Now, About Those Differences, Part Six

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Standards of Conduct

When evangelicals think about fundamentalists (which is not often), they typically consider them to be rather legalistic. When fundamentalists think about other evangelicals (which is nearly constantly), they usually consider them to be quite worldly. The purpose of the present investigation is not to endorse either indictment but to identify what each party has in mind when it levels its accusation against the other.

What do fundamentalists perceive about evangelicals that seems worldly to them? What do evangelicals see in fundamentalists that seems legalistic? The answer to these questions primarily revolves around two areas: (1) standards of conduct, and (2) methods of ministry. Each of these areas is significant enough to warrant at least one essay of its own.

By “standards of conduct,” I do not mean to suggest that one party possesses standards while the other does not. Both parties agree that the Bible says something about how people should live. Both parties recognize that biblical commands and principles, rightly applied, require or prohibit particular activities. Both parties will, at some point, use some external standards of conduct as mechanisms by which to gauge spiritual wellbeing.

Making such evaluations is not necessarily legalism. Legalists believe that their external conduct actually secures some measure of standing with God. That is a different matter than recognizing that external conduct often reflects one’s relationship with God.

Suppose we hear about a professing believer who has been sticking up gas stations and liquor stores in order to support a meth habit. Most evangelicals would be as quick as fundamentalists to recognize that something is awry in this person’s spiritual life. The external conduct yields evidence of an internal deficiency of some sort.

In fact, evangelicals may be quicker and more decisive than some fundamentalists in making moral judgments based upon external conduct. In one instance of which I have personal knowledge, an evangelical leader had been caught in adultery. He went to another evangelical leader to confess his sin and ask forgiveness. The response he received was, “You have betrayed our Lord and our cause. Don’t come to me for absolution.”

Whether or not this was the correct response, it was certainly a strong one. I suspect that most fundamentalist leaders would have been milder. Of particular importance is the fact that it was a response to external conduct.

So what is it about standards of conduct that sets fundamentalists apart from other evangelicals? That question has three answers: revivalistic taboos, rejection of contemporary counterculture, and the use of second-premise arguments. In these matters, fundamentalists do differ from other evangelicals, including conservative evangelicals, to varying degrees.

By revivalistic taboos, I mean standards against activities such as theater, dancing, card-playing, drinking alcohol, and smoking, among others. These taboos are labeled “revivalistic” because they were preached and promoted by the revivalists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Other Christians often disagreed with them. For example, J. Gresham Machen was a fan of Charlie Chaplin and went to see his movies. The Princeton theologian Charles Hodge wrote vigorously against the demand for total abstinence from alcohol. Some early American Baptist preachers actually received part of their compensation in whisky!

Throughout the 20th century, most fundamentalists tended to see these activities as intrinsically worldly, and many still do (I am not at this point expressing my own opinion about the taboos). Therefore, such fundamentalists necessarily see a person who indulges in these activities as worldly. They reason about revivalistic taboos in much the same way that they reason about larceny and adultery.

In general, evangelicals abandoned the revivalistic taboos more quickly than fundamentalists did. This created a situation in which many evangelicals were playing cards, smoking pipes, drinking beer, going to the theater, and waltzing or twisting while most fundamentalists still viewed these activities as worldly. The fundamentalist conclusion, of course, was simply that evangelicals were worldly. The evangelical reaction to that conclusion was that fundamentalists were judgmental, focused on externals, and probably legalistic.

This judgment was aggravated by the fact that some fundamentalists went well beyond the traditional taboos in their denunciation of worldly activities. These fundamentalists made up prohibitions that can most charitably be described as “idiosyncratic.” Not infrequently, fundamentalists became so closely identified with these external demands that it seemed as if they thought of “the standards” as the most important aspect of Christianity.

The situation was further complicated by the massive cultural shift that began during the 1960s. Often called the “counterculture,” this shift changed the way that people viewed politics, economics, entertainment, race relations, authority, sexuality, religion, and substance abuse. At each stage of its development (from hippies to punks to Goths to hip-hop), the purveyors of the counterculture have invented or adopted their own emblems of identification and modes of expression.

To paraphrase H. Richard Niebuhr’s typology, fundamentalists have tended to position themselves as “Christ against counterculture,” while evangelicals (at least from the early 1970s onward) have tended to practice “Christ of counterculture” (to be fair, they would probably have seen themselves as “Christ redeeming counterculture,” but the distinction was not often evident in practice). Evangelicals have been more focused on relevance and on supposedly redeeming the (counter) culture, while fundamentalists have seen various countercultural expressions as a rejection of authority, including divine authority, and an exaltation of sensuality through illicit sexuality or inebriation.

