Baptist fundys and the church of sepia

Baptist fundys and the church of sepia

Here is an article from a fundamentalist Baptist organization. The author writes:

There is no doubt that biblical Christianity is under attack as it never has been before not only in this country but around the world. The mentality with which we face the battle is revealing the underlying weaknesses of our respective movements.

The first sentence is absurd, historically. The second is perceptive, but likely not in the way the author intended. The great tragedy of the corpse that fundamentalism has become is that its only distinctive contribution to the broader evangelical conversation is sectarianism. This negative ethos has diminishing returns, which is why Baptist fundamentalism is a corpse as a movement, even as its ethos (rightly understood; see this article) is a pearl of great price:

  1. First-stage fundamentalism was built on advocating for a broad biblical orthodoxy in the face of apostasy. It’s heirs are the conservative evangelicals. It’s why the people who still do this today are evangelicals.
  2. Second-stage fundamentalism is what we typically mean when we use the term, and its ethos is on separation from conservatives who aren’t conservative enough. That is why second-stage fundamentalism is a cut-flower movement that’s dying in the vase on the countertop. It has no real distinctive, positive presentation other than separation. Ask a self-described fundamentalist why he’s not an evangelical and he’ll say “separation.” There is your proof.
  3. Thus I say that, properly understood, fundamentalists should be conservative evangelicals.
  4. Fundamentalism as a movement has mission drift. It has forgotten its purpose. Long ago, its original ethos of “that isn’t Christianity, this is Christianity, and let me tell you the real story of Jesus and His love!” largely degenerated to “those Christians are compromisers, so stay away from them and be pure, like us!”
  5. It all doesn’t have to be this way, but it is, and so it’s all very sad.

So it is with our article and the organization from whence it came. Even as he tries to urge introspection, our author can’t help but rehash the old story of lost battles from last century. The frame of reference is stuck in neutral; in a sepia tone from the Truman/Eisenhower era. Fundamentalism’s own proponents are often incapable of framing their movement without reference to evangelicalism; that wealthier and successful cousin of whom they’re always jealous. This chip on the shoulder is ever-present, stalking the movement’s hopes, fears, and dreams—shaping its very essence. The mindset is akin to the “lost cause” myth of the South, complete with its own stable of heroes, villains, and the call to interpret defeat as honor in the context of a perpetual martyrdom.

Fundamentalism, as a movement, is that church that spends its time pining for the good old days, looking back with proud smiles at yellowing scrapbooks. It has no positive presentation. Even as it tries to muster the strength for forward motion, it’s all framed with reference to the past. And, as with that stereotypical dying church, you try to be polite and say the right things, but it’s all really a bit sad.

It didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be this way, which makes it sadder still.

An example of cultic fundamentalism

An example of cultic fundamentalism

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:

  1. It is apparently a fable to explain and apply Paul’s admonition that love “does not envy.”
  2. My explanation was “painful.”
  3. I am “deviating from the teachings of the Bible.”
  4. I am “confusing an entire congregation.”
  5. 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.
  6. The man cautions me to “not allow your pride to get the best of you.”
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. He suggests he is God’s agent, trying to reach me.
  10. 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!

Fundys, Evangelicals and the Eye of a Needle …

Fundys, Evangelicals and the Eye of a Needle …

This article was updated on 20 October 2020.

I minister in a church sub-culture that has no understanding of the fundamentalism/evangelical debates. I received graduate theological training from an excellent fundamentalist seminary. I’m a doctoral student at yet another fundamentalist institution. But, the church I serve has no self-conscious fundamentalist identity, even though it’s a member of the GARBC. It’s an “evangelical” church, though many members might not know exactly what that means.[1]

Recently, a church member asked me what an “evangelical” is, what a “fundamentalist” is, and how they’re different. This article is basically how I answered. It’s a short answer. But, I think it captures the basic distinction between the two groups

Fundamentalism in America began as a protest movement within conservative Christian circles in the late 19 century. Christian leaders in churches, bible colleges, seminaries and denominations began to be aware of a revisionist, unorthodox approach to the Bible and theology. There was a willingness to reevaluate the integrity of the Bible, how it was transmitted and preserved, whether Adam and Eve were real people, whether Moses really wrote the Pentateuch, whether Isaiah really wrote all of Isaiah, whether Jesus was really conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, whether miracles really happened, and more. This openness to “new ideas” began in seminaries and gradually filtered down to the pulpits in local churches of many denominational stripes.

Fundamentalism was a movement that fought against that. It marshaled brilliant men; pastors, theologians and laymen, to make the case for orthodoxy. Working in very loose, often disjointed concert, men from many denominations fought this revisionist approach in the denominations, bible colleges, seminaries and churches. They fought them for several decades.

They lost. They lost big.

Throughout the mid-1920s and 1930s, some fundamentalists stayed within their now compromised denominations for various reasons. The forerunners of what became the Conservative Baptist movement stayed within the Northern Baptist convention for about two more decades. Others led their churches out of the denominations to form protest movements. The Baptist Bible Union (now the GARBC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are examples.

Until the 1940s, fundamentalists generally thought of themselves as “evangelicals.” The words were synonyms. They meant something like “conservative, bible-believing Christian.” It meant you believed generic Protestant orthodoxy and were probably somewhat loud about it

So, why are the terms different, today?[2]

They’re different because the conservative Christian movement split in the mid-1940s through the late 1950s. It didn’t split over doctrine per se. It split over mood, over approach, over mindset. It split because two camps arose within this big tent, and each had very different approaches to Christian life and ministry. These two camps were fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Roger Olson explains:[3]

The difference between early fundamentalism and later fundamentalism is not so much one of doctrine as of mood. The single most important distinction between them has to do with late fundamentalism’s adoption of a militant stance toward exposing the ‘heresies’ of other Christians and of a policy of separation not only from liberal Christians but also from fellow evangelicals who do not separate from liberal Christian denominations and organizations

This “mood” is indeed different, and so is the mission. First-stage fundamentalism (Olson’s term) was a protest movement to preserve generic Protestant orthodoxy. In its modern form as evangelicalism, this remains part of its core ethos. The overwhelming amount of literature and media designed to protect and equip the church against heresy is produced by evangelicals.

However, second-stage fundamentalism is less about combating theological revisionism and more about separation from perceived heresies and “disobedient brethren.” Fundamentalist literature preaches avoiding perceived compromise and emphasizes personal holiness. It spends little time combating heresy, and the movement’s influence and reach is so small that even if it did commit the resources to do so, its message likely wouldn’t reach much beyond its own constituency. Tellingly, its best scholars are often educated at evangelical institutions.

The doctrine is largely the same. The mood is different. David Beale called pre-1930 fundamentalism “non-conformist,” and post-1930 fundamentalism “separatist.”[4] The ethos changed. Some agreed, and others didn’t. Thus, the split. In many cases, the heirs of first-stage fundamentalism refer to themselves as “evangelicals” today. Likewise, many second-stage fundamentalists own the “fundamentalist” label proudly.

Some examples may help:

  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a first-stage fundamentalist denomination and is a decidedly “evangelical.” It engages the culture and pushes aggressive orthodoxy. It does not focus on separation.
  • The Conservative Baptist movement left the Northern Baptist convention in the early 1940s. It later split into various factions amidst sustained and unfortunate infighting; it was a fundamentalist/evangelical split in microcosm. The heirs of this split include, respectively, the FBFI and CBAmerica. Many readers here are well aware the FBFI is a solidly fundamentalist organization. CBAmerica is evangelical.
  • The GARBC, formerly the Baptist Bible Union left the Northern Baptist Convention in 1923. Whatever it used to be, it is a solidly evangelical association of churches today. It recently changed its purpose statement to drop legacy language from the fundamentalist/evangelical split

The difference in mood is even clearer if you example mission or vision statements:

  • CBAmerica (evangelical): Its vision is “Gospel-centered transformational churches in every community.”
  • FBFI (fundamentalist): “FBFI’s Vision is to perpetuate the heritage of Baptist Fundamentalism complete, intact, pure, and undiluted to succeeding generations of fundamentalists.”
  • GARBC (evangelical): It’s mission is to “champion biblical truth, impact the world for Christ, perpetuate a Baptist heritage” and to “advance the association churches.”

So, what is the difference between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” today? We can draw some general observations.

Fundamentalism, at its best, is generally concerned with personal holiness and local church purity in practice and doctrine. The content of this holiness and church purity will vary according to the particular flavor of the movement to which the group or church belongs. Its doctrinal emphases are often framed through a prism of separation from compromise and combined with a remnant mindset. Its rhetorical foe is often not theological revisionism, but evangelicalism – those who are believed to have “compromised.” The movement’s essence, according to Beale, is “unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures.”[5]

However, the worst elements of the fundamentalist movement can be caustic, arrogant, and extraordinarily legalistic. Edward Carnell, an evangelical scholar with hard feelings about fundamentalism, wrote that the movement had degenerated into an entirely negative mentality with no positive ethos, similar to the mood Olson spoke about. Carnell wrote:[6]

The mentality of fundamentalism is dominated by ideological thinking. Ideological thinking is rigid, intolerant, and doctrinaire; it principles everywhere, and all principles come in clear tones of black and white; it exempts Itself from the limits that original sin places on history; it wages holy wars without acknowledging the elements of pride and personal interest that prompt the call to battle; it creates new evils while trying to correct old ones.

This mentality, Carnell argued, is marked by externalism:[7]

When the fundamentalist develops his ethical code, he is somewhat prompted by a quest for status in the cult. Consequently, he defines the good life as the separated life – separated, that is, from prevailing social mores. Whereas Christ was virtuous because he loved God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, the fundamentalist is virtuous because he does not smoke, dance, or play cards.

