Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 3

Title: Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 3
Text: Matthew 22:37-38, John 17:15-18, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Time: July 7th, 2014

 
In the last two messages I shared my experiences with pasturing a small, protestant evangelical Baptist church near a large independent fundamentalist mega-church. I mentioned that my brush with fundamentalism was highly educational and opened my eyes to a different form of Christianity than I had been accustomed. I grew up in a protestant main-line denominational church, converted to evangelical Christianity in my late teens, and went on to attend a Christian college and seminary in preparation for pastoral ministry. In the denominational church of my childhood, I experienced an emphasis on friendly tolerance and diversity of belief and behavior (a bit too much latitude I’d say, especially for behaviors and beliefs outside of biblical boundaries). In my experience with independent fundamentalism I encountered the very opposite – strict intolerance of any beliefs and behaviors that didn’t conform to the leader’s narrow vision of Christianity. Now to be fair, the fundamentalist mega-church in my area, the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana was more or less biblically Christian, except that it felt especially called to define and determine every detail of Christian belief and behavior. And it separated itself from every other type of Christian that didn’t believe and behave the same thing. For example, First Baptist church leaders taught separation – not separation from the sinful world, but separation from other Christians who didn’t believe and behave like they taught. And not only that, they separated even from Christians who did believe and behave like they taught, except who didn’t separate from other Christians the way they thought they should separate. Does that make sense? If it doesn’t, don’t worry, because it doesn’t make sense anyway. I’ve already listed a number of things to beware of when dealing with some of these types of independent fundamentalist churches, so I won’t go back over that ground. But today I’d like to mention three more broad, general themes that I find in a number of independent fundamentalist churches that we need to be aware of and avoid. They is, one, anti-intellectualism, or in other words, opposition to the mind, to thinking deeply about things, and a mistrust of learning and education. Two, there is an anti-culture attitude that shows itself in the tendency to be excessively counter-cultural. And third, there is an anti-charismatic attitude towards Christians who believe in the continued gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in the church today. I believe all three of these general tendencies are wrong and I want to point out why in this message today. Hopefully, we can equip ourselves to think biblically in these areas, and believe and act as authentic Christians. Let me explain further.

First, some independent fundamentalist churches are anti-intellectual in their attitude towards learning and education. Matthew 22:37-38, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’” According to Jesus Christians are to love the Lord God with their entire mind. That means with their thoughts, their intellect, their rational processes, and so forth. But according to some independent fundamentalist churches members are to not think for themselves but simply believe whatever the pastor or church leaders tell them to believe. First Baptist Church of Hammond, for example, taught that the only true and valid Bible was the original King James Version. Jack Hyles used to teach this when he was pastor there before he died, even going as far as ripping up other versions of the Bible such as the NIV Bible. When the next pastor, Jack Schaap tried to teach (more truthfully) that the original manuscripts of the Bible were the only infallible, inerrant Bible, he was opposed by members who still clung to Hyles’s teaching about the KJV. Now why such strong opposition over different versions of the Bible? After all, any reputable and responsible Bible translation is going to render essentially the same thing, whether KJV, NIV, NASB, and so forth. I see this as a manifestation of anti-intellectualism, of anti-learning. It’s simplistic thinking that keeps everything nice and easy. It’s also kind of a “cave man” thinking of saying, “King James Bible – good!” and all other Bible, bad! Why? Because the pastor says so, so it must be so. It’s a kind of naïve trust in the pastor. But how does the pastor know? I once heard Jack Hyles say the reason why he believed the KJV was the true Bible was because, said Hyles, “Momma said!” In other words, because his mother told him growing up that the King James Bible was the Word of God, he believes that only the KJV is the Word of God. Every other translation of the Bible is false. For some independent fundamentalist churches it’s good enough, evidently, to believe the KJV is the only true Bible because “Momma said,” but for most sane people it takes a little bit more thinking than that. The anti-intellectual, anti-educational attitude in some fundamentalist churches is greater than in some others, but there always seems to be a mistrust of learning. Now, there is reason to distrust secular learning or education because much of it is blatantly anti-Christian. But to mistrust sane, sound biblical conservative scholarship for simplistic thinking is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with thinking deeply about the Christian faith. I hold to a conservative, biblical theology that isn’t afraid to think and consider why Christianity teaches what it teachers. All truth is God’s truth. The Bible stands on its own. We have nothing to be afraid of in true learning. Beware of churches that try to shelter people from honest inquiry. Love the Lord with your entire mind.

