In our first post we talked about why an entire generation of young people (or at least a representative majority) just isn’t interested in playing ball with the status quo. Then we talked about the fundamental problems with “fundamental” churches – it’s not simply that they’re swapping their hymnals for bouncing balls on the projector screens – and why those problems go all the way back to John 17. Afterwards we approached the Bible issue and why the “issue” is really the attitude and less about which version someone has; you can’t expect someone to take your position seriously if you’re just a jerk all the time. Now we get to the part that everyone has been waiting for: it’s time to talk about the “Recovering Fundamentalists.” Aren’t you glad you stuck it out?
What Is There To Recover?
Mainstream evangelicalism experienced a defection many years back, a movement that became known as the “Emergent Church” with such illuminating figures as Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren in starring roles. As “fundamentalists” we rightly reject that movement and those individuals, though we can still learn from the process: they saw problems in the churches that they left and sought to address those problems, yet the result was to create another system that begat its own problems. That’s what we learned in part 2: the inevitable cycle only creates more of the same, given enough time.
So, when a few years ago a number of younger men (mostly Millennials) began to express their doubts with the fundamentalist churches that they grew up in, and those doubts were echoed throughout social media thanks to the widespread reach offered by the Internet, it became obvious that the issues weren’t limited to one church, one State, or one “circle” in fundamentalism: they were systematic issues that manifested themselves across the gambit of churches, be they King James-only, “fundamental,” affiliated with BJU, BBC, Golden State Baptist College, or any other subgroup or identifier that you could name. The result was a widespread evacuation of young (and some not-so-young) people looking for something that reflected the biblical vision of the body of Christ and less a corporate strategy of growth for the sake of growth.
Predictably, this move was initially dismissed by most leaders in fundamentalism as just more of the normal attrition that constantly affects the younger generations. While Barna may provide more solid figures, I would guess that some 50% of young people not only leave church, but never return. It has been that way or worse since I was in youth groups in various churches: out of 50 teens that I shared classes with, probably 15-20 of my peers are still faithful in church somewhere in the United States. To the best of my knowledge I’m the only one of my peer group currently “in the ministry” out of five different independent Baptist churches I attended during my teen years.
So, it was easy initially to assume that this just represented a few disgruntled youth following the same tendencies to “go to the world” instead of what has become a full-fledged movement to rethink the basis for why we do what we do. Now, as is typical, Baptist churches are playing catch-up with events that have far outpaced them, and instead of finding out why young people are leaving, they hurl accusations and blame, refusing to consider whether there just might be some reason behind this exodus.
“Fundamentalism” or Fabrication
Despite what “fundamental” Baptists think, “fundamentalism” is far from a Baptist-exclusive position. In the 1800s when “fundamentalism” became a buzzword in society, it was adopted by traditionalist churches and ministers to differentiate themselves from the “liberals” of their day. Now, this sounds like the jargon commonly used today, as pointing out other churches’ music programs and, the Baptists’ current favorite target: skinny jeans. However, the liberalism being opposed when the term “Fundamentalism” came into use was a denial of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, His Resurrection, the authority of the Scriptures, and the sinful nature of man, among other things. These weren’t preferences being disputed: they were fundamental dogmas (doctrines) that form the bedrock of Christianity.
Early Fundamentalists included Presbyterians like J. Gresham Machen, Baptists like George C. Needham, and Reformed Episcopalians like William R. Nicholson. At one point it was discussed whether or not to invite the Seventh Day Adventists to participate in the movement, since the Second Coming of Christ was one of the five main points of Fundamentalism and William Miller was a vocal proponent of premillennialism at the time. So, far from indicating a somewhat narrow subset of Baptists, the term indicated a widespread movement among various denominations to hold to a firm belief in some basic truths.
So, what constitutes a Fundamentalist? Between the years of 1910 to 1915, a series of books was written which popularized the term and promoted the movement, which was ultimately ecumenical to a large degree. These books were called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. Schools like the Moody Bible Institute and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University) stood for these fundamentals. Princeton Theological Seminary produced the statement on biblical inerrancy that would later be echoed in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (“inerrancy” being a sneaky way to ignore blatant errors in their preferred Critical/Catholic texts). These fundamentals are understood to be the following:
- Biblical Inerrancy
- The Divine Nature of Jesus Christ
- The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ
- The Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- The Bodily Return of Jesus Christ
The astute reader will understand that all five of these points relate directly to our LORD Jesus Christ, from the first to the last, each one upholding His statements in Scripture and defending His declarations as absolute fact. So, it shouldn’t be too hard to understand why orthodox Christians would take a firm stance on these issues against the liberals that proposed the opposite. After all, the modernists suggested that Genesis was written by multiple authors, Isaiah was written by two different men, that Daniel was written sometime during the intertestementary period, and offered varying theories on the nature and life of Jesus, all of them denying His godhead and eternal nature in favor of a humanistic, natural approach. The response by traditionalists or the orthodox Christian denominations was to come together and oppose these horrifying attacks on our Saviour. Baptists and Presbyterians worked together with Methodists to uphold the basic truths of Christian theology.
That is Fundamentalism. Sorry to burst your bubble.
So now we get down to the brass tacks: the varying stripes of independent Baptists that have redefined “fundamental” and now use it to mean something entirely different than its original meaning. Obviously any church that would be listed on this website would be assumed to be “fundamental” according to the true meaning of the term; no independent Baptist church denies the physical resurrection of Christ or His physical return (even though there is significant disagreement historically on eschatology among Baptists). And, while the “Bible Issue” would take gigabytes of blog posts to deal with thoroughly, to the best of my knowledge, no church listed on this site would disagree with the historic fundamentalist position on the inerrancy of Scripture, even if their preferred version does say that Isaiah wrote Malachi 3:1.