In short, Carnell says “fundamentalism is orthodoxy gone cultic.”[8] In some quarters (but not all), Carnell is right.

Evangelicalism, at its best, is concerned with evangelizing the world and preserving generic Protestant orthodoxy. Its scholars produce mass amounts of literature and media to equip the church to navigate a complex and changing world. Its name is synonymous with “conservative Christian.” Roger Olson explained, “[t]he genius of evangelicalism is its combination of orthodox Protestantism, conservative revivalism, and transdenominational ecumenism.”[9]

Fundamentalists often criticize this movement as having lax doctrine and a diluted sense of personal holiness. This can produce a “remnant mentality” mindset; a drive to “sound the alarm” against alleged apostasy.[10] You can get a sense of this from fundamentalist Ernest Pickering’s book The Tragedy of Compromise:[11]

All over America and the world at this hour there are churches that are drifting into New Evangelicalism without the remotest knowledge that they are doing so. They are being carried along by the shifting winds of compromise and have long since departed from the solid biblical position established by their predecessors. Young pastors, many without firm doctrinal underpinnings, have led their churches to believe that in order to reach the masses they must abandon the strict biblical principles of yore and embrace more fluid and attractive positions. They have changed, but they do not realize that they have changed.

More recently in 2016, the FBFI devoted an entire edition of its magazine to warn of the threat from so-called “Convergents” who were evangelicals in disguise. One author’s article warned of “long-established churches that are being changed through the hidden agenda of Convergent leadership.” The author declared he was warning Christians to not have their hearts “stolen” by these evangelicals, whom he described as conspiratorial, hypocritical and crafty. He used Absolam, who planned and executed a palace coup against King David, as his foil to describe evangelical pastors.[12]

When I was at seminary, I recall one seminary professor lamenting that Andrew Naselli had “left our movement.” Naselli is a professor at a conservative evangelical seminary, but has a PhD from Bob Jones University (a fundamentalist institution). You see the “remnant” mindset behind that statement from my former professor.

So, to generalize a bit:

  • Fundamentalism is about purity and holiness. It wants you to obey the Bible, and it wants you to stay away from folks who allegedly don’t.
  • Evangelicalism is about the Gospel and protecting the faith from those who want to re-define it

Many conservative Christian groups in America today are heirs of the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition. Most of these took a side during or after the big split. Where you find yourself is not so much a matter of doctrine, but of mood, approach and emphasis. Of ethos. Both movements try to do good things, necessary things, biblical things. Evangelicalism today takes many forms. Fundamentalism is dying as a movement, but its ethos may well live on.

J.C. Ryle gave his summary of the “evangelical religion” a long time ago, in a different context. He had five headings:[13]

  1. The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy.
  2. The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.
  3. The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man.
  4. The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man.
  5. The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man.

This encapsulates the Christian faith and message so well. It doesn’t distort a good thing out of proportion by framing the Gospel and the Christian life through a prism of separation from error, real or imagined. It’s a balanced expression of divine truth. I admire that old Anglican, and that admiration forces me to align myself with “evangelicalism” today.

[1]  This is not a comprehensive history of either movement, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It doesn’t malign Billy Graham. It doesn’t mention Billy Graham. It’s a very brief, 500 mph drive-by discussion to orient a reader to the general “lay of the land” who knows nothing about this chapter in American religious history. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. To those that don’t, well … what else do you expect from a “convergent!?”

[2]  Roger Olson lists seven different ways the term “evangelical” is used in contemporary culture (Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology [Louisville: WJK, 2004], 2-10). The etymology is fascinating and instructive.

[3] Ibid, p. 36.  

[4] David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950 (Greenville: Unusual Publications, 1986), 5.

[5] Ibid, p. 1.  

[6] Edward Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 114.  

[7] Ibid, p. 122.  

[8] Ibid, 113.  

[9] Olson, Evangelical Theology, p. 10.  

[10] See especially Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004).  

[11] Ernest D. Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise (Greenville: BJU Press, 1994), 155.

[12] Dan Unruh, “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” in Frontline (Sept/Oct 2016), 11-14.  

[13] J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion from the Standpoint of an Evangelical Churchman, 10th ed. (London: William Hunt, 1885), 3-7

Some Advice for Younger Fundamentalists

Jim is having a deep discussion with Carl about predestination

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, theological revisionism 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.

The problem

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.

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!) for parts unknown. Others have left for the confessional, Reformed world. Some are just … different. Still others have remained, anxious to reform a movement worth saving. And, some have mounted a desperate rear-guard action, anxious to fight against any notion of reform. These are (for lack of a better term) the Company Men.  However, unlike the heroic defenders at Rorke’s Drift, they shall not prevail.

The Company Men control some outlets in the fundamentalist world. Their influence is slowly waning, and their numbers are steadily shrinking. I believe a major reason for is because some have lost their sense of mission. In short, they have ossified.

The great parallel

Let me frame this in a way that might be helpful. Some readers have been, or are, leaders in local churches. This may help folks to understand where I’m coming from:

  • Some fundamentalist para-church organizations are like dying churches.

Here is what I mean:

  • A dying church lives in the past, idolizes it, and generally neglects its most basic functions of robust discipleship and active evangelism. Instead, dying churches tread water and gradually die out. As the end draws nearer, some church members often react with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they ran 500+ and had multiple bus routes.
  • In these churches, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small congregation of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

This is a remarkable parallel to what has been happening in some fundamentalist para-church organizations for some time:

  • They’re dying.
  • They live in the past, idolize it, and generally neglect their most basic functions of fighting to defend the faith against theological revisionism and outright apostasy, at an intellectual and popular level. Instead, some of these dying organizations tread water and will gradually die out. As the end draws near, some fundamentalists often react with with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they had meaningful influence in the larger Christian sub-culture.
  • In these organizations, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small organization of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

Do you see the parallels? Many of the godly saints in these para-church organizations can correctly diagnose these problems in local churches. Can they do it in their own organization? Will they do it? We’ll see.

This great divide, this great ossification, is tearing Baptist fundamentalism apart at the seams. Many younger men refuse to be formally identified with the movement out of disgust at what it’s become in certain quarters. Some older men are only too happy to see them go. Clearly, the thrill is gone …

The advice

This kind of talk 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. This advice is deliberately blunt, so flee now if you must.

So, here’s some advice when it comes to fundamentalist identity politics:

  1. Write about fundamentalism, if you wish – just don’t ever discuss it online. It will destroy your soul and you will accomplish nothing. I’ve verified this over years of careful testing. (Note – I actually added this last bit of “advice” after the fact, after extensive interaction in an online forum about this very article).
  2. 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.” Don’t be a “Yes Man.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it’s true. But, then again, you could be wrong, too …
  6. Nobody cares about fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it’s not important.
  7. 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 means fundamentalism isn’t very important.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You’ll be happier.
  11. Read the Bible, and love the people in your church. Don’t love fundamentalism. It won’t love you back.
  12. If it’s an explicit or clearly implicit teaching of Scripture, it’s worth fighting over. If it’s a personal preference, get a life and deal with it. But, before you either launch polemical broadsides or plan an ecumenical lovefest, make sure you’ve done the exegetical and systematic work to figure out the difference between a clear teaching and personal preference.
  13. Don’t be afraid of other pastors, and what they might think.
  14. Before you disagree with somebody, honestly try to understand their position. This means you have to actually think critically, and be introspective (see #2, above).

We (Do Not) Confess – A Further Response to Bro. Johnson

This post concludes my response to Don Johnson on the fundamentalist movement (see here and here for some background on this kerfluffle). I could say a whole lot more here, but after a month or so of puzzling ‘till my puzzler was sore, I finally thought of something I hadn’t before.

I’m only responding to one point he made, which is really the essence of his disagreement. I asked him what the “marks” of a so-called convergent were. He replied, in part,

Anti-separatism (or at least non-separatism) . . . The most important characteristic is anti-separatism, and a disdain for separatists.

I agree with this distinction, insofar as it goes. Separation is a Biblical concept, and those who oppose it are in error. However, it is clear Johnson means something rather more than “anti-separatism.” I believe he, Unruh and others are actually taking aim at fundamentalists who have different ideas of separation.

John Vaughn, in his editorial from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, wrote,

In seeking to stay in touch with the ever-changing culture, churches can think themselves separate from it while moving away from their moorings. They can soon occupy the space that belonged to the world not long ago, no longer secure on the foundations on which they were built (3).

Dan Unruh, in his unfortunate article from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, entitled “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” asked,

How is it possible for a church to get to the place that it is being controlled by those who seem to have little appreciation, and in some cases even disdain, for the strong separatist Fundamental position upon which it was founded? (12)

Again, I agree with this statement, insofar as it stands. The problem with both Johnson and Unruh’s comments is they do not define their terms. Every true fundamentalist agrees that separation is a vital Biblical doctrine. So, we ask them, what exactly are you talking about?

I can only suppose they’re referring to people who have a “disdain” for biblical separation. They don’t agree with the doctrine, and they don’t seek to apply it. More than this, they hate the doctrine. However, Unruh and Johnson have made clear these brigands are still trying to claim the label of “fundamentalist.” They have a “hidden agenda.” They seek to “converge” with evangelicals through stealth, secrecy and cunning.

Johnson explained a bit more about these “convergents” in another blog piece:

. . . they must jettison the idea of separation from worldliness at many levels (music, alcohol and other social issues, are examples) and the idea of separation from broader levels of cooperation with error. In this latter category, they will have to be open to cooperation with charismatics and their sympathizers who promote ongoing revelation and they will have to be open to ecclesiastical entanglements that are represented in the Southern Baptist Convention, Together for the Gospel, and The Gospel Coalition among others.

