Now, About Those Differences, Part Nineteen

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, and Part 18.

Applying Separatist Principles

Fundamentalism 101 is pretty clear. It teaches that the gospel is the boundary of the Christian faith, the Christian community, and of Christian ministry. Spiritually, Christians hold nothing in common with people who deny the gospel. Therefore, Christians must never extend Christian recognition or fellowship to people who deny the gospel.

Some people deny the gospel explicitly. Perhaps they are adherents of pagan religions. Perhaps they are atheists. At any rate, they are easily recognized for their denials of the gospel. They reject Christianity altogether and without pretense.

Other people, however, claim to affirm the gospel even though they deny teachings that are essential to it. Such essential teachings are known as fundamentals. To deny a fundamental is to deny the gospel itself, and to deny the gospel while claiming to be Christian is just as serious as rejecting Christianity altogether.

In fact, it is more serious. To deny the gospel while claiming to be Christian involves a level of duplicity and hypocrisy. The New Testament has much to say about people who do this. Paul mentions those who preach another Jesus, receive a different Spirit, and accept a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). In a different place, he anathematizes them (Gal. 1:6-8). John commands believers not to welcome such individuals or even to give them a civil greeting (2 Jn. 10). The entire epistle of Jude and the second chapter of Second Peter are directed against these people.

Such people are known as apostates. An apostate is simply an individual who claims to be a Christian while denying some essential element of the gospel. Apostasy was a problem in the New Testament and it is still a problem today.

The New Testament clearly teaches that no spiritual commonality or fellowship exists between a Christian and an apostate. For a Bible believer to extend Christian recognition or fellowship to an apostate is simply hypocritical. It is never justified. It is always wrong.

In other words, Fundamentalism 101 requires separation from apostasy. Christians must never extend Christian recognition to people who deny the gospel, whether or not those people name the name of Christ. Fellowship between Christians and apostates is biblically intolerable.

Fundamentalism 101 seems simple, but certain questions do complicate the matter. These are questions over which fundamentalists have always disagreed. Not surprisingly, these questions also come up in the interaction between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Even people who agree on the principles of fundamentalism 101 may disagree on the applications of those principles. The following questions help to explain why.

Question One: What constitutes an expression of Christian fellowship? Most fundamentalists would not withdraw from a political party or a social club over the presence of an apostate in its membership. They recognize that some level of social interaction is possible because it does not rise to the level of Christian fellowship.

Knowing where social interaction ends and Christian fellowship begins is not always an easy matter. On one occasion, J. Gresham Machen attended an event that honored a prominent liberal at Union Seminary in New York. He was sharply criticized by Arno Gaebelein. In response to the criticism, Machen pointed out that the event was purely academic and did not constitute Christian fellowship. Evidently, fundamentalists have always disagreed to some extent about exactly which activities constitute Christian fellowship.

Question Two: When is an organization apostate? Almost everyone agrees that an organization does not become apostate the moment that someone notices a false teacher in it. Nevertheless, it is not easy to say when the line is crossed. Is a seminary apostate when it knowingly tolerates a liberal professor? Does it become apostate when liberals are in control of its decisions? Or does it become apostate only when it specifically bans Bible-believers from the faculty?

Fundamentalists have answered this question differently. Rarely, however, have they viewed an organization as apostate the first moment that a false teacher was discovered in it. They have usually seen the presence of apostasy as a defect to be addressed rather than an indictment of the organization as a whole. The point at which the organization itself becomes apostate is not a matter that can be judged with mathematical precision.

Question Three: When is the time to shift from “purge out” separation to “come out” separation? In other words, when is the time to stop fighting to clean up a church or an institution, and to abandon it to apostasy? Fundamentalists have often disagreed about the answer to this question.

In 1932, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches was organized as a separatist body outside of the Northern Baptist Convention. Those who affiliated with the GARBC had decided that the battle within the convention was unwinnable. They thought that it was time to come out.

Most of the convention’s fundamentalists, however, thought that they still had some chance of purging liberals from the organization. When the GARBC pulled out, these individuals stayed in and continued to fight. Only in 1946 were they effectively barred from the convention. At that time, they organized the Conservative Baptist movement, out of which came both the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches and the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, International. For fifteen years the Regular Baptists and the Conservative Baptists had disagreed about the necessity of separating from the convention.

