Over the last few years there has been a significant movement to rethink “fundamentalism,” a term often applied to churches that would qualify to be listed in our database here at KJV Churches. Largely driven by younger believers, mostly Millennials, this movement has questioned many of the positions and attitudes held by a number of prominent figures who purport to hold to “Old Time Religion” or the “Old Paths,” and without a doubt there are many valid questions and rebukes necessary in many sectors of “fundamental” Christianity.
In this series, we intend to deal with a number of the real issues that should be addressed with regard to the supposed “Old Time Religion” and “fundamentalism,” but at the same time it is our desire to inspect the attitudes displayed by the “Recovering Fundamentalist” movement. As with most things, there are ditches on both sides of the road, and while a strong argument can be made against the traditional model that frequently covers up sin, overlooks abuse, and welcomes “fallen” men while ignoring and blaming the victims, we must be careful not to allow a knee-jerk reaction that will result in the same rotten attitudes, ungodly spirit, and combative approach that is many times the fruit of the “fundamentalists.”
The generational divide between the majority of the church leadership, made up of Generation X and Baby Boomers (of disrespectful “OK, Boomer” fame), and the up-and-coming Millennials, the generation to which this author belongs, has been the cause for a lot of conflict. We Millennials have a very different approach to certain things which makes us appear to be a threat to many people, especially those who appreciate their authoritative positions and perceive any question as a threat or assume that any disagreement is an attack. The older generations must understand that a person presenting a question is not necessarily seeking to supplant whoever is in authority. Often it is done in a spirit of reconciliation, hoping to correct a wrong, perceived or real, and to restore respect for whoever was in error. Simply put, most Millennials aren’t interested in sweeping things under the rug, regardless of the consequences.
My generation experienced the Internet as young people, so we remember the days before instant, worldwide communication was possible even though many of us met our spouses and best friends online. We’re the pre-Internet generation that has in a very real sense shaped the Internet as it exists today. Our unique experiences have created a group of people, from 25-40 years old, that believe that respect is earned and can be lost, authority does not automatically deserve respect, and that age does not automatically mean wisdom (Job 32:9) when it departs from the word of God. As a result, our generational perspective does not automatically follow that of our predecessors. We are more likely to investigate a man’s character and testimony, and not just assume that he was a great man because he was a “great soul winner”. We’ve seen too many “great men” go to prison to assume that large numbers of “conversions” or a big Bible College are the marks of spirituality.
Personally, I’ve long since stopped identifying with men or movements, since many that I respected as a child turned out to be problematic, to say the least, once I reached adulthood. It’s true that there are Biblical commands to respect those that have positions of authority, but all too often the warnings and responsibilities of those tasked with those positions have been ignored, while the man in question hides behind a “man of God” moniker and rejects all criticism as an attack on “the ministry.” I don’t even know how many times as a child that I heard my pastor preach grave warnings about speaking out against the pastor (him, of course), talking about she-bears, lightning strikes, and leprosy attacks, as if he himself were Elisha, Elijah, or Moses. Another shocking recollection is of the pastor (same man) claiming that the church funds were low because he had chosen not to receive his salary, and that God wasn’t blessing the church as a result.
It is the unfortunate reality of modern “Christianity” (“Churchianity” is much more accurate, since it’s more about the “church” than it is about Christ) that those in places of authority heartily accept the “benefits” that come with being the CEO of a government-recognized 501(c)(3) charity, yet ignore the stern warnings in the Scriptures about how to deal with God’s flock (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 2 Peter 2:3; Hebrews 13:7, 17, etc.). Too many pastors have assumed the right to skin God’s sheep at will, abusing Christ’s flock and manipulating the LORD’s heritage for their own benefit, be it physical (just look at the average BMI of Baptist pastors), monetary, or spiritual, seeking the preeminence that belongs exclusively to the LORD. Now, lest the reader assume that fingers are being pointed at Generation X or the “Boomers,” allow me to clarify: this danger exists in any generation, for any pastor, who ignores the scriptures and seeks his own benefit instead of that of the body of Christ.
Assuming anyone is still reading at this point, there may be some anger in that so far nothing has been said against those meddlesome “Recovering Fundamentalists.” Don’t worry, we’ll get there. But since the “Recovery” movement is a response to the real problems in so-called “Fundamentalism,” those issues should be addressed first, which will allow us to see how this new movement started and why, and we’ll be better prepared to address the issues that they themselves face and the problems they are causing for themselves and for the body of Christ. Don’t worry: there are plenty of problems to go around, and there is plenty of blame to be shared.
What’s the Big Deal?
Over the last few decades the focus of self-professed fundamentalist churches has shifted from the glory of God, edification of the body, and the evangelization of the lost to a pragmatic approach to maintaining the status quo of church attendance, bus ridership, and financial giving. Paris Reidhead’s warning against pragmatism in his famous sermon Ten Shekels and a Shirt (listen to it if you haven’t already) has been completely ignored by the body of Christ. While it may be easy for “conservative” churches (traditional music, KJV only, etc.) to point fingers at “megachurches” with their sports complexes, coffee shops, and polo-shirt-wearing “campus pastors,” we must take stock of our own attitudes and recognize that our own religious system focuses on itself and its own self-propagation more than the glory of God and the spiritual edification of the body.
The results of this sad state of “Christianity” is that young people have started to look behind the curtain and realize that the “Holy Spirit” that is talked about so frequently is really just emotionalism dressed up as spirituality in order to sell a religious program. Thus, it’s no wonder that the sales tactics of a sleazy used car salesman are employed to fill the pews, and that the same approach to maintaining the membership is used, despite the differing content. Don’t believe me? Consider this question:
“What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would his Word still be enough for his people to come together?” – David Platt
The question is valid regardless of who said it; many “fundamentalists” revere serial adulterers and child molesters, so I don’t care what you think about Platt, nor does it matter what I think about him. Consider about the question and imagine how many of the “members” of your church would still faithfully attend if there were no comfortable seats, if there were no heating or air conditioning. How many of the young people would come if it wasn’t for the goodies or fun activities? If all your church did were to assemble, stand together for two or three hours, sing a few hymns a cappella, and listen to the word preached and Christ glorified for two hours, how many would be left at the end of a year? What would the tithing records look like? How many missionaries would you be able to support? How would you pay the mortgage?
You see, we Millennials were sold a bill of goods. We were told that Christ was all that mattered, but we saw that the reality was very different. Just so that we’re clear, that’s called hypocrisy and it’s one of the things that irritates the LORD the most. And, it’s not very appreciated by young people that believed you when we were young and then saw the results of your hypocrisy. So, it’s understandable when young people who would have served God wholeheartedly if they had an example to follow, instead leave church, develop a resentful attitude, or look for a place where they can truly serve God without the humanistic impediments that are so rampant in many “fundamental” churches.
Conclusion (don’t worry, there’s more to come)
So, we haven’t gotten around to bashing those pesky “Recovering Fundamentalists” yet. That’s ok, there’s plenty of blame and rebuke to go around. In a future post we will start to unpack the response, good and bad, of the Millennial generation to the problems we addressed in this post. Just keep in mind that the most important problem to deal with is OUR problem, just like Christ said:
Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42)
Do you want to “see clearly” to deal with the issues that someone else has? Great! Start with yourself, just like I must start with myself. When you recognize and deal with the problems at home, you’ll both be more objective and more merciful with the errors of others (Galatians 5:1). But if you start in the flesh and only look at the mistakes of others, you’ll just create more strife, division, and contention (Proverbs 13:10).