I share these concerns. If this is what Johnson is worried about, then so am I. However, I believe he fails to distinguish between (1) people who disdainfully jettison the doctrine of separation like an escaped convict casting aside his shackles, and (2) those fundamentalists who have different interpretations on certain biblical issues. But, on an even more fundamental level (pun intended), Bro. Johnson and I are worried for very different reasons:

  • I’m only worried if these activities are in contradiction to their local church’s doctrinal statement.
  • Johnson and Unruh seem to be worried because these seditious activities violate an assumed Baptist fundamentalist confession of faith.

Here is the problem – Johnson, Unruh and others in the FBFI seem to think “fundamentalism” should function as an explicitly confessional association. This is not the case. It has never been the case. It will never be the case.

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 doctrinal compromise. As such, it has always been a “big tent” concept. It has never been an explicitly confessional movement.

I understand the passion for maintaining doctrinal purity. I share it. This is the very concern which fueled the fundamentalist movement. However, Johnson, Unruh and others have committed two errors with their latest criticisms:

  1. They seem to view Baptist fundamentalism as a pseudo-denomination, with all the confessional standards and expected theological conformity that come with such a label, and
  2. Having elevated Baptist fundamentalism to a confessional movement, they launch polemical broadsides against those who have broken these “confessional” standards . . . which do not actually exist.

Convergents are not “anti-separatist.” They’re just different than you. Johnson’s idea of “church,” in practice, would probably look almost precisely like mine. But, his criticisms about fundamentalism will continue to miss the mark as long as he (and others) continue to view fundamentalism as a tight, confessional movement. It never has been, and it never will be. That is not its function or purpose. That is what the local church is for.

Response to Bro. Johnson (pt. 1)

Don Johnson was gracious enough to respond to the most pressing questions from my article entitled “Questions for Dan Unruh, John Vaughn and the FBFI from a Confused Brother.” This is my overdue response to continue this important discussion.

What is a Fundamentalist?

It is clear this issue of “Convergents” is an important one for some in the FBFI. Johnson wrote, “In my view, someone who is convergent is not a fundamentalist. He once may have claimed to be a fundamentalist, but he has changed his views and really exhibits disdain for fundamentalism now, regardless if he continues to claim the label.”

This cannot be more clear, and I appreciate it. If you are a “Convergent,” then Johnson does not consider you to be a fundamentalist. It doesn’t matter if a man still claims the label and travels in fundamentalist circles; if he exhibits the marks of a “Convergent” then he is not a fundamentalist. He is claiming membership in a movement he doesn’t actually belong to.

This naturally leads us to ask, “What on earth is a fundamentalist, in this context?” This is really the crux of issue. Before we start mentioning movements and assessing claims to titles, we need to understand what we’re talking about. Let me offer my own 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.

This is a mouthful, so here is the bottom line:

  1. If you believe the Bible and actively seek to defend it against unbelievers, liberal skeptics and theological compromise, and
  2. if you believe the Bible and seek to passionately and unapologetically proclaim all of it to the world, and
  3. if all this motivates and shapes your entire approach to Christian ministry and everyday Christian life,
  4. then you are a “fundamentalist.”

People within the fundamentalist realm will immediately recognize this as a “big-tent” definition of the movement. I suspect this is a dividing line for some people. Please note I did not make mention of the so-called “fundamentals” of the faith. This list of fundamentals came out of the 1878 Niagara Bible Conference, and was later shortened to the infamous “five fundamentals” of the faith:

  1. The virgin birth of Christ
  2. The inerrancy of the Bible
  3. Substitutionary atonement of Christ
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
  5. The authenticity of miracles

I don’t find this list particularly useful, because it creates an artificial hierarchy for Bible doctrines. For example, the Trinity is not even mentioned! Those who cling to “The List” as the defining document of the fundamentalist movement have actually got it backwards.

The fundamentalist “movement” grew out of the conflict with theological liberalism and apostasy in the mid to late 19th century. Bible believers were willing to stand and fight back against this liberalism and apostasy in Bible Colleges, Seminaries and local churches across America. During the course of this conflict, certain doctrines came to the forefront as particular “flash points.” The “list” arose out of this context, but it really reflects a basic fidelity to all of the Bible and a willingness to militantly defend the Scriptures and passionately and unapologetically proclaim what the Bible teaches.

This movement has always been interdenominational. Dr. Larry Oats provides this brief definition of the movement:[1]

Fundamentalism as a definable movement is the organization of primarily American Bible believers who between the late nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century strongly opposed and resisted the progress of modernism within the major denominations of America and thus tried to keep those denominations orthodox.

From the middle of the twentieth century on, fundamentalism may be defined as those Bible believers who desire to maintain a purity of doctrine and personal life and stand in positional and doctrinal opposition to various forms of compromise.

Likewise, Dr. Fred Moritz has written:

 At its best fundamentalism is a ‘back to the Bible’ movement to proclaim and contend for the truth. Fundamentalism is therefore a theological and militant movement. It was interdenominational by definition. Fundamentalists also allowed each other latitude in the use of Bible versions and in their understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism.[2]

So, when we consider what Bro. Johnson has written, we need to understand where the other is coming from. Is a “fundamentalist” necessarily a Baptist, premillennial dispensationalist? I asked Bro. Johnson this question:

 Q: Do you believe in “big-tent” fundamentalism; that is, is this movement bigger than Baptists? If so, how do, how would these “big-tent” fundamentalists avoid being “Convergent” from your point of view.

This was his response:

Fundamentalism is a philosophy that transcends denominations. There are fundamentalists among the Presbyterians and among other groups, though the majority of fundamentalists today are probably Baptists. Convergence isn’t denominational, like the New Evangelicalism, it is a mood or philosophy that affects how the ministry is conducted, what issues and ideas are promoted, what actions are taken individually and through church ministries (assuming the convergent is in a leadership role in the church).

The most important way to avoid being convergent is to be committed to personal and ecclesiastical separation. That commitment will manifest itself in various ways, but the other marks I mention above will dissipate if that biblical commitment is made and applied consistently.

Bro. Johnson agrees fundamentalism is interdenominational. However, he zeroes in on a mood or philosophy which he believes is opposed to everything fundamentalism stands for. He believes this mood or philosophy is primarily characterized by ignoring the Bible’s commands for personal and ecclesiastical separation.

We appear to agree on what a “fundamentalist” is. It is an interdenominational movement which stands for Biblical truth against pagan unbelief and theological compromise. However, Bro. Johnson has also written that a “convergent” is not a fundamentalist. Therefore, we should expect his “marks of a convergent” to reflect some basic defection or capitulation to apostasy and/or theological compromise – the very thing the fundamentalist movement has always fought against.

If a Christian is not committed to personal separation from unholy influences, activities or associations, then he is in sin. If a local church does likewise, its leadership is in sin. It is certain that some men have left fundamentalism and “fled” to the broader evangelical sphere, jettisoning the doctrines of personal holiness and personal separation along the way. This is tragic, and it is wrong.

However, there are also other men who still identify themselves as fundamentalists, but who have made some common cause with the most conservative elements of right-wing evangelicalism. Larry Oats, a true authority on Baptist fundamentalism, has observed:

I suggest that a fifth stage [of the fundamentalist movement] is now present: the separation of conservative evangelicalism from the left wing of evangelicalism, along with the reunion of some elements of fundamentalism with the right-wing of evangelicalism.[3]

He is correct. Is this necessarily a “bad thing”? I suspect Bro. Johnson and many others agree that it is. It is unclear how, given his acknowledgement of a “big-tent” fundamentalism, the most conservative right-wing evangelicals should not simply be considered fundamentalists in philosophy and practice.

We will turn to that issue, and discuss Bro. Johnson’s “marks of a convergent,” in the next article.


[1] Larry Oats, “Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism,” unpublished class notes (Watertown, WI: Maranatha Baptist Seminary, n.d.).

[2] Fred Moritz, “Maranatha is Fundamentalist,” in Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal (MBTS 01:01), Spring 2011. 65.

[3] Larry Oats, The Church of the Fundamentalists (Watertown, WI: Maranatha Baptist Press, 2016), 68-69, fn. # 8.

Questions for Dan Unruh, John Vaughn and the FBFI from a Confused Brother

cover-pictureIn the September/October issue of Frontline magazine, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI) published a number of articles critical of what it called a “Convergent” form of fundamentalism. One article in particular stands out for its bluntness and its tone. That article is entitled, “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” by Dan Unruh, Pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Greeley, CO. The FBFI observed Bro. Unruh’s article was “provocative.” Indeed!

Bro. Uhruh published his article openly, so I feel free to openly post these honest questions to him, John Vaughn (President, FBFI) and to the FBFI as an organization as a whole. These are honest questions, asked without malice or scorn. They are sincere questions from one Christian brother to another. They are questions from one Pastor to another. If you do not travel in fundamentalist Baptist circles, these questions and the linked teaser editorial (above) may not make too much sense to you. My apologies; this post is very much an “in-house” discussion.

The following questions are directly based off of Bro. Unruh’s article.

  1. What, precisely, is a “Convergent” fundamentalist? That is, what are the “marks” of a “Convergent” fundamentalist? Could you provide real-world examples, including names of men and their ministries?

You wrote, “How is it possible for a church to get to the place that it is being controlled by those who seem to have little appreciation, and in some cases even disdain, for the strong separatist Fundamental position upon which it was founded?”

  1. Does this indicate your complaint is directed only against churches which were deliberately founded as “fundamentalist?” If so, please describe what “fundamentalism” looks like, from your point of view. Would a Bible Presbyterian Church, for example, fit this category?
  2. What do you mean when you mention “strong separatist Fundamentalism?” Separation from what people, what groups and what organizations?
  3. When does a Pastor begin to have “little appreciation” for the separatist stand you mention? That is, when is the line crossed, from your point of view?
  4. At what point does a Pastor begin to have “disdain” for “strong separatist fundamentalism?” That is, which alleged compromises must occur before this line is crossed?