Second, some independent fundamentalist churches are anti-culture and excessively counter-cultural. John 17:15-18, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus calls us to be in the world but not of it. Not everything in the world, that is, the culture, the society at large, is bad, but much of it is. It’s up to Christians to live and work in the world, in society, and bear witness to the truth of God in the midst of the sinful world. There is a tendency among independent fundamentalist churches to be not only counter-cultural, but anti-cultural as well. In other words, to display an antagonistic, negative and argumentative attitude towards everything in general society. One might even label it mean-spirited. Now I readily admit that much of secular society today is sinful and under the wrathful judgment of God. According to Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by the wickedness.” Therefore, we know that the sinful, selfish, rebellious secular society is under judgment from God. But that doesn’t mean we should see ourselves as enemies of everything outside of the church. When we read the descriptions of Jesus and the disciples interacting with general society, both Jewish and Gentile society, we don’t get the impression that they were anti-cultural or universally counter-cultural. In some ways they were counter-cultural, but in other ways they fit right into society in areas that were neutral spiritually and morally. An extreme example of anti-culture, counter-culture is the independent fundamentalist church of Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church. This group makes its aim to pick fights with mainstream American culture. It pickets the funerals of fallen soldiers. It preaches a one hundred percent negative message. It’s all criticism and no encouragement. It’s all judgment and wrath, without any love and grace. It explains what it’s against but never states what it’s for. It’s all negative and no positive. Now many Christians, myself included, would agree with many of the criticisms the church makes of the corrupt, decadent, sinful modern society. But it’s so argumentative, so antagonistic towards culture no wonder almost everyone rejects its message. We need to beware of churches that always seem to be “against” everything, but never “for” anything. Criticism of sin has its place, but if that’s all we are about, if we never teach the positive truths of Christianity, we aren’t giving people the complete picture. Beware of churches that are mostly negative in attitude.

Third, some independent fundamentalist churches are anti-charismatic. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each on e the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Now I’m aware that there are differences of opinion within the wider Christian church about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians think the more dramatic gifts of the Spirit ceased in the early days of the church, others think these same gifts are still available on occasion in the church today. Most Christians tolerate differences of opinion on such issues as gifts of the Spirit because, quite frankly, nobody has all the answers, and nobody has infallible judgment about interpreting the Bible and discerning the Spirit. So most Christian tolerate a little diversity of belief and practice on such issues. But independent fundamentalist churches tend to be intolerant, even anti-charismatic. Instead of perhaps saying, “We’re aware that some Christians believe in charismatic gifts today, we prefer to see these gifts as temporary and used only in the early days of the church. Therefore we discourage their use in our church. Enough said.” Instead, many fundamentalist churches say things like, “The Devil is behind the charismatic movement. We’ll not tolerate anyone speaking in tongues. If a member is found to be speaking in tongues they’ll be out.” In other words, instead of acknowledging that good Christians can differ on things like healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and so forth, fundamentalists tend to try to shut down all expressions of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, in their own churches and in all churches among all Christians. If they weren’t so anti-intellectual, anti-learning, they’d realize that Christians throughout two thousand years of church history have never come to any kind of consensus about whether the original spiritual gifts were temporary or ongoing. So there has been, historically, a general tolerance for differing views on the subject, as long as one view didn’t try to monopolize the church towards its position. Today, most Bible scholars recognize that there is not clear-cut biblical argument for the gifts of the Spirit ending with the early church, so they leave open the possibility of these gifts arising in the church today. Not that all reports of such gifts are genuine. It’s possible for there to be spurious reports of the gifts of the Spirit also. The wise and safe path is to take the historic Christian position of toleration, and avoid excesses and extremes. Beware of churches that speak too dogmatically against the gifts of the Spirit. They run the risk of violating the biblical command, “Quench not the Spirit,” 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
As I see it, independent fundamentalist churches act in largely reactionary ways. They are mostly reacting against the changes that society has undergone in the last one hundred years or so. And who can deny that many of the spiritual and moral values of society have changed for the worse in the last one hundred years here in the United States, and also in other Western nations. Rather than simply going along with the downward flow of history, fundamentalists have dug in their heels and fought against the negative changes that have come upon society. I can’t fault them for that, because I agree that Christians must fight in order to preserve, first the church, but also whatever remains of Christian civilization. The problem is that fundamentalism, especially some independent fundamentalist churches, have taken on a fortress mentality where it’s a kind of “us against them” thinking. They refuse to join together with other Christians who may differ from them slightly because they’re afraid they’ll be corrupted. So they hold up in their churches and batten down the hatches and prepare themselves for battle. That’s why some fundamentalists are called “fighting fundamentalists.” One leading fundamentalist leader defined a fundamentalist as an evangelical who’s “against something.” There seems to be a contentious spirit about some fundamentalist churches. They love to argue, fight and be in conflict. It seems to define who they are better than anything else. But that is not a healthy Christian attitude. I’m aware there is an entirely opposite attitude that some churches on the liberal side of things take that essentially tolerates everything and everyone, or that never sticks up for the truth, and basically “goes along to get along.” That’s not healthy either. I’m afraid there is a growing temptation for many evangelicals today to simply go along for convenience’s sake with things such as abortion and so-called gay marriage. This is wrong and shouldn’t happen. But there needs to be a balance between compromise and belligerence, between being unwilling to fight for the truth, and willing to fight over everything, even petty things. I think if we return to the New Testament and simply observe how Jesus and the disciples conducted themselves in society we’ll see the solution. They had a primarily positive mission in presenting the good news of the gospel. Yes, they preached sin and repentance, but they offered forgiveness and grace. They were in the world but not of it. They give us a model for witnessing in the world today, if we’ll study and follow their example. We don’t have to take a reactionary view of the world. We have a positive agenda set by God already. Let us be about doing it.

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