The widespread use of the word “fundamental” among Baptists today refers less to the historic position as defined above and more to a clique-ish, exclusionary tendency among our churches to only fellowship with a very narrow subset of churches that not only hold the exact same doctrinal position as we do, but also agree with us on a ton of other nit-picky things like what preachers they invite to preach, what mission boards they support, what music they play in their services, and the king of all stupidities, second-degree separation: do they separate from people that fellowship with people that we separate from?
Again, no one is suggesting that we compromise on issues we believe to be important. No one is asking you to install a drum kit in your auditorium, no one expects you to use a different Bible version, and if you sincerely don’t feel peace about inviting Brother So-and-so to preach, then fine. But for crying out loud, since when does dividing over trifles and splitting over nonsense lead to the unity that Christ prayed for in John 17? After all, these “Old Time Religion” positions that you call “fundamentalism” are really just modern, pragmatic tools that would have horrified John Leland or Shubal Starnes. The modern carrying on, whooping and hollering and “running the bases” that has become typical of Baptist “fundamentalism,” specifically in the American South, would never have been acceptable 150 years ago. Far from being “Old Time Religion,” we’ve slapped together some emotionalism with some really divisive church polity, and then have the audacity to think that God will bless it and nothing else.
Furthermore, we Baptists are as bad as the Amish in the practical sense that we define “holiness” by a set of worldly standards that were put in place in a certain era; ours is just the 1950s instead of the 1650s. Business attire in the pulpits, music principles dictated by cultural preferences of our preferred decade, and a rotten attitude against anyone that disagrees are the hallmarks of modern “fundamentalism”, none of which is found anywhere in the King James Bible. As unbelievable as it might be to anyone who knows the Bible, an elderly preacher told my pastor once: “Gotta’ get these preacher boys to wear a tie…I’m tryin’ to get them to be like Jesus!” My pastor’s response is: “Did Jesus wear His tie in a half Windsor or a full Windsor?” Or, better yet, did Jesus starch His white dress shirts?
Revisiting the Fundamentals
“Fundamentalism” as a movement has removed itself drastically from its origins, or in reality, the moniker has been hijacked and misapplied to a movement that has little in common with the origins of the word. No doubt Baptist churches will still insist on using “Fundamental” to refer to their King James Only position (a position which I hold as strongly as any of them), their traditional music (I also believe in traditional hymns), formal dress, and other touchstones of Baptist culture that remain popular among independent churches. However, that’s not what “Fundamentalism” refers to.
A true Fundamentalist can have some degree of fellowship with other believers around the basic truths of scripture. At the same time, “fundamentalists” like Bob Jones, II and III, John R. Rice, and Jerry Falwell promote or promoted other Bible versions. It is schizophrenic to refuse to fellowship with certain believers over trifles like not having “Baptist” in the church name, while identifying with a movement and with individuals that stood against the most foundational of our beliefs.
So we must ask the question: What is the most important issue over which we must determine our lines of fellowship and cooperation with others? The temptation is to make the King James Bible that issue, but as we saw in Part 3, possession of the right Bible is of little value if we don’t obey it. We must seek the issue that Christ indicated was the most important of the “fundamentals,” and obey Him rather than seeking every excuse under the sun to generate strife and division among the brethren.
You can’t fellowship with everyone; in fact, there are a lot of independent Baptists that I don’t get along with, can’t agree with, and choose to avoid for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons do have to do with “camps” and circles in which those individuals run. That’s ok; I just don’t pretend like it’s a biblical reason. Let’s apply a scriptural principle:
Luke 9:49 ¶And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Is that person a brother in Christ? Is their purpose to glorify God? Can you be a blessing to them, as a fellow believer? That, my brethren, is the “fundamental” issue that we face today. Seek unity in truth instead of division because of opinions (“doubtful disputations,” Romans 14:1).
Recovering what was Lost
And thus, we see the reason that a lot of people have left independent, “fundamental” Baptist churches is to deal with the spiritual abuse that they suffered (and let’s not even start talking about sexual abuse coverups). They see the division, strife, confusion, and contention that is the norm instead of unity, fellowship, and communion (not the crackers and juice once or twice a year) that Christ said we would naturally exhibit if we had love one for another as He loved us. They see marketing tactics and sales techniques instead of a Holy Spirit-led manifestation of God’s power. They see that it’s all fake. Who wouldn’t look for something real?
First of all, they’re looking to “recover” from that abuse. But they’re also looking to recover the truth. “Who is God?” some might ask. They definitely haven’t seen Him in any real way in the churches that they left (see the quote from Tozer in Part 1). When the focus is on man worship and perpetuating a religious organization, the true purpose of the church is lost and must be “recovered.”
There is also the idea that they’re recovering the “fundamentals,” or what fundamentalism really is (see above). Unity over the foundational truths of scripture, agreement on the important issues such as salvation; after all, Christian fellowship is contingent on being a Christian in the first place. I really can have good fellowship with a Calvinist, believe it or not: we’re both saved and want to glorify God, and we can even have fun laughing about our doctrinal differences.
But, but, but….
Yes, there are some rotten attitudes, disgusting behavior, and outright attacks on the Bible from some within the “Recovering Fundamentalist” movement. No doubt more than a small fraction of those that identify as “Recovering” left churches out of anger, bitterness, rebellion, or discontent. No doubt. However, it’s our responsibility to deal with the real problems that can be raised by vocal opponents of our position and make sure that judgment begins at the house of God (and that house is a spiritual one, don’t forget).
In the next article, we will show how all of these articles tie together, and how the “Recovering” movement is really more of the same, the cycle repeating itself yet again. Hang tight: we’re almost done.
Read part 6: Who is on the LORD’s Side?