I despise having to be a Fundamentalist with an asterisk. When in conversations with other believers, Fundamentalists can’t simply say, “I’m a Fundamentalist”. We have to explain what type we are, or rather, what type we are not. For instance, there is the Bob Jones type, the Jack Hyles type, and the SharperIron type just to name a few. I don’t fit comfortably into any of those “types” (although I suppose I’m closest to the latter of the three). I am a Bible believer. My Bible study has led me to embrace the Baptist “religion”. I am also a firm believer in the autonomy of the local church. I am also a separatist (I’ll explain what I mean by that later). These are the primary aspects of my faith that have led me to stay in the IFB movement. The IFB movement is a Baptistic movement of autonomous churches who practice separation in varying degrees. So far, so good….but the problem with any grouping of men is that it gets screwed up – this has certainly happened in IFB-dom. I’m going to focus on a few examples of this through this post, beginning with one of the biggest issues within the IFB movement.
Separation from theological error is commanded in the Scriptures. Separation from doctrinal liberalism is necessary and righteous. Separation from others within the Body of Christ over peripherals is, in my opinion, sinful. One of the biggest problems in IFB-dom is this: we separate over EVERYTHING! Churches who believe in “closed communion” will often separate from churches that don’t. I’ve seen churches separate from other churches over music. I’ve seen churches separate from other churches over Bible versions, dress standards, church government, “alien” baptism, and very minor doctrinal quibbles. I’ve seen churches and individuals separate from other churches and individuals because of association. There are people who will separate from somebody (or some church) for fellowshipping with a church or person who once co-sponsored or otherwise endorsed a Billy Graham crusade. If you think I’m kidding, you need to look no further than John MacArthur and the Grace Community Church. Many in Fundamentalism have drawn battle lines regarding him. Why? Two major things: Lordship Salvation and MacArthur’s fellowship with men like Al Mohler, who is the President of SBTS (the home of Graham’s school of evangelism). Separation from Mohler is a given – simply because of his “close association” with Graham.
Giving the separation issue a run for its money as the title holder for the biggest problem within the movement today is our lack of relevance in our culture. The term “culturally relevant” is almost a curse word in much of our movement. We’ve managed to take Scripture passages like Romans 12:2 and apply them in such a way that we are not only separate from the world, we are completely uninvolved. While we will generally shrug this off and piously say something like, “Christ said that we shouldn’t marvel that the world hates us”, perhaps we should be marveling that the world has no idea who we are. The main reason Fundamentalist churches grow is because we really like to have babies! As a general rule, we don’t like to reach out to the folks in our community who are truly desperate. How many homeless ministries, addictions ministries, divorce ministries, and public school outreach ministries do you know of within Fundamentalism? How often do you hear of a local Fundamentalist church who responded to the community in time of crisis? I don’t mean opening their doors for shelter, or giving out some food, but absolutely leading the charge?
There was a tragedy here in Kansas earlier this year when a town was completely leveled by a tornado. The following Sunday, the entire community had a sort of “joint worship” time outside. It was to be a time of prayer and praise…a great opportunity for the local IFB church to show Christ to their community. All the churches – along with hundreds of people who weren’t typically in church or were in town helping with the cleanup – gathered…with the exception of the little IFB church. Their little congregation met in their little building down the street from the rest of their community. What a wasted opportunity, and what a pitiful display of Christian love.
Unfortunately, that example is par for the course within our movement. To us, the term cultural relevance conjures up some very negative connotations. We would rather shelter ourselves from our culture than engage it. Somehow, I don’t think the typical IFB church is the church that Christ wants it to be.
As long as I’m on the subject of “relevance”, I might as well bring up another of my biggest complaints about the movement. To put it frankly, the liturgy employed in the typical IFB Sunday morning church service is horrible. We do everything we can to keep folks from “feeling” anything during the service. In IFB-dom, we absolutely refuse to engage the emotions (unless it’s time for the invitation). We actually insert “breaks” (offering, announcement, etc.) into the service to ensure that nobody is getting too “emotionally involved” in the worship service. We have two great mantra’s regarding music in Fundamentalism: “Music is to prepare the heart for worship”, and “Once the music goes, the entire church goes”. I'll briefly examine the first of these two statements. The second isn't worth a discussion...
“Music is to prepare the heart for worship”. I wonder where this concept was developed? We could look at many passages to dispel this myth, but I’ll just cite one: Psalm 95:1-7a,
“Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (ESV)
My point to all this talk about the liturgy is this - why are we so afraid to engage the mind as well as the emotions in worship and praise to our great God? While the service shouldn’t be denigrated to some emotional orgy, we should strive to provide a place where the people are encouraged to become emotionally involved in the worship service. In IFB-dom, however, we tend to discourage that. There is no applause; there is no clapping; there is no raising of the hands. While there are occasional “amens” and “hallelujahs”, even those are strangely reserved.
I’ve got more to add to this, but it will have to wait. This article is already much longer than I had planned. I’ll close by saying that I hold little hope that the bulk of the movement will experience a reformation. Even the small percentage of IFB churches out there that are more “progressive” still seem to struggle in these areas of engaging the culture and being relevant. I take encouragement from the fact that there are IFB churches out there who seem to be “turning the corner”....slowly but surely. Many of our best and brightest, however, are leaving for Evangelicalism. It's possible that someday I'll feel more comfortable with the label “Conservative Evangelical” than I do with the label “Progressive Fundamentalist”....time will tell.