You wrote, “Some of the answers may be found by comparing those doing the ‘controlling’ with the Old Testament character of Absalom. His father, David, after many years of great trials, hard work, numerous battles, and miraculous victories, was used of God to unite and establish the great nation of Israel. And yet that which took him years of blood, sweat, and tears to establish was taken away from him by someone very close to him who, ‘stole the hearts of the men of Israel’ (2 Sam. 15:6b). To this day when Bible students hear the name ‘Absalom,’ they associate it with a heart-stealer.”

  1. How, precisely, does a “Convergent” Pastor “steal” hearts within a congregation?
  2. Does the use of the word “steal” indicate you believe a “Convergent” Pastor’s actions are deliberately motivated by deception and wickedness?
  3. How do you tell the difference between Biblical reformation (as understood by the autonomous congregation and their Pastor) and alleged “heart-stealing”? How can your readers better understand your distinction? Your critics?
  4. Absalom deliberately rebelled against the anointed King of God’s theocratic Kingdom. In this parallel, do you intend to suggest “Convergent” fundamentalists are rebelling against Jesus Christ? If so, how?

You wrote, “The purpose of this article is not to warn the heartstealer but rather to warn those who are susceptible to having their hearts stolen—a warning that must oft be repeated even as the apostle Paul ‘ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31) about those of their own assembly who would arise to attract disciples to come behind them. If there were heart-stealers in David’s day and in Paul’s day, it is certain they exist today.”

  1. In the passage you cited from Acts 20:29-31, the Apostle Paul was warning the Ephesians about false teachers, “fierce wolves” who will teach “perversions of the truth.” This “truth” is generally understood to be a synonym for “the Gospel.” Do you intend to suggest “convergent” fundamentalists are false teachers who pervert the Gospel?
  2. Do you intend to suggest “heart-stealing” and influencing congregations away from a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism is a perversion of the Gospel?

You wrote, “A fitting lesson is provided in the story of Absalom, a man whose methods seemed to be virtues but were actually vices. Absalom employed at least four vices that had the face of virtues.”

  1. By comparing “Convergent” fundamentalists to Absalom, you seem to be implying that, like Absalom, “Convergents” are motivated by deceit, wickedness, and a sinful lust for power which they do not have any legitimate claim to – is this correct? If so, why do you assume this?

Under the heading “The Vice of Laziness as the Virtue of Integrity and Privilege,” you wrote, “Absalom therefore had the privilege of growing up with perceived integrity and surrounded by royalty, facts that he effectively used as a means to avoid having to face difficulty.”

  1. Is this alleged “vice” only applicable to “Convergents” who have grown up in Baptist fundamentalism, since childhood? What about “Convergents” who were never raised in a Christian home and became believers and entered Baptist fundamentalism as adults?

You wrote, “It is often observed that one who has a life of privilege strives to avoid work, struggle, and difficulty. One of the self-admitted characteristics of some of the misnamed ‘young fundamentalists’ is that they ‘are products of Christian schools’ and, as used in an illustrated case, ‘have no idea how to relate to lost people.’ Sadly, the spirituality they were perceived to have possessed from the privilege of having a lifetime of Christian education was also the cause of many of them being isolated from the difficulty of head-on confrontation with sin and brazen sinners, an adversity that previous generations of Fundamentalists met, with the welcomed reinforcement of their Fundamental churches, by having to take a noticeable stand in secular schools.”

  1. Again, it seems as if you are only targeting “Convergents” who were raised in Baptist fundamentalism. What about “Convergents” who came to Baptist fundamentalism as adults?
  2. What do you say to “Convergent” fundamentalists who work in the secular world every single day, maintain a godly testimony and Christian witness among these “brazen sinners,” and yet still honestly disagree with you? For example, as an insurance fraud investigator, I interview criminals on a daily basis, speak to victims on a daily basis who have had their life savings swindled from them, and still maintain a historic fundamentalist philosophy to ministry and my Christian life.
  3. Why do you capitalize “fundamentalist’? Does the movement function as a defacto denomination, from your point of view?

You wrote, “The fact that a lot of these privileged individuals did not have to challenge worldliness during their growing-up years may explain why today, as adults, they are so eager to experiment with and sometimes defend the beverage use of alcohol, accept any style of music in home and even in worship, join hands with rebels in so-called ‘social justice’ causes, consider the battles against sexual perversions as ‘lost,’ and generally poke fun at the practice of biblical separation that was so clear-cut to their predecessors.”

  1. Please explain what a “privileged individual” is, in this context.
  2. Again, it seems you assume all “Convergents” grew up in Christian homes. What do you say to “Convergents” who did not grow up as Christians, and yet still “challenge worldliness” in their own lives and in their local churches on a daily basis?
  3. Please explain who the “rebels” are, in this context.
  4. Which “social justice” causes do you refer to?
  5. Which self-identified “Convergent” fundamentalists consider the battles against sexual perversions as ‘lost’?
  6. How do you define “biblical separation,” in this context? Separation from what, precisely? What aspects of biblical separation do the “Convergents” poke fun at?
  7. Do you distinguish between the practice of biblical separation in general, and your particular implementation of this doctrine? That is, is it possible for men to believe in the doctrine of separation but apply it differently than you do?
  8. Have you, the FBFI, or Dr. Vaughn publically condemned the heresy of (for example) the re-inspiration view of the King James Bible, semi-pelagianism, or Charles Finney? If not, why not?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Hypocrisy as the Virtue of Transparency,” you wrote, “Absalom’s second vice was hypocrisy, a hypocrisy he concealed behind efforts to give the impression that he was transparent. Absalom did not state his intentions up front. He had a hidden agenda . . .”

  1. Do you mean to imply all “Convergent” fundamentalists are motivated by deceit and wickedness? Why do you appear to assume that is the case?
  2. Is it possible, from your point of view, to legitimately and honestly disagree with your position? If so, why do you appear to assume all “Convergent” fundamentalists are hypocritical?

You wrote about Absalom, “From this strategic location Absalom was able to send his spies throughout his father’s kingdom to incite a successful rebellion.”

  1. Do you mean to suggest all “Convergent” fundamentalists are strategically plotting to incite rebellions in local churches?
  2. What, precisely, is the alleged orthodoxy “Convergent” fundamentalists are inciting rebellion against? Where can one go to find a concise statement of this alleged orthodoxy to weigh suspected “Convergent” fundamentalists against?

You presented a hypothetical “unethical” Pastor, and wrote, “Instead of truly being transparent up front by honestly informing a church or institution about his philosophy of ministry and the changes he would make, a candidate for a leading position can couch his hidden agenda with boisterous talk of ‘transparency.’”

  1. Please explain what you mean by your hypothetical “Convergent” fundamentalist hiding his alleged “hidden agenda,” and provide real-world examples.
  2. Do you mean to suggest all “Convergent” fundamentalists deliberately hide their “hidden agendas” behind a smokescreen of alleged “transparency?” Why do you assume their motives are sinful?
  3. How would the reader you seek to influence distinguish whether a Pastor is motivated by (1) an ongoing spiritual growth and maturity through study and prayer, or (2) an alleged “hidden agenda” intended to deceive the congregation?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Conspiracy as the Virtue of Concern,” you wrote, “The fact that a heart-stealer cannot accomplish his work alone brings us to Absalom’s third vice: conspiracy with the virtuous face of concern. Absalom’s concern for his father’s subjects was a camouflage for the formation of a conspiracy.”

  1. Absalom was involved in a criminal conspiracy against God’s appointed theocratic King. In this parallel, do you intend to suggest that, by disagreeing with the FBFI, “Convergent” fundamentalists are engaging in a criminal conspiracy against Jesus Christ?
  2. One of the elements of the criminal offense of conspiracy is deliberate intent; the conspirators intend to collude together to commit an act they know to be against the law. Do you mean to suggest all who agree with “Convergent” fundamentalists, and disagree with the FBFI’s particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, are criminal conspirators in active rebellion against Jesus Christ and His Father’s law?

You wrote, “There are those within churches and institutions who are easily flattered into facilitating the installation of a heart-stealer . . . Any of these types of people are ripe fruit for the picking by the heart-stealer.”

  1. Do you mean to suggest all people within autonomous local churches and Christian institutions who agree with “Convergent” fundamentalists do so only because they have been deliberately seduced (i.e. “flattered”) by these “Convergents” for sinful reasons?
  2. Do you mean to suggest somebody who disagrees with the FBFI’s particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism has sinful and wicked intent?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Craftiness as the Virtue of Patience,” you wrote, “Lastly, Absalom was a man of patience, a virtue that allowed him to craftily scheme for two years until he found opportunity to murder his half-brother Amnon.”

  1. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “crafty” as “clever in usually a deceptive or dishonest way.” Did you intend to suggest “Convergent” fundamentalists operate with a philosophy and mindset of deliberate dishonesty and deceptiveness? Why do you assume sinful intent?
  2. By use of the adjective “craftily,” did you intend to make an implicit comparison between “Convergent” fundamentalists and Satan as the serpent?

You wrote, “A heart-stealer never comes at his victim displaying who he really is. He will wear the garment of patience to make others think he has intentions of peace. And then once he is in power his patience morphs into impatience with those who are obstacles to his agenda.”

  1. Who are the victims, from your point of view?
  2. Why do you assume wicked, sinful intent on the part of “Convergent” fundamentalists?

You provide several quotations from an article Jason Janz wrote, then you remarked, “Then he becomes impatient to make the changes quickly. By not stating his intentions up front he can take the time to steal the hearts of as many people as possible, and when it is his time, his ‘moment in the sun,’ he can begin to institute his fundamental transformation.”

