I wish I could proudly call myself a fundamentalist.
I really do.
But I can’t.
According to my metaphorical spiritual resume, that label would seem to fit. I grew up in a Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.
It wasn’t the stereotypical, pulpit-pounding, amen-shouting, Westboro Baptist type. It was generally a friendly place. I had, and still do have some very close friendships that were formed there. I went to the pot-lucks and the prayer breakfasts. I went to Sunday School, morning service, evening service, Wednesday service, Saturday soul-winning… All of it.
Every week, I would be in church for a minimum of 4 hours.
Or, a little over 208 hours a year.
Once I graduated, I moved away and attended another Independent Fundamental Baptist Church for exactly two years. It is to this day one of the greatest churches I have ever attended, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the people there.
I say all this to say, I’ve spent the past 20 years in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, and there has been good and bad. I don’t write this article from bitterness or resentment. I have some fond memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I wasn’t molested by a pastor, screamed at by a leader, or kicked out of a church – although sadly, I know some with those experiences. I have had some negative experiences as well, although not at that level. I say that to communicate clearly that I am not writing this specific article with some personal vendetta or desire for revenge. I write this out of a desire to see a resurgence of Biblical churches and Christians.
Now, on to the topic at hand.
If someone were to ask me, “Are you a fundamentalist?” I would say two things:
1. Yes, I am a Fundamentalist.
I know, culturally, that’s an icky word. The minute you read it, these folks probably appeared in your mind.
From a modern perspective, “fundamentalism may be a word that fosters derision from the world and scorn from churchgoers, but church history tells a completely different story.
During the early twentieth century, the tentacles of German theological liberalism had reached American shores. The liberal emphasis on human reason and experience came at the expense of biblical authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency—and doctrinal purity was threatened from within the church. Rising liberalism, not extremism, was the dominant threat to the Church. And heroic Christians of that era rose up in defense of the fundamental truths of biblical Christianity. Thus Christian fundamentalism was born in order to fight a necessary war for biblical truth.
Fundamentalism was never conceived as an outlet for Christian hardliners and extremists. It’s not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be. There are fundamental biblical truths that must be defended and contended for (Philippians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). And defending those precious truths is just as vital today as it was a century ago. In the days ahead we will tell the story of Christian fundamentalists and the fundamentals they fought for. These are encouraging lessons from church history that speak to the struggles we face today, and the battles that loom on the horizon. You don’t want to miss it.” (John MacArthur, Grace to You Ministries)
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Fundamentalism as “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.”
It’s that basic. It’s that simple.
That is fundamentalism. A strongheld conviction that God’s Word is inspired and without error, acting as the foundation for all our beliefs and practice.
By the very definition, I – along with any other truly regenerate Christian – am a fundamentalist.
So what is the second answer I would give to someone who asked me if I am a fundamentalist?
2. No, I am not a Fundamentalist.
Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. I really said, “I am not a fundamentalist.”
This may seem contradictory to my first answer, but it’s really not, I assure you.
You see, we looked at what the genesis of “fundamentalism” really was, and the definition in it’s purest form. It is a fantastic thing.
Unfortunately the word, with time, has slowly come to mean more than the aforementioned definition.
Like the Pharisees two-thousand years before them, 20th century quote-on-quote “fundamentalists” began adding to the list of fundamentals. Instead of simply embracing Sola Scriptura, and allowing that to be the dividing line, they began marking other man-made ideas and values as essentials.
Soon, drinking became a reason for separation. Tattoos. Rock Music. Going to theaters. Even not belonging to a particular denomination was grounds for division and separation.
“For there have always been those who, imbued with a false conviction of their own perfect sanctity, as if they had already become a sort of airy spirits, spurned association with all men in whom they discern any remnant of human nature.” (John Calvin, Treatise on Relics)
In conclusion, I simply wish to say, I want the Bible to be the final authority. My preferences, desires, and convictions outside of God’s Word can never fully be trusted. The Bible makes clear, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? – Jeremiah 17:9
“Elevating third-order doctrines to the status of first-order is the cause of fundamentalism.” -Dr. Albert Mohler, President of SBTS
Eric is a blogger, videographer, designer, and full-time missionary with Rooftop Missions. While in the US, he works to raise support to help fund pastors and orphanages in closed countries. When he is traveling internationally, he provides leadership training for national pastors, as well as documenting the trips through photography and video. To partner with Eric financially, click here.