In other words, evangelicals have tended to embrace the latest manifestations of popular culture. Fundamentalists, however, have seen the counterculture as particularly worldly, and they have tended to resist the expressions of the counterculture even after those expressions have become mainstream. To evangelicals, fundamentalists have seemed unnecessarily restrictive, overly occupied with externals, and probably legalistic. To fundamentalists, evangelicals have appeared unwarrantably concessive and, therefore, worldly.

Over time, what was the counterculture has become the mainstream popular culture. The only thing that sells better than a bad-boy image is sex, and the counterculture offered plenty of both. Each succeeding wave of the counterculture is first brandished as obnoxiously cutting-edge but then gradually accepted across American civilization. What begins as extreme becomes mainstream.

Of course, once a phenomenon becomes mainstream, it is much harder to reject. In fact, it may completely lose its countercultural significance. Flared pants and wire-framed glasses were tokens of rebellion in the 1960s, and I can remember hearing sermons preached against the wickedness of “bell-bottoms.” During the 1970s they became mainstream and lost their significance, which meant that they were now safe for most fundamentalists to wear. By the 1980s they were out of style and no longer an issue, even for fundamentalists.

This left fundamentalists in the unenviable position of adopting some of the very trends that they had earlier denounced. This was confusing both to evangelicals and to younger fundamentalists. Their confusion was not helped by the fact that fundamentalists were selective in what they chose to adopt. Flared pants and granny glasses were accepted in the 1970s. Moustaches were not accepted until the 1980s, and beards were outlawed on most fundamentalist campuses until the 1990s. The rock music of the counterculture (even the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) has still not gained wide acceptance within fundamentalism. These choices must appear arbitrary to the critics of fundamentalism.

As we have seen, fundamentalists and other evangelicals first disagreed about the revivalistic taboos. This disagreement was exacerbated by their rather different reactions to the counterculture that emerged in the 1960s. The third difference, however, is the most serious. It is a difference over the use of second-premise arguments. That difference merits an essay of its own.

Epiphany
Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 51 Comments

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
But I agree with the analysis that responding to the counterculture with "Get a haircut and a job!" rather than "Let me tell you what love and peace are really all about" was not the right response for the most part (not that I think most would have listened to the latter either, but some would have).

Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the Calvary Chapel movement initially grew out of an evangelistic effort built on the latter. Also, I believe John MacArthur has commended CC for this, and also had a lot of growth in his own ministry as a result of such efforts way back then.
Just a thought.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've heard this as well from some involved in CC. FWIW... [URL=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvary_Chapel ]Wikipedia[/URL ]
But I'm not sure if the doctrinal quirkiness of CC argues that connecting with the "Christian hippies" was a good thing or that it was a bad thing.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

My connections to Calvary Chapel have been somewhere between slim and none.
I once heard an interesting and memorable comment -- that CC is like the result of a trainwreck between charismatics and the GARBC Wink
I have also heard them unexpectedly commended by some interesting people.
I do enjoy listening to the radio program [URL=http://www.csnradio.com/tema/ To Every Man an Answer [/URL ]-- especially when the guest is [URL=http://www.wordinlife.com/ Justin Alfred[/URL ].
I am not recommending that program as a standard of theology to follow -- but I do enjoy it and find it to be quite interesting sometimes.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The crux of the matter seems to be how much application is appropriate. For instance, 1Pet. 2:11 commands us to "abstain from fleshly lusts". So... what are fleshly lusts? If a pastor decides to expound on the temptations modern society presents, then to some he is stepping over the line and should leave the specifics up to the movement of the Holy Spirit. But how do you admonish without making application? How do you make an application without addressing the issues of modern culture? And why isn't it OK for preaching to change over the years as the culture itself changes?

IOW, if wire-rimmed glasses had a wicked association in the past, why wouldn't it be OK to admonish folks not to include themselves in that association? And now that the association is long past, why is it hypocritical to acknowledge that wire-rimmed glasses don't say anything about a person in today's culture? The same thing was happening in the 80's with Madonnawear- if you wanted to be associated with Madonna (which I think we can agree that her influence and message was less than edifying) you wore certain items of clothing in a certain way. Could a pastor not address that topic without being considered a legalist?

What I personally would object to is when the preacher goes from admonishing the flock to 'enforcing', and I think that is where some of Fundamentalism went too far.

Mike Durning's picture

Susan R wrote:
The crux of the matter seems to be how much application is appropriate. For instance, 1Pet. 2:11 commands us to "abstain from fleshly lusts". So... what are fleshly lusts? If a pastor decides to expound on the temptations modern society presents, then to some he is stepping over the line and should leave the specifics up to the movement of the Holy Spirit. But how do you admonish without making application? How do you make an application without addressing the issues of modern culture?

I warn my congregation. I do not legislate for them. It's safer for me and tends to build greater maturity in them over time.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Mike Durning wrote:
I warn my congregation. I do not legislate for them. It's safer for me and tends to build greater maturity in them over time.