  1. Why do you assume sinful, wicked intent? That is, why do you not assume “Convergent” fundamentalists want to grow and learn from both sides and use their influence to effect positive change?

You wrote, “The Convergent can pretend he is sorry to see them go because he will by then have confederates like Shimei who will on their own shame the ‘old-time religion’ adherents for being hateful, intolerant, and men ‘of Belial’ (2 Sam. 16:7) . . . In essence they are saying, ‘You, your viewpoints, and your ways are old and worn out.’”

  1. Do you believe it is possible to disagree with you, and not be considered wicked and sinful? If so, what would that disagreement look like?
  2. Do you believe it is possible for a “Convergent” fundamentalist to not think your views are old and worn out, but to simply honestly disagree with you on some points of doctrine? If so, why do you appear to assume sinful and wicked intent on those who do disagree with you?

After explaining that you do not feel it is necessary to attempt to “keep” younger fundamentalists in the movement, you wrote, “Rather than letting them leave to endure on their own the hard work of founding their own ministries, there has instead been an ongoing, never-before-seen pandering that has resulted in their eventual installation in and transformation of Fundamental ministries.”

  1. Please define “pandering,” in this context.
  2. Please define “transformation,” in this context.
  3. Which fundamentalist ministries have been transformed, in your opinion?
  4. Who are the men responsible for this alleged “pandering,” which has resulted in “transformation” of certain fundamentalist ministries?

You wrote, “On the campaign trail in June of 2008 Barack Hussein Obama declared, ‘This is our moment. This is our time, our time to turn the page on the policies of the past . . . to offer a new direction for this country.’ Then five days before the election he spoke, not of restoring America, but of ‘fundamentally transforming the United States of America.’ How sad that Convergents have become to Fundamental churches and institutions what Barack Obama has become to the United States of America.”

  1. Why did you use President Obama’s middle name?
  2. Why do you believe “Convergent” fundamentalists are motivated by deliberate cunning, craftiness, deceit and wickedness?

Brethren, you wrote:

However, if anything in this issue comes as a rebuke to those who are dividing their churches over changes they promised not to make when they were called, or to those who have brought their churches to the brink of ruin with premature change, we pray it will be taken as a loving rebuke to be considered carefully.

I pray you’ll answer some of these honest questions, and help a confused brother better understand where you’re coming from. Bro. Unruh graciously agreed to have a telephone discussion with me in the next few days, and I look forward to it.

The Historic Roots of Fundamentalism

This article is a work in progress. More information may be added as I conduct more research. As it stands now, this modest article is a very brief history of the Christian fundamentalist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

In this article, I’ll very briefly outline what historic fundamentalism is; specifically American fundamentalism. I cannot hope to discuss the genesis of the movement in a comprehensive fashion here, but hopefully it is helpful to the fundamentalist community at large, both as an all-too brief summary introduction to the movement or as a refresher to faithful warriors still on the field of battle!

This material will be old-hat to many of you. Some may never even read it because it may tread the same ground you’ve trod many times before. I believe it is important, however, to remind ourselves of how fundamentalism started, and visit old battlefields of the past periodically. We cannot understand our movement unless we grasp how it all began.

This is the first in a three part series examining, in sequence, (1) the historic roots of fundamentalism, (2) the historic roots of evangelicalism and (3) the idea of secondary separation.

What is Fundamentalism?

Just what in the world is fundamentalism? Numerous authors have provided their own definitions throughout the years.

George Marsden writes,

“A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something. That seems simple and is fairly accurate. . . . A more precise statement of the same point is that an American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology in the churches or to changes in cultural values or mores, such as those associated with ‘secular humanism.’ In either the long or the short definitions, fundamentalists are a subtype of evangelicals and militancy is crucial to their outlook. Fundamentalists are not just religious conservatives; they are conservatives who are willing to take a stand and to fight,” (4).

William Ayer observes,

“Fundamentalism represents a resurgence of ancient practices, which began not with Martin Luther but at Pentecost. Fundamentalism is apostolic, and the doctrine of justification goes back to Paul. That branch from which the fundamentalist movement sprang lived obscurely through the ages and had never been completely silenced even in the Dark Ages. . . . What fundamentalism did was to awaken the slumbering apostolicism from lethargy. The theme of the Reformation, like the cry of the fundamentalists today, was ‘back to the Bible and the Apostles,’ with no mediator between men and God except Christ. Fundamentalists are in the direct line of succession to those preaching this same message (2-3).

David O. Beale, in his excellent history of fundamentalism, gives perhaps the best definition of the movement:

“Ideally, a Christian Fundamentalist is one who desires to reach out in love and compassion to people, believes and defends the whole Bible as the absolute, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God, and stands committed to the doctrine and practice of holiness. . . . Fundamentalism is not a philosophy of Christianity, or is it essentially an interpretation of the Scriptures. It is not even a mere literal exposition of the Bible. The essence of Fundamentalism goes much deeper than that – it is the unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures” (3).

Fundamentalism is not denominational centric. It is authentic and historic Christianity in action. Theological liberals may scoff and sneer at this “quaint” theology, but forget they have departed from historic Christian traditions. Beale quoted an opponent of fundamentalism as stating, “fundamentalism is . . . survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians . . . The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he (4).

Broadly, the historic fundamentalist distinctives are these (Moritz 46):torreys-fundamentals

–          The inerrancy of Scripture

–          The virgin birth of Christ

–          The substitutionary atonement of Christ

–          The bodily resurrection of Christ

–          The authenticity of miracles


Fundamentalism as an identifiable movement can be traced to a reaction against liberal theology coming out of Europe in the latter part of the 19th century – Ernest Pickering matter-of-factly called this “the poison from Europe!” (1). The corporate church was confronted with a number of critical issues, all of which had a profound effect on the entire theological landscape:

1. Philosophers began to elevate reason and materialism above the objective revelation of the Bible. Where it had once been considered the handmaiden of theology, philosophy now began to stand in opposition to Scripture.

2. Naturalistic science rejected the traditional biblical concepts of the world and humanity

3.  Historical and literary criticism as systems began to reinterpret traditional Christianity by the new parameters of the Enlightenment.

4. Higher criticism, typified by the works of Friedrich Schleiermacher, sought to re-interpret Scripture. There was a distinct emphasis on humanism, elevating man rather than God. Revelation was “not an in-breaking of God, but an upsurging of divine humanity (Schleiermacher 50). Religion was not an objective truth, but more of a subjective feeling.

Schleiermacher wrote:


Religion is an immediate, or original, experience of the self-consciousness in the form of feeling. It is immediate, in that it is not derived from any other experience or exercise of the mind, but is inseparable from self-consciousness; and it is feeling, in that it is subjective experience and not objective idea, and in this respect it is identical with the self-consciousness, Religion is not an act of knowledge nor the result of a process of knowing. If it were the former, its source would lie in human activity. If it were the latter, its content would be doctrine, dependent upon prior processes of the intellect, and subject to all the uncertainties which pertain to scientific investigation. The measure of knowledge would be the measure of piety; religion would be a mere acquirement or possession and no essential element of human nature . . . Religion, then, as consisting in feeling, denotes a state of our being, and hence in religion man is not primarily active but receptive (Theology 119-120).

Under such pressure, Christian doctrine was adjusted in some denominations to accommodate the conclusions of science (thus ruling out creation), philosophy and criticism. Orthodox Christian were alarmed at this onslaught against precious Biblical truths. It was into this theological abyss that “fundamentalism” was born. It was an orthodox, Biblical reaction to distinctly un-Biblical theology.

The way fundamentalists react to this liberal theology, both historically and currently, adds another two other distinctive aspects to the five historic points above – militant and separatist. “It’s common basis is a set of biblical doctrines and beliefs, and its esprit is principally its militant separatism. Fundamentalism is a movement, not an attitude of belligerence, ugliness, or a negative mentality as often depicted” (McCune 16).

 Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy[1]

As theological liberalism made inroads into orthodox seminaries and mainline denominations, an inevitable conflict arose between those who advocated the “new thought” coming out of Europe and those who resisted such change and stuck to Biblical orthodoxy. McCune is careful to observe this was not merely a clash with secular culture; “the controversy concerned the truth-claims and belief-system of fundamental Christianity versus an essentially new religion. It was a fight over the retention and control of denominations, mission agencies, colleges, and seminaries” (18).pcharles-briggs2

Prior to 1930, Fundamentalists practiced Biblical separation by attempting to purge their denominations of liberal theology; they tried to preach the liberals out of the denominations (Beale 8). I would also add they tried to write them out of the denominations too; the publication of The Fundamentals illustrates this point. The authors hoped The Fundamentals (published 1910-1915) would win over those sitting atop the theological fence and convince the liberals of the error of their ways. This series is viewed as the starting point of fundamentalism as an identifiable movement. It was a series of twelve books, filled with many articles. The authors were mostly fundamentalist Presbyterians and Baptists; the writers were interdenominational in their perspectives. Historic fundamentalism is therefore cross-denominational in scope.

After 1930, to the present day, Fundamentalists have instead practiced separation by separating themselves from liberal and apostate churches and denominations (Beale 9). The movement had re-grouped around new leaders. Many familiar organizations and schools today are the result of this practice of Biblical separation, including Westminster Theological Seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, Bob Jones and the GARBC, to name but a very few.

