Now, About Those Differences, Part Twenty Three

The entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

Sinister et Dexter

The best and most accurate body of manuscripts underlying the New Testament is the Textus Receptus. This then supports the King James Version for which I unashamedly stand and from which I exclusively study and preach.

—Evangelist Dwight Smith

The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Received Text of the New Testament (Textus Receptus) are those texts of the original languages we accept and use; the King James Version of the Bible is the only English version we accept and use.

—Temple Baptist Church and Crown College, Knoxville, Tennessee

At first glance, the present essay will appear to be a digression from the conversation about fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals—and a lengthy digression at that. It is not. It is rather an attempt at recognizing that, when the principles of Christian fellowship and separation are applied consistently, they affect our relationship with professing fundamentalists as well as our relationship with other evangelicals. To illustrate this point, let me begin with a personal anecdote.


Now, About Those Differences, Part Twenty

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

Differences in Application

Fundamentalists have agreed that Christians have no fellowship with those who reject the gospel. They have agreed that people who deny fundamental doctrines are apostates who must never receive Christian recognition. They have agreed that such apostates must be removed from Christian organizations and enterprises. If the apostates cannot be removed, fundamentalists have agreed that the organizations themselves must be deemed apostate. At some point, Christians have a duty to abandon the organizations and to begin new fellowships in which the integrity of the gospel is maintained.

While fundamentalists have agreed on these principles, they have often disagreed on certain points of application. 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 an apostate organization temporarily? Fundamentalists have given different answers to these questions.

More recently, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have also tended to answer these questions differently. Examples are abundant and, in some cases, matters of public dispute. Albert Mohler was willing to join Roman Catholics in signing the Manhattan Declaration. He was willing to help sponsor the Billy Graham Crusade in Louisville. Southern Baptist Seminary (president Al Mohler, board chairman Mark Dever) dedicated a pavilion to Duke McCall, the “moderate” president under whose leadership heterodoxy flourished in that institution. For all his criticism of Open Theism, John Piper has not led Bethlehem Baptist Church out of the Baptist General Conference (now Converge Worldwide).


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.


Now, About Those Differences, Part Eighteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

Whence Conservative Evangelicals?

Fundamentalism surfaced in about 1900 as a doctrinal and ecclesiastical reaction against the influence of theological liberalism. It did not, however, begin ex nihilo. It grew out of an American evangelical coalition that stretched across the denominations, produced the Bible conference movement, built mission agencies and Bible institutes, and produced The Fundamentals. This coalition has come to be known as proto-fundamentalism.

By 1920, proto-fundamentalism had become less well defined than it had been in the 19th Century. Around the turn of the century, a generation of leadership had died off. New leaders took time to emerge. In 1914, attention was diverted by a war in Europe and, eventually, around the world. The result was that proto-fundamentalist efforts tended to be more sporadic and desultory than they had been before 1900.

If proto-fundamentalism had lost definition by 1920, early fundamentalism had not yet gained definition. The people who took the label fundamentalist clearly aimed to oppose liberalism, not merely doctrinally, but also ecclesiastically. Nevertheless, Laws’s original definition did not specify who actually belonged in the movement and who did not. The result was considerable confusion.

Oliver W. Van Osdel, pioneer separatist and father of the Regular Baptist movement, refused to be called a fundamentalist. He saw fundamentalism as a weak and compromising effort. J. Gresham Machen made the best case for fundamentalist ideas, but he was uncomfortable both with fundamentalism’s doctrinal minimalism and its populism.


Now, About Those Differences, Part Seventeen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

SEPARATION! A History, continued

Continued from last week…

To fundamentalists, Graham’s conduct was as inexplicable as it was inexcusable. True, Graham preached the gospel. In his conduct, however, Graham effectively denied the right of the gospel to define the boundary of Christian faith and fellowship. At Fuller Seminary, Carnell opined that some liberals were more pious than fundamentalists; Graham simply put Carnell’s theory into action.

As far as fundamentalists were concerned, faithfulness to the gospel required repudiation of the neo-evangelical agenda. Fundamentalist leaders could not endorse what Carnell said and they would not participate in what Graham did. It is not simply that they saw Graham’s conduct as sinful—they saw it as a scandalous betrayal of the gospel itself. They refused to recognize Graham, Carnell, and their ilk as legitimate Christian leaders.

