Friday, April 19, 2013

Why I No Longer Refer To Myself as a "Fundamentalist"

Why I No Longer Refer To Myself as a "Fundamentalist"

          I no longer refer to myself as a Fundamentalist. I will no longer even refer to myself as an independent, fundamental, Baptist. I now refer to myself as an independent, New Testament Baptist (following the lead of Dr. Phil Stringer of Ravenswood Baptist Church in Chicago, IL). The term Fundamentalist has no real objective meaning any longer. In most cases, those calling themselves by the term give it meaning to which I no longer want to associate. They can have the term. It has always been ambiguous anyway.

          There was a time in history when one was allowed to be an independent, fundamental Baptist and not be automatically associated with every aberration of theology imaginable. Today, that is no longer the case. One can still be an independent Baptist, but one cannot call oneself a Fundamentalist without being conjoined to numerous theological aberrations. This is why in January of 2011, twenty-five pastors and evangelists from around the upper Midwest met in the fellowship hall of Shepherd's Fold Baptist Church to formulate a doctrinal statement that would constitute the body of doctrine upon which would be built the Midwest Independent Baptist Pastor's Fellowship.  

Today we have Liberal Christians (an oxymoron) who do not believe in much of anything. We have New Evangelicals who will not separate from the Liberals, but separate from the Fundamentalists. We have Evangelicals who separate from the Liberals and Fundamentalists, but will not separate from the New Evangelicals. We have the soft separatists in the Conservative Evangelicals who really cannot decide what separation even is. Then we have the Fundamentalists practicing soft separatism towards the C.C.M. crowd, the Conservative Evangelicals, and Evangelicals while practicing militant separatism from the strict independent, fundamental, Baptists. This latter category seems to practice separatism very pragmatically rather than biblically. They are reaching out to the Conservative Evangelicals and the Evangelicals while, in most part, castigating independent, fundamental Baptist. This is supposed to be reclaiming authentic Fundamentalism.     
This does not look much like the Fundamentalism I have known and been part of the last forty years of my life. In fact, we are told we can no longer hold the old stalwarts of the faith in high regard because they had stinky feet and body odor. We all have stinky feet and body odor. Those old stalwarts of the faith were real spiritually empowered men who built great local churches that have stood everything thrown against them until those local churches were handed over to soft separatists. Then those local churches begin to slowing dwindle in numbers. The new leadership tries to prop them up with seeker sensitive methodologies and C.C.M. music. They do not realize that what built those local churches was not the men, but what those men believed, taught, and practiced. They think they can manufacture the kind of church growth that built those local churches by broadening the base through doctrinal inclusion. Then, they fill those churches with theological ambiguity that requires the pulpit to be silent on many doctrines. Slowly, but surely, the pulpit ministry of that local church becomes increasingly shallow and less definitive. Social issues and personal relationships now become the focus of that local church's ministry. We have all seen it happen. We all know that what I am saying is true.  

This reminds me of the question of the people of Israel at the second coming of Jesus stated in Zechariah 13:6 - "And one shall say unto him {Jesus}, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he {Jesus} shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." Yes, the answer to the question refers to Jesus' crucifixion by the leadership of national Israel, but there is a lot of wounding of Jesus going on today in the house of His friends. This is certainly true when people wound the Word of God by dividing it into consequentials and inconsequentials or essentials or nonessentials. Who in the world gave any one the right to decide which of God's truths are essential and which are not essential? This is nonsense. Granted, not every truth carries the same weight of dogmatism or has the same impact upon how people live their lives in holiness before the Lord, but we better be very careful about telling people what is important and unimportant. This silliness has evolved into radical forms of Positivism where almost any strict interpretation and application of the Word of God is marginalized as radical and identified as Legalism. This is what Charles Swindoll did in his book Grace Awakening. This appears to me to be the direction Fundamentalism is heading.

I still consider myself a militant separatist. I refuse to adopt the terms of  Centrism. I believe in right and wrong doctrine, not left and right doctrine. Left and right are political terms, not biblical terms. Yes one can to be the right of right doctrine - that is adding to the Word of God. And, one can be to the left of right doctrine - that is taking away from the Word of God. There are not numerous variations of right doctrine. There is just right doctrine and wrong doctrine.

"1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. 2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day" (Deuteronomy 4:1-4).

Yes, this text was given to national Israel as conditions of the "blessing and a curse" Mosaic Covenant. However, Deuteronomy 4:2 is a universal principle that transcends all dispensations and all covenants. We have no Pulpit Popes or Seminary professors who can abdicate a doctrine, marginalize a doctrine, or change a portion of the Word of God to accommodate diversity. We have no right to abdicate the dogmatism of the Word of God to be more inclusive. We can be kind when there are differences. We can love those with which we differ, but we have no right to make that which is white to be black or grey. We have no right to be satisfied with walking in the shadows when Jesus has commanded us to walk in the light and to stay out of the darkness. The shadows of theological ambiguity are part of the darkness.  