McCune included an excerpt from a contemporary, liberal Christian newspaper in his text which is well worth reproducing here:

Two worlds have crashed, the world of tradition and the world of modernism. The God of the fundamentalist is one God; the God of the modernist is another. The Christ of the fundamentalist is one Christ; the Christ of modernism is another. The Bible of the fundamentalist is one Bible; the Bible of modernism is another. The church, the kingdom, the salvation, the consummation of all things – these are one thing to the fundamentalists and another thing to modernists. But that the issue is clear and that the inherent incompatibility of the two worlds has passed the stage of mutual tolerance is a fact concerning which there hardly seems room for any one to doubt (“Fundamentalism and Modernism” 5-6).

 The Bottom Line

1. Historic fundamentalism has its roots in Biblical separation from clear-cut, apostate, false teaching.

2. Historic fundamentalism evinces a willingness to stand fast and actually fight against false teaching and for Biblical truth.

3. Historic fundamentalism is an inter-denominational movement.

It remains to be seen how fundamentalism differs from evangelicalism, and what “false teaching” and secondary separation actually consists of in the context of the fundamentalist movement. We’ll examine these issues in another article.

Works Cited

Ayer, William Ward, speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, April 1956, quoted in Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 19301956 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 2–3

Beale, David O, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, SC: BJU, 1986), 3.

Marsden, George, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 4.

McCune, Rolland, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2004), 16.

Morrison, Charles C. “Fundamentalism and Modernism, Two Religions,” The Christian Century (Jan 3, 1924), 5-6. Quoted from McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, 18.

Moritz, Fred, “Maranatha is Fundamentalist,” Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal 1:1 (Spring 2011) 46.

Pickering, Ernest, The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: BJU, 1994), 1.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich, The Christian Faith, 50

—————— The Theology of Schleiermacher, ed. George Cross (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1911), 119-120. Emphasis mine.

[1] For an excellent summary on this issue, see Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 93-111, or McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, 3-26.

The Historic Roots of Evangelicalism

What in the World is Evangelicalism, Anyway?!

Dennis Walton, a contemporary critic, wrote:

“One area in which the New Evangelicals are united is the willingness to compromise for the sake of fellowship. This spirit could possibly be identified as the genius of the movement. Allowing varying opinions in nearly every field of doctrine, they are united in a willingness to sacrifice conviction for fellowship. Evidence of this spirit is seen in a statement by E, J. Carnell, “Since love is higher than law, the organization is servant of the fellowship…Christ alone would rule the church. Laws are made for the unrighteous. Here is the final norm: Polity is good or bad to the degree that it promotes or hinders fellowship.” This statement obviously subordinates doctrine to love, or fellowship,” (1961, 17).

Harold Ockenga, a leading figure in the new evangelical movement, observed:

“New-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life,” (1976, 11).

Contemporary, critical cartoon by Donald Pfaffe (1959):


George Dollar remarked:

“This new type of evangelical thought and attitude has many virtues—many of them having descended from historic Fundamentalism and others arising from an honest attempt to correct some glaring weaknesses within . . . The areas which it has sought to correct include those of academic integrity, social betterment, discussions with non-Fundamentalists, and journalistic excellence in order to attract the religious, the respectable, and the intellectuals whatever their doctrinal convictions. Another area of study has been that of cooperation with all existing religious bodies, denominations, and groups for the purposes of infiltration, not separation. In fact many prominent men in this movement openly advocate closer ties with those whom old-time Fundamentalism tagged apostates and Liberals,” (1962, 21-22).

A New Mood

During the first half of the twentieth century, ― “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” meant roughly the same things. People might use either name to describe those who preserved and practiced the revivalist heritage of soul winning and maintained a traditional insistence on orthodoxy. After the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies, however, fundamentalism became increasingly prone to fracture. Pickering (1994) observes that evangelicalism was born with a particular “mood.” This particular mood was a marked dissatisfaction with a militant ministry philosophy. Pickering remarked that the militant excesses of some fundamentalists “disheartened younger men, and  . . . propelled them toward a softer and broader position,” (7-8).

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), founded in 1942, admits their organization was formed in response to a consensus that a new course must be charted, one that did not perpetuate the mistakes of excessive militantism:

“Evangelical Christianity, while remaining outside the cultural mainstream, established a thriving subculture, centered around engaging personalities and independent institutions. The downside to this emerging popular movement was that many radio preachers, Christian college presidents, and pulpiteers tended to speak and act independently with seeming little regard for the big picture. Instead of acting like brothers, they acted like rivals, weakening the possibilities of meaningful Christian witness” (“History”).

The schism was never over doctrines of the so-called “fundamentals.” The clashes between fundamentalism and evangelicalism frequently centered around the biblical parameters of ecclesiastical and personal separation. Most self-proclaimed fundamentalists today could sign the NAE creed! (“Statement of Faith”). It is not about doctrine, it is about a particular philosophy of ministry.

 Specific Causes of Schism

Rolland McCune (2004, 27-52) and Ernest Pickering (1994, 7-11) have both outlined their own views of the cause of this split. There is considerable overlap in their analysis;


There is simply no space to adequately cover all of these issues, but a brief survey of some of them will be attempted here.

Unity or Separation?

There was a general impetus to present the fundamentals of the faith in a positive, not simply defensive, way (McCune, 29). Evangelicals were more willing to forgive doctrinal differences for the sake of the Gospel. The NAE was formed in 1942, according to its formal history, “when a modest group of 147 people met in St. Louis with the hopes of reshaping the direction of evangelical Christianity in America.” Ockenga challenged Christians to put aside denominational differences for the sake of a more consolidated witness for Christ (NAE, “History”).

Well-known fundamentalist leaders such as John R. Rice and Bob Jones Sr. and Jr. initially supported the NAE, but eventually left over the organization’s different philosophy of separation. “These departures consolidated the leadership of the NAE in the hands of those with less restrictive convictions who wanted a softer stand and a far less militant direction,” (McCune, 31).

Fundamentalists could not bring themselves to endorse ecclesiastical unity to the same extent. The philosophy of evangelicalism seemed to be, “Be positive, not negative!” Pickering (1994) astutely observed, “while this statement has an emotional appeal to many, it is not a Biblical philosophy. Scripture is both positive and negative – it is for some things and against others,” (8).

These men continued to reject and oppose liberalism, but dropped militancy as a primary aspect of their identity. George Marsden argued that, “aspiring to be a broad coalition of theologically conservative Protestants, they usually tolerated some other theological differences, including Pentecostalism. Evangelism, as epitomized by Billy Graham, remained their central activity, although the forms of presentation now sometimes avoided accentuation of the offensiveness of the Gospel,” (as cited in Pickering, 1994, 11).

The Social Issue

Carl F. H. Henry penned a book in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience, in which he decried the lack of social involvement in fundamentalism.

“If the Bible believing Christian is on the wrong side of social problems such as war, race, class, labor, liquor, imperialism, etc., it is time to get over the fence to the right side. The church needs a progressive Fundamentalist with a social message (xx).

“Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering and humanity . . . by and large, the Fundamentalist opposition to societal ills has been more vocal than actual,” (2-3).

McCune argues that an anti-dispensational bias was at the root of this call for social consciousness (36). It would be over-reaching to suggest that dispensationalism was virtually synonymous with fundamentalism – it was not (McCune, 1996, 179-180). However, McCune argues that theology was the root of this renewed social activism; posttribulationism “emancipated them from dispensational pessimism and gave their societal activism biblical legitimacy,” (2004, 36-37, see especially footnote #42). Pickering agreed with McCune and tied evangelical theology directly to a repudiation of separation; “new evangelicals were not separatists and hence resisted the inevitable conclusions brought about by the acceptance of dispensational thought,” (1994, 17).

George Dollar (1962) argued for an altogether different philosophy of ministry;

“It is true that Fundamentalists have never turned their pulpits into forums for discussion of racism, labor, and slum clearance. It is true that most Fundamentalists have not made startling pronouncements on how to have world peace, how to integrate the races, and how to promote brotherhood in the midst of discord. The Fundamentalist has directed his attention to the salvation and sanctification of the individual—and indirectly to the alleviation of societal injustices,” (30).

This anti-dispensational bias converged with a general dissatisfaction with a militant philosophy – thus social activism came to typify evangelicalism as a movement.


Disenchanted fundamentalists also reacted against a perceived anti-intellectual bias among their brethren. “Narrow-mindedness” was repudiated. A contemporary critic, Douglas Walton, noted “the absence of intellectual respectability was a very sore spot . . . the result has been a striving to attain that status,” (1961, 26).

Pickering, in a 1964 review of a work by Ronald Nash advocating new evangelicalism, took issue with Nash’s pursuit to “recapture a place of respectability in the modern religious and academic world.” Contemporary critics seem to be unanimous in decrying the new evangelical’s quest for scholarship and prestige. Dollar wrote, “it would seem that the major prerequisite for joining the evangelical elite is the number of degrees one can brandish, the impressive list of schools attended, and the staggering account of authors read and quoted,” (1962, 26).

It is a profound mistake to suggest fundamentalism is anti-intellectual. Admittedly, there are some among us who espouse this view and they are certainly wrong. It is also incorrect to impugn the motives of evangelicals who are scholars. The problem arises when Christian scholarship stops being about serving the Church and starts being about respectability and prestige in the eyes of men. The new evangelicalism explicitly sought this prestige and therefore drew swift condemnation from contemporary fundamentalists.

 Bottom Line

An article appeared in the magazine Christian Life in March, 1956. It was a collaboration between many prominent advocates of the new evangelicalism. Entitled “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?,” it enumerated eight points about their new movement (Crum, et al. 16-19);

  1. A friendly attitude toward science
  2. A re-evaluation of the work of the Holy Spirit
  3. A move away from dispensationalism
  4. A more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology
  5. Renewed emphasis on scholarship
  6. Renewed emphasis on social responsibility
  7. Re-examination of Biblical inspiration
  8. Willingness to dialogue with liberal theologians

Above all, this groundbreaking article advocated an altogether different philosophy of ministry. There was, initially, broad agreement on essentials of the faith, but new evangelicalism was different. It was a negation of “embarrassing” militancy for the sake of evangelism. “That’s why to the man on the street fundamentalism got to be a joke. As an ignorant, head-in-the-sand, contentious approach to the Christian faith, it seemed as out-dated as high-button shoes,” (16).

