On the other hand, choosing not to be a fundamentalist doesn't move you into some other group other than the church. For instance, not identifying with fundamentalism doesn't mean you're now in the movement called evangelicalism or one called new-evangelicalism. Those are both movements too, by the way. Evangelicalism is a nice word, just like fundamentalism is, but they're both movements. You are not either a fundamentalist or an evangelical, which is a false dichotomy or bifurcation fallacy. This kind of binary thinking, unfortunately, is typical of fundamentalism.
When you stand before God, He's not going to have expected you to have been in any group or movement not mentioned in Scripture. The Bible is sufficient and it doesn't go beyond the church. Rest easy. Be content. These movements, these small ponds, were not started by and are not headed by Christ, so the gates of Hell can and probably will prevail against them. My opinion is that they are potential little towers of Babel that can't reach up to God.
God used fundamentalism in my life, but I left fundamentalism. I continue my story.
The Call to the Mission Director
Our church disciplined a man out of our assembly. One year before, the mission director of BWM had thanked me for not recommending him as a missionary. The man refused a mentoring program with me that the mission director required (this is all on paper) for acceptance by BWM. The man was accepted by a fundamentalist church in San Francisco after we had disciplined him out of ours, whose pastor was on the board of BWM. Within a year, his new church recommended him for acceptance by BWM, which accepted him as a missionary. I called the director of BWM. I had read both his books on holiness and separation, and even though I had issues with some of their exegesis, I ate them up. In my naivete, I believed in the man. I knew he would do what was right. I knew it. I had that kind of confidence in other people like him. Someone who wrote those books would do the right thing. He didn't.
Someone might say, "Welcome to the real world, Kent." Thank you for that, but I may have missed the welcome packet on the way in. We've got to get someone manning that front desk. So I called this man I had great respect for and he talked like we had never talked before, like this was a situation he was not familiar with. I reminded him of our other communication of what he wrote to me, of what he required of the man only a year ago, that had not been fulfilled and worse. He played it dumb. He told me that it was a matter between two local churches, that I would need to settle that between the other church (which, of course, I planned on doing, but I was talking to this missions director first). I told him that "no," it wasn't just between two churches, but it was a matter between our church and BWM too. We had disciplined this man out of our church and BWM had accepted him in. I had read his books. I reminded him that I read his books, and I had underlined portions in preparation for that phone call. He himself had written that "agencies," like his, were to be treated like a church in matters of separation, according to him. Those were his own rules. He said something like, "Well, we're going to have to just agree to disagree, and you're going to have to take it up with that other church; it's out of my hands." I saw him as cutting his losses, i.e., choosing what hill he would die on (and other such nonsense I had heard in fundamentalism). I told him that nothing had changed since a year ago since he had thanked me for not recommending the man, except the man was worse, to which he was silent, except that he said that the man sent a very good doctrinal statement. I replied that someone could copy the language for the statement from other men, people did it all the time. He said, "Uh-huh, but it was good."
There we go. Wow. Man-oh-man. Head wagging. I guess I should have expected it. Are things really this bad? I thought the words in his book meant something. Here's what I found that they meant. They meant that whoever had the most juice, the most political juice, the one who could do the most "damage," he's the one you listened to. I didn't have that juice, so I was not going to have "my way." But what about God's way? Here's what had happened. We removed the leaven from our lump (1 Cor 5). BWM took in the leaven from our lump. We could have no more relations with BWM without the leaven again leavening our lump. We were supporting five other BWM missionaries, mainly because of things like I had read in their director's books. We would not remove the leaven from our lump only to have it leaven us again. I'll come back to that part of the story later.
The Other Church
I've got no axe to grind here. I'm happier than ever. I'm giddy to have all of this in the rear-view mirror. Leaving fundamentalism gave me an oxygen mask I didn't know existed. I didn't call the big-wig pastor. Our church voted to treat their church in the manner we treated our disciplined member. We used Matthew 18:15-17 as a model for how to deal with the other church. Our goal was to reconcile. I held out hopes that church would want to reconcile. That would be the right thing to do, to settle it with our church. Our church met and agreed that, to be gracious, we would offer three different dates for the men of that church to get together with the men of our church in order to reconcile this situation of their having taken our disciplined member. We were trying to stay in fellowship with that church.