This is the practice that some labeled “secondary separation.” Whatever one thinks of that label, it is clear that separation from neo-evangelicals was no afterthought or appendage to fundamentalism. It was the only faithful way of implementing fundamentalist ideals.

Theological liberalism is apostasy and liberals are apostates. Apostates are enemies of the gospel and, therefore, enemies of Christ. To extend Christian fellowship to an apostate (a liberal) is to make common cause with Christ’s enemies against Him. If an apostate is an enemy, then a neo-evangelical must be considered a traitor to the cause of Christ. Why would anyone point to such a person as an example of Christian virtue? How could a fundamentalist knowingly follow such leadership?

Fundamentalists did not separate from neo-evangelicals because of petulance. They separated because they really had no choice. The gospel was at stake. It was being denied by liberals and betrayed by neo-evangelicals.

Separation from new evangelicalism was necessary, and by the mid-1960s it had become a characteristic of fundamentalists. At this point in history, however, some fundamentalists adopted attitudes that guaranteed the disintegration of their movement. Not all fundamentalists shared these attitudes, but those who did managed to confuse the idea of fundamentalism in important ways.


Now, About Those Differences, Part Sixteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.


No study of the relationship between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism would be complete without a discussion of separation. Since 1947 at the latest, the doctrine and practice of separation has been the single factor that has most distinguished fundamentalists from other evangelicals. For that reason alone, we need to ask whether separation is also a difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

How we answer this question is going to depend upon how we define both fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Solidifying those definitions is a more complicated business than an outsider might assume. From a secular or theologically liberal point of view, anyone who treats Scripture as normative and authoritative is a fundamentalist—up to and often including the Evangelical Left. At the opposite extreme is the following resolution, passed by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship in 1979:

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship recognizes the danger of the movement known as pseudo-fundamentalism, sees it as new evangelicalism in embryonic form, and calls upon all local Bible-believing churches to reject pseudo-fundamental activities as those of the Jerry Falwell ministries.

Strengthened versions of this statement were adopted by the FBF for several years. Other fundamentalists have made even more extreme pronouncements. The result is an odd situation. Liberals often see evangelicals as fundamentalists, while some fundamentalists have accused other fundamentalists of being incipient or actual neo-evangelicals.

Of course, Falwell and his sympathizers objected to being called “pseudo” anything. They insisted that they represented true, “historic” fundamentalism, tracing their pedigree to the authors of The Fundamentals. They took the position that one became a fundamentalist simply by affirming the fundamentals. According to this revision, historic fundamentalists believed in separation from unbelievers and apostates, but rarely or never from other believers.


Now, About Those Differences, Part Fifteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

To Bauder—a Surrejoinder


Even granting that there is no real difference between us, we have not yet finished with this topic. To this point you have emphasized the importance and the fundamental nature of the gospel. You have also indicated that Christians cannot stop with the gospel alone but must move on to other aspects of the faith-once-delivered. Well and good. If we end the conversation here, however, we risk leaving the impression that the rest of the Christian faith is an entirely separate thing from the gospel.

To anticipate an objection, I certainly agree that Christianity includes something besides the gospel. If we make Christianity equal to the gospel alone, then we are likely to fall into one of two errors. The first is to depreciate everything in the faith that does not fit our definition of the gospel. The second is to expand our definition of the gospel to include other forms of Christian belief and activity.

The first error is committed by those who wish to limit biblical inerrancy to the Bible’s saving message. Doing so allows them (as they see it) to affirm inerrancy while also affirming that the Bible makes mistakes in matters of science and history. Since science and history are supposedly not part of the Bible’s saving message, they do not count against inerrancy.

The second error is committed by varieties of people who wish to “front-load” the gospel with their pet doctrines and theories. An example is those folks who insist that we do not have God’s Word unless we have all of God’s words, and that we have all of God’s words only in their particular version of the Bible. At the opposite end of the theological spectrum, representatives of the emergent church make a similar mistake when they try to include social, psychological, or environmental concerns as part of the gospel.

Some doctrines and practices are essential to the gospel. Others are not. Error in the essentials constitutes apostasy. Error over non-essentials does not. If we fail to maintain this distinction, we will end up charging with heresy anyone who disagrees with the details of our doctrine or practice. Such a charge is clearly not warranted: a person who holds the wrong view of the sons of God in Genesis 6 is not an apostate.