Monday, September 24, 2007

"Us" versus "them", or fundamentalism and the pursuit of holiness.

Last night after the church service our pastor said something that I greatly appreciated. He said that the face (and possibly the direction) of Fundamentalism is changing….young guys are asking questions and even “pushing the envelope” to a certain point. He went on to say that this “young fundamentalism” is often asking “why?”, and that, according to him, is a good thing that he welcomes. He said that change is good and often necessary, but sometimes we’re moving just a tad fast. Of course, none of what I’m saying is verbatim, but this is the general gist of what he said. Last night I spent some time pondering these words and I came to a rather startling (at least to me) conclusion…..we’re really not that far apart (“we” being the Old Guard versus the Young Fundamentalist). Let me explain.

A Fundamentalist, regardless of which generation you are a part of, is typified by some distinguishing characteristics:

  • We hold the Bible as our final source of truth.
  • We believe the Bible to be God-breathed.
  • We believe in the Deity of Christ
  • We believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ
  • We believe in the Vicarious Atonement
  • We believe in the Resurrection of Christ.
  • We believe in the eminent return of Christ
  • We believe in Separation from Apostasy
  • We believe in Separation from erring brethren
  • We believe that salvation is by grace through faith
  • We believe in baptism by emersion
  • We believe in pursuing after righteousness
  • We believe in striving to live a holy and separated life…..

There are more, but this is a sufficient sampling of the beliefs of Fundamentalists. That being said, what makes “us” (the younger guys) so different from “them” (the guys from the last 40 years or so)? Before I get into what I believe to be the core issue, let me mention a few minor quibbles that distinguish the two generations from one another. NOTE: For the sake of this article, I will be using the terms “us” and “them” as I defined them at the top of this paragraph. This isn’t to indicate that there is conflict, it’s just a label.

  • The older generation held primarily to the KJV of the Bible; we hold to multiple version, landing on the NKJV, NASB, and most generally (now), the ESV.
  • They always give an invitation; we generally don’t.
  • They preach topically as often as they preach expositionally; we preach almost exclusively in an expository manner.
  • They hold to closed communion – sometimes close; we hold to open communion – sometimes close.
  • They have tended to write off entire genres of music as wicked because of some wickedness within the genre; we tend to evaluate each piece of music as independent from a particular genre.
  • They tend to prefer “pastor-ruled” or “congregational-ruled” churches as the government of choice; we tend to prefer “elder rule”
  • They tend to be “tee-totalers” when it comes to alcohol; we tend to hold to a “moderation” point of view.
  • They tend to be Arminians (at least 4-pointers); we tend to be Calvinists (at least 4-pointers).

This is, of course, a partial list, but I think it suffices. The divide between “us” and “them” comes primarily in matters of preference. Things that we view as issues of liberty are often matters of right and wrong to them. Outside of the small items (Bible versions, church polity, communion, the C/A debate, invitations, etc.), our differences really come down to one thing, I think. That one thing is personal holiness.

There is nothing that grates more abrasively against the old nature than the words “Be ye holy, for I am holy”. Every fiber of our being screams out against holiness and strives instead to fight against the will of a Holy God. Paul describes this eloquently when, in Romans 7, he says (paraphrase), “I don’t do what I do want to do, but I do do what I don’t want to do.” Paul strove for holiness, but found that his old nature was warring against it with such fervor that he just couldn’t quite succeed. The pursuit of holiness is never ending and requires a proper view of God, as well as a proper view of the nature of man.

Now, when it comes down to it I think that both groups have a lofty view of God. Both groups are seeking to emulate Christ as much as they can, yet we are left with this extreme diversity in defining personal holiness. One group places a high priority on the minutia, while the other group takes a more “macro” view of things. Let me explain….

We all agree that modesty in dress and appearance is an important attribute in the life of any follower of Christ. “We” tend to stop there, while “they” go on to address specifics… tattoos, piercings, baggy pants, shorts, pants on women, etc. Outward conformity to a particular standard tends to be a mark of spirituality with them, whereas we tend to leave the outward appearance up to the individual as they begin to grow in the Holy Spirit….that sounds much more sanctimonious than I intend, but please bear with me to the end of this article.

I’ve discussed music quite a bit on this blog, and it is certainly another area in which the two groups differ. We tend to view “worldly music” as being defined much more by lyrical content than musical style, but they classify music as worldly based almost exclusively on its sound. None of us would oppose a variety of instruments in a church service, but we are not opposed to electric guitars, drums, etc., whereas the only electric instrument they allow is an organ….percussion is anathema. There’s much more to say about music, but the subject is beginning to tire me….

The summary of the matter – and the whole point of this article – is that I don’t think that either group is necessarily wrong. One group has a tendency of going too far, and the other group runs the risk of not going far enough. We both have a tendency to cry “foul” at the methodologies of the other group while arrogantly holding up ours as more righteous or “biblical”. I think we can stand to learn from one another, though. Will it ever be perfect? Not as long as I’m around!


Don Johnson said...

That one thing is personal holiness.

Hey, Ellis

I think you are partly on to something and partly not. I don't have a lot of time to devote to discussing this right now, but I do think you are hitting at part of the difference.

Just a couple of observations:

1. There is a difference between the two generations, though perhaps not exactly as you are defining it. It is kind of funny, because as you list the 'us' vs. 'them' characteristics, I find myself squarely in both camps on some points.

2. Beware of relativism. While some areas are perhaps not critical and we don't have to demand unanimity of thought, we don't want to say that two competing things are both true. They can be both false, or one or the other can be true, but both can't be true.

Anyway, a long day for me today, but just thought I'd throw in those observations. I'll post a little bit on my own place later so you can see what I have been up to today.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ellis Murphree said...

I also find myself in both camps on some of these things I've mentioned. The comments in this article are purely based on my general observations, and are by no means meant to be presented as the result of some intensive research. The danger of speaking in broad generalizations is that not everything and everyone will fit very well into the box you create.

Regarding your comment about relativism, I may not have communicated very well. Of course I can see things on both sides of the coin (as I presented them) that are wrong. The main point I'm trying to make is that "we" probably are closer to being on the same page on most things than what we will generally admit. I do think, however, that some of our differences are pretty big and (seemingly) unsurmountable. We'll see.

Thanks for your brief input here - I look forward to more from you.

Don Johnson said...

Hey, Ellis, I appreciate reading your thoughts. Someone once said, "If two of us agree completely on everything, one of us is redundant." My corollary to that axiom is "And I'm pretty sure which one that is!"

Anyway, I agree that there are a lot of similarities, but (again as someone said) it is the 5% difference that makes all the difference.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ellis Murphree said...

You're right on the 5% thing, I think....

By the way, I realize that the word "unsurmountable" is not a word....that's what happens when I type in a hurry!

Marty Colborn said...


Not everyone who is a part of the "old guard" fundamentalists is of the older generation.

Also, in your list of similarities it should be "immersion" and "imminent", rather than "emersion" and "eminent". Those are both good words, but they are not what you meant. If I could put a smiley here I would, but I don't know how to do it, or if it is possible. I guess the corrections are just the teacher in me coming out, my brother.


Ellis Murphree said...

I agree with you, Marty, and quite frankly I find myself as part of the "them" nearly as often as the "us". By the way, are you trying to say that you aren't part of the "older" generation? :)

Thanks for the spelling corrections, brother.

Marty Colborn said...

I was feeling pretty youthful until I read that you thought I was part of the "older" generation. Guess I'd better go home and take my Geritol.

Decrepitly yours,