Home > Brandenburg, Fundamentalism > Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Man’s Approval and the Fear of Independence

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Man’s Approval and the Fear of Independence

April 4, 2010

Many years ago, someone taught me an acrostic that listed the historic marks of a New Testament church.  The first was “B,” Bible sole authority for faith and practice.  A Bible believer, the converted person, will alter his course to the direction of the teaching of Scripture.  This is also contained within the mark of “P,” priesthood of the believer, or if you may, “S,” soul liberty.  We are first responsible to God and are free to move at the promptings of the text of God’s Word.

God’s men have a responsibility before God.  They’re bought with a price.  They’re not their own.  They must give an account to God.  The big conference to which they are attuned is the one at the bema seat with the Lord Jesus Christ.   The Greek term for “preacher” in the New Testament is kerux.  The kerux was a herald.  He gave only the message of the king without regard for  popular opinion.   He was the representative of God and all that mattered was that he say exactly what the king wanted.  This concept is found in other New Testament terms, like “ambassador.”  An ambassador represents the country from which he comes and gives only the message from where he possesses his citizenship.   The believer is from heaven, hence a message conformed to God.  As 2 Timothy 2:4 teaches: “we please him who has chosen us to be a soldier.”  We’ve got one Commander-in-Chief in this war to which we’ve been recruited.

Preachers should have a kind of independent attitude of the Old Testament prophet.  We’re not working for anyone else but God.  He’s the One Who signs our paycheck, so to speak.  This relationship with the Lord gives the man of God the freedom to say what needs to be said.   We’re looking for our approval from Him.    Even pastors in one sense, although under the authority of the church like the rest of the congregation, still have an office that carries with it a separate authority that is all about saying the thing that needs to be said to that assembly of people.   The office of the pastor is a unique organizational role that both submits to and yet rules the church. The pastor’s ruling status allows him to maintain an independence from the people of the church for the purposes of telling the truth and pointing out error.   You get the essence of this job in the great passage on preaching in 2 Timothy 4.  “Preach the Word.”  “Reprove, rebuke, exhort.”  They are going to have “itching ears” and won’t “endure sound doctrine,” but be “long suffering” and finish your course whether it is popular or not.

THE PROBLEM

What I see as one of the biggest problems in evangelicalism and fundamentalism manifests itself in where men look for approval and in their fear of independence.  Both of them are related.   Built into man’s nature by God Himself, I believe, is an appetite for approval.  That hunger is intended to be directed toward the right bestower of approval, God Himself.  However, it requires living by faith to accept an only legitimate source of endorsement.   Instead of waiting for divine confirmation, men seek to gather tangible support on earth to satisfy the craving.

The replacement system of approval on earth has become very complicated.   The world itself will offer notoriety or popularity in many different forms.  Sometimes it comes in the small time stuff at a school or in a community.  If that’s not enough, there is national celebrity and even worldwide fame.   Some look for what Andy Warhol called the “fifteen minutes of fame.”  You can get that today on youtube if you find a way to get people’s attention.  It is often enough for one boy or girl to fit into his little group of friends and get acceptance from them.  That might require talking in a certain cadence or dressing with a certain style, but you will likely have to adapt your behavior to the preferences of the group.  In the context my son lives in at West Point, the people around him aren’t necessarily going to reward with a higher ranking those who manifest biblical behavior.  The young men pick up the cues for what types of actions will bring commendation from peers and from command.  Some of the types of actions that might impress the company won’t impress the Lord Jesus Christ.  You do have to decide what your life is about.

It is almost impossible for a Christian both to live worthy of God and find approval from the world.  But the temptation is great for believers to prove themselves to the unsaved crowd.   The sense is that you can’t really find out how good you are unless you can compare your relative skill to what’s happening in the world.  How do you stack up next to them?  Will they think you’re good?  And you’ll probably not ever show up in the history books unless you accomplish something the world can find impressive in whatever niche you might be—music, sports, politics, business, and more.

THE PROBLEM AS IT APPLIES TO EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM

For pastors, scripture has isolated the Lord as the one to please.  Yet, you won’t likely feel that approval of the Lord.  You have to accept it by faith.  But sometimes that isn’t easy.  So what has developed to replace the confirmation of the Lord has been a very complex system of endorsement and sanction that would rival any organization on earth.  It has become its own giant entity with tentacles reaching all over the place—fellowships, boards, conferences, conventions, schools, colleges, publishers, and seminaries.  I believe that this is what has, more than anything else, propped up evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

We have the church.  That’s Christ’s institution.  And it is sufficient.  But that doesn’t satisfy the hunger that many have for approval.   Fundamentalism has developed its own orbs of sanction.  Evangelicalism has its too.  Both of them are similar in their organizational systems.  They both revolve around associations and conferences, boards and meetings.  Now you’ve got the internet as a tool to spread even more notoriety.  How many hits does your blog get?  What kind of online presence do you have?