The normal way in fundamentalism, and even the way I had been instructed, was just to let it go. "Letting it go" meant one of two things. One, it meant that your relations to that church didn't change at all. You just acted like nothing happened. Did something happen? Yes. God knew something happened. But we would act like it didn't. We would go all thespian. Two, it meant that you just ignored that church forever, disfellowshipped from the church, but just never told the other church. They would get it after a period of time. This is the cold shoulder that fundamentalism is so famous for. And would they even notice the cold shoulder? Probably not, because the movement and the "fellowships" were really not about fellowship after all, but about the organization, the little tower they were building. A church isn't really big enough. You've got to have a conference at which to preach to others to improve your own status, at least in your own mind.
So the men of our church signed the letter with the three dates and sent it registered mail to the church who had taken our member. This pastor, by the way, was big in the FBF in California. Meetings were held at his church. Just a few years before this, I went to the ordination of one of his sons, to be a pastor. During the ordination, a pastor on the ordination council asked him if he owned a Strong's Concordance. The boy stood there like a deer in the headlights, an overused analogy, but very apropos in this context. He shrugged. He did not know what a Strong's Concordance was. We were forced to sit there without laughing. I squirmed and tried to look around to see if I might get eye contact with someone else, but decided I shouldn't for fear that some kind of negative momentum would shift us from the facade with which we were working. The young man was a fundamentalist Bible college graduate, actually from my alma mater, and we were questioning on the council. His non answer to that question meant that we would be throwing the softest softballs, whiffle balls, for the rest of the council. He would be "ordained" because he had been "called," but mainly because we wouldn't dare not ordain him because of who his dad was. I remember feeling grimy that day, watching those proceedings. Fundamentalism had programmed us to stay silent in the face of such incompetence.
I would say "I digress," but I really don't. It really wasn't the boy's fault. He shouldn't have been up there that day. I think you know that. So what happened? A short while later I got a letter back. It was 6 pages, single-spaced, small print, small margins. First, the letter was six pages of name calling. The man called me every possible bad thing without moving into actual filthy language. It was worse than filth. Second, he said, "how dare we give them dates to reconcile"---they didn't need to reconcile, they didn't do anything wrong. There were no arguments from scripture. There were no challenges to what we had said about the man we disciplined. The letter was only about 5 1/2 pages of slander about me, calling me nasty names and saying nasty, untrue things. He sent a courtesy copy to the director of BWM. It wasn't gossip. It was a "courtesy," something offices do, you know, CC, courtesy copy. That's all it was. At the end, he said that if we did anything, anything, he would send a copy of that letter to men all over the country. He was threatening me, to force me to do nothing in this situation. If you are trying to remember a passage that instructs someone to do this kind of thing, you can stop now---it's not in the Bible.
By the way, I said 5 1/2 pages. It may be 5 3/4. There was one little part of it, about a quarter of a page, that I found was true. However, I did not know about that little part until then. Yet, it is part of this story, my story about when I left fundamentalism. A big part actually. But I'll get to it later. One part he got right, but I hadn't heard that this thing had even happened. That was a really good part about getting the letter. Something had happened that I didn't know had happened.
What Did We Do Next
His letter made it an easy decision for our church. We voted not to have fellowship with this church without future repentance. And yet, I would be seeing this man in the leadership of FBF meetings I would be attending. Hmmm. Do you think I should go for the "fellowship?" Or do you think it might be bad to the meaning of "fellowship" to call that fellowship?
