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Fundamentalists are most often criticized for their attitude towards the world and their attitude towards other Christians, and they would certainly acknowledge their differences with broader evangelicalism on these points. That’s exactly why we should examine these particular attitudes for Fundamentalists’ unique contribution.
Fundamentalists are right to conclude that Christians shouldn’t expect the world to like Jesus or the Bible—assuming of course, that the gospel is faithfully proclaimed as the offense Scripture describes it to be. They recognize far better than most evangelicals that organizations that call themselves Christian churches but deny the doctrines essential to the gospel are, in fact, no churches at all. They perceive, as Machen did, that these “churches” are simply temples for a different religion—just another segment of a world in rebellion against its God. Over the past century, many in the evangelical movement have glossed over these fundamental differences, believing that sincere engagement and better arguments would win hearts and minds. Despite the prevalence of revivalistic anti-Calvinism among Fundamentalists, they better understand the implications of depravity than many of their more Calvinistic evangelical brethren. They know that human effort alone cannot mitigate the effects of the Fall, and they resist any strategy that compromises the gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable to those fallen hearts and minds.
Fundamentalists also withhold fellowship and cooperation from many people whom they understand to be genuine believers. They recognize that when a genuine believer treats as a Christian brother one who professes Christianity, but denies it in doctrine or deed, that genuine believer may do harm to the gospel. Cooperation and fellowship with unbelief is unconscionable to Fundamentalists because it blurs or compromises foundational biblical truth. Though this kind of separatism has been widely disdained by evangelicals who pursue broad unity, Fundamentalists recognize the pitfalls that accompany an age of ecumenism and mass evangelism. These evangelical efforts have created an interlocking network of alliances between people, churches, and parachurch ministries that do not always share the same set of foundational theological convictions. Fundamentalists discern how participation in this network fosters a perception of affirmation and endorsement of those who deny or marginalize crucial facets of Divine truth. Fundamentalists fear that this form of engagement compromises the non-negotiables of the gospel more than cooperation could ever advance it. Fundamentalists gladly exchange this kind of ecumenical unity for biblical fidelity and a clear conscience. In so doing, they remind evangelicals that Christian unity is only authentic when it is unashamedly and undeniably Christian in its essence.
Ben Wright is a pastoral assistant at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and blogs at http://paleoevangelical.blogspot.com.
March/April 2008, ©9Marks
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