Fundamentalism

Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 2

NickImageRead Part 1.

After graduating from college, I had the providential fortune to arrive at seminary just as William Fusco took up the presidency. In addition to the burden of leadership, Fusco was caring for an invalid and dying wife. Through the deep trial of his (and her) faith, the character of Christ shone with uncommon clarity. Without ever abandoning the key principles of his fundamentalism, Fusco consistently displayed a gentle spirit of kindness and personal sacrifice that I have rarely seen matched and have never seen surpassed. He was a man who overflowed with love of the Lord and love for people.

During my first year at seminary, I also met two professors whose teaching has marked me for life. The first, Charles Hauser, taught me more about dispensationalism and Christian living than anyone else. His most important contribution lay in his example. He modeled stability in the middle of trials, and his steadiness was as instructive to me as his classroom content.

The second, Myron Houghton, was George’s twin brother. Myron’s grasp of systematic theology exceeded anything that I had ever seen or thought possible. It seemed that he conversed with nearly every theological perspective, from multiple varieties of evangelicals to Roman Catholics to Adventists. He was constantly learning and constantly thinking. He significantly influenced my soteriology, but his real impact was on my ecclesiology. He made the case for ecclesiastical separation, including what is sometimes called “secondary separation.” Incidentally, it was substantially the same case that appears in Ernest R. Pickering’s book, Biblical Separation, of which Myron was later to become the editor. The key points of my understanding today do not depart from his ideas in any significant way.

My second year at seminary brought two more professors whose influence was both instant and profound. To this day, I consider Robert Delnay to be the best-rounded model for the life of the mind I have ever known. As a historian, he told a coherent story that provided a framework for understanding the current state of Christianity. As an exegete, he made the text of the Greek New Testament come alive for his students. As a homiletician, he taught a theory of rhetoric that could reach the affections without stooping to manipulate the appetites. From the beginning it was clear that he held the convictions of a fundamentalist, but he had a wonderfully sardonic and irreverent way of deflating the pompous self-appointed gatekeepers of the faith. Beyond all of this, he introduced a kind of spiritual urgency and intimacy with God that one can only label (as A. W. Tozer did) mysticism.

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Resolutions on Fundamentalism, Part 2

The ACCC adopted four resolutions on fundamentalism at this year’s conference. The Resolution on Instances of Abuse wihin Professed Fundamentalism posted here earlier this week. Two of the remaining resolutions appear below.

Resolution on Cherishing the Heritage of Biblical Fundamentalism

Resolution 11-01

When exhorting his readers to patient endurance of the race set before them, the author of Hebrews affirms the importance both of looking ahead and of looking back. Looking ahead the believer must depend upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Author and the Finisher of our faith, and looking back he must draw encouragement and inspiration from a cloud of witnesses that once preceded and now encompasses him (Heb. 12:1-2).

The faithful men and women of Hebrews 11 comprise this cloud of witnesses: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses, Rahab, and others. Time would not allow the author to go on listing all the names (v. 32), so he summarizes their character by referring to their accomplishments (vv. 33-39). They were fallible servants of the Lord, but that is not the focus of this passage. Instead, an abundance of past-tense verbs expresses the affluence of the author’s appreciation for these true heroes of the faith.

This appreciation for the past enjoins us in the present to a similar faithfulness, for the author explains that, apart from us, the work of predecessors cannot be perfected (v. 40). We follow in their train. In addition, the appreciation for the past expressed in Hebrews extends not only to distant Biblical history, but also to more immediate examples, the pattern of those who spoke the Word to us (13:7-8). We are to remember with thankfulness their leadership, value the results of their ministry, and imitate their faith. Cherishing the heritage they provided for us reflects the immutable character of the Lord we serve, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and it safeguards against the temptations of varied and strange teachings (vv. 8-9).

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Resolution on Instances of Abuse within Professed Fundamentalism

logoResolution 11-06

The corruption of Christian movements and organizations is a danger illustrated throughout the history of Christ’s Church. The record of heresies, scandals, greed, immorality, abuse, egomania and multiple other sins remind all to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

Lest we who are separatists be guilty of “straining at a gnat” and “swallowing a camel” (Matt. 23:24), or of seeking to remove a mote from another’s eye when a beam blinds our own (Matt. 7:3-5), or lest we be guilty of closing our ears to distressed victims, and of affirming evil by silence, we acknowledge with grief, revulsion, and unmitigated denunciation abuse that has been revealed within some professedly fundamentalist churches and ministries.

For example, confirmed reports of severe corporal punishment cite an instance of beating and bruising children, the failure to report to authorities bruises found on children as a result of abuse in their homes, and a flaunting of corporal discipline, evidenced in such practices as giving a souvenir paddle to ministry visitors.

The same ministry context involving this shaming of children included humiliation before their peers and forcing them to wear garments of the opposite sex as a punishment for inappropriate performance. Such would doubtless be condemned as a wicked perversion if a child opted of his own volition to dress in this manner, yet for the purpose of shaming, this ministry demanded this conduct of children.

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Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 1

NickImage

When I was a teenager, the most visible fundamentalists in America were Carl McIntire and Lester Roloff. McIntire was feuding with the American Council of Christian Churches, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, several leaders within his own Bible Presbyterian Synod, and the federal government of the United States—virtually simultaneously. Lester Roloff was feuding with the state of Texas. I can remember him sending life-size cardboard cutout pictures of himself to our church in Iowa. He was trying hard to get enough public support to force the Texas regulators to back away from his ministry. The impression that I had of fundamentalist leaders was that they were hard-bitten, bellicose, and arrogant.