The same disagreement continued internally within the Conservative Baptist movement. At the outset, the Conservative Baptist Association refused to require separation from the convention. Eventually, however, a “hard core” party insisted that the time had come for separation to be made mandatory. The resulting conflict splintered the Conservative Baptists into a range of competing organizations.

Question Four: May Christians remain temporarily in an apostate organization for tactical reasons? In other words, once an organization is clearly and irretrievably apostate, must Christians separate instantly, or can they work within the organization temporarily in order to recover as much of their investment as possible?

Some Christians have thought that by remaining briefly in the apostate organization they could retain a platform and influence a greater number of Christians to make the break in the long run. Others have envisioned the possibility of keeping pieces of the apostate organization in the hands of Bible believers by breaking those pieces away from the apostate organization. Sometimes this tactic has been successful.

As fundamentalists separated from the Northern Baptist Convention, R. V. Clearwaters and his associates moved more deliberately than some. They worked temporarily within the convention structures to find ways to capture parts of pastors’ retirement programs. They managed to gain control of the entire Minnesota Baptist Convention. Along with it, they gained ownership of Pillsbury Academy, which they reorganized into a college. By working within the structures of the apostate denomination, these fundamentalists ended up preserving much of the investment that Minnesota Baptists had made in the Lord’s work. Today’s Minnesota Baptist Association is the old Minnesota Baptist Convention. Clearwaters became fond of saying that in Minnesota, fundamentalists saved “not only the faith, but the furniture.”

All four of these questions are important. What constitutes an expression of Christian fellowship? When does an organization become apostate? When is it time to shift from “purge out” to “come out” separation? Are there good, tactical reasons to stay in temporarily?

The questions are important, but fundamentalists have often disagreed about the answers to them. This does not mean that fundamentalists held different principles. Rather, it indicates that people who hold the same principles will sometimes apply them in different ways. How one answers these questions does not necessarily determine whether or not one is a fundamentalist. More importantly, one’s answer to these questions does not always determine whether or not one is biblical.

Fundamentalists who hold the same principles have regularly applied those principles differently. Therefore, it is at least possible that part of the difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals is not a difference over principles, but a difference over application. In the next essay, I would like to examine some situations in which this might possibly be the case.

Love Sick
Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Jesus, my life! how shall I truly love Thee?
O that Thy spirit would so strongly move me:
That Thou wert pleas’d to shed Thy grace so far
As to make man all pure love, flesh a star!
A star that would ne’er set, but ever rise,
So rise and run as to out-run these skies,
These narrow skies, narrow to me, that bar,
So bar me in that I am still at war,
At constant war with them. O come, and rend
Or bow the heavens! Lord, bow them and descend.
And at Thy presence make these mountains flow,
These mountains of cold ice in me! Thou art
Refining fire, O then refine my heart,
My foul, foul heart! Thou art immortal heat;
Heat motion gives; then warm it, till it beat;
So beat for Thee, till Thou in mercy hear;
So hear, that Thou must open; open to
A sinful wretch, a wretch that caus’d Thy woe;
Thy woe. Who caus’d his weal; so far his weal
That Thou forgott’st Thine own, for Thou didst seal
Mine with Thy blood, Thy blood which makes Thee mine,
Mine ever, ever; and me ever Thine.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 9 Comments

Ted Bigelow's picture

It seems to me that 1 John 4:1-6 applies to these 4 questions.

Briefly, there are two tests that all Christians are to use in testing the "Spirit of truth" from the "spirit of error."

The first test is a quick test- a doctrinal test - what does a Christian teacher say about Christ and His coming in the flesh? (1 John 4:2-3).

The second test is a longer test of observation - does a teacher "listen" to the apostles: "We are from God; he who knows God listens to us" (1 John 4:6).

John assures us that by this means our open ended questions on who is "in" and who is "out" can be answered. IOW, we can discern the error, and then deal with it appropriately.

Once error is detected this way, it is necessary to remove a man (or woman) from a teaching position (James 3:1, Titus 1:9).

Great poem, KB.

Steve Newman's picture

I think this historical perspective is helpful, but that we need to look at more modern applications of it.
To me, Minnesota is an excellent example. While Dr. Clearwaters was able to "take the furniture" in his time, it seems that later generations have been willing to give it back (i.e. Pillsbury, and hopefully not Central, though they now don't have a "feeder school" per se). At what point is it appropriate for leaders, churches, etc. to return to organizations which they have separated from (for example, quite a few MBA and Minnesota churches going back to support Northwestern)? Since I've not been in MN for a number of years, I guess I'm wondering what happened. Did folks get tired of the MBA? Did Northwestern change so that it was more "supportable" (was it just the presence of ex-PBBC and Central people, or an actual change in philosophy)? Or did people just get tired of fighting?
If folks just got tired of fighting, what does that tell us about the long-term sustainability of separatism and separatist institutions? Do they need to have continuous "first generation" believers to be sustainable? We don't seem to be able to pass on the principles of separatism very easily or successfully.

