From time to time, I still feel pulled towards Fundamentalism. If you don’t know, I grew up an Independent Fundamental Baptist. If you already know, you’ve probably only heard my negative experiences in it, for one reason or another. But I have had lots of good experiences in Fundamentalism. In fact, I often hesitate to take potshots at Fundamentalists as a whole(different camps are another matter), and for some of the same reasons as John Piper. I grew up around some of the best and worst of Fundamentalism. I was heavily influenced by both Jack Hyles and John R Rice. My church sent students to Bob Jones, Hyles-Anderson, and Pensacola Christian. I sat under Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap. I went to Hyles-Anderson and Northeast Baptist(dropped out of both). I graduated from our church-run Christian school. One of my Sunday School teachers, Mr Reece was very instrumental in helping me to memorize Scripture. My father was an assistant pastor. Both of my parents taught in our school. I was in church all the time. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I left Fundamentalism for a variety of reasons. One of them being that I rejected certain things that I was always taught as a Fundamentalist. Things like “you can’t be a good Christian if you use any Scripture translation other than the KJV”, or “The KJV is the only word of God for English-speaking people”, or “women can’t wear pants(aka, women can’t wear pants and be [good]Christians)”, or “all modern Christian music is of the devil(told to me by the same people who would take modern Christian music and play it on the piano instead of with guitars)”, or “Southern Baptists are liberal and joining the SBC makes you a partner of evil deeds and heresy”.
But, at times, I still feel the pull of Fundamentalism. I wake up some days, and think about going back to Fundamentalism. I think about looking for an IFB church in my area that’s relatively sane and normal. I haven’t really been able to articulate why I feel that way though. I suppose that living as a Fundamentalist for so long may be part of it, but I suppose that perhaps there really is something about it that makes sense to me. I don’t know that those have have never been in Fundamentalism could really understand the way it affects a person’s life, especially when you’ve grown up in it. But I’ve still been puzzled as to why I still feel this pull. So, over the past couple days, I’ve done some thinking on the matter. This would probably make a better conversation face-to-face with someone, but I really just feel like blogging about it tonight. So I’ll talk about the reasons, in no particular order.
1. Fundamentalists believe in some kind of separation from the world. In some cases, they take it too far. But this is not necessarily a bad thing(except where they take it too far). We are to be in the world, but not of it. I think that too often, many evangelicals are more “of the world” than simply “in the world”.
2. Fundamentalists believe strongly in evangelism. Too often, the rest of evangelicals(even Southern Baptists) are more concerned with building relationships with people before witnessing to them. Whereas Fundamentalists tend to be more aggressive in personal evangelism. They recognize that witnessing to the lost is a matter of heaven or hell, and that we can’t just wait to build a relationship with the lost before witnessing, but that we must witness immediately. They will witness to friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, the person in front of them at the grocery store, their waitress, or anybody else they run across. I’ve heard a number of well-meaning SBC pastors say things like “evangelizing to people you don’t know isn’t effective. You have to earn the right to be heard by them. You have to be their friend first.” I just don’t see that as Biblical. We don’t see the Apostles going into cities where they built friendships and witnessed to people once they earned their respect. We see the Apostles going into cities, and immediately finding people to witness to then and there. They would locate Jews worshiping in the synagogues, and they would get up and preach Christ. They would find pagan religious sites, and preach Christ. They would search out a crowd, and preach Christ. I do recognize that there are certainly times when you’re not going to “be heard” by someone until they get to know you a bit. That doesn’t negate the fact that we need to preach the Gospel immediately. That doesn’t mean you don’t witness to them before they get to know you better. I really think that the Fundamentalists have got this right, that the Gospel must be proclaimed, whether or not a person knows you well.
3. Fundamentalists tend to do all their preaching and teaching in their church from a single translation. Usually that translation is the King James Version, because many IFB’s are KJV-Only or KJV-Preferred. On a personal note, I am King James Preferred. That’s because I grew up hearing the King James preached from. I think it’s an accurate translation. I accept it as the word of God. But that’s neither here nor there right now. The point is, that Fundamentalists tend to use one translation for all preaching and teaching in their church. I think that this is hugely beneficial to new believers, old believers, and children. For one thing, a plethora of translations being used can be confusing to new believers(particularly when you’ve got a teacher using a dynamic equivalence and a preacher using a formal equivalence. Or vice versa). For another thing, I do believe that it is easier to memorize Scripture when you’re part of a church that uses only one translation for preaching and teaching. I wonder if Ed Stetzer has done any research on that?
4. Music. Quite frankly, I prefer hymns. Not all the hymns, because some have bad theology and whatnot. But I prefer singing hymns from a hymnal in harmony with the rest of the church. Granted, I can’t sing worth a dadgum, but I certainly enjoy singing hymns over most(emphasis on the word “most”) modern Christian church music. There is certainly some good modern church music. Hillsong has a couple good songs(although I don’t really recommend them), and Matt Redman certainly has some good stuff. But I find that much of modern church music has some bad or weak theology, and it’s all written for guitar(the guitar is a fine instrument, but it seems like the law of church music today is “Thou Shalt Play Guitar”). I’d really recommend reading “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns“, which is a fine essay on the very important matter of worship music in church.
