It likely seems unfair to the dedicated reader that this author would promise a series of posts dealing with the “Recovering Fundamentalists”, yet after two long articles (read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here), nothing has been said against that movement. We probably won’t get to them in this post, either, just to give the reader fair warning. My approach to dealing with problems has always been holistic: it makes no sense to have a gastric bypass if the individual has no intention of changing his eating habits afterwards. We cannot prescribe aspirin for a sprained ankle (the “Recovering Fundamentalist” movement) when the rest of the body is suffering from leprosy. It does no good to pick at splinters while the carotid artery has been severed and death, figuratively speaking, is imminent. Or, in Christ’s words, take care of the beam in your eye before you address the mote in someone else’s.
Decisive or Divisive?
So now we come to what I believe to be one of the most destructive issues in modern church history. On the one hand, the importance of this issue cannot be overstated, and I believe that the current condition of the body of Christ can largely be attributed to it. Yet, on the other hand, it is the issue that has caused the most unnecessary division, rotten attitudes, personal attacks, and loss of love for one another, more so than any other issue. And yes, that issue is the King James Bible.
Take a quick look around the site and you’ll notice that we take the KJV seriously. After all, the site is called KJV Churches, not just “IFB” Churches or “Baptist” Churches. As stated on our Doctrine page, we not only believe that the King James Bible is the “best” Bible in the English language, but that it is the only God-blessed and God-inspired Bible in the English language (and we’ll limit the issue to English, since that’s the language that we’re dealing with). Not only is another “updated” version unnecessary and superfluous, but it would never have the blessing of God on it like the KJV has had, regardless of its textual basis.
Moreover, the present condition of the body of Christ can largely be traced back to the publication of the Revised Version in 1881 and the Westcott and Hort Critical Greek Text. This author assumes that as an a priori truth, a non-negotiable reality that the abdication of the church’s charge to “keep” God’s words (Revelation 3:8, 10) to scholarship’s “scientific” approach to textual criticism is directly and unequivocally responsible for the decline of the church and the resulting decline in the culture around her. Far from the praise and recognition that the church in Philadelphia received, the “church of the Laodiceans” is much more representative of today’s church atmosphere: poor, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked, all the while boasting about her wealth (bank accounts), increased goods (building programs, bus routes, etc.) and that she is in need of nothing (including, apparently, the Holy Spirit’s presence).
As we have done throughout this series, we start at home, looking for the way to apply this truth to us instead of trying to play the blame game. This applies to independent Baptist churches before it applies to the Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, or Unitarians (especially because most of us would agree that the vast majority of those churchgoers aren’t even saved). Christ was talking to the church, not to lost people, not to the world, not to heretics: He was talking to us. Once we accept that and begin to take His counsel (Revelation 3:18) seriously, we can perhaps find a way to fix where we have erred.
Again the reader may be perplexed as to why we haven’t gotten around to criticizing the proponents of modern versions and all of the “Recovering Fundamentalists” with their plethora of disagreeing “Bible” versions. Don’t worry, we’ll get there. However, Christ’s greatest rebukes were against those who had the right religion, the right Bible, and the right doctrine, but didn’t obey Him (the Pharisees). Again, beam before mote.
Having It But Not Keeping It
The typical teaching of King James Bible proponents is that having the right Bible is the be-all, end-all of the Bible issue. They will point to the same verses in Revelation 3 that I mentioned above and insist that since the Philadelphian church age represents the Reformation (which I agree with), that “keeping” God’s words is producing and maintaining the right version. Now of course I’m all for having the right version of the Bible. However, having the right Bible doesn’t mean you are keeping God’s words; keeping His words has much more to do with obeying than simply possessing.
We have cheapened what it means to be a follower of Christ from a sacrificial denial of self into a choice at a bookstore. Christ told certain wannabe disciples to go home and not even try once it became clear that they had divided loyalties. We, on the other hand, assume that if someone states agreement with a doctrinal position and has the correct version of the Bible in his hand, he must be a true believer. The echo chamber created by this flippant disregard for the price of discipleship has turned the KJV issue into a “shibboleth” of sorts, creating opportunity for unnecessary division instead of unity among brethren.
