“Recovering” Part 2 – The Endless Cycle

Read part 1: Meet the Millennials

Man, Movement, Machine, Monument, Mess

Since the rise of modern Independent Baptist Fundamentalism (the “IFB” movement) starting arguably with J. Frank Norris, which incorporated the emotionalism and manipulative revivalist tactics of Charles Finney with the pragmatism of the modern American mentality, the body of Christ at large and the independent Baptist movement specifically has experienced a decline in spiritual power.  This is evidenced by the increasing need to resort to the sales tactics of used car salesmen and high-pressure recruitment methods of multi-level marketing schemes in order to keep the pews occupied, the bank accounts flush, and the preachers’ schedules full of meetings around the country.  These are the professional pulpiteers who deliver emotional speeches clad in religious-sounding mantras like “Fresh oil” or “The Holy Ghost blew through here,” or irreverent epithets like “Let the ponies run!” and “Amiright, bless God!” among other blasphemous one-liners and insults against the holiness of God, all while living off of the hard-earned income of the hapless members of their target churches.

The Creator of the Universe has been, in many circles, reduced to some sort of emotional experience that you can have if you read the right Bible, shout the right words, sing the right hymns, and invite the correct preachers to speak (who apparently carry around “Revival” in their back pocket and can schedule an appearance at will, as long as it is accompanied by a decent “love offering” or enough Starbucks gift cards).  Far from the dread of the holiness of God as expressed by all those that faced Him, the flippant and irreverent approach taken by modern “Fundamentalism” is the antithesis of what a Bible believing Christian is supposed to exhibit.

The inevitable “cycle” of history has been described in various ways by various men, most commonly written by Vance Havner as something similar to the heading of this section.  A relevant article that deals with the cycle’s effect on another church movement can be read here, and while I would not agree with many of the doctrinal positions held by the brother (yes, I believe him to be a born-again child of God, my brother and fellow heir with Christ) who penned it, it is without a doubt a real problem whose rotten, putrid fruit is coming to light in “fundamental” churches.  This truth is described in detail by Dr. Peter S. Ruckman in The History of the New Testament Church, Vol. I (Pensacola, Bible Believers Bookstore, 1982):

In this history we will see a cycle unraveling before our eyes that will repeat itself several times; at least enough times so that we can identify it as a law of history that operates independently of anyone’s analysis of it or their feelings about it.  The cycle goes like this:

1. Preaching, which may be called “Evangelism.”
2. Teaching, which may stand for “Education.”
3. Culture, which means the introduction of science, philosophy, and tradition (Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20) into the teaching (or education).
4. Apostasy, which includes ecumenical overtures (compromise) with pagan religious systems or unsaved people.
5. Paganism, which means the original condition the populace was in before they were “evangelized” (point 1).

These five steps will be found in a reocurring [sic] cycle throughout the entire history of the church, and they may match another format which runs as follows:

1. A Man; this involves the preaching and evangelization.
2. A Movement; this involves the setting up of teaching facilities and institutions.
3. A Machine; this involves regimentation and patterning the system after the world’s system of education (colleges and universities).
4. A Monument; this means the Holy Spirit has departed, abandoning the institution to paganism: discipline and academic standards are substituted for the liberty and power of the Holy Spirit.
5. Materialism; there is no shred of the movement left.

A look around Europe will show us the truth of this statement.  England itself is the greatest proof of its reality.  Our King James Bible, known in Great Britain as the “Authorised” Version and retaining its Crown copyright in the United Kingdom, has had billions of copies printed, yet in England itself, churches are being turned into hotels and pubs, while somewhere near 50% of the English population doesn’t even claim to be Christian (not including professing Catholics).  What was once the fiery preaching of the regenerating gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance toward God eventually became a cultural concept (the idea of being a “Christian nation”) before turning into a quaint historic anecdote and now a long-forgotten reality.  What we are seeing in American churches is the same exact digression, and “fundamentalist” churches have in no way escaped its effects.

Where’s God in All This?

I grew up in Baptist churches that employed emotional means to elicit a response that was then assumed to be “spiritual,” but as I look back over the times of “running the bases,” whooping and hollering at “Hold the Fort,” and screaming “AMEN!” every time someone took a potshot at a modern Bible version (don’t worry we’ll get there, too), I see more similarities with the prophets of Baal and their carryings on and much less of Elijah’s solemnity or Moses’s reverence.  Yet, it’s not difficult to understand this flippant approach to worship when we realize that the movement itself, started (again, arguably) by Norris in the 30s, began when the Southern Baptist Convention expelled Norris due to his behavior, which included belligerent confrontations with George W. Truett, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas (Barry Hankins, God’s Rascal, p. 133 {Lexington, The University Press of Kentucky, 1996}).

