Some are upset that I won't accept the fundamentalist label. It is suitably derogatory for me to be a fundamentalist, and if they don't have that title to designate me, they're unhappy. The still call me a fundamentalist, because I become too hard to label without it. However, continuing to do it is lazy and untrue.
Fundamentalist is the best word, maybe the only word, most have for the most theologically conservative in doctrine and practice. To them you can't be more conservative than a fundamentalist, so I've got to be one. To review, if someone could be a fundamentalist by dictionary definition, that is, strong adherent to a standard, I could be that. I strongly adhere to the Bible and I wouldn't apologize if that's what fundamentalist meant. However, Christianity has a very specific meaning that rules me out as a fundamentalist, if we're going to be honest with the terminology.
Someone questioned recently why I attack fundamentalism. If I'm not a fundamentalist, what am I?You're left with an evangelical or new evangelical or conservative evangelical -- things not fundamentalist. So if I'm attacking fundamentalism, must I be an evangelical?
Labels themselves don't bother me, but we've got to be honest with them. They have a purpose for marking someone, helping understand who someone is. Sometimes the terms are used as a pejorative to shame the target. The media does that with conservative evangelicals.
To say I am or I'm not a fundamentalist, we've got to know what a fundamentalist is. Being a fundamentalist does have to do with the fundamentals and it is a historical position. Fundamentalism is a movement that responded to theological liberalism in the early twentieth century. Fundamentalists separated from others, those deemed liberals, for not believing and teaching what they called the fundamentals. They separated only over the fundamentals, so they unified or fellowshiped merely if someone believed and taught the fundamentals. They reduced unity and fellowship to the fundamentals.
It dawned on me several years ago that I couldn't keep self-identifying as a fundamentalist, because I believe that more is required for unity and fellowship than the fundamentals. Scripture doesn't support unity on just fundamentals. If there are fundamentals, the Bible doesn't say what they are. I often say that I figured out that I can't be a fundamentalist and obey the Bible, and obeying the Bible is more important than being a non-scriptural title or even idea. I don't know that I ever truly was a fundamentalist. I didn't know what one was, but when I understood it, I decided I wasn't one.
As an example, our church separates over mode of baptism. Our church separates over ungodly worship. Our church separates over immodest dress. Our church separates over false doctrine and practice. We don't immediately cut other people off. We give people an opportunity to grow. But we don't divide the Bible into the so-called essentials and non-essentials and separate only over the essentials, whatever size of list that is growing to or shrinking to.
I give credit to fundamentalism for separating at all. That's why I most often am defending fundamentalism here. For that reason, I care about fundamentalism. Fundamentalism still teaches separation. Evangelicals do not hold ecclesiastical separation. They don't teach it. Often they repudiate ecclesiastical separation. Evangelicals are in non-stop rebellion against the doctrine of separation. They can't be right. If I was an evangelical, I would doubt my own salvation. Why? I would be in continuous disobedience to scripture. I would say that I know the Lord, but not keep His commandments, and, therefore, be a liar. Evangelicals reading -- think about that. Those who consider me a fundamentalist do so because I believe in separation. However, I separate on more than just the fundamentals.
What I have noticed about fundamentalism is that it struggles with separation. The list of fundamentals is very nebulous. Most fundamentalists have a different or varied list of fundamentals over which they will separate. Some separate over a smaller number and others over a much larger number. What they have in common is that they believe that someone should separate just over fundamentals, whatever size the list of fundamentals might be. Because fundamentalists can't agree on what the list is, there is non-stop debate and fundamentalists are rightly targeted for being political, because the size of the list often seems to correspond to fundamentalist politics. There are many ways to illustrate this.
Fundamentalism will separate over Billy Graham because of the gospel. Aspects of the gospel are fundamentals. They often will not separate over the various iterations of Jack Hyles over the gospel. They won't separate over the Hyles type of gospel, but then they will separate over those who will use the English King James translation only. I've noticed that often now fundamentalists will separate from those who they think separate too much, because those people are heretics. Explanations for why and who to separate from are regularly changing.
Fundamentalism is about separation, but not just about separation, because it is also about militancy. Fundamentalists historically are militant in their stands on doctrine and practice. Even if they won't separate over whether someone drinks alcohol or doesn't drink alcohol, since it isn't a fundamental, they will fight over alcohol drinking. They will make resolutions. They will repudiate. They will use very strong language against alcohol drinking.
Here's a tough one now for fundamentalists, which shows why it is hard to be a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists separated from the Southern Baptist Convention. Calvinism is growing in fundamentalism. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is Calvinist. The Convention still harbors a false gospel among many. However, it seems that fundamentalists can now fellowship with Southern Baptists and Calvinism is the glue. Calvinist fundamentalists will fellowship, again, it seems, with Southern Baptist Calvinists. Those same Calvinists have a much bigger problem with the King James Version than they do Southern Baptist Calvinists. Go figure. Perhaps, go try to figure, because you won't understand the doctrine of it.
Maybe I can't say that Calvinist fundamentalists hate the revivalist fundamentalists. Maybe hate is too strong a word. But that's what it seems like. The Calvinist fundamentalists seem to like the Southern Baptist Calvinists more than the fundamentalist revivalists. I'm laughing.
Anyway, I digress. You can't practice the Bible and be a fundamentalist. Scripture does teach ecclesiastical separation, so you can't be an evangelical and be biblical, but you can't be a fundamentalist and practice separation like the Bible teaches. The most that fundamentalists have done with me is find inconsistencies to prove that no one can be consistent, to justify their own inconsistencies. What they should do is just believe and obey what the Bible teaches. The practice of ecclesiastical separation isn't easy. Church discipline isn't easy. How long do you wait before you discipline someone out of your church? You try to be patient. It can take longer to separate from someone outside of your church. However, the only consistent position to take is to separate over every doctrine and practice of the Bible.
The Bible is perspicuous, that is, plain. The Bible is sufficient. The Bible is sufficient in everything that it teaches. You leave some out and part of the Bible isn't sufficient. To keep the doctrines and practices of the Bible, which are plain, we have to separate over all of it. We can, because we can know what it means. We should, because we need all of it. God never said to do otherwise, no matter what kind of convoluted explanation a fundamentalist might try to make.
I understand evangelicals. They believe in a universal church, so they fellowship with all believers. They don't want to separate and cause disunity in the universal, invisible body. But then they have all the doctrinal and practical garbage that flows in and through, spoiling everything. Fundamentalists, also universal church, don't want to spoil unity or doctrine, so they try to bridge the gap between the two with incessant argument.
The key here is to understand where unity is. Unity is in a church, in an assembly. You can keep doctrine and practice pure in a church. Each church fellowships with churches of like faith and practice. Each church separates from churches with a different doctrine and practice. What I just described is not fundamentalism. But it is what I am. It is biblical. Join me.