Historical Perspective: Come Out or Stay Put?

In the 1940s and 50s, during the late stages of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, Fundamentalists divided into two roughly defined camps: those who left the mainline denominations to avoid the leaven of modernism and those who remained behind in hopes of reforming the established denominations from within. Representative of those Fundamentalists who withdrew (or were forced) from the mainline denominations was Carl McIntire and other separatist members of the American Council of Christian Churches. On the other hand, Harold Ockenga and members of the National Association of Evangelicals often remained part of the denominations.

During the time of religious revival post-WWII, these two branches of fundamentalism split into what we call modern fundamentalism and new evangelicalism. The new evangelicals saw their position as keeping the baby while draining the bathwater. The fundamentalists thought the old denominations irreversibly corrupted.

Thus it is ironic that these two camps have mutated and now seem to have switched positions. I attend a church in Philadelphia that has been described by the pastor as “fundagelical.” In other words, it attempts to split the difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, though in all honesty the accent belongs on the second half of the word. Indeed, among self-declared fundamentalists there is a growing movement called “Young Fundamentalism” that seeks to counter the more radical fringes of fundamentalism. The (as of yet) implicit point of distinction between young, conservative evangelicals and young fundamentalists is similar to that which historically separated fundamentalism from new evangelicalism, but with one key difference: they have switched sides.

Conservative evangelical emigrés leave fundamentalism because they think it unsalvageably marked by legalism and isolationism; they must leave for happier (and often, more Reformed) climes. Young fundamentalists, on the other hand, argue that fundamentalism is worth saving. To leave the movement now would be to eject the good along with the bad; better to stay fundamentalists and purge it from within.

http://paulmatzko.edublogs.org/2009/06/03/historical-perspective-come-ou...

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Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Any time a label becomes more of an issue than what it stands for, or it causes more confusion instead of providing clarification, it's time to opt out, IMO. But I don't think Fundamentalism is there yet. It seems to me that some folks think their pond is The Pond, and it ain't. I know many who would consider themselves Fundies that have not heard a single sermon by Jack Hyles, nor have they ever subscribed to SotL. Fundamentalism is still an idea that has good roots, even if a few nettles managed to spring from it.

Paul Matzko's picture

Thanks for your response Susan. I think you are right, but the irony is that we are making arguments once made by non-seperatistic fundamentalists during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Harold J. Ockenga or Clarence Macartney would've said much the same thing concerning the Presbyterian Church of America in the 1930s. I know that we would counter by pointing out the substantive differences between theological modernism and the radical fringe of fundamentalism, but it is amusing that our rhetoric is quite similar.

Dennis Clemons's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
I know that we would counter by pointing out the substantive differences between theological modernism and the radical fringe of fundamentalism, but it is amusing that our rhetoric is quite similar.
There's not much, if any difference, between the two. Both go to fundamental doctrines and both are poisonous to the Church of Jesus Christ for which He shed His blood.

Dennis

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. ~ Proverbs 18:17

Paul Matzko's picture

While both certainly err, there's a qualitative difference between adding to the fundamentals and subtracting from them.

Dennis Clemons's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
... there's a qualitative difference between adding to the fundamentals and subtracting from them.
That's like arguing that the Pharisees were somehow less evil than the Pagan Romans. I disagree. But if there is a qualitative difference, then we see how hard the Lord was on the Pharisees and estimate that they were more disgusting to his senses than the Romans.

Dennis

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. ~ Proverbs 18:17

Paul Matzko's picture

Certainly, all wickedness is equally wrong in that all our sin, whatever its form or severity, misses the mark of Christ's righteousness. In that sense then, both adding to and subtracting from the gospel are equally deficient.

What then is the logical implication of what we are proposing? Ruckmanism is the inverse of theological modernism? At a minimum its raises important questions regarding which variety of error we emphasize in fundamentalism. Do we do battle royal against "the gospel plus" to the same degree to which we combat "the gospel minus"?

dmicah's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
Certainly, all wickedness is equally wrong in that all our sin, whatever its form or severity, misses the mark of Christ's righteousness. In that sense then, both adding to and subtracting from the gospel are equally deficient.

What then is the logical implication of what we are proposing? Ruckmanism is the inverse of theological modernism? At a minimum its raises important questions regarding which variety of error we emphasize in fundamentalism. Do we do battle royal against "the gospel plus" to the same degree to which we combat "the gospel minus"?

why waste energy fighting against either of these systems of thought? Jesus didn't fight the pagans and he slammed the religious when they confronted him. he certainly taught his inner circle to not be like the pharisees, but his public messages were the gospel of the kingdom, not attacks on other ministries. we should spend time building and protecting the flock, not railing against nebulous non-groups. if a wolf attacks the flock, kill it, but don't go hunting for wolves in other fields.

Darren Mc's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
Do we do battle royal against "the gospel plus" to the same degree to which we combat "the gospel minus"?

This will be what defines fundamentalism (or whatever you want or we will decide to call it) in our generation (I am 32). Our forbears fought hard to protect the gospel from modernism and chose to overlook the faults of those who were on the same side of their fight. Now, our fight is not against modernism or even new evangelicalism. The former made themselves irrelevant years ago and the latter is almost to the point of irrelevancy. Our battle will be to defend the true gospel and right theology from those supposedly on our side who have perverted them.
And Micah, what is Matthew 23 if it is not a public denouncement of another ministry, the Pharisees?

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30

dmicah's picture

darren,
my quick point was to reflect that Jesus didn't slam other folks when they weren't present. you'll note that apparently his target of ire was in the crowd, according to vss 13 and following. i didn't really elaborate well. let me clarify a little.

there are times perhaps when we should nail individuals to the wall publicly because of their poor theology and adverse cultural influence of Christendom, i.e. Osteen, Bell, Mclaren etc. Specific individuals with specific errors in thoughts can be brought to light and dispelled, and even then, we can do it carefully. But it makes no sense to generalize an undefined body of people, "new evangelicals", "emergents", etc. and then rail away at "them". "They" don't exist because there are so many different factions and fragmented systems within the generalized group. my focus is the waste of energy of trying to hit an undefined target especially when they are not present, not that we'll never call out those in error. hope that clarifies.

Darren Mc's picture

Thanks for clarifying. I just thought your statement above was too broad. If we spent more time teaching the truth instead of blasting away at "enemies," which as you correctly point out don't really exist, our congregations would be much better off.

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30