Love-Hate Relationship with Fundamentalism pt. 3
You’ve heard the expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The sentence appeared first in The Republic by Plato. The slogan is mostly true, but that doesn’t make it mostly good. Fundamentalism was invented out of necessity. Liberalism mothered fundamentalism. Here’s the problem though. Why did fundamentalism need to be invented? Couldn’t the institution God ordained in the Bible, the church, have dealt with liberalism in a God-approved fashion? Couldn’t it still?
We really didn’t need fundamentalism. We needed something to be done about liberalism, but nothing needed to be invented to do that. God has already outlined in the New Testament everything a church needs to do to deal with anything that comes along. But fundamentalism was invented anyway. And it’s too bad, I think.
What else are we going to invent to meet a need created by some sort of disobedience to what God already said? We had the Depression. We invented Social Security. We had low home ownership in urban neighborhoods. We invented the mortgage crisis. What will we invent next to deal with a problem? Perhaps we should try what God said would work and then show some patience.
The first week of this series I listed my sixteen loves for fundamentalism. There are qualities about fundamentalism I love. For the rest of my time, I’m expanding on my sixteen hates for fundamentalism. I’ve finished two.
3. Fundamentalism confuses the gospel.
I believe that many children are growing up in some realm of fundamentalism without understanding a true gospel. I believe we have false professions at an epidemic level. I challenge you to pick up or order “gospel” tracts from many, various fundamental churches or organizations and then look at what is presented as the gospel. It’s not very pretty. Some of what you’ll read is bad and then there’s what’s missing that is necessary to represent what the Bible teaches.
There is better preaching in fundamentalism today than what I grew up hearing. However, the historic widespread lack of exposition of Scripture, I believe, has resulted in the misunderstanding of the gospel. Without deep roots in Scripture, pragmatism became prominent in fundamentalism through many different means—the influences of Billy Graham and Campus Crusade (four spiritual laws tract), crusade evangelists (D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, John R. Rice, Bob Jones, etc.), and the techniques of Jack Hyles and his clones (Curtis Hutson, Bob Gray, etc.). There is actually a tremendous amount theologically in common with those three influences, most notably Charles Finney and the Keswick movement. Evangelism became man-centered.
Since the days of my youth, some fundamentalists have returned to biblical evangelism. They have reconsidered the New Testament teaching of the gospel. They have come back to using scriptural methods. But they don’t separate on the gospel. They talk about separation over the gospel, but they don’t separate. The evangelicals talk about separation over the gospel but don’t separate over the gospel either. This is where these guys talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, that I had mentioned before. Galatians 1:9-11 is very clear on this:
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
We aren’t to fellowship with those who preach a false gospel. Let me give you some obvious examples. I know this is where I’m going to get in trouble with readers, but if I don’t give you some specifics, you might not understand what I’m talking about. The gospel is more important than the politics of fundamentalism. And this really is where the confusion about the gospel in fundamentalism is at. I’m going to illustrate with bullet points.
- Clarence Sexton and Kevin Bauder both preach at the 2007 Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International conference. Curtis Hutson repudiated repentance as necessary for justification. Sexton’s Crown College maintains the Hutson Center for Church Ministries on campus. Bauder is president of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Sexton honors Jack Hyles in his on-campus hall of preachers.
- Ron Hamilton and Jim Binney both participate at the 2008 Pastors’ School at First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN. First Baptist Church represents some of the worst perversion of the gospel in fundamentalism. Jim Binney also joins many notable fundamentalists as adjunct faculty at Northland Baptist Bible College. Ron Hamilton is mixed in with many branches of fundamentalism.
I don’t think “who cares” would be a suitable reflection on matters of fellowship as they relate to the gospel. We’ve got to care about this as much as God does. Is there really that much closeness between us when we differ greatly on the gospel? If so, why? This bothers me as much as anything about fundamentalism.
4. Fundamentalism devalues the church.
All over fundamentalism, para-church organizations subsist to “help” and “serve” churches. You’ll see that goal in the mission statements of many of these organizations. Fundamentalism itself has become bigger than the church as an institution. Many pastors and their churches look to the para-church institutions for leadership. Included among these are colleges, universities, camps, publishers, and mission agencies. These establishments often work outside of the authority of the church and their opinions are often elevated above it. Many in fundamentalism, contrary to Scripture, are convinced they have a ministry outside of the church. Many men now consider it a step-up to be invited to lead something para-church. These institutions have replaced the church in many cases as the means of training young people to serve the Lord.
5. Fundamentalism misrepresents church history.
As an interdenominational movement, fundamentalism has influenced men toward a Protestant view of church history. They trace their roots through Roman Catholicism. This has done much to alter positions on the history of the church, leading to a prominent number of English separatist theorists, who believe that the truth was passed down through state churches. You don’t have to be a Baptist to be a fundamentalist—it’s OK to be a Bible church, a free Presbyterian, or Methodist. But the Baptists represent New Testament Christianity historically. You can find the Baptist distinctives in assemblies stretching back through every century to the Jerusalem church, fulfilling the Lord’s promise of perpetuity in Matthew 16:18. Fundamentalism offers several versions of church history that are all acceptable within the movement.
Churches who fellowship with infant sprinklers ignore the place of this doctrine in the history of the Baptists in America. Many suffered for separating from congregational and puritan churches because of this issue. They were whipped (Obadiah Holmes) and imprisoned. They were mocked and ridiculed. What Baptists suffered for in the past, fundamentalists now ignore as a matter of fellowship. A case in point on this is the inclusion of Ian Paisley among fundamentalists. Bob Jones welcomed him often. Clarence Sexton has had him preach at Crown College. The early American Baptist churches formed out of their stand against infant sprinkling. Ground upon which these Baptists bled on is now given up in the name of fundamentalism.
6. Fundamentalism distorts biblical separation.
The Bible does teach separation. Fundamentalism differs from straight evangelicalism with its emphasis on separation. However, it is almost impossible to understand the doctrine based on the practice of fundamentalism. Some who will separate based upon music styles will not separate over a distortion of the gospel. Others will separate over the exclusive use of a particular translation but won’t separate over infant sprinkling. One church says mixed nudity (swimming) is fine and the other says it is a sin, but both churches fellowship with each other.
Because fundamentalism is and has been an interdenominational movement where the various denominations have huge differences with one another, fundamentalists have developed a system of degrees of separation. Certain violations of Scripture can be tolerated, while others cannot. Ultimately, the list of separating doctrines shrinks to a manageable number to allow men to stay together. Those teachings not on that list are often called tertiary, non-essentials. They are doctrines and practices that are expendable, even if they are something God required in His Word.