In the early 1900s an American movement began called Fundamentalism. It was a reaction to liberalism, aka, the social gospel. The social gospel taught that man’s nature was good. He was not lost. Man did not need to be saved from sin. God was love not judgement.
Thus Fundamentalism arose to protect the true gospel and confront social gospel lies. Fundamentalism (F) has been characterized as: strongly protecting essential doctrines, bold soul winning, heavy, verbal attacks on ecumenism and other groups outside F that compromised, in their view. Modest dress has also been restored.
Because Fundamentalism is an American phenomena it is not found elsewhere in the world except where it has been imported. In other countries there is said to be no separation between what Americans would call fundamentalists and evangelicals.
Some evangelicals have forsaken essential doctrines. Denying the necessity of Christ’s atoning death for salvation, the person and work of Christ, the nature of God, etc, places one really outside the E camp. This is liberalism, under any name! Defense against heresies was needed ninety years ago. It is still needed today.
E is so massive and diverse that is like trying to describe all the animals in a zoo in one sentence. That’s impossible. This post will basically address that segment of E that is mostly still doctrinally conservative in the essentials of our faith. The author is aware that these generalizations will not fit every E church or situation. F, though much smaller, is also diverse.
I. STRENGTHS OF EVANGELICALISM (E):
* retention of the cardinal doctrines of faith as to salvation and the authority of God’s Word.
* outpouring of teaching resources, evangelistic initiatives like Evangelism Explosion, discipleship training programs (BSF), books, devotional materials like Our Daily Bread, literature.
* campus outreaches – Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, FCA, IVCF, BSM.
* Christian schools and colleges
* drug, abortion, suicide, family (Focus On The Family, Promise Keepers), chastity (True Love Waits) and family finance, divorce support groups.
* evangelistic crusades; radio, TV, internet ministries and Christian movies
*disaster relief programs
* summer, short and long-term missions work
* Renewal (returning to its orthodox roots) within the large Southern Baptist Convention is noteworthy (c. 1970-2000).
* visionary, fruitful evangelists, teachers, leaders, authors: Bill Bright, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, C. S. Lewis, Adrian Rogers, Chuck Smith, Tim LaHaye
* Bible language translation, reference books
II. STRENGTHS OF FUNDAMENTALISM (F):
* With America drowning in sin, it desperately needs F’s simple, godly living and doctrinal essentials. Wholesome behavior while avoiding suggestive, worldly dress, fads and lifestyles stand out in a jaded, lost world.
* faithful, fruitful Christian colleges plus many church-based kindergarten, elementary and high schools
* Established church heritage and traditions can protect a church from every passing fad and theological novelty that some unaligned, traditionless churches get swept up in.
* Independent congregational churches often seem to resist liberalism longer than E denominational churches if they are liberal at the top or in their seminaries.
* appreciation for the New Testament’s endless witnessing to strangers (Nicodemus, woman at the well; Ethiopian eunuch, Philippian jailer, tracts), zealous traveling evangelists.
* humble, unsophisticated attitude of many members
* retain rich, powerful, traditional hymns.
* casual or dress up attire is becoming more accepted in places; some churches moving from strict, modest dress requirements to personal preferences
* strong foreign missions emphasis – summer, short and long term opportunities
III. NEEDS OF EVANGELICALISM:
* deal with: carnal prosperity message; super-star preachers; leader scandals; lack discernment; false teaching, compromising with sodomy, gullible; pep talk gospel – Michael Brown
* more personal evangelistic zeal, sharing salvation testimony at work, job site prayer meetings, Bible studies
*neglect or hostility towards New Testament, street witnessing to strangers and tract passing (Nicodemus, woman at the well; Ethiopian eunuch, Philippian jailer, tracts) .
* some are replacing Spirit’s conviction and conversion to win the lost with human compassion; distorted view of HS conviction and the proper role of human love.
* Denying the necessity of Christ’ payment on the Cross for sin. Accepting ‘brethren’ into fellowship that do not accept Christ’s atoning death as the basis for redemption. Religious rites, infant baptism nor church membership can redeem from sin. Neither do warm smiles, hugs and singing together.
