Fundamentalism -- now there’s a dirty word for you! Today to be a fundamentalist is to be noted for violence, blinkered narrow-mindedness, intolerance, naive commitment to literal interpretation of ancient (read “outdated”) religious documents . . . in short, all the politically incorrect attitudes that secular western society despises.
Because of these associations I don’t know many Christians in Europe who relish the title of “fundamentalist evangelical”. But there was a day when Christian leaders didn’t flinch from being called a fundamentalist. In fact, they themselves coined the term!
The Roots of Protestant Fundamentalism
The story goes back to our last blog on liberalism. After WW I in the USA, many conservative Christians sought to reaffirm orthodox Protestant Christianity’s allegiance to the Bible. They recognized how the powerful tides of continental skepticism had eroded the faith of the average church-goer in large denominations in American and British churches. Seminaries which a century before had been strongholds for training men for the gospel ministry had been overrun by a new agenda -- the social gospel, an emphasis on religious experience, and distrust of Scripture.
By the 1930s, there being no way ethically to turn the seminaries and denominations back to their earlier conservative stance, many Christian leaders decided to withdraw from churches and institutions in which they had invested their lives. Many did so at great sacrifice -- pensions, professorships and church property were forfeited. New churches, seminaries, mission agencies and publishing houses started up to maintain a voice for a Christianity that still believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin conception and birth of Christ, Christ's substitutionary atonement, His bodily resurrection and the historical character of miracles.
Theologians and pastors who wanted to defend these truths collected articles about these themes in a 12-volume work they entitled The Fundamentals -- a summary of doctrines foundational to biblical Christianity. To err on these items, they wrote, would lead to a denial of the Christian message. Denial would make a professing Christian apostate.
How the Meaning of “Fundamentalist” has Changed
The label “fundamentalist” has gradually morphed since the early days of this movement in America. As the term was used in the 1950s, American fundamentalism more strongly opposed apostasy in Christendom, especially in the World Council of Churches, and was not willing to cater to intellectual respectability. During the 1970s and 1980s, fundamentalism in the USA became perceived as a politically active religious movement opposing secular humanism. By the time of the 1990s the media associated fundamentalism with right-wing political extremism, violence and anti-intellectualism. At the beginning of the new millennium fundamentalism has become a derogatory word for all religions that insist on a single truth. It is often said that any form of this movement threatens western multiculturalism and fashionable radical pluralism.
How CCC Sees Fundamentalism
How does CCC position itself with respect to fundamentalism? The following would be true of what you can expect to hear from the church pulpit:
• We stand for the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the absolute and unerring authority of the Bible.
• We do not seek to be intellectually respectable in the eyes of academia or politically correct if these positions contradict the teaching of the Bible. On the other hand we certainly do pursue intellectual integrity and responsibility.
• We do not seek to be politically active as a church body, although we believe every individual Christian should perform his/her civic duty as unto God.
• We absolutely reject violence in the defense of the faith or the propagation of our convictions.
• We believe the Bible teaches the need for ecclesiastical separation -- rather than infiltration or syncretism -- as the only God-honoring means of preserving truth from error and communicating truth to the next generation.
And that issue gets us ready for a few more thoughts next week on biblical relationships ...