This impression had been reinforced through the years by the traveling preachers to whom I had been exposed. These men usually called themselves evangelists, but they were essentially hired guns whose job was to inflame the fears and the sense of shame of the faithful. They could be very personable, laughing and joking one moment, but then the next moment they would be screaming at you because the Communists were going to take over the United States before 1972 unless you went to the altar RIGHT NOW.

I would never have dreamed of criticizing any of these men. Were they not paragons of spiritual insight? Were they not models of Christian virtue? Who was I to call them into account?

Because of their influence, however, I was quite sure that I did not want to be a fundamentalist. Even after experiencing a call to vocational ministry and returning to a fundamentalist Bible college for training, I remained unpersuaded of the value of fundamentalism. During my early years as a college student, it seemed to me that the main activity of fundamentalism was to manufacture unreasonable ways of regulating personal conduct.

This was my frame of mind when I found myself in George Houghton’s summer module on the history of fundamentalism. I had signed up for the course only because nothing else was available to fill the hours. Within a week, Houghton completely reoriented my thinking.

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Moving Toward Authenticity: Musings on Fundamentalism, Part 2

tracksDr. Doug MacLachlan presented this paper at Central Seminary’s fall conference on Oct. 17, 2011. Read part 1. Part two begins with the second of three indispensible necessities for authentic fundamentalism.

2. Pursuing the radical center

It was G. K. Chesterton who suggested that the Christian life is like a narrow pathway with deep ditches on both sides. For much of its history, large segments of the body of Christ have too often found themselves off the “narrow pathway” (the radical center) and in one or the other of these ditches. It doesn’t matter which ditch we fall into. In both of them, believers become muddied and defiled. In this condition, the watching world is once again receiving a skewed view of Christ and His body. Far too large a percentage of the evangelical world has descended into the “left ditch.” And doubtless, far too much of the fundamentalist world has descended into the “right ditch.” This tragic descent into the ditches mandates a deep commitment to a strong pursuit of the “radical center,” if we are to recover historic, mainstream fundamentalism.

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Moving Toward Authenticity: Musings on Fundamentalism, Part 1

Dr. Doug MacLachlan presented this paper at Central Seminary’s fall conference on Oct. 17, 2011. It will post here in two parts, today and tomorrow.

My personal spiritual journey—it begins with a fundamental church.

The church is God’s good family in man’s broken world.

In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul defines the church as: “the household (the family) of God.” In effect, Paul is saying to our 21st century body of Christ: “Be what you are:” The family of God in a world of fractured families; a home-base for the familially disenfranchised! A very significant part of our calling as 1st century Christians and churches in a 21st century world is to be a place where relational warmth, familial love, gospel truth, and biblical exposition can be found. If we fulfill this function biblically and compassionately we will impact our world rescuingly and redemptively for Jesus Christ.

I know this first from Scripture, but second from personal experience. My familial pedigree has never been considered very impressive. I am the son of a bartender, and the grandson of a gangster. My first encounter with “family” as it was ordained by God to be was in the context of a local, fundamental Baptist church in the small village of Montrose, MI where I was raised. I brought nothing of value or status to the small community of believers in Montrose Baptist Church, except my eternal soul as a creature made in God’s image, and as a sinner for whom Christ died. That was enough for that body of believers to welcome me into their midst and invite me into their homes.

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Book Review - Shooting Salvationist

America’s history is punctuated, and at times littered, with the stories of religious leaders of every denomination, stripe and reputation. From Cotton Mather and Charles Wesley to Billy Sunday and D.L. Moody to Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell, a nation born out of a desire to worship God as we are inclined to do so has given rise to some interesting personalities.

Among the most flamboyant, notorious and controversial of these was “Dr.” J. Frank Norris, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. He was, inarguably, one of America’s first “megachurch” pastors, but he was much more than that. He was also a showman, muck-raking journalist, astute businessman and, in the minds of some, a murderer.

Pastor David Stokes,* a man who grew up in fundamentalism and one who was well-acquainted with the reputation of J. Frank Norris, has written a mesmerizing book about the sensational murder trial of the pastor from Fort Worth as he stood to account for the shooting of D. E. Chipps with a pistol from his desk—right in the pastor’s office. The Shooting Salvationist is impeccably researched from the archives of Ft. Worth and Austin, Texas newspapers, Norris’ own Searchlight tabloid and numerous other documents located in the archives of the local libraries, the University of Texas at Arlington and the Arlington Baptist College.

The book is not intended to be a treatise on southern fundamentalism, the gifts of Norris or the history of religion in Texas or elsewhere. Instead, it is clearly a historical work with nary a suggestion that it was being written by a minister—let alone one who can trace his spiritual heritage back to the doorstep of the infamous “Texas Hotel,” located very near Norris’ office. It is a work of history and fact that has the feel and vibe of a John Grisham novel about some sort of trial in a hot and humid southern town.

Every generation or so, Hollywood takes the story of some real or imagined colorful religious icon and makes a movie about it. Works like “Elmer Gantry,” “The Apostle” and “Leap of Faith” are examples. If ever there was a book that was ready to be turned into this generation’s “Elmer Gantry” it is The Shooting Salvationist. In fact, the book reads much like a movie script with a precise coverage of detail that can, at times, be almost mind-dulling. Stokes expertly captured the feel and atmosphere of American life during that era from his examination of the Scopes Monkey Trial to the heydays of Ft. Worth’s rise to prominence to the powerful influence of the tabloid style of journalism then practiced by the likes of William Randolph Hurst and Norris himself.

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