Baptist fundamentalism is a very particular sub-culture in the evangelical Christian world. I’m a member of this small sub-culture. It’s a movement with a rich and worthy legacy. What on earth is fundamentalism? Here is my brief definition:
Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, liberal theology and compromise.
The “movement” was a largely American reaction against apostate theological revisionism in the later 19th century. Depending on who you ask, and where they come from, fundamentalism developed along different lines, in different denominations. The general idea was that the “rule of faith,” the core doctrines which make Christianity what it is, are worth fighting for.
During the first decades of the 20th century, these individual movements lost ground in their various ecclesiastical orbits and bureaucracies. Gradually, these men realized they’d better pull out of these apostate bureaucracies, and form their own organizations. So, pastors and their churches across our fair land did just that.
But, over the decades, this movement has ossified in some quarters. It’s inevitable, I suppose:
- The first generation goes forth on its own, to conquer new ground and blaze a glorious trail for reformation.
- The second generation takes the helm, anxious to continue in the proud and honorable tradition of their fathers.
- The third generation is focused more on perpetuating the organization, and less on the theological issues which actually created the movement in the first place.
It can become this way in any organization. The original ideals are still spoken of with respect, and the right phrases are trotted out at just the right times. And yet … there’s something wrong. The focus is now on the organization, not the original issues. This is why, for example, Al Sharpton is such a joke when you compare him to Booker T. Washington, but I digress.
In the fundamentalist sub-culture over the past decade, we have seen an identity crisis. Some younger fundamentalists have fled the movement, shrieking in terror (oh, the humanity!). Others have left for the confessional, Reformed world. Some are just … different, and we wish them well in their cloistered world! Still others have remained, anxious to reform a movement worth saving. And, still others have mounted a desperate rear-guard action, anxious to fight against any notion of reform. These are the Company Men.
The Company Men control some small and insignificant outlets in the fundamentalist world. Their influence is slowly waning, and their numbers are steadily shrinking. As the years go by, they seem more and more desperate. For example, last November, the FBFI (a dying organization) published an issue in its Frontline magazine. In this issue, there was an irresponsible, angry, silly little screed written against younger, reform-minded fundamentalists. I wrote about that article here, here and here.
Every once and a while, the FBFI publishes something else silly and shrill. Not long ago, an author published a blog piece in which he warned that clapping hands in church during music worship was a symptom of secularism. That was an … interesting perspective, I must say.
This kind of foolishness can make a fella feel downright sad. So, I reckon I’ll share a few tidbits of advice for younger fundamentalists. I may add more to this list, as time goes by. But, for now, I think this is some pretty good advice. It’ll help put things into perspective.
So, here’s some advice when it comes to fundamentalist identity politics:
- If you usually blindly support a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, without any introspection or constructive thought, that means you’re a Company Man. It also means you’re a “Yes Man.” And, “Yes Men” are losers. Don’t be a loser.
- Don’t be a Company Man. Think for yourself, even if that means disagreeing with the godly folks who trained you. You have a brain, so use it. If your congregation wants artificial intelligence, it can turn to Alexa or Siri.
- It’s ok to disagree. If you blindly tow the line on everything your ecclesiastical sub-culture’s powerbrokers say, you’re foolish and shouldn’t be a leader. Step down and make room for someone else.
- Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it’s true.
- Nobody cares about fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it’s not important.
- Most members of your church don’t care about the FBFI, IFCA or the GARBC. They care about Christ, the Gospel, and living holy lives. That’s means fundamentalism isn’t very important.
- If “the movement” is more important to you than the original philosophy and impetus which inspired the movement in the first place (i.e. militant defense and offense against apostasy), then you’re unbalanced and unstable. Go buy yourself a life on Amazon and get some perspective.
- Fundamentalism isn’t a confessional, pseudo-denomination. Anybody who acts like he, or his organization, is the enforcer for a narrow and very particular flavor of “fundamentalist orthodoxy” is a Company Man. Stay away from him.
- Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You’ll be happier.
- Read the Bible, and love the people in your church. Don’t love fundamentalism.