Wednesday, July 4, 2007

If I ever leave Fundamentalism, don't ask me why...

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 Don't get me wrong, I am a convinced fundamentalist, but the movement we call Fundamentalism is so fragmented, outdated, and often frustrating that I struggle with it a great deal.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...


Don Johnson said...

Hey Ellis, second comment... found your blog from a link at someone else's site.

Anyway, I think that the things you find distasteful are not the fault of fundamentalism itself. You will find many of these errors (or different ones) in almost every movement in relatively conservative Christianity.

I also would like to point out that you seem to be evaluating fundamentalism at large by your own experience. Somehow I think the picture is bigger than that.

As far as standards are concerned, did you happen to see the post by Bob Bixby this spring where he offered a paper by David Hesselgrave? It is really a quite balanced rationale for holding to Biblical standards (while not precisely defining standards as such). I am preaching a series on it this summer. The problem with the skirt thing (for example) is that it has become a pharisaical approach trying to define what is and isn't a modest skirt. The standard should be something like "cover the neck to the knees" for modesty's sake, but we need to relax on the precise definitions beyond something like that.

Currently in our area a company is publishing a billboard of a woman who is covered from the neck to the knees in what we would all agree is modest attire (unless you don't believe in showing ankles!!). But... the way she is posed is decidedly immodest.

My point is that the standard itself is one thing, but we really want to go far beyond merely setting a standard. We want a heart for God, which is much more than the standards.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for pointing me to the article. I missed it the first time around (I think it was posted during a point in time that I was immersed in a dictionary so I could better understand what Bixby was saying...)

There's a tremendous amount to chew on there, and I will likely be writing more on this subject later. In the meantime, I'm going to post a link to the article.

By the way, your point is well taken that Fundamentalism is much larger than my own personal experience.

Ryan DeBarr said...

I've been around too much in both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, and heard from too many people to ever believe that:

(1) These problems are common in other sectors of evangelicalism.

(2) These problems are only present in a small minority of Fundamentalist churches.

Fundamentalism is eaten up with this kind of stuff that is unheard of elsewhere.

The immediate cause of my exodus from Fundamentalism wasn't a result of any of these things. But I can remember them being things that confused or bugged me. And it bugs just about everyone else.

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for commenting - I always appreciate what you have to say and have been reading you every since the old FFF days...

While these things above likely weren't the immediate cause for your leaving Fundamentalism, I'm guessing that it was somewhat of a factor. During my time in the obnoxious side of the movement, I nearly left Fundamentalism altogether - these things were certainly factoring into my justification for the move.

I agree with you (to a point) about this stuff being part of a much larger segmant of Fundamentalism than what we fundies like to admit; however, I wouldn't classify Fundamentalism as a whole as "eaten up" with it. But again, I'm working off of personal experience and observation.

Here's a fun exercise, though. Google "independent fundamental baptist church" and see what kind of websites you find. The majority will be be KJVO, and a reading of the website will leave a rather interesting taste in your mouth....maybe you're more right than I am on this one, Ryan.