What About Militant Fundamentalism?

By Evangelist Paul Mershon
April 24, 2012

 

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).

 

Many misinformed people today have developed a gross misunderstanding of the fundamentalist movement, and even a hatred for the very words "fundamentalist" or "fundamental."  This often is by association with misrepresentation.  And yet the word "fundamental" rightly applied simply means, "that which is foundational to the truth,"  or, "that which is foundational to proven facts."  Further definition of the word "fundamental" would be as follows:  (1)  Pertaining to the foundation or basis;  (2)  Serving for the foundation;  (3)  Hence, essential; important; as a fundamental truth or principle;  (4)  A leading or primary principle, rule, law or article, which serves as the groundwork of a system. 

 

The word "fundamental" comes from the Latin, the definition of which is "foundation," or "basis for all things."

 

In his work, In Pursuit of Purity, David O. Beale said of the word "fundamentalism:"

 

The word itself became a kind of pejorative term to denote a mean spirit, a pharisaical character, a cantankerous person - ready to fight at the drop of a theological diphthong.  The Fundamentalist was regarded as offensive, ignorant, and hopelessly enamored of the past.  He was suspect because, after all, "Fundamentalists split churches."  In other words, the movement itself was caricatured as devoid of human warmth, callous to the world's real needs, and habitually uncooperative - always aligning itself against higher education, science, and cultural interests.

  

The following definition of fundamentalism was given by the World Congress of Fundamentalists, which met in 1976 in Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland:

 

A fundamentalist is a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who:

 

(1)  Maintains an immovable allegiance to the inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired Bible.

 

(2)  Believes that whatever the Bible says is so.

 

(3)  Judges all things by the Bible and is judged only by the Bible.

 

(4)  Affirms the foundational (fundamental) truths of the historic Christian Faith: The doctrine of the Trinity; the incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and glorious ascension, and Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; the new birth through regeneration by the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of the saints to life eternal; the resurrection of the ungodly to final judgment and eternal death; the fellowship of the saints, who are the body of Christ.

 

(5)  Practices fidelity to that Faith and endeavors to preach it to every creature.

 

(6)  Exposes and separates from all ecclesiastical denial of that Faith, compromise with error, and apostasy from the Truth.

 

(7)  Earnestly contends for the Faith once delivered.

The roots of Fundamentalism lie in America's third Great Awakening - the Prayer Meeting Revivals . . . .

 

From Brother Beale's well-written, well-researched book, I quote here some select thoughts:

 

Ideally, a Christian Fundamentalist is one who desires to reach out in love and compassion to people, believes and defends the whole Bible as the absolute, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God, and stands committed to the doctrine and practice of holiness . . . . Far antedating any present-day organization, however, Fundamentalism is not a philosophy of Christianity, nor is it essentially an interpretation of the Scriptures.  It is not even a mere literal exposition of the Bible.  The essence of Fundamentalism goes much deeper than that - it is the unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures . . . .

 

 . . . . Fundamentalism is virtually synonymous with orthodox Christianity.  Lake wrote, "It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought.  It is nothing of the kind: it is the . . . survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians . . . ."

 

 . . . . Historically, Fundamentalists have striven progressively for what they regard as biblical purity.  This does not imply a belief in perfectionism, but it means their goal has been a position as consistent as possible with the doctrine of holiness.  Such a doctrinal distinctive has consistently positioned historic Fundamentalism away from the center of organized religion . . . .

 

Fundamentalism came upon the scene to protect against modernism in all forms, Higher Criticism, German Rationalism, modernism, and other false and fallacious religious movements that came on the scene in the 19th century. It was born in a great revival that swept not only America, but England and other parts of the world as well.  Historic fundamentalism was not Baptist alone, but rather trans-denominational with many men who were of the reformed theology persuasion its greatest advocates and adherents. We make a great mistake thinking that historic fundamentalism was strictly a Baptist movement, with various leaders within some of the independent Baptist “camps” somehow seeing themselves as the founders and stewards of historic fundamentalism. I’m sorry, but many of these men were not true historic fundamentalists, but indeed were the very ones who redefined and reshaped fundamentalism.

 

The following thoughts are gleaned from my local church training manual delineating the difference between historic fundamentalism and modern fundamentalism:  

 

Historic Fundamentalism:

 

As a movement, American Fundamentalism can be traced back to approximately 1850.  Much of the impetus for this movement was in response to the rise of German Rationalism, Higher Criticism, and Darwinianism, all of which provided part of the foundation for theological modernism. 