* compromise with world in behavior, dress and habits – greasy grace, sinful lifestyles, low moral standards; insufficient, specific teaching on Biblically wholesome behavior.
* shallow, transient music which lacks both the power of rich hymns, powerful lyrics and the robust expression found in Psalms and many classic Scripture choruses today. (Psa 145-150; Col 3.16).
* teaching is needed identifying compromise, false doctrine, false brethren and sins of the flesh. The church is to influence the world not adopt low, worldly standards.
IV. NEEDS OF FUNDAMENTALISM (F):
* Little capacity for thoughtful, self-examination, self-criticism – quick to point out errors of liberalism and ecumenism [CCM, neo-evangelicalism]. – Fundamentalism Phenomena by Ed Hindson and Ed Dobson.
* In NT believers met in their homes. People have needs that large group meetings are not intended to meet. Small groups, home groups offer opportunities to get into people’s hearts and lives more deeply.
* Excessive preaching of evangelistic messages to the saved. Less milk, more meat is needed by the saints. More teaching on the whole counsel of God is needed. One educator commented, “the people don’t know anything.” F is not raising up its share of front line, expository teachers like Chuck Swindoll. Is redundant, evangelistic preaching, ignoring, dumbing down, those already redeemed? J. Vernon McGee was a Bible teaching evangelist, a wonderful role model. He taught through the whole Bible. He blessed, he edified, both lost and found. “leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity . . “(Heb 6.1 NAS).
* lack of discipling.
* resistance to more effective methods and programs even those shown to be effective elsewhere.
* too little church planting has stunted expansion. Has this even been widely identified as a need?
* Stagnant or negative growth in numbers; inability to retain young people and adults.
* need to restore vision for reaching fields white unto harvest. Lack citywide crusades (ala Moody, Billy Sunday), billboard advertising, parade floats, appealing messages, forums, debates, addiction, divorce support groups, free financial counseling, messages on topics of specific interest to the community (“Prayer or Evolution?” “Getting Victory Over Addictions” “Is Jesus The Only Way to God?” “Is Salvation Received Or Achieved?”)
* more personal evangelistic zeal, sharing salvation testimony at work, job site prayer meetings, Bible studies, loaning out Christian movies
* Countless pastors want more life in the services! Fear of and resistance to, the Holy Spirit is costing F greatly in members, freedom and worship. Revival and the Holy Spirit flow together. F (and E) need to stop reacting to men and respond to the Word. Youth and adults are going where there is life, vitality, joy!
* Spontaneous, hand-clapping Biblical (Davidic) praise music (Psa 47.1; 145-150) remains off the radar. I suspect that this “joy void” may have opened the door for checkered, controversal, contemporary, Christian music. Many churches lack the freedom in the Spirit to cut loose and worship with spontaneity. Missing is a flexible, Spirit-led, robust, praise atmosphere. Worship leaders that teach and demonstrate how to loosen up and spontaneously praise God are needed. Singing hymns with more feeling plus classic Scripture choruses is becoming more commonplace. God will raise up some one to praise Him.
V. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS:
* How unfortunate that these two birds of a feather are not on better terms. One could grow from the other’s strengths.
* Neither has a shortage of laundry to wash. Humility is appropriate. Both can be swift to point out the other’s weaknesses without the balance of acknowledging their strengths. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil 2.3)
* Church traditions can be a vital guard rail or a sinkhole.
* Operation World reports 38,000 different denominations worldwide. God obviously loves variety. As we prefer our church tradition so other regenerate believers are also entitled to theirs. “God is using people that I do not agree with.” – Warren Wiersbe.
* “in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things, charity.” – attributed to St. Augustine. Each church’s nonessential, after-salvation, secondary beliefs may be viewed as a wall protecting essential doctrines within. Different regenerate groups have different walls but the same essentials inside. Do they love Jesus? How might we learn from their strengths?
* Strong football conferences produce stronger teams. Strong religious rivals should produce a robust response; weak opponents beget weakness. Historic orthodoxy is surely safer in the ship run by storm-tested sailors. Be thankful for the church traditions of other ‘teams,’ other parts of Christ’s regenerate Body.
(comments by Michael Brown contributed to this post)