The roots of historic evangelicalism emphasized unity over separation and sought to engage in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a distinctly different “attitude” or “mood” than fundamentalism. Any thinking Christian simply must grasp this point – it is not doctrine which separates the two camps; it is a philosophy of ministry.

The next article in this series will examine the concept of secondary separation, surveying the views of a variety of fundamentalists on the issue.

Works Cited

Crum, T.B., Erb, P., Grounds, V., Henry, C.F.H., Horton, S.M., Kalland, L., Kantzer, K., . . . Young, W.C. Is Evangelical Theology Changing? Christian Life (March 1956), 16-19.

Dollar, George W. Dangers in New Evengelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 05:2 (Summer 1962), 21-32.

Henry, Carl F. H. (1947). The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

McCune, Rolland. Doctrinal Non-Issues in Historic Fundamentalism. Detroit Baptist Theological Journal 1 (Fall 1996), 171-185. Accessed 18APR13.

McCune, Rolland. (2004). Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism. Greenville, SC: Ambassador.

National Association of Evangelicals. History. Accessed 15APR13.

National Association of Evangelicals. Statement of Faith. Accessed 15APR13.

Ockenga, Harold J. (1976). Foreward. In Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (11). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Pfaffe, Donald. Views of New Evangelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 02:2 (Summer 1959).

Pickering, Ernest. Book Reviews. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 07:2 (Summer 1964).

Pickering, Ernest. (1994). The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evengelicalism. Greenville, NC: BJU.

Walton, Dennis M. An Identification of New Evangelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CENQ 04:3 (Fall 1961), 9-38.

A Brief Look at So-Called “Secondary Separation”



The concept and practice of secondary separation is a divisive issue within fundamentalism. It is appropriate now, more than ever, to examine the matter in light of Scripture. What follows is an all-too brief survey of several respected fundamentalist leaders of the past 50 years on this very matter. Their views are briefly presented and analyzed, and some conclusions will be drawn at the end. Hopefully, this modest study will edify the body and exhort fundamentalists to be captive to the Scriptures, wherever it may lead.

At the outset, a brief definition of fellowship must be offered so we’re all on the same page going forward. Loosely, “fellowship” is defined as a union for spiritual purposes. More precisely, a partnering of individuals, churches, organizations or any other group for the purpose of promoting Biblical truth, based on a common spiritual foundation. Therefore, when we discuss a separation among brethren, we are really pondering the question, “With whom or what can I legitimately enter into a spiritual partnership with?” (Oats)

What in the World is “Secondary Separation?”

Ernest Pickering

“A secondary separatist would be one who will not cooperate with (1) apostates; or (2) evangelical believers who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them; or, as employed by some (3) fundamentalists who fellowship with those in the previous category,” (1979, 217).

Rolland McCune:

“Secondary separation” is the refusal to cooperate with erring and disobedient Christians who do not adhere to primary separation and other vital doctrines,” (2004, 146).

Douglas McLachlan:

“Familial separation is the unfortunate necessity of functional severance from members of the family who are true Christians, when doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries,” (1993, 132).

John R. Rice:

“Do you see that since this secondary separation is an artificial, man-made doctrine, in every case it must depend on one’s personal, variable judgment? How much better to follow the simple rules in the Bible. Since there is no clear-cut Bible teaching on the question, secondary separation is a manufactured doctrine that leads to great confusion. And, sad to say, it also leads to passing judgment on Christian brethren, judging people’s motives, and this leads to division and strife among people who really are serving the same Saviour, who believe the same Bible, who preach the same Gospel, and both seek to win souls. That is unfortunate and, I think, unscriptural,” (1974, 228).

After seeing what respected fundamentalist leaders have had to say on the matter, my own working definition of so-called “secondary separation” is therefore offered:

“A secondary separatist is a Christian who will not cooperate with apostates, (2) true Christians who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them, or (3) true Christians, when a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries.”

This is a very concise definition, and one all fundamentalists would do well to adopt. Many would disagree, and I believe they are wrong. John R. Rice, as we will see, draws his circle of fellowship around the fundamentals of the faith and allows very wide latitude within this boundary. His views will surprise many, especially fundamentalists of the Sword of the Lord vintage. 

John R. Rice

Rice was strongly against secondary separation. His primary focus was revivals and soul-winning, and his theology on separation reflects this. For Rice, the threshold of orthodoxy was the fundamentals of the faith – period. Rice would accept any Christian so long as he espoused (182, 224):

1. Faith and salvation in Christ

2. The Bible

3. The virgin birth

4. Blood atonement

5. The deity, and

6. Bodily resurrection of Christ

I have chosen to spend a great deal of time on Rice because I believe he speaks for a great many frustrated fundamentalists on this matter.

“The important thing is, is a man for Christ and the Bible? If he is, and he makes no divisive issues and strife, then fellowship with him. So the Scripture teaches. That means I can fellowship with some who fellowship with some they ought not to fellowship with,” (182).

“[W]e have an obligation to have brotherly love and kindness and charity toward those who are weak in the faith, but just so they are ‘in the faith,’ ” (224).

Rice would likely separate from fundamentalists who were in favor of secondary separation, citing Rom 14:1 as support.

“Listen, you are not to run with anybody if it means quarreling and strife and division and hair pulling and hell raising. Say to that one, ‘God bless you, but go your way, and I will go mine.’ If there is going to be strife and no real unity and no real heartfelt joy and results for God, then sometimes we cannot cooperate with Christians who make strife over minor issues. They are weak in the faith and they make an insistent division over it,” (184).

Rice decried undue obsession with division at the expense of evangelism. Fighting modernism was not Rice’s main priority – evangelism was.

“The tendency to go to extremes appears in the matter of defending the faith and standing up for Christ and the Bible. Those of us who would defend the faith and expose false prophets are constantly urged to attack good Christians, to spend our time and energy in fighting good Christians who may not agree with us on some matters or may be wrong on lesser matters but are born-again, Bible-believing, soul-winning Christians. We have followed a simple course down through the years. We are against infidels and false teachers. We are for good Christians,” (196).

Rice’s most passionate plea was for Christians to have perspective. The great division, he warned, is between those who are saved and those who are lost. “Let us face it honestly: Are we going to fight for God’s people and against Satan’s people? That is what we ought to be,” (197).

 Rice’s Critique of Secondary Separation

riceRice’s guiding verses on this matter were Ps 119:63 and Rom 14:1 (221). He outright denied that Scripture teaches separation from brethren. “No, there is nothing in the Bible like that,” (224). He saw separation as an “all or nothing” proposition. He did not allow for the different “levels” of separation that Ernest Pickering wrote about, which we will examine shortly. Rice defined the doctrine as follows:

“But what is called ‘secondary separation’ means not only must the Christian be separated from liberals, modernists, unbelievers, but he is to separate from anybody who does not separate enough from unbelievers,” (218).

Rice charged that Christians are commanded to fellowship and love other Christians (Jn 13:34-35), and this very love, not division, should guide Christians in this matter. Fractious, subjective battles among real Christians divide the body and hinder the cause of Christ.

“But still the weight of the Scripture here is tremendous. We should love other Christians as Christ loved us. Our love for others ought to be such an obvious fact that people will know Christians are different. So only a very serious matter ought ever hinder the fellowship of good Christians who love each other,” (222).

Most fundamentalists who uphold separation from brethren point to 2 Thess 3:6-15 as support. Their arguments will be presented shortly, but I ask Christians to examine the passage for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Rice expressly denied that 2 Thess 3:6-15 teaches secondary separation, labeling this “a clearly biased interpretation,” (226). He maintained it merely taught that the disorder in question was eating without working (224-225).

Going back to his call for unity for the sake of evangelism, Rice protested that secondary separation resulted in arbitrary decisions. “Where can one draw the line? Unless he takes the plain Bible position of separation from the unsaved and the restrained fellowship with Christians who live in gross sin, one will make subjective decisions according to his own preference,” (226-228). Fred Moritz (1994) dismisses such objections as a “smokescreen,” and calls for biblical discernment on the matter (84).

Finally, Rice appealed to examples of other Godly fundamentalists to bolster his case, men who did participate in inter-denominational fellowship for the sake of the Gospel, including Moody, Billy Sunday, R.A. Torrey, Bob Jones, Sr., H.A. Ironside, W.B. Riley, Bob Schuler and J. Frank Norris (228-234).

Rice’s work on separation was published in the midst of his very public falling out with Bob Jones, Jr. Any honest Christian will admit that views change with perspective, as hard-won knowledge, wisdom and experience are brought to bear upon tough issues. Perhaps Rice would have taken a harder line on separation earlier in his ministry. Regardless, a position must be evaluated in light of Scripture.

Rice’s plea for unity is appealing, but incorrect. He errs by failing to acknowledge different levels of fellowship and ignores Scripture which clearly teach separation from brethren. In this respect, Rice epitomized a particular fundamentalist mindset which is antithetical to militant separatism. George Marsden (1991) remarked;

“Antedating fundamentalist antimodernism was the evangelical revivalist tradition out of which fundamentalism had grown. The overriding preoccupation of this tradition was the saving of souls. Any responsible means to promote this end was approved,” (67).

Rice’s was a “big tent” fundamentalism, and given the nature of his revivalist ministry, perhaps it is understandable Rice was so inclusive about doctrine. He was still mistaken.