Fundamentalism is the ugly step brother as a platform for approval.  And young men especially know how dorky they look being a fundamentalist.  At one time fundamentalism was bigger.  It could contend with evangelicals in that way.  But the fundamentalists always did have boundaries that evangelicals never had that would keep the world from being impressed.  Both sides have their cast of characters, but now evangelicalism has the biggest religious celebrities, wherever they might fall on the theological spectrum.  They are better at drawing a crowd and using the mediums that will gain the most attention.   Fundamentalists find this alluring.

To present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that is, to worship God, we must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2).  Being conformed to the world is not just the outward forms of the world, but also the same types of ambitions and appeals of the world or as 1 John 2:16 says, “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.”  Because of the structures set up in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, you don’t have to go outside of those affiliations to gratify your desire for earthly approval.   Evangelicalism and fundamentalism can offer its own mini-versions of what the world offers all over the place.  In so doing, it influences behavior just like the world too.   Men will be stifled on the things they ought to be saying and constrained to go along with wrong methods and activities by the inducements of the group.  Men hunger for approval and they will alter their behavior to fit evangelical or fundamentalist scruples or lack thereof.

So now the lines that were drawn between fundamentalism and evangelicalism have become blurred.  The two are getting together more than ever.  Many times they say they’re getting together for the gospel, overlooking other biblical differences in order to fill an immense auditorium or convention center.  The size is a heady thing.  Makes you feel at least somewhat big time.  Maybe we all do have it going after all.  And you can feel the approval.  It seems like it might even be filling that appetite.

I think that evangelicals and fundamentalists should consider whether they’re together for the gospel or even together for the fundamentals or for loyalty to an evangelical or fundamentalist institution, or whether they really are together for approval.   I see fundamentalists today that are cozy with men they would have never been twenty years ago and for biblical reasons.  If these parachurch groups were in scripture, I would think that there might be something legitimate there, something God-designed.  But no.  I do believe that this is almost entirely about the feeling of legitimacy that men want to experience.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN

When we look for approval from God, what His  Word says takes the preeminence.  If the church is good enough, the only scriptural institution, we retain an independence to say the truth to anyone.  We aren’t attempting to cobble together a coalition.  We don’t need one.  What we need, what we crave, is to please Jesus Christ.  He is our all in all.  He designed that to be accomplished on a local level.  That’s why he left the little flocks as the pattern for His mission.

We have to remember that Scripture does say we aren’t going to be liked.  We won’t be approved of on earth.  “Take up your cross” does not speak of goodwill.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”  Not being popular doesn’t bother the galley slave who’s only responsible for keeping is oar going.  We’ve got to be OK with faithfulness in this world.  Don’t be surprised if the persecution you get comes from evangelicalism and fundamentalism.   They don’t like feeling disapproval from you.  Your separation from them won’t be tolerated, especially when the disapprobation comes with quoted scripture.  You are “complete in” Christ (Col 2:10), not in an evangelical or fundamentalist association.  So you can handle it in Him.

I see so much acceptance of false worship and doctrine, the multiplication and the spread of it, and I believe that it all relates to this hunger for approval that men have in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  I play basketball still on a regular basis.  There is a phrase that basketball people will understand:  “Let the game come to you.”  True fellowship isn’t anything that we have to force.  That fellowship has just come to me.  Men of like faith and practice will gravitate toward one another as long as they don’t try to force it.  I’ve got great fellowship outside of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in churches of like faith and practice.  They don’t even show up on the radar of fundamentalism or evangelicalism.  They are unaffiliated.  I’ve never been more greatly refreshed than being around men who weren’t interested in anything bigger than the church.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.

Men who are just fine with just the church don’t minimize the basis for gathering to only the gospel.  They fellowship based on the truth.  They’re more interested in the truth than they are in getting along.  In the end, Christ is honored because His Word is exalted.   If I do get together with these men, and they do exist, I’ve found that discussions about the Bible are occurring all over the place and without limits.  We’re not getting together with a diminishing of the truth.  We know our approval is in Christ.  I don’t care that it is a small group.  It doesn’t surprise me that it is.  I’m not intimidated by the fact that we don’t fit into either evangelicalism or fundamentalism.  I don’t feel any pressure from my friends, from these men, to say anything but whatever God would have me.

