, and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ, my focus should be not on the point of the letter of the law, but the point where something comes between me and my Savior

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