 Is There Such Thing as “Secondary Separation?”

 There is a remarkable consensus that the phrase “secondary separation” is un-Biblical. Moritz maintains the grounds of any separation are principles based upon the holiness of God (72). McCune (2004) likewise repudiates the concept of “degrees” of separation (147). Charles Woodbridge (1971) was particularly offended by the term; he called any distinction of degrees of separation a “deadly menace,” (12).[1]  To him, separation extended to any relationship in which disobedience to God is involved (10).

“The Bible knows nothing whatever about “degrees” of separation from evil! The Christian is to remove himself as far as it is humanly possible from all forms of evil, whether they be peripheral, pivotal or relatively ancillary. To hate evil means to hate it in all its forms–its ancestry, its immediate presence and its progeny!” (11). 

What is a Disobedient Brother?

This is the very heart of the matter, isn’t it? Woodbridge (15) declared, “churches or schools which have become “theologically unclean” must be separated from! (2 Cor 6:17). Well, what is the definition of a disobedient brother? McCune, following Mark Sidwell (1998, 56) has perhaps the best definition:

“A professing Christian who deliberately refuses to change some aspect of his conduct to the clear teaching of Scripture is a disobedient brother,” (148).[2]

moritzMcLachlan (132-133) echoes this point, noting we can differ over matters of preference, but not divide. Issues must not be superficial. “If there is no clear cut, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ we shouldn’t judge and neither should we separate (Rom 14:10-13).” Fred Moritz has produced perhaps the most compact, yet comprehensive analysis of this matter from Scripture. All Christians should examine the texts below for themselves to reach their own conclusions. Moritz’s broad categories of disobedient brethren are as follows:

The Sinning Brother – Mt 18:15-17 (74-75):

The grounds for any separation is sin, not some trite issue. Christ does not differentiate between classes of sin. Separation is a last resort, and only then when reconciliation has failed. Moritz also cites Gal 5:19-21, specifically separation from brethren who indulge in doctrinal or moral heresy (81).

The Immoral & Unequally Yoked Brother – 1 Cor 5:1-11 (75-77):

Paul instructed the Corinthian church to separate from Christian brethren engaged in specific classes of sin (1 Cor 5:10). “[T]his passage commands separation from a disobedient brother on both theological and moral grounds,” (76-77).

The principle of separation from Christian brethren is precisely the same as it is with unbelievers. “Should a fellow Christian insist on remaining unequally yoked in such a way, the local church or believer must separate from him,” (77). Sin is the threshold, and God’s holiness the principle, of separation from brethren. “The local church is to be holy in doctrine and lifestyle,” (77).

The Lazy and Disobedient Brother – 2 Thess 3:6-15 (77-80):

The “tradition received” from Paul included the body of faith, specifically the entire contents of 1 Thess, of which “work” is only one issue (79). Moritz appeals to the example of 1 Cor 5, where Paul uses the pressing issue of sexual immorality to expand the application of separation to all manner of sins. 

The disobedient brother’s lifestyle reflects poorly on the holiness of God (80). “This passage clearly teaches separation from brethren in Christ who are openly and willfully disobedient to the written, revealed Word of God and is not limited in its application to the lazy brother only,” (79). McLachlan agrees; “The passage does not restrict us to such a narrow or limited application. The particular event in this chapter may be indolence in view of Christ’s coming, but the general principle is disobedience to the whole of the Christian message as revealed in Scripture,” (135-136).

McLachlan is quick to emphasize that reconciliation is the goal of this separation. It is disgraceful in flavor (2 Thess 3:6, 14). Christians must withdraw from a disobedient brother, but never with a spirit of superiority. “This kind of shaming is designed to humble him, disgrace him, and hopefully alert him to the catastrophic consequences of refusal to pay heed to the Word of God . . . So while the immediate flavor is disgraceful the ultimate objective is beneficial,” (135). 

The separation is gentle in its spirit. Christians must be relentless to defend the Word, but never heartless. “There are always those who are overly zealous to point out the faults of others and who seem to relish drastic responses,” (135).

The Divisive Brother – Titus 3:9-11 (Moritz, 80).

This includes separation from brethren who promote division. Moritz explained that the Greek behind the KJV translation “heretick” in Titus 3:10 refers to a self-willed opinion which is substituted for submission to the power of the truth. “Paul identifies the divisive man who, after the pattern of Acts 20:30 and 3 Jn 9, seeks for prominence in order to gain a following.” A heretic promotes a peculiar doctrine and is divisive in doing it. William Mounce (2000) referring to this divisive doctrine as “vacuous,” (453).

 Parameters of Fellowship

Moritz remarked, “All ecclesiastical separation in the NT is on the local church level.  It involves the church not working with unbelievers (2 Jn 8, 9) or separating from professing believers in sin (1 Cor 5).  It must extend to personal fellowship between professing believers and application on the inter-church and interdenominational levels,” (personal communication, 15MAY13). In this vein, Ernest Pickering’s concept of different “levels” of fellowship is simply excellent, and a great help to any separatist (218). They are: pickering

  1. Personal Christian fellowship between individual believers
  2. Local church fellowship
  3. Inter-church fellowship
  4. Interdenominational fellowship

We each engage in these types of fellowship regularly, but there are obvious limits to cooperative fellowship depending who we’re talking to. “It is impossible to have harmonious, working fellowship with all believers at all of these levels. Doctrinal considerations govern certain types of fellowship,” (219).

McLachlan asks us to consider whether a brother’s deviation is an isolated event or a continual pattern. “All of us, I think, would prefer to be judged by the ebb and flow of our lives and ministries rather than by the eddies, which seem at times to move against the main current,” (133).

McLachlan poses numerous questions for the separatist to consider (133):

  1. Is the position shift permanent or transient?
  2. Is the shift a major change in direction or a fleeing moment of experimentation?
  3. Is it an appeal for a new and un-Biblical theology, or merely an attempt at discovering a new and functional methodology, which might on the surface appear unconventional but is not unnecessarily un-Biblical?

Separation is a necessary complement to evangelism. Christians are commanded to be holy (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16) in order to show Christ to a lost world. It is this concern which informs Scriptural principles of separation from brethren.

“If the purity of the bride of Christ is not at stake, then we shall have to discipline ourselves against judgmental or pharisaical attitudes and actions toward our brothers with whom we disagree. On the other hand, if a specific behavioral pattern or belief system has the potential to defile the bride, then we shall have to love our brother enough to confront him Biblically . . . so that Christ’s cause does not suffer loss before the watching world,” (McLachlan, 133).

 A Subjective Sinkhole?

Critics frequently charge so-called “secondary separation” with being little more than a subjective sinkhole. Moritz is quite correct to dismiss this as a smokescreen. Pickering’s words are particularly relevant here:

“First of all, it is very clear that no direct scriptural teaching will cover every problem we face. As in so many areas of Christian thought and life, we must determine our practice by the application of doctrines, principles and emphases that are found in the Bible. The exercise of personal judgment, in the light of known divine truths, is required. It is this element of separatism which non-separatists often attack . . . Yes, it is dangerous in the sense that not all will come up with the right answers and make the right judgments. Some will go to extremes. Nevertheless, it is a privilege given by God to each believer – the right of private judgment and soul liberty in things divine,” (222-223).

There is indeed an element of subjectivism at work. How could there not be? However, it is not nearly the sinkhole critics like John Rice claim it is. The chart below may assist brethren in making some practical applications in this regard (Oats):

categories of separation chart

The Bottom Line

 Edward Hiscox (1893), in his enduring work on Baptist polity, had this to say:

“Nothing can be considered a just and reasonable cause for the withdrawal of fellowship, and exclusion of the Church, except it be clearly forbidden in, or manifestly contrary to, the Scriptures, and what would have prevented the reception of the individual into the Church had it existed at the time and been persisted in,” (180).

Hiscox’s was writing about ecclesiastical separation in the context of local church discipline, but his words are perfectly applicable here. A faithful, Biblical separatist considering separation from a Christian brother must subject an issue to the following litmus tests:

1. Is the Christian brother aiding or abetting apostates by continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them? If so, the faithful Christian must separate.

2. Is there a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise in the life or ministry of the Christian brother? Let the honest separatist consider the following:

3. Is the issue at hand an explicit teaching, an implicit teaching, a principle or a mere personal preference from Scripture?

Separation complements evangelism; it is done to glorify God and obey His command to imitate His holiness in our lives (Eph 5:1; 1 Pet 1:14-16). The faithful Christian must prayerfully consider whether separation is truly warranted if the issue is not an explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture. Christians will inevitably differ on application of certain issues; some may even shift positions upon reflection. It is never easy to re-evaluate heretofore sacred “flash point” issues, particularly in light of Scripture. It occasionally goes against ingrained expectations. A fundamentalist, however, cannot forsake this responsibility and remain a Biblical separatist.


Hiscox, Edward. Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1893. Reprinted with no date.

Marsden George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

McCune, Rolland. Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism.Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004.

McLachlan, Douglas. Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Independence: AACS, 1993.

Moritz, Fred. Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation. Greenville: BJU, 1994.

Mounce, William D. “Pastoral Epistles,” vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Oats, Larry. American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Watertown: Maranatha Baptist Seminary, 2012.

Pickering, Ernest. Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church. Schaumberg: Regular Baptist Press, 1979.

Rice, John R. Come Out or Stay In?Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1974.

Woodbridge, Charles. Biblical Separation. Halifax, Canada: People’s Gospel Hour, 1971.

[1] Charles Woodbridge, Biblical Separation (Halifax, Canada: People’s Gospel Hour, 1971), 12. Retrieved electronically without page numbers – the pagination here is mine.

[2] McCune’s quotation from Sidwell is longer than the one I included here.