As a preface to this article, I need to mention that I am privileged to be a part of a wonderful IFB church. I truly enjoy this local assembly and I often describe it as atypical in the Fundamentalist movement. The problems I discuss in this article are non-existent or barely visible at our church. I'm truly grateful for that and, quite frankly, it's the few churches here and there that are like ours that give me hope and encourage me to "stick it out" in Fundamentalism. Having said that ....
At times I find myself as somewhat of a misfit in Fundamentalism. Don't get me wrong, I am a convinced fundamentalist, but the movement we call Fundamentalism is so fragmented, outdated, and often frustrating that I struggle with it a great deal. In my mind, many of our greatest strengths are also some of our greatest weaknesses. Let me explain:
This great hallmark of Fundamentalism is certainly an important one. This line we've made in the sand is one of the most significant factors that separate us (no pun intended) from the Evangelical community at large. I think this is an important doctrine and one for which we must fight. We must separate from bad theology and weak theology. We must separate from apostates and other errant brethren. This is important and is truly one of our strengths, but it's also become one of our greatest liabilities. There are those amongst us (the majority, I think) that separate over the most asinine of things. We have asked for the heads of those that have shared a platform with men who have shared a platform with men like Billy Graham. We have drawn lines of separation in our ranks with people who believe the same way as us, but they have different music standards and use a new Bible version. I know many people who would consider me a compromiser if they knew that I preached last Sunday in an SBC church. This church used drums and electric guitars in their worship service, and I preached from the NKJV and quoted often from the NASB. In some folks minds, this makes me a compromiser. In some folks minds, this has disqualified me from speaking in their pulpits. That's fine, though.
View of Scripture
Fundamentalists have traditionally held to rather lofty view of Scripture. This is vitally important and something I truly admire in many in our ranks. (However, I think that the majority of mainstream Fundamentalism pays mere lip-service to this - at least judging by the small amount of Scripture used from many pulpits as well as their horrible exegesis of the Scriptures). We have fought over the years to keep translations of the Scriptures as pure as possible and calling attention to poor and errant translations (The Book, for instance). This is good, but unfortunately we've also crossed a line and meandered into the ludicrous. It's foolish to claim that KJV-onlyism is only a problem that is rampant in a small segment of Fundamentalism. This doctrinal heresy is present in a segment of nearly every IFB church I've been to. The only exceptions are the churches that have switched translations, and many in Fundamentalism no longer consider them as part of the movement anyway....
Local Church Autonomy
This is one of the main reasons I prefer Independent Baptist churches. There is no hierarchy outside of the local body. This - in my opinion - is a good thing. HOWEVER.....we have more pastoral dictatorships than not in Fundamentalism. There is often no accountability within a local assembly. I could spill thousands of words giving testimony to the dangers of this type of set up. But perhaps the worst thing this has caused is that theology has become weak, doctrine shallow, and many of the problems I'm mentioning in this article have simply become a way of life.
Standards of Personal Holiness
We traditionally view personal holiness as being extremely important, and rightfully so. We expect mature Christians to live consecrated, separated lives that are markedly different than that of the world. But, once again, this has become perhaps our greatest liability. It is shameful that we still argue about the skirt issue. My word, it's shameful that it's even an issue! It's almost grievous that there will be church picnics all across the country today where women will be wearing long skirts and ridiculous culottes, while the men are wearing blue jeans, while attempting to play softball in 100 degree weather. This issue (standards), more than any other, has cost us a great deal. There are people in the community who won't pay that first visit to our churches simply because they have nothing to wear. For reasons I will never understand, many of us display that fact as a badge of honor while ignoring the fact that our insane standards have become hindrances to the Gospel. Worse yet, we've become so dogmatic about these standards - dress, music, hair-length, etc - that we've elevated them to doctrinal status. This is sad and shameful.
As I wander about the internet I often read claims that these sorts of things are only present in a small, yet vocal majority of Fundamentalism. Quite frankly, that's crap. This is how we've allowed Fundamentalism to be defined and those that think differently on these issues (churches, not people) are certainly outside the mainstream of the movement. We are no longer vital. We've gone from being salt in our culture to being the silly clown making balloon animals and throwing cream pies at people.
So, why don't you leave then? I'll go ahead and ask myself that question to avoid the inevitable email about it later....I likely will leave someday. I'm not sure if Fundamentalism is ever going to recover from the tailspin. If it doesn't recover, I will most certainly abandon ship and that without reservation or regret. For now I'm content being a bit of a misfit...