I suggest to you to get out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.  Don’t worry about it.  It isn’t scriptural unity.  That’s found in the church.  You endeavor or strive for unity in the church.  The church has been given the tools to have unity.  If you have any unity outside of the church, let it come in the context of the truth that your church believes.  And then satiate in the approval you have from God.  Be truly independent like God designed.  You’ll love it

Approval is found in that “B” that distinguishes New Testament churches.  God wants belief in and obedience to His Word.  Priesthood is not just a privilege, it is also a responsibility.  When I’m interested most is my fellowship with Him, then I get the kind of fellowship too that is right in the world.  I’ve never had the liberty to do what I wanted, but to be and do what the Lord wants.  I want my life and my worship to be acceptable to Him.  Let us restore a right thinking of approval and a true spirit of independence in the man of God.

Salute Apelles approved in Christ.  Romans 16:10a

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  1. d4v34x
    April 5, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Fear of man is a serious problem. No question.

    Not sure you have demonstrated that is the main problem here. It can be very difficult to discern motive. Hard to know if Fundygelicals are looking for recognition or just to make an impact.

    Better arguments might actually be the separtion mandate arguments.

  2. April 5, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Hi D4,

    I don’t know that it is the “main” problem, but a serious one. It could be the main one. This is a difficult one to show evidence.

    Here is a quote from Phil Johnson’s Dead Right:

    “Fundamentalists” who tied themselves to the movement got sidetracked
    into fighting and dividing into ever-smaller and less significant factions. They
    managed to start with the all the right ideas, all the right enemies, and all the
    best men—and reduce their movement to virtual insignificance in less than a
    hundred years.

    You see this language from conservative evangelicals about fundamentalists, showing it is important to them: “ever-smaller,” “significant,” and “insignificance.” “Significant” for what?

    This is an argument for Johnson. If it causes you to be insignificant, then it must be wrong. It’s hard to find people who will actually write it like this, so that’s what makes it more difficult to prove. The appetite for approval is much larger than what it is written about.

  3. d4v34x
    April 5, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I would he’s equivocating signifigance with impact potential. Just a (generous) guess, but it is a alternate and plausible theory of the “crime” (i.e. getting together despite fairly significant doctrinal differences).

    • April 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      I would be interested in the so-called “impact” association with Rick Warren will engender. I think Brother Kent is right about Phil Johnson’s use of the words “significance & significant.”

  4. April 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Brother Kent,

    Have you heard of the “buzz” about John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at his “Desiring God” conference? This should be an interesting test of why these men get together.

    Mark Dever, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, et al, say they are together “for the Gospel.” I have heard at least two of them say publicly that the “seeker-sensitive” gospel is a false gospel.

    I wonder if their need for “significance” will trump their love for the true Gospel?

  5. April 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I believe that ignoring biblical differences, both doctrinal and practical, is fueled most often by the desire for approval from men. I haven’t received very much in the way of biblical support for it. They offer “gained significance” as a defense. I just watched John Piper’s most thorough defense for having Rick Warren and in the end, he wanted acceptance of what he did because people shouldn’t practice “secondary separation.” He never explained why secondary separation was wrong.

  6. April 5, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Art, We’re on the same page.

    People don’t write saying that they do things for significance and approval, but as a pastor, I know this to be true from having seen it. I don’t get doctrinal affirmations for why people ignore biblical doctrine and practice in order to get together.

  7. d4v34x
    April 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Your guess could be right on. But its still a guess.

    Bro. Art,

    My guess is it will be mixed but will die down quickly. Speaking from limited experience only: people who start out not wanting to draw specific lines often end up reluctant to draw other lines.

  8. April 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I’m not guessing about what Phil Johnson said about “significance” and getting “smaller” as an actual issue. So I wasn’t guessing there. And I think I could find more evidence, but I also believe that we can write opinion based on experience and people are going to have judge as to whether it is true. Perhaps you deny that approval of men is an issue. That is your prerogative.

  9. d4v34x
    April 7, 2010 at 7:20 am

    I affirmed above that every Christian must guard against fear of man and wholly embrace the fear of God. I simply make no claim to be able to know the motives of the words of actions of others. Judging those words and actions by Scripture? No problem; judge away! Guessing at the motives? I’ve done it, but I’m not sure if it’s wise, or even profitable.

  10. April 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I don’t believe there is a scriptural basis not to judge motivation. Our whole justice system is built on determining motive. In a murder trial, guilt is in part established by motive. I think we have to be careful with judging motive, but to me, this is a no brainer, what I’ve written above. It is very profitable, because lots of problems come from the wrong motive, the approval of men, even as lots of great things occur with the right one, the approval of God.