5. Independence from Conventions and Associations. While I appreciate the Southern Baptist Convention(after all, I am currently a Southern Baptist), and what the SBC does, I do have some issues with the SBC. Let’s start with Lifeway. Lifeway is a ministry of the SBC, it’s involved with selling books, and creating Sunday School material. Sometimes that SS material is deficient(I recently saw SS material that urged children to act like Christians until they became Christians. There’s something very wrong with that.), but more often we see books in Lifeway bookstores being sold that don’t fall in line with SBC theology(or orthodox Christian theology in general). Now, I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that if Lifeway were simply a Christian bookstore, unattached to the SBC. But, it is a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, and thus should sell material that is in accordance with SBC beliefs and principles. After all, the SBC requires that it’s employees not engage in conduct or lifestyles that do not fall in line with SBC principles and beliefs, so why is the standard applied to employees but not books?
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Further, I also have issues with the co-operative program, and how money is shuffled between state conventions and the national convention and the different missions agencies. For example, most of the money sent by the state conventions to the NAMB is sent back to the state conventions. Most of the money sent by SBC churches to the NAMB(last I read the figures) winds up going back to the state it came from. There is more money being kept in the “Bible Belt”, than is being sent to help plant new churches and send missionaries to northern and western states in the US.
Of course, I also have a problem with how the conservative churches in the SBC get grouped with those that are more liberal, theologically speaking(there’s not much of a process for removing an SBC church from the SBC except in rare circumstances). Fundamental Baptists don’t necessarily have that same problem. Well, some do. Most Fundamental Baptists are to one degree or another associated with different “camps”. You have the Sword of the Lord camp, the Hyles-Anderson camp, the Lancaster Baptist camp, the Bob Jones camp, and on and on it goes. However, a Fundamental Baptist church can easily walk away from such associations. I have known pastors who have separated themselves from the Hyles-Anderson camp for different reasons. I have known others who distanced themselves from the Sword of the Lord camp when Shelton Smith became editor. Sometimes there are Biblical reasons for such separation, sometimes there are not. But I do think it is better for a church to be able to walk away from associations with certain groups or churches without having to go through a process to do it. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m totally against associations. I think they can be useful(the Co-operative program works well at getting missionaries out on the field. But it also means churches know less about the missionaries they are helping to send out).
6. Another pro about Fundamentalism, is that there is a little more emphasis on modesty. But that’s also a con for Fundamentalism, because often there is too much emphasis on modesty. You might ask how that can be, but then you’ve maybe never been around Fundamentalists. Many Fundamentalists believe that wearing pants as a woman is automatically immodest because pants are “men’s apparel”. Going to different churches/schools, you’ll find a different criteria for what is modest and what is not. Some churches, a ladies blouse cannot go more than three fingers below the neckline without being “immodest(code for sinful)”, other churches it might be one finger. Some churches, a girl’s skirt can’t go above the middle of the knee, at others it might be above the middle of the calf. So as you can see, there can be a bit too much emphasis on it. On the other hand, I think in many more mainstream evangelical/sbc/whatever churches, there is too little emphasis put on modesty. Since leaving Fundamentalism, I have been in church on occasion where there have been “nice” church girls who are dressed a bit immodestly. Of course, I’ve also been in Fundamentalism where I’ve seen girls who have been dressed modestly but their attitude is anything but modest. Biblical teaching on modesty is often lacking from more mainstream evangelicals, but Fundamentalists can sometimes go overboard in their teaching on the matter. Sidenote: I still find skirts far more attractive on a woman. Just my preference. I’m going to get in trouble for that, probably.
7. As John Piper says, they resist trendiness. A few years ago, when David Platt published his book “Radical”, many SBC’ers and mainstream evangelicals were quite breathless about it. I saw very few people who were really sitting back and examining the book, and those people were almost always Fundamentalists. When Rick Warren came out with “Purpose Driven Life”, the people that I primarily saw saying “Hey, there are some problems with this book” were Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists can sometimes be a little extreme on that, but at the same time it’s a good thing to sit back and examine something carefully before jumping on the bandwagon.
8. Fundamentalists believe the Bible is true, and they act like it. One thing I can say for Fundamentalists, is that they quite often try to live what they believe the Bible says. They really, truly, believe the Bible. They accept it all as the word of God.
This is probably nothing near a full list. There are probably other reasons I could put forth. And I suppose that at least part of it is the knowledge of the way my life would have probably turned out had I stayed in Fundamentalism. But that’s another story for another day, and I don’t know that I’ll explain it here.