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A Return to Fundamentalism

October 11, 2011

Over the past few months time constraints and more pressing ministries compelled me to set the fundamentalism series aside for a while.  Now, it’s time to return and continue considering the what’s, why’s and how’s of fundamentalism.  So you won’t have to go back and reread all the articles I have already written on this topic, let me give a quick recap.

Fundamentalism is a historically defined movement within Christianity.  It sprang out of the rise of liberalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It first took coherent form in the 1920’s as concerned men began fighting against the advancement of liberalism within several major protestant denominations.  Those who fought these battles were fighting for the historical and Biblical understanding of a handful of major doctrines.  They were fighting for the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth, substitutionary atonement by His death on the cross and His physical resurrection from the dead.  They were fighting for the Bible as the inspired Word of God, given without error.  They were fighting against any doctrine that would undermine the veracity of the Word of God and the gospel.  At first, the fundamentalists were fighting from within their respective denominations, but as time went on they began to realize they could not remain in the denomination and be true to the doctrines that they were defending.

Fundamentalism is not only a movement to defend certain core doctrines, it is also a movement that separates from those who deny these doctrines.  Orthodoxy, believing correctly about fundamental doctrines, is not the only defining characteristic of fundamentalism.  Separation is the other necessary part of this movement.  Without it, there is no fundamentalism.  As fundamentalism progressed into the 1940’s and 50’s there rose up within its ranks a group that was not comfortable with the hard line of separation drawn by the early fundamentalists.   They began working to bridge the gap between themselves and the old denominations they had left, seeking to develop a new-evangelicalism based upon mutual cooperation.  These new evangelicals never denied the fundamental doctrines, but they rapidly distanced themselves from the name fundamentalist and the separatistic principles that go along with it.

Unfortunately, within the earliest fundamentalism there was already a poison creeping in that would have a catastrophic impact on later generations of fundamentalists and upon the testimony of fundamentalist churches.  That poison has since been recognized as the elevation of a single, dynamic leader as most important within a church or segment of fundamentalism.  Most notorious is J. Frank Norris who spawned several generations of followers who imitated his domineering leadership, pragmatism and Biblically weak preaching.  The result has been a splintered fundamentalism, with camps and circles who condemn one another over things far removed from core doctrines.

The confusion for recent generations of fundamentalists, caused by a splintered fundamentalism infected with some clearly unbiblical practices, has been made worse in recent years by a rise in what has been termed conservative evangelicalism.  The conservative movement in evangelicalism is a return to stronger stands on doctrine and a greater willingness to separate over doctrinal error by certain of those who are otherwise more closely aligned with the new evangelicalism of the 50’s.  These men are not fundamentalists, though some are very close, because they primarily draw their lines of separation only on doctrine.  Historic fundamentalism recognizes that Biblical separation divides over false doctrine and over wicked behavior. If we are going to rightly understand and apply fundamentalist idealogy in our culture, we must continue to uphold the basic convictions of right doctrine and Biblical separation.


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