    You’re saying this is a guess. It’s not a guess. I’ve never said I was guessing. How did you know if I was guessing? I didn’t provide names. However, later I did with the Phil Johnson quote. If you are looking for Scripture—look at the qualification, not a novice, in 1 Tim 3, why? Lest being lifted up with pride. What pride? Should we be able to say that novices are lifted up with pride? How do we know that? Is Paul judging people’s motives?

  11. Joe
    April 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Kent,

    “It is almost impossible for a Christian both to live worthy of God and find approval from the world. But the temptation is great for believers to prove themselves to the unsaved crowd.”

    And fall to this temptation they do. I think we all need to guard against it. I almost cried when I read this article. (Yes, I am a man, so I only almost cried.) Kent, you said what’s been in my heart for a long time. I am so disappointed in so many pastors and so-called Christian outstanding persons in this one thing. I think all that unity talk is just a disguise for approval. Anyway, it has harmed other Christians many, many times.

    I also very much appreciate your motive statement. If we can discover motive, we can better know whether we are dealing with a wolf or a sheep. I think there are a pack of wolves loose in the Christian church. I’ve been bitten by a few.

    Art,

    I am so glad that you brought some names to this forum. I wonder if the guys you named aren’t just really pretending to be Christians.

    Joe

  12. d4v34x
    April 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Bro. B, this is getting silly. The legal system of the United States now instructs us as to how to treat other Christians? And I didn’t get to specifics until you did. See my use of ‘fundygelicals’ vs ‘PJ’ above.

    At any rate, from what he wrote, I contend it is impossible to tell from the quote you provide above if PJ is referring to a signifigance of impact or a signifigance of acceptance among whomever. He may just be saying we (fundamentalists), in effect, took ourselves out of the game. That is the plain sense of my reading of that quote.

    I’m willing to admit I’m guessing. You assert here that Fundygelicals do certain things (either primarily or significantly) in order to get appoval from men rather than from God. As someone sitting on your jury, I say I’m not sure you’ve met your burden.

    But don’t worry about what I think. I’m not in the place of God.

  13. April 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Joe,

    Thanks again.

    D4,

    If I agree with you, then I would need to delete my post. So it’s not too silly. You say I can’t judge in what I have written, because I can’t judge motives. To answer that point, I’ve said:
    1–This point of approval of men is seen as a consideration in the paragraph by PJ. You say it isn’t in consideration in that quote. In the most recent article at his blog the success of someone is judged by how many people show up to hear him.
    2–I’m saying that my experience counts as evidence, because I’ve been doing this for 22-23 years.
    3–I gave the 1 Tim 3, novice, lifted up with pride, as evidence. You said nothing.
    4–I said that scripture is silent about judging motive. It doesn’t say it is wrong per se. Like other types of judgment, it’s wrong if it’s wrong. But judging motives itself is not wrong.
    5–I use the U.S. judicial system, which really goes back even further to pre-Victorian era, in which we have depended on judging motive to convict of murder. You say that is silly. It’s more than silly if it’s wrong. But I use it as an example of the idea that we are to judge based upon motive at times, that is, if it can be judged.
    In addition to those five, I add this.
    6–When men ignore biblical doctrines and practices to get together, there are a limited number of reasons why. It can’t be to honor God, because scripture doesn’t teach that idea of unity. You are saying we don’t know what the actual reason is. I’m saying we do know why it is in many cases.

  14. d4v34x
    April 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    1. I agree that I don’t necessarily see it as you do. Some do not require the level of agreement other do before pursuing cooperation/unity. This is a difference of ideology that does not necessitate a replacement of the seeking of God’s approval with the approval of man. PJ et al may be wrong, but they don’t have to be wrong for the reason you assert.

    2. I recognize your experience even while entreating you as a father.

    3. I didn’t address this because I don’t believe it’s on point. I understand Paul there to be dealing in a prescriptive anticipatory sense, and he, under the pen of inspiration recognizes that youth too soon promoted will likely fall prey to pride.

    4. I don’t think I said it was wrong, I questioned the wisdom and (by implication) the necessity of it. The Bible makes a whole host of warnings on the fear of man.

    5. Our legal system requires we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s different than asserting based on experience together with potential implication of specific words divorced from context. (You may well have the whole context, but it’s not presented here.

    6. People can do wrong things out of a very real desire to do right things. Wrong actions do not necessitate wrong goals, especially if the alleged wrongdoers misunderstand or misapply scripture. They don’t have to be misapplying it because they want man’s approval.

  15. June 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I just wrote a set of posts titled “Why I Walked Away from Evangelicalism” in which I discuss the problems I found so overwhelming in the movement. If your interested, here’s the url http://chaosandoldnight.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/why-i-walked-away-from-evangelicalism-part-1-of-2/

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