Bob Hayton's picture

I really appreciated this piece. I feel you'll explore this more in the next piece, but here's a thought. The historic differences of when to apply "come out" separation and other such things, are not just that: historic. And I get the sense that fundamentalists mostly feel that the debate is over, we "came out" and anyone still "in" is wrong, period. This is where the problem comes in. People that are waking up to error in their conventions are now doing the same thing fundamentalists did before them. But they may be ignorant of fundamentalist history. They are fighting for truth and dealing with how and when to apply separation and answer these four questions. Their very right to do this is not allowed by many hard-line fundamentalists however. And the likelihood of their following the fundamentalist example is diminished greatly when all they receive from fundamentalists are dirty looks.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

James K's picture

Keep up the great work Kevin. There are those who intentionally/ignorantly believe things about why the divide happened, the origins of the NE, and what is going on with the CE.

I would link to some of the foolishness, but come on, don't we already know they exist? Besides, I don't want to send anymore traffic their way.

The Chicago way can keep their five or so banshees per blog who just backslap each other.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Bob T.'s picture

It appears that Dr. Bauder has given a fairly accurate picture of the History of fundamentalism. However, it appears he is not accurate on Conservative Evangelicalism. First, there really is no such thing as conservative Evangelicalism. There are non Fundamentalist oriented Evangelicals who do agree with some Fundamentalists on several issues. However, they are diverse in their theology and some have no abiding concept of ecclesiastical or personal separation. John MacArthur probably comes the closest to some Fundamentalists. He is a cessationism anti Charismatic. He also stands for 24 hour 6 day creationism. He speaks strongly on many issues. However, he is inconsistent in application and disdains Fundamentalism. Students from Masters have little appreciation or discernment on some sort of practice of separation. Piper, Dever, Mohler, and others are diverse in their outlook and practice. They are diverse from one another but have special status as to young "Calvinist groupies," some of which have migrated from Fundamentalist churches and schools.

We are in a post denominational age. Individuals and large individual churches go their separate ways and are diverse. There simply is no Conservative Evangelical movement. There are no real Conservative Evangelicals. There are just Evangelicals some of which are conservative in relation to other Evangelicals. Those who will accept the label "Fundamentalist Evangelical" may find some common belief with some on some issues. This has always been so since the label Fundamentalist emerged. But there is no real and consistent practice of separation as a means of protecting the church by those we are calling Conservative Evangelicals. Fundamentalists need to get that and stop creating images that just do not exist.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Bob, wouldn't you agree that the same diversity exists within the group who self-identify as fundamentalists? I think it is too simplistic to lump everyone into fundies/non-fundies. The label conservative evangelical seems to provide at least as much of a definable description as fundamentalist does today.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Steve Newman's picture

I appreciate Bob Hayton's post here. There are still individuals, churches, congregations, and even fellowships and denominations that are dealing with this. We do need to be better at helping them "come out" or stand what needs to be stood for rather than jeering them for not having been there in the first place. Paul saw John Mark as helpful later in life where he didn't before.
Let's grow up and get off of the character assassination that is way too prevalent. Even when we do separate from individuals or groups, we must do so with the right spirit. It's never a good thing to separate and then throw dirt at others.

Bob T.'s picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Bob, wouldn't you agree that the same diversity exists within the group who self-identify as fundamentalists? I think it is too simplistic to lump everyone into fundies/non-fundies. The label conservative evangelical seems to provide at least as much of a definable description as fundamentalist does today.

I would agree with you. However, I do not think there is enough in common with those we are calling Conservative Evangelicals to make them a group. Rather, they are Evangelical and also more conservative in some ways then other evangelicals. I consider myself and our church as Evangelical and Fundamentalist. Fundamentalist in that we are diligent to observe and apply according to Acts 20:25-35. There are a variety of churches and people who are labeled Fundamentalist. I am an Acts 20 Fundamentalist. It's about protecting the flock. This requires diligence and consistency.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Totally agree Bob.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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