Fundamentalism is a worthy cause. From its inception, it has endeavored to take a strong and clear stand on traditional Christianity. Beale defines a true fundamentalist as “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” (Beale 3). Fundamentalists take a literal approach to the Word of God. They are careful not to read any personal bias or opinion into the Bible. Recognizing that the heart is deceitful above all things, they understand the danger of allowing the feelings and knowledge of man to wield authority over the Scriptures. God’s truth weakened by man’s control ceases to be God’s truth.
It is for this reason the fundamentalist resists the liberal mindset so militantly. Liberal Christian thought seeks to marry theology to the corrupt humanistic thinking of the day. Colossians 2:8 strictly warns of the danger of being “spoiled through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Oil and water do not mix. The liberal theological attempt to mix the life-giving water of the Word with the slippery oil of the world has robbed mankind of the pure doctrine of the Scriptures that are able to save men’s souls. It has always been, and must continue to be, the mission of the fundamentalist to expose such error and guide men back to the authoritative Word of God.
With this goal firmly established, there should be a growing concern about the increasing abrasiveness many fundamentalists employ as they go about proclaiming the Truth. Is such harshness necessary? Is it in accordance with the authority of the Word of God whom they claim to defend? Such questions demand answers if fundamentalism is going to remain faithful to its task.
Peeling back the layers of modern day fundamentalism, one can discern within the movement a passionate desire to remain faithful to the end. Yet such deep passion, left unbalanced by humble submission to Christ, can quickly degrade into prideful saber rattling. Sadly, much of what is being trumpeted by certain fundamentalist factions today reeks of pride. “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom” (Prov. 13:10). Fundamentalists must root out pride and once again strive to humbly stand for the faith. Pride threatens to defuse the cause of fundamentalism in three major areas: it can turn militancy into hatred, separation into isolation, and spiritual leadership into dictatorial bullying. The future of the cause of fundamentalism now hangs in the balance. For it to survive and thrive, a call to humility is in order. This first segment will explore the effects of pride upon the militancy of fundamentalism.
Many have criticized fundamentalism for its militancy. The new evangelicals, under the leadership of Harold Ockenga, set out to reform the militant attitude of fundamentalist leaders. “They were convinced that if the voice of fundamentalism could be tempered slightly, evangelical Christianity could ‘win America’ ” (Marsden, Understanding 64). The flaw in that reasoning is that militancy is actually the very essence of fundamentalism. In the words of Curtis Lee Laws, the originator of the term “fundamentalist,” a fundamentalist was one who was prepared “to do battle royal for the Fundamentals” (Marsden, Fundamentalism 159). Marsden points out that “fundamentalists are not just religious conservatives, they are conservatives that are willing to take a stand and fight” (Marsden, Understanding 1). Moritz reminds those who are suspicious of fundamentalism’s militant stand that “the Christian who understands the Scripture’s teaching about separation will never apologize for being militant in his defense of God’s Word and in exposing those who deny it and work to destroy it” (Moritz 90).
God’s word describes the Christian life as a battle against the forces of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. 2 Timothy 2:4 declares, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” The Greek word στρατεύω, rendered “man that warreth” in the KJV means “to do military service, serve in the army”. (Bauer 947). God’s people are called to “earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3. The Apostle Paul remarks at the end of his life that he had “fought a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7). Spiritual warfare is a common theme in the Scriptures. McLachlan summarizes, “Every serious student of Scripture knows that no man can embrace the Christian faith without integrating into his life a dimension of militancy” (McLachlan 7). It is, therefore, safe to say that militancy is not borne out of a prideful heart, but out of a clear commission of the Word of God, to faithfully stand upon truth and boldly proclaim it to the masses.
While militancy is not in and of itself a prideful endeavor, when mixed with pride, it ceases to be a valiant effort for the cause of Christ and becomes, rather, a destructive force of hateful aggression. Much to the dismay of Christian fundamentalists, modern journalists have broadly interpreted the term “fundamentalist” to include any form of religious extremism, especially Islamic extremism. Today’s broader definition of fundamentalism can be summarized as referring “to a discernible pattern of religious militance by which self-styled ‘true-believers’ attempt to arrest the erosion of religious identity, fortify the borders if the religious community, and create viable alternatives to secular institutions and behaviors” (Numrich 10). Marsden is quick to point out that “although each of these groups is militant, fundamentalistic American Protestants are distinguished from radical Islamists and some other armed conservatives in world religions in that the warfare in which their group engages is almost always metaphorical rather than literal” (Marsden, Fundamentalism 250). Radicalized Islamists have taken to hostile treatment of their supposed enemies out of pure hatred for the infidel and to further the cause of Allah through the use of violent terrorist activity. While it is inaccurate and unjust to compare Christian fundamentalism to the fundamentalism of Islam, one can see by the Jihadists example, a picture of what militancy infected by hatred can do.
This hatred, prevalent in Islamic fundamentalism, is sadly, not exclusive to them. When hatred is mixed with Christian fundamentalism, it too can become radicalized. When that occurs, fundamentalism mutates into an aggressive campaign to conquer the enemy. Extreme examples of this mutation would be the bombing of abortion clinics, and the insensitive exploits of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas as they protest homosexuality, etc. at the funerals of fallen soldiers. Such actions reveal a hatred born of pride, not a humble militancy that stands on the Word of God because it can “do no other.” A clear principle can be observed: when religious zeal is mixed with hatred, all sorts of evil can be justified in the minds of those attempting to further “the cause.”
Sadly, many fundamentalists have allowed hateful pride to masquerade as faithful militancy. Characters have been assassinated, facts have been skewed, and bitterness has been harbored, all in the name of “taking a stand for Christ!” The further fundamentalism travels down the road of hatefulness, the more it will begin to manifest itself violently toward society. Peter acted rashly in the garden when he drew his sword and lopped off the ear of Malchus in attempt to defend the Lord Jesus. (John 18:10) Jesus graciously touched his enemy’s ear and undid the damage His overzealous servant had caused. How much damage control does the Lord have on His hands due to the ear-severing fundamentalist “Peters” who thought that they were “Davids” slaying the Goliaths of their day?
Militancy must be governed by humble submission to God. Failure to do so causes fundamentalism to fall far short of the doctrine it is fighting so hard to defend. McLachlan suggests, “We have lost more men to the cause of Fundamentalism because of the ugliness of our spirit rather than the content of our message, by our disposition rather than by our position” (McLachlan 6). Militancy must be tempered by humble submission to God. Christ exhorts that a spirit of love must be shown even to our enemies:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matt. 5:43-44)
Fundamentalists must take to heart that Christ is advocating the idea of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” The true enemy of fundamentalism is not the liberal theologian, but the theology of the liberal. Thus while militantly exposing the error of liberal doctrine, the fundamentalist must show true compassion and concern for the soul of the one promoting such error.
Beal, David O. In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850. Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 1986.
Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Ed. F. W. Danker. Trans. W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Marsen, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2006. Amazon Kindle edition.
___. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.
McLachlan, Douglas R. Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Independence, MO: American Association of Christian Schools, 1993.
Moritz, Fred. Be Ye Holy: the Call to Christian Separation. Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 2000.
Numrich, Paul D. “Fundamentalisms and American Pluralism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 42.1 (2007).
Daniel Duncan has served as a pastor for 14 years, the past two as pastor of Victory Baptist Church of Pleasant Prairie, WI. He holds an MA in Biblical Studies and is working toward an MDiv. He has been married for 17 years and God has blessed him and his wife with four wonderful children.