One of the next things I did was to write a letter to all the men who attended the Northern California FBF and tell them that I could not remain in fellowship with the fellowship with a man there with whom I wasn't in fellowship. I didn't give the gory details, just the scriptural bullet points to tell them why I would be attending any more, so they would know. We were all in fellowship, after all. They should know. I sent about 30-40 of these letters. Of course, I was risking the widespread distribution of the slanderous letter, but my conscience was clear.
I suggest you review the "letting it go" section of an above paragraph to understand how fundamentalists were indoctrinated to view such a thing as I was doing. They were likely puzzled why I wasn't "letting it go." I thought that I shouldn't call something fellowship that was not fellowship---it sort of messed up the word. I wanted to keep fellowship and the biblical concept of fellowship intact. I got two responses to my letter. Two. They were both very, very short. One was a phone call from a young man who had been pastoring for a year or two. He asked if I was talking about him. I assured him I was not talking about him. Once, he found that out, well, he thought he could let it go. The other was a letter of about three sentences from a man who acknowledged he had received the letter and that, although he felt sorry for me, he disagreed. He didn't say why he disagreed or what it was he disagreed with, but he registered that he disagreed. I found that the fellowship was such that people didn't care what had occurred, nor would you be missed. So that's also what I would be missing by not being in the FBF. Nothing. I would miss nothing. Actually, I would be blessed to be missing it. Since then, I have missed the FBF in a very good kind of way. My only personal desire to return to one meeting in the future would be for the purpose of looking these men right in the eye.
Since then, by the way, I have heard that it wasn't that men didn't talk about the letter. The letter was talked about. Men knew that I wrote the letter and talked about it. Not with me. But they did talk about it. Is this what we instruct the people of our churches to do in fundamentalism? Talk with others about someone's problem, but not to the person himself. Even recently, I ran into a Spanish FBF pastor in the area, who told me that he had been told that our church was Ruckmanite, Hyles, and 1-2-3 pray with me. That's what he had been thinking of our church for years, because of what others had said. He was surprised to find that I preached from the original languages, had long and publically rejected Hyles, and was the furthest thing away from 1-2-3 pray with me. What would he do now that he knew what he heard about us was a lie? What do you think? Of course. Let it go.
I received the communications from BWM through their normal newsletter. I saw that the missions director was going to be in the Bay Area. I thought, "Great!" I could talk to him in person. I wanted to do that. It would be better. I wrote him to tell him I'd like to talk to him. He never wrote me back. I called BWM to ask if I could get together with him, and he never got back to me. I then called the church where he was speaking, and he said that he did not want to talk with me in person. So that's how that ended. By the way, in that conversation, I asked him about receiving a slanderous letter about me. And he said that he had received the CC and put it in his file. His file. I said it was slanderous. He said he was simply filing it because it was sent to him as a courtesy. I would have to take up the matter with the pastor who sent it, it wasn't his problem. I said, you should throw it away---it wasn't true. It is listening to gossip. You should confront the one from whom you received it about gossip, about false accusations. No, he would keep it. It was a courtesy letter. That was his reason. And we were done.
Next, I wrote out everything that had happened in the form of a case study. It had no names. Everything was mission board A, person B, mission director C---that kind of thing. I wanted our BWM missionaries to judge what had happened strictly based upon what had happened with no names and no politics. At the end, I asked them what I should do. I got zero responses back from that case study. None of those missionaries sent anything back to me.
However, the BWM director got much communication from the missionaries. They asked him what to think about the case study. They sent the case study to him to find out how to react to it. That's when I found out that often board missionaries are really sent by their board, much more than their sending church. The board exerts tremendous power and control, very much like a convention or association. Missionaries very often checked back with the board to know what to do. The boards, I found, bound people and churches together very much like a denomination. I knew fundamentalism was against conventions and associations like the Southern Baptists and the American Baptists, but that mission boards in fundamentalism (and colleges and universities) are the conventions in fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not without its conventions. It has them in their boards and colleges and universities. In principle, there was little different. The problems of board missions, really an extra-scriptural and even unscriptural concept or practice, became very apparent to me at that time.
What Would We Do with BWM?
More to Come