 

The term “fundamentalist” serves to define the movement rather than to just identify the movement.  A true fundamentalist is one who adheres to biblical, Christian orthodoxy.  The “fundamentals” of the faith are held as precious and inviolate.  In essence the basic fundamentals are:

 

1.     The Virgin Birth

2.     The Deity of Christ

3.     The efficacious and vicarious atonement in and through the shed Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4.     The Bodily Resurrection.

5.     The plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures as the very Word of God, infallible and inerrant in its inspiration and preservation.

6.     The Trinity – The Triune Godhead.

7.     Salvation by grace through faith alone.

 

Historic Fundamentalism was not specific to any one particular denominational group within the confines of orthodox Christianity, but was rather Trans-denominational.  Included in the ranks of Historic Fundamentalism were Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and others holding to a strong position on the fundamentals of biblicist faith. Today the vestiges of fundamentalism are relegated to a decreasing number within the independent Baptist movement. 

 

The following are brief quotes from David O. Beales classic study of American Fundamentalism entitled, “In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850.”

 

Historic Fundamentalism emphasized a doctrinal approach to personal and mass evangelism which stressed the whole counsel of God in a clear Gospel presentation, the need for a supernatural conviction in the heart of the lost that brought about a supernatural repentance and faith, a hearts conversion as opposed to mere intellectual assent, and the Scriptures as the authority for salvation.  As do the Scriptures, the Historic Fundamentalist, in his presentation of the gospel, demanded that the old man be crucified, and that new life must come forth from the death of Adam in the conversion process as one placed their full faith and trust in the finished work of the Cross.  Salvation by grace through faith, plus nothing and minus nothing. The Law was employed as God intended it to be, as a “schoolmaster,” that lost sinners convicted by the Law they’d spurned would be brought to Christ and justified by faith.

 

Historic Fundamentalism was devoid of modern methodology and man-made philosophy.

 

Modern Fundamentalism

 

Modern Fundamentalism had its origins in the 1930s, with the greatest advances in the 1960s. The advent of Modern Fundamentalism brought about a subtle but progressive departure from Historic Fundamentalism.  There has been a slow but steady re-defining of Fundamentalism.  In recent years there has been a neo-fundamentalist defection into what is known as Broad Evangelism. 

 

Some of the Hallmarks of Modern Fundamentalism:

 

1.       A redefinition of structure and practice.  Beginning in the 1960s, the birth of the “super-church” movement, which emphasized numbers via various methods and programs which generated a feverish, though shallow and often short-lived excitement that could not anchor or ground those responding, changed the face of American Fundamentalism.  Though well intentioned, this philosophy of ministry was misdirected and but a shadow of genuine Fundamentalism.  The attrition and turnover rate in churches espousing the super-church philosophy has often been very high.  A byproduct of being numbers oriented tends to the philosophy of using people not yet grounded in the faith to build the church, rather than using the ministries of the church to build people who will stick and genuinely spiritually reproduce.  Doctrine has not always been the emphasis but rather growth at the expense of a balanced approach to ministry where those who are added to the church are properly taught and trained for service.  There is zeal in the super-church mentality that is certainly commendable, but often that zeal is short-lived when the hoopla of man-generated methods fail or are removed. The super-church movement has been predominately within the independent Baptist church movement, though there are other than independent Baptist, and non-Baptist groups who have been identified with super-church pursuits.

 

2.       An emphasis on outward change without a genuine inward, Spirit-led conviction. Standards, some biblical, and some extra-biblical or non-biblical, were substituted for sanctification. There was a strong emphasis on the externals without the imparting of the necessary understanding of holiness.

 

3.       Pressure tactics as a means of ministry accomplishment.

 

4.       A watering-down of the Gospel is often apparent.  This has become a sad byproduct of the numbers-driven super-church mentality.  The Bible doctrine of salvation has been replaced with an unscriptural approach to evangelizing the lost.  Getting people genuinely lost through a clear convicting presentation of the gospel has been replaced with what could be rightly termed “another gospel,” which is no gospel at all.  Repentance and a saving faith in a clearly defined Christ have been greatly diminished.  The “sinners prayer” has replaced a broken-hearted confession and a heart-belief that produces a truly new creature in Christ who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and continues in the faith with God’s people.  Though “soul-winning” has become the battle cry of Modern Fundamentalism, the results declare a difference from that which was seen throughout the New Testament record.  Though many proponents of modern evangelistic methods are very sincere and good people, and there is no question that they love the souls of men, they have been oriented in shortcut methods that produce shortcut “conversions” that often do not bear any evidence of the fruit attendant to salvation.  They are to be commended for zeal, but need re-direction in methodology and careful instruction on the doctrine of salvation and how to properly present it.