Orthodoxy will not be found in the myriads of numerous theological positions. Orthodoxy will be found in a right interpretation and application of the Word of God. Although there are many applications of right doctrine, there is only one correct interpretation of any given portion of Scripture. Our goal should not be to just get along with everyone. Our goal should be to arrive at that one correct interpretation. If there are variations that greatly impact how a person defines the Christian life and how a person enters into fellowship with God, then separation is demanded.  

The Fundamentalist Movement that grew out of the embattled struggle against Higher and Lower Criticism (Theological Modernism or Liberalism) was willing to formulate a handful of doctrines upon which they all agreed. Fundamentalism formulated these few doctrines in order to avoid fractionalizing itself in the opposition against the rapid advancements of Liberalism. Therefore, the Fundamentalist Movement was born out of a humanistic view that Christianity needed numbers to be victorious against the enemies of God. The Fundamentalist Movement formulated a pseudo-unity in order to be victorious against Liberalism. That is a matter of fact! They just keep on with new variations of their pseudo-unity.

Many within the Fundamentalist Movement were not comfortable with the obvious compromises. They knew it was compromise. They began to create different camps within the Fundamentalist Movement. Almost immediately Fundamentalism began to fractionalize into hundreds of camps. Camps within camps developed. Some were (in my view) completely nonsensical because they added to the Word of God personal preferences. However, according to their interpretation of various texts, they believed they were right and others were wrong. They thought they were doing what they believed was right before the eyes of God. Therefore, we would be wise to let them be judged before the eyes of God. I may need to warn about what they are doing if what they are saying or doing endangers the local church I pastor in a negative way. That does not mean I will condemn all that they do for the cause Christ.  

There are many independent, fundamental Baptists still trying to function within that dynamic of compromise within the Fundamentalist Movement. The reason I say they have a dynamic of compromise is because they have subjectively agreed to give themselves permission to fellowship with anyone that believes in a specified group of doctrines - the fundamentals. These fundamentals are defined generally and lack any real specificity.  

We have Baptists who were once willing to die because they refused to compromise the ordinance view of baptism by immersion who are now cooperating with those holding to the sacramental view in infant and adult baptisms whether by immersion, affusion, or sprinkling. We have those who believe that the sign gifts have ceased for the rest of the Church Age who are now cooperating with Pentecostals and Charismatics. If either the gift of tongues or the gift of prophecy have not ceased, the Cannon of Scripture is not closed and there is ongoing revelation from God.  

We have those who believe in the independence and autonomy of the local church and congregational polity who are now cooperating with those who hold a Theonomic view of the Church. These are MAJOR contradictions that greatly impact how a Christian is to live his life and do "the work of the ministry." There are the Dispensationalists who believe in maintaining a distinction between the Church and Israel now cooperating with Covenant Theologians who believe the Church replaces national Israel as a Theonomic entity. Dispensationalists believe God will end the Church Age with the rapture of the Church, the seven year catastrophic judgment of the nations, and the battle of Armageddon with the second coming of Christ to the earth to rule and reign bodily for one-thousand years. How can they cooperate with people who believe that the Church will finally be victorious over the world, defeat Satan, and usher in a utopian kingdom on earth (literally heaven on earth)? Those believing in a catastrophic view of the end of the Church Age understand the urgent mission of every local church is to evangelize. Those believing in the utopian view of the kingdom on earth are aggressively involved in political activism whereby the nation of Israel must be annihilated if there is to be peace on earth. These are radically different views that demand completely different efforts on behalf of those believing them.  

About twelve years ago, I was asked to preach at a state Baptist fellowship meeting. Almost every man there was an independent, fundamental Baptist. I warned those to whom I was preaching that Rick Warren was possibly the most dangerous man in Evangelical Christianity of that time. I was amazed at a number of young pastors who rebuked me after that session for making that statement. I kept track of a number of those young men over the years. Most of them destroyed the local churches they were in or left their churches because their congregation would not follow where they were trying to lead them - ASTRAY!  

I am saddened by what I see going on within the Fundamentalist Movement. I am saddened because many of those I once considered compatriots in the battle for truth have decided that certain truths are no longer truths for which they will fight. I am saddened that people I once respected have decided that it is more important to have many disagreeing friends than it is to be definitive about "the faith"for which we are to contend.  

This kind of thinking has taken biblical Christianity away from a battleground mentality into a playground mentality. On the playground everybody is supposed to  get along. Those on the battleground understand there are real enemies of the Cross and sometimes they dress in the same uniform as we do. The battleground is for battling. The playground is for playing. For those who are not willing to see the distinction, let me give you a simple message.  

Get off the battlefield and quit pretending you are a warrior!

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding article. Straight to the point and to the heart! Thank you Bro. Ketchum.