That's why I said "What I personally would object to is when the preacher goes from admonishing the flock to 'enforcing', and I think that is where some of Fundamentalism went too far." My dh calls it 'micro-managing' when it goes from admonishing to legislating. But I think, in general, that evangelicals go too far in the other direction- they don't warn/admonish enough because they associate admonishing and application with legislating or legalism.

I have a question though- if there was a behavior or activity that you felt was particularly troublesome (based on what you believe to be Biblical principles but is not explicitly forbidden), what do you do when people in leadership that participate in it? Do you ever 'legislate' to any extent when it comes to youth workers, Sunday School teachers, ushers, etc.?

Rob Fall's picture

Above we had a discussion about "revivalist taboos". May I posit a slight modification to the term? "Revivalist taboos for want of a better term or designation."

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Don Johnson's picture

I think we have shown in this thread that the origin of these taboos isn't really revivalist. The issues presented by these taboos have become problematic in fundamentalism as culture moves on and changes while some fundamentalists have tended to hang on to standards that aren't really based on anything in the thing itself - women wearing pants once was a sign of rebellion or risque, but is no longer and I think we can argue that pants are not immodest (others differ of course). So the insistence on this 'standard' has become a taboo in fundamentalism, rather than Biblically driven discernment and proper opposition to rebellion and immodesty.

Hence, I think it is appropriate to call these things 'fundamentalist taboos'. Who else holds to them?

Of course, then we can proceed to the debate about what are taboos and what are not. Seems like that will keep us going on SI for many a long thread...

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mike Durning's picture

Susan R ][quote=Mike Durning wrote:
I have a question though- if there was a behavior or activity that you felt was particularly troublesome (based on what you believe to be Biblical principles but is not explicitly forbidden), what do you do when people in leadership that participate in it? Do you ever 'legislate' to any extent when it comes to youth workers, Sunday School teachers, ushers, etc.?

No, I don't, but warning can be made personally, and with some emphasis. At times, when behaviors demonstrate heart issues that are of a Spiritual nature definitely defined in Scripture, action is taken on this root issue.

Jim's picture

Back in the late 70's I went to Seminary school at Grand Rapids Baptist.

We bought a house with a 16' x 32' pool in the back yard. (By the way .... advice .... don't do this! It is a ton of work and is expensive (gas bills for heating the pool, chemicals, etc).

Our neighbors were very fine evangelical people of the reformed persuasion.

They were shocked shocked shocked that I would use my swimming pool "on the Sabbath" (that would be Sunday).

Along the way they invited us by their home for a nice family dinner. After dinner the Father of the house opened this Word of God for a Scripture reading. And the wife served an after dinner liquor of some kind (not sure what it was. Served in very small glasses. But we did not partake.)

Their taboo was ... you don't swim on the Sabbath. My taboo (and I think there is Scriptural support for this) was ... I would not let alcohol touch my Baptist lips!

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks, Jim. That little scene shows just how thoroughly cross pollinated all these ways of thinking really are.
(But you heated the pool?!)

Another thought on "revivalist taboos." I think it's OK to term things by what popularized them as much as where they originated. There are lots of features of a thing we can choose to label it. (And let me just make a preemptive observation for all the label-haters out there: labels are useful. Just try saying "a smooth-textured sausage of minced beef or pork usually smoked; often served on a bread roll" every time you want a hotdog.)

gpinto's picture

Having taught in a christian school in the late 60's and early 70's, I can reflect back and see the damage that legalism has caused. Rock music was satanic (per Frank Garlock/BJ); slacks or jeans on girls were in "violation" of biblical teachings (even on field trips); going to the movies was forbidden (until the advent of the VCR, when it was suddenly accepted to watch movies at home; Pizza Hut was off limits because they served beer; Sun/morning, Sun/eve, Wed/eve attendance was "required"; and finally, King James ruled in the pulpit & classroom. Seems like yesterday's "fundy" is today's evangelical.

gpinto

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
There are lots of features of a thing we can choose to label it. (And let me just make a preemptive observation for all the label-haters out there: labels are useful. Just try saying "a smooth-textured sausage of minced beef or pork usually smoked; often served on a bread roll" every time you want a hotdog.)

I agree that labels are useful, especially since I'm so OCD about organizing and categorizing and alphabetizing... but when it comes to people, labels only get you into the ballpark. As long as people recognize them for what they are- shorthand for generally describe a large group of people- then a label keeps us from having to write a novel every time we want to discuss something. But it's important to note that when you say "hot dog", I know exactly what you mean. That isn't so with many of the terms we use so often, like 'legalism' and 'conservative' and 'standards'. I think standards are a good thing, and I have tons of 'em. But I know what I mean when I use and apply the term. For others, it's practically a cuss word.