 

5.       Some sectors of Modern Fundamentalism have gained a reputation for displaying within their ranks a mean-spirited divisiveness, harshness, an angry spirit, a negativism that discourages, and a combative, confrontational attitude that has hurt the cause of Christ and alienated the brethren.  Modern Fundamentalism has often adopted a position on minor issues that have divided the brethren. Many good men within Fundamentalism have begun to move away from the attitudes that prevail while maintaining faithfulness to doctrinal purity and biblical separation.

 

6.       An over-emphasis on the leaders in Modern Fundamentalism.  There has been distinct trends in the area of hero-worship.  Misplaced loyalties towards men placing them in an unscriptural position where they are viewed as larger than life and treated as the titular head of their echelon of Modern Fundamentalism has been very evident for years.  It is important to note here that the man of God is to be loved, respected, and esteemed very highly in love for the work’s sake, but ought not ever be looked upon as having the status of a “hero.”  It is good to be loyal to your church, the brethren, and scriptural leadership, but never right to enter into any form of man-worship.  Modern Fundamentalism has been split and often drastically divided over personalities over the years.  It is a good thing to teach our church members, and for parents to teach their children to love, honor, and respect the preacher and church leadership, but quite another to teach folks to worship any man.  Another problem plaguing Modern Fundamentalism has been the forming of the many “camps” within the movement, particularly amongst Baptists.  This too has been divisive.  Loyalty to the “camp” one is associated with has become paramount to many.  There have also been wars within the movement over what Bible colleges’ men support, and overblown loyalty to those institutions. 

 

7.       Weakness on the part of Modern Baptist Fundamentalists regarding the sovereignty of God as an over-reaction to the radical teachings of John Calvin and his theories on election and pre-destination. 

 

8.       A disregard for scholarship.

 

9.       Hobby-horsing issues of minor import.

 

10.     Unscriptural preaching methods and styles.

 

Note:  Modern Fundamentalism has continued to hold as precious many of the tenets of Historic Fundamentalism in spite of the drift, and continues to be a somewhat viable force in America, though the influence of Fundamentalism has been greatly diminished.  The strength of the movement is the continued emphasis on the Word of God and textual purity, though this is changing insidiously in many sectors.  Modern Baptist Fundamentalism continues to be missionary-minded and evangelistic.  Nonetheless, a return to the roots of Biblical orthodoxy tempered by the sweet Spirit of Jesus is needed.  It is imperative that we who are identified with Fundamentalism see the need to re-evaluate our priorities, our methods, and our attitudes.  Do not disregard the virtues of Fundamentalism by association.  This would be tantamount to “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”  A Bible-believing Baptist will be an adherent to the fundamentals of the faith, and thus can be identified with true Historic Fundamentalism. 

 

One of the misrepresentations of biblical fundamentalism has been its overt and sometimes acerbic and “in-your-face” militancy that can be the characteristics of an angry and self-righteous man who knows nothing of mercy and grace.  We have heard the terms, “militant fundamentalism,” and “fighting fundamentalist.”  I have to wonder if those who employ those terms as synonymous with biblical Christianity have ever give much thought as to what it means to be “militant.” The following definition, including that which is synonymous with that definition, is a clear description as to what it means to be militant.  

 

Basic Definition:

 

Engaged in warfare or combat

 

Synonyms

 

Fighting

Aggressive

Agonistic

Argumentative

Assaultive

Bellicose

Brawly

Chippy

Combative

Confrontational

Contentious

Discordant

Disputatious

 

Some “militant” fundamentalists take great pride in answering to all of these attributes, and they are proud to demonstrate just how aggressive, agonistic, argumentative, assaultive, bellicose, brawly, chippy, combative, confrontational, contentious, discordant, and disputatious they can be. I fully understand how the word “militant” is employed by honest and good men, but I do not think that it is a proper word that ought to be used to define what and who we are.  Rightfully contending for the faith does not take on, in my humble estimation, the attributes of the “fighting fundamentalist.”  I might add that those who are “fighting fundamentalists” by their own definition are often fighting amongst themselves, and fighting other fundamentalists who do not line up with them and cross every “t” and dot every “I” exactly as they think they ought to.  God have mercy on us!

 

Professor Gerald Priest, writing on the subject of early fundamentalism, made the following observation:

 

. . . . Historian George Marsden defined a fundamentalist as an ―evangelical who is angry about something. He then went on to give a more precise meaning to that phrase: ―an American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology in the churches or to changes in cultural values or mores.