You may wonder if this author is suggesting that truth be discarded in favor of artificial unity. Absolutely not. Under no circumstances are we to compromise truth. The King James Bible is the word of God in English, and as far as this author is concerned, there’s not even room for discussion, let alone compromise. All that notwithstanding, someone who disagrees with me about the Bible issue is still my brother in Christ, and His command to love that brother in the same sacrificial manner as He loved us still stands. In fact, I would suggest that it’s even more important to love a brother that has a different position on a practical matter such as the Bible version issue; it’s easy to love people inside our camp, but displaying true, self-sacrificing love to someone that we disagree with is an even greater display of Christ’s love.
Just a couple of generations ago, believers across a variety of denominations fellowshipped together and even preached for each other, overlooking their differences and uniting as brethren in Christ on the many, many things that they did have in common. CMA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) preachers like Tozer and Reidhead preached in Baptist churches such as FBC Dallas and Atlanta, and closer to home, Peter Ruckman, one of the most controversial Baptist preachers in recent years, preached for BBF- and WBF-associated churches like Huisache Avenue Baptist Church in San Antonio or Dayton Baptist Temple (now Cornerstone Baptist Temple) in Ohio. Roloff and Falwell preached at the same meetings as Hyles and Dallas Dobson. The stark polarization among fundamental Baptists that we see around us is a recent development, sometime in the 1990s-2000s. Ruckman himself is recorded as stating that he allowed men to preach in his pulpit using different versions, because the people in the church knew which Bible was correct and he wasn’t worried about it. His written recommendation on studying difficult Bible passages included reading a variety of other English versions (how’s that for a plot twist!). That’s a far cry from the divisive attitude displayed by so many people today with regard to differences in positions on something that can be easily dealt with.
What Do We Do Now?
If someone standing in your church’s pulpit and reading from an ESV were to cause doubt and confusion in the congregation, then I assure you that the problem is not the congregation or the other Bible version. Where this author works in church planting, the most common Bible (the only Bible for most people) is a Critical Text-tainted modern version (the Spanish Reina-Valera 1960). Anyone who claims that it isn’t a Critical Text Bible is either ignorant or lying, and I am fully capable of holding my own in either language on the topic. However, when someone shows up to Bible study with a 1960 and wants to read along, I don’t tell them that they have a corrupt Bible (which they do) or that they should get a copy of this Bible (which they should); I just read and teach and allow the Holy Spirit to do His job. After all, it’s His Book, and He is fully capable of correcting His kids.
The others in attendance in our Bible studies don’t struggle with the version issue either; they grew up with the 1960 and most of them were saved reading that version, despite the corruption. We simply let the LORD handle it, just like He did with them (the other believers). Why, then, can’t we do the same in English? Why is it that King James-only believers have such a rotten reputation for being pushy, dismissive, rude, and downright unchristlike with others? My pastor has the best saying about position vs. disposition, and I think the LORD would be glorified if more of us were to take it to heart: “We believe we’re right, but we’re not mad about it.” See that? You can be right and still have grace.
Do we throw the issue out the window? Absolutely not. As already stated, the church’s departure from the KJV marks the beginning of the Laodicean church age apostasy. We may be too far down the tubes to fix it now, but that’s no reason to give up the truth that we still have. Yet it’s hypocritical to possess the right Bible while we ignore its commands to us on how to behave, how to love one another, how to walk charitably (Romans 14:15) towards our brethren. If we’re always looking for a reason to create division, we will inevitably find one, but if we take the time to look for biblical reasons to walk together in unity, we can find them instead.
One of the most-referenced missionaries in Baptist churches is J. Hudson Taylor, the missionary to China that pioneered “Faith Missions.” This may come as a shocker to many, but he referenced the Revised Version in some of his writings. Charles Spurgeon, one of history’s most famous Baptists, in addition to being a Calvinist, also referenced the RV. Yet we quote and reference these men for the good things they did and said while overlooking or rejecting the stuff we don’t agree with. Why can’t you do that with the pastor from the church down the road? You probably agree with him on about 95% of the issues, and sharing a pulpit with him wouldn’t make you a compromiser; it could just possibly make you charitable.
Getting to the Point
Ok, so the next post is about the “Recovering Fundamentalists.” I promise. We’ve addressed the major issues at home, and while I am under no delusions that these articles are going to “fix” 2,000 years of problems in the church (especially when Jesus had nothing good to say about our age in Revelation 3:14-22), I think we’re ready to move on to talking about the “other” people involved here. Let’s talk about “Fundamentalism” and what it really means.