It's when folks try to draw specific conclusions from, narrow the parameters of, or transform a general category into an expletive that it becomes an impediment to productive discussion. The way some people spit out the word 'Fundamentalism' makes you think it's something they are scraping off the bottom of their shoe. Fundamentalism IMO is an ideal, and a great one at that, but it's faulty human beings that somehow always manage to take what is beneficial and turn it into a debacle.

REShanks's picture

Quote:
The rock music of the counterculture (even the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) has still not gained wide acceptance within fundamentalism. These choices must appear arbitrary to the critics of fundamentalism
.

While it could be argued that the "style" of music that these groups used (introduced/popularized) may be mainstream today (and thus not sinful), the message of these groups specific songs/words, lifestyle, and belief system are still diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity and very much referred to in our CURRENT secular culture. I find it curious that Christians a generation ago could see this clearly, while today's "Christian" artists use these ungodly men and their music as inspiration for their own.

Something doesn't seem right, and, I would maintain, is an entirely different from card playing or movies. Using the Beatles as inspiration for music/song writing would be the same as using Marilyn Monroe as inspiration for acting/modeling. This is different than using using/seeing movies in general and using syncopated or even rhythm-based ("rock") music in general.

While acknowledging that rock rhythms are part of the woof and warp of our culture and thus ubiquitous to our lives, it does not necessarily follow that it is appropriate for everyday recreational consumption or incorporation into our worship. I think fundamentalists are right in maintaining a distance from groups like the Rolling Stones.

REShanks's picture

I see after another reading of KB, that he may be speaking of the style of the Beatles/Rolling Stones, not necessarily them as artists or people.

I do think we need to be careful; in the minds of our parents, that kind of music is STILL associated with the rebellion that they lived through and very offensive in a worship setting. Churches with a full spectrum of believers (children to seniors) help to maintain a balance in accepting the wrong changes or uncertain changes too soon.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Susan R wrote:

I agree that labels are useful, especially since I'm so OCD about organizing and categorizing and alphabetizing... but when it comes to people, labels only get you into the ballpark. As long as people recognize them for what they are- shorthand for generally describe a large group of people- then a label keeps us from having to write a novel every time we want to discuss something. But it's important to note that when you say "hot dog", I know exactly what you mean. That isn't so with many of the terms we use so often, like 'legalism' and 'conservative' and 'standards'.

Susan, I'd argue that even with the term "hot dog," the label only gets you into the ball park. Foot-long, thick, the kind with the fake red food coloring, with chili or mustard, chicken, beef, turkey, etc., etc. If someone says hot-dog, I know enough to know generally what they are referring to. If we are discussing my preparing to eat them, that's a different matter entirely, and I would want many more details.

Fundamentalism has the same issue. If I were in the position of having to look for another church, a label of "fundamental, Bible-believing, independent," would help me to keep some on the working list and cross others off, but they would not serve as more than a general indicator, at best. The same with denominational names.

I know that generally, if someone described himself as a fundamental independent baptist, I think I'd have a reasonable idea where he is coming from regarding his faith. The same with a prebyterian, evangelical, charismatic, pentecostal, etc. That does mean those labels are in a very general sense, useful. However, they are not enough by themselves for close examination, and if one of them should get to the point where it's really less than useful outside a certain group of people (and I'm one of those who thinks that "fundamentalist" is such a term), its use should be restricted to those venues where it makes the most sense (e.g. among a group that consists mostly of Christians). I only use the term to refer to myself if I'm in a place where it would be understood correctly. And even though I'm currently a member of a baptist church, I *never* use the name baptist to refer to myself in any way, only to my church.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

REShanks wrote:

I do think we need to be careful; in the minds of our parents, that kind of music is STILL associated with the rebellion that they lived through and very offensive in a worship setting. Churches with a full spectrum of believers (children to seniors) help to maintain a balance in accepting the wrong changes or uncertain changes too soon.

Randy, I'd absolutely agree with you here. I think it takes substantially more than a generation to pass before music loses its association enough to become usable from that point of view, and some may still not be appropriate for a worship setting. (I don't know any music from the Rolling Stones, but I have a hard time imagining using any of their music for worship purposes!)

Dave Barnhart

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Touche. But now I'm hungry and it's not time for lunch yet. Biggrin

Rob Fall's picture

aka Lennon glasses. I found out years ago the style John Lennon popularized here in the States was/is the style issued by the British National Health Service.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

rogercarlson's picture

While it is clear that we must maintain a clear testimony, I think sometimes these issues have more to do with a fear of man (what people in our fellowships might think) than a fear of God. This was true for years in my case. But maybe it is just me. Smile

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think I've seen some of that. I've also seen what looked suspiciously like fear of not being cool. (In my own case, I look in the mirror and immediately lose all hope of "cool," which frees me to be really traditional Wink )

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