The first part of this definition is often the belittling stereotype of the fundamentalist by the religious and political left. Yet there is truth in the statement: fundamentalists are angry, or more appropriately, righteously indignant, over the invasion of infidelity into Christian institutions and the attack by liberal activists on Christian values and symbols. However, what has caused antipathy for fundamentalism is the failure by some fundamentalists to recognize and observe the difference between contending and contentiousness. But it also includes the failure of critics to note the difference by suggesting that militant outspoken opposition is in itself contentious. Both positions fail to distinguish New Testament distinctions.

 

For example, Jude makes it clear that Christians should ―earnestly contend for the faith (v. 3) against ―certain persons (apostates) who have secretly crept into the church reviling the things of God (vv. 4, 10). Indeed, Jude pronounces a curse on them (vv. 11–13)! This is very strong language, appropriate and characteristic of apostolic denunciation of evil men and false views (Acts 8:20–22; 2 Pet 2; 2 Tim 3:1–8; Gal 1:6–9; 1 Tim 1:20). ―Contend is the translation of a Greek term from the agōn word group and carries with it the ideas of full expenditure of energy, struggle against various adversities and antagonists, and suffering even to the point of martyrdom (see Lk 13:24; 1 Cor 9:25; 1 Thess 2:2; and 1 Tim 6:12). Originally, the word meant stadium where fights took place; it then came to denote the struggles which took place within the stadium. By extension, it included other conflicts between antagonists. Militancy, therefore, is bound up in the concept. However, a contentious spirit receives severe criticism in the NT. Contentiousness (Gk eritheia), which embodies the ideas of strife, rivalry, and dispute (2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:20), is most often translated by its central meaning, selfish ambition (Rom 2:8; Phil 1:17; 2:3; Ja 3:14, 16).

 

The differences are plain: while both words convey the idea of striving, contending has to do with fighting for a worthy cause greater than oneself; contentiousness on the other hand involves selfish quarreling for one‘s own view, often at the cost of truth and unity. These two should not be confused. What is at stake is the gospel. Petty differences or personal opinions are by comparison unimportant. In the NT, whether it is a matter of reproof, rebuke, or exhortation (2 Tim 4:2), the focus is the gospel and whether it is being advanced in clarity and purity or whether it is being compromised. But when one does contend honestly and forthrightly for gospel truth, he must expect opposition from those who are not sympathetic with it. This has often been the plight of fundamentalists even as it has been the case with all defenders of the faith since the time of Christ and the Apostles. But in contending for the faith, one should rise above personal vendetta, acrimony, and distortion of the truth. The testimony of Christ is never advanced by such an approach, but is sullied when it should be sanctified. What is needed is a bold proclamation of the truth with a corresponding denunciation of error . . . .

 

. . . . It is understandable that fundamentalism would be defined by its militancy since it arose in opposition to liberalism. It was portrayed as a titanic struggle for control of Christian denominations in America in the great Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy. But this portraiture often became a caricature, which overlooked the humanitarian side of fundamentalism, illustrated by its compassionate church . . . . ministries, its missionary outreach, and, above all, its evangelistic zeal. A classic example of this approach to Christian spirituality, an exemplar of early fundamentalism, was A. C. Dixon, a man who held in sanctified equilibrium these two Christ-like behaviors of vehement opposition to ungodliness and compassionate concern for needy souls. In his eulogy of Dixon, fundamentalist leader William Bell Riley (1861–1947) wrote, ―If you followed his fifty years of ministry straight thru, you would find in him a man whose spirit was as uncompromising...as was his disposition by nature, kindly and sweet . . . . 

 

God help us in our service to the King to be kindly and sweet while yielding not one inch of biblical ground in the defense of the truth.

 