While many of today’s various independent Baptist groups do not recognize Norris’s movement to be part of their history, it is demonstrable that his influence has had a major impact on so-called “Fundamentalism” as it exists today, and his arrogant, boisterous behavior, marginalizing and attacking anyone who did not line up 100% with his positions, in addition to the constant schisms within his own movement, are frankly (see what I did there?) hallmarks of the wider IFB movement as a whole.

In this post-spiritual world of churchian religiosity, lines of division have been drawn, “camps” are formed, and groups on one side of an issue attack and demean those on the other side of an issue, regardless of the fact that this division is exactly the problem for which Paul chastised the Corinthians.  This is, in reality, the simplest description of the practical result of what is called “Fundamentalism” in my generation, and the overall outcome of many generations of independent Baptists, thanks to this inexorable cycle.

No matter the intentions or heart behind these actions, the results demonstrate a complete lack of spirituality on the part of today’s believers, and this dearth of spirituality has left many in my generation (“Millennials”) looking for something real, not just the standard, warmed-over emotionalism of itinerant revivalists preaching the same six or ten sermons all year long, and producing a cheap experience that costs only a few nights of “Revival” meetings and a “love offering” to produce.  A.W. Tozer had this to say to a group of young people sometime in the 1950s:

The trouble with you dear young people…[you’re] being cheated in this awful hour in which we live.  They’ve never seen God, and they’ve never seen very many people that have, and so you poor kids are victims of the elder generation that never saw God.  And so they’ve had to teach you trash and drag in every kind of claptrap to try to keep you happy and if you tell me the truth you don’t respect them for it.  You go along with it but you don’t respect them for it.  My brethren, we need to see God again.

The visible result of this behavior, not just from Norris but from Baptist fundamentalism in general, has alienated many believers who differ on small issues of interpretation, has marginalized many believers that didn’t fit in perfectly with the program, and has (most importantly) caused us to fail to “love one another” as Christ commanded us to do (John 17).  And that, my brethren, is the crux of the issue.

Facing the Music (4/4 timing only, no syncopated beat)

Before we can delve into the myriad issues that the “Recovering Fundamentalist” movement is attempting to address in the present, we must understand the reality of the body of Christ as a whole today (and without getting into “local church only” versus “Universal Church” doctrinal quibbles).  From the ascension of Christ in Acts 1 until the squabbles of the believers over racial discrimination and food in Acts 6, the greatest single description of the early church was that they were “in one accord.”  This was a direct result of the church’s obedience to Christ’s command to love one another, even as He had loved them.  John 17 couldn’t be clearer: if we are one with one another, as Christ is one with the Father, then the world will see our love for one another, and will know that the Father has sent Christ.

Unfortunately for us, the opposite is also true.

Thus, we find ourselves in a situation where the world does not believe in Christ and doesn’t see Christ’s love in us, and it’s our fault.  We, who are supposed to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and the body of Christ, have nothing to offer to the world because we have assumed their methods and mentalities since it’s easier to follow men instead of standing for truth.  Whether that man is Norris, Hyles, Ruckman, MacArthur, Tozer, Nee, Roberson, Falwell, or anyone else that you might be able to name in “Fundamentalist” or independent Baptist history, the church in modern years is defined by “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12), and it doesn’t even matter that someone identifies himself with Christ, because the phrase always begins with “I” (that’s why Paul included “Christ” in that verse).  The church was never supposed to be individuals; it’s a body, and once individualism started popping up (Acts 5-6), the unity disappeared, never to be seen again.

Conclusion – but we’re not done yet!

Such major issues cannot be sorted out in a single blog post.  No, we haven’t started addressing the “Recovering Fundamentalists” yet, but we’re almost there.  However, there’s one elephant in the room that we need to deal with, and we’ll tackle that next: the King James Only Movement (keeping in mind what we saw about “movements” in this post).

Read part 3: The Price of a Book

Read part 4: Whose Fault is it?

Read part 5: More of the Same

Read part 6: Who is on the LORD’s Side?

Read part 7: Where do we go from Here?

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