I want to share some very hurtful correspondence I received the other day from a man I thought was a friend. I have not seen he or his wife for some time. We used to be stationed together when I was on active-duty in the Navy. We were both members of an independent, fundamentalist Baptist (“IFB”) church that believed the Word of God was preserved in the 1611 King James Bible. I have moved far, far away from that. This man has not.
The IFB movement is only one flavor in the broader Christian fundamentalist camp. It’s likely the most cultic, most extreme, most legalistic flavor. Not all IFB churches are like this, but many are. I was a member of two fine IFB churches with loving pastors.
Today, Christian fundamentalism is a dying, insular movement that’s characterized by a quest for personal and church holiness. By a desire for separation from those who “compromise” in their doctrine or associations. This is its consuming passion. At the hands of its worst people, it can live up Edward Carnell’s description of “orthodoxy gone cultic.” Christian fundamentalism, in its original and proper form, is alive and well in conservative evangelicalism. I wrote about this here.
Now, back to my former friend. Here’s what happened. I posted this excerpt from a sermon on Facebook:
Here is the full sermon. Ironically, it’s about brotherly love, from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
My friend responded thus:
Tyler, I tried to listen to your preaching and it was painful, I’m telling you this because it hurts to see someone who was grounded in the word, be now so wrong, deviating from the teachings of the Bible, confusing an entire congregation with fables and lack of understanding.
I would highly recommend you to attend Bible institute at a truly fundamental Baptist Church. Do not allow your pride to get the best of you. One of the requirements for the office of the pastor is not to be a novice, and right now that is exactly what you are. I am not trying to offend you, but I would highly recommend you to consider what I have told you, not because of me, but because it may just be that God is trying to reach you through this text, pray about it and do what’s right.
In the end you will reap what you sow.
I am at a loss to understand what he found objectionable from the sermon excerpt, which is what incurred his wrath. Consider what he says:
- It is apparently a fable to explain and apply Paul’s admonition that love “does not envy.”
- My explanation was “painful.”
- I am “deviating from the teachings of the Bible.”
- I am “confusing an entire congregation.”
- I should get theological training at “a truly fundamental Baptist Church.” This is necessary because, you see, in cultic fundamentalism you may not be a Christian unless you are in their orbit.
- The man cautions me to “not allow your pride to get the best of you.”
- He calls me a “novice,” which is a citation from 1 Tim 3:6 (KJV, of course). This means he feels I am unqualified to be a pastor because I do not know enough.
- He assures me that he is not trying to offend me. I think he sincerely believes this. According to his cult, I am in grave danger of “falling away” from the truth of the IFB way, and must be rescued. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
- He suggests he is God’s agent, trying to reach me.
- He warns me “[i]n the end you will reap what you sow,” which means God will punish me if I do not heed his advice.
I did not respond to the man. I blocked him on Facebook. He was one of the last of my old IFB, King James Only friends from those old days. Now, he is gone.
My point is that here, in all its glory, is the combative spirit, the cultic mentality, the superior air. Here, in short, is everything Carnell warned about so long ago. Here is “orthodoxy gone cultic.” This is why I do not identify as a fundamentalist, and why I never will again. I have one graduate degree from a balanced fundamentalist seminary, and am a doctoral student at still another. Yet, I left behind all the baggage from the worst excesses of this movement long ago. But, one last time, it all reached out to give me one last slap.
It was a fitting coda to a closed chapter in my life!