I have spent a great deal of time reading the works of early fundamentalists, and have studied their ministries, both in their writing and through their biographies.  These men were nothing like many of the pugnacious, overly-militant, discordant, disputatious men produced by modern fundamentalism, especially from the 1960s on. Fundamentalism got a bad name, by association, because these ill-advised men misrepresented fundamentalism.  Praise God that many good men are rethinking the unbalanced angry, combative militancy that spewed forth from various camps and sectors of modern fundamentalism in recent decades. Men like A.C. Dixon properly represented fundamentalism, as did many other early fundamentalists.  I have been reading the works of J. Wilbur Chapman, and godly and sweet-spirited man who stood for the truth without being aggressive, agonistic, argumentative, assaultive, bellicose, brawly, chippy, combative, confrontational, contentious, discordant, and disputatious.  This is why he was one of America’s premier evangelists mightily used of God to bring revival to many cities all over America.  Literally millions attended his evangelistic meetings throughout his ministry.  He stood fearlessly for truth, and preached against compromise, but like Dixon, with the sweet spirit of Jesus.  Men like H.A. Ironside were the gentlemen of fundamentalism, giving sin no quarter, speaking clearly and consistently against all manner of wickedness, but in a manner that was consistent with a sound biblical model.  These men could go after sin without having a stroke. They did not stand in the sacred desk as a judge, but spoke for and on behalf of He that is the Judge of all men. These men were true ambassadors of Jesus Christ. 

 

I quote here a selection from an article by Don Jennings:

 

. . . . A Father was sitting quietly in his easy chair reading the newspaper.  He was suddenly interrupted by an argumentative group of children outside his window. He raised the window and said, “Kids, stop it! Honey, what’s wrong?” His daughter replied, “Nothing, Daddy, we’re just playing church!”

 

Unfortunately, we can learn bad conduct in some churches as well as good conduct. Is there a church anywhere that has not had contentious congregants? “Contend” and “contentious” are two different words, with two different meanings, revealing two different attitudes and two different motives.  While scripture encourages the one, it condemns the other. Yet the two are so closely associated that many assume that one must be contentious in order to be contending.

 

The cause of Christ would be well served if all of us understood the difference between the two words and avoided the one while applying the other. Therefore, let us step back, take a deep breath and get a good grip on the meanings of the two words.

 

CONTEND

 

The word “contend” that Jude uses is from the Greek word “epagognizomai” and from it we get the English word "agony" or "agonize." Our dictionaries define “contend” as follows:To strive against difficulties; to strive in controversy or debate; to assert, affirm, allege or avow; to state to be true or existing; to compete for something; engage in a contest; to maintain.” – Webster’s New World Dictionary

 

 

CONTENTIOUS

 

“Inclined or showing an inclination to dispute or disagree; involving or likely to cause controversy; heated arguments or controversy; given to struggling with others out of jealousy or discord; quarrelsomeness. Synonyms are: argumentative, belligerent.” - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

 

“Exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes; showing an inclination to dispute or disagree. Synonyms: argumentative, wrangling, bickering, combative, quarrelsome. “ - Merriam-Webster Dictionary . . . .

 

. . . . Much so called “contending for the faith” is nothing more than opinionated outbursts that hurt more than help the cause of Christ; that inflame rather than inform. Such speech is usually not researched or documented truth but repeated party lines. Dogmatism and intimidation are tactics, not facts; tools not truth!  I would hate to die for an opinion while not having a valid conviction.

 

Ray Stedman writes: “some think that contending for the faith means to roll the Bible up into a bludgeon with which to beat people over the head. Such people feel that they need to be very contentious in contending for the faith. But this is not what Jude has in mind at all. He is simply talking about the need for proclaiming the truth.”

 

SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE

 

Paul admonishes the Ephesians about “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph.4:15) There is a tendency for those who have knowledge of the truth as it is in God’s Word to want to forcibly insert truth into closed minds, whether they are the minds of the unsaved or minds of the saved. 

 

God does not need bullies or obnoxious verbiage in defense of faith. The Gospel offends without our help. (“I lay in Zion a stumblingstone and rock of offense.” - Isa.8:14 quoted in Rom.9:33; Galatians 5:11 speaks of “the offense of the cross.”) Those under conviction are often offended by the content of God’s Word, for it convicts the soul of its sin.  It should be the Gospel message which offends not the Gospel messenger.  C. H. Spurgeon said, "The truth is like a lion. Whoever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself."

 

The Lord is pleased for us to walk and work together in unity and harmony as His children, doing His will in reaching the lost and helping one another grow in dedication and service while contending for the faith without being contentious!

 

Fundamentalism in America has a rich heritage, but there have been times when we have become something other than those who pioneered the movement intended we become.  In some cases fundamentalists have brought scorn upon themselves because of an ugly militancy that has come from various camps within fundamentalism .  The movement has, therefore, been hurt by association due to the snarling, angry, fulminating, pompous, self-righteous men who have displayed the wrong spirit.  I thank God that some pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Bible college professors, and others in leadership positions within fundamentalism have, and are rethinking their attitudes, philosophies, and practices, all of which may well have been influenced by the wrong spirit that developed over the years within the various fundamentalist camps.  May their tribe increase.