Saturday, February 26, 2011

When I Left Fundamentalism part three

I discovered that fundamentalism secured and held with its web of schools, colleges and universities, fellowships, camps, and boards, none of which are found in Scripture. Men argue that biblical silence is permission. If you are a fundamentalist, you keep supporting a number of these institutions with money and manpower with the thought that they help you and your people, not that you might just be propping up fundamentalism.

Part of being a fundamentalist really is having your fundamentalist school, camp, board, and/or fellowship. A fundamentalist church sends you to its school, which gives you a fundamentalist degree with its fundamentalist connections to help you get fundamentalist support and/or a fundamentalist ministry. Fundamentalism feeds off of itself even in its accreditation. The churches confirm the institutions, which validate the churches that accept the students. None of this may be very good at all, but the network itself self-authenticates, keeping its own cycle of approval within the world of fundamentalism.

Remaining in the fundamentalist pack or orbit or circles has required a certain level of doctrinal and practical quality control. I understand the benefits of that insofar those standards are biblical. However, you can find yourself on the outside of fundamentalism if you do not adjust to the fundamentalist parameters. It's not so much that anything will really happen to you per se, just that you might find yourself into various levels of exclusion from fundamentalist opportunities, that are not so much a loss of biblical opportunities, as they are a loss of the sense that one is fitting into fundamentalism. No one will stand before God to be judged for what kind of fundamentalist he was or whether he even was one.

Someone in fundamentalism does not carry a fundamentalist card, but he does carry a standing or value that work something like a credit rating in the financial world. Your score is based on certain credentials that are common for continuing as a fundamentalist. Your net fundamentalist worth may not relate to your obedience to Scripture, even as certain disobedience of the Bible may not bother your status in fundamentalism at all; it might even improve it.


It might be hard for some today to believe, but as I got started in California, I had never been taught about discipleship. I knew about soulwinning and programs, but I did not know about making disciples. It's possible that someone may have brought discipleship up, but never encouraged it, even though I had a double major in pastoral studies and biblical languages. The only exegetical point I could defend was "preach the gospel to every creature." I thought that the great commission was something like "go and win people to Christ" and then train people to win other people to Christ. I knew that I needed some kind of soulwinning program. And I say soulwinning, because I thought that evangelism was something evangelists did. The terms soulwinning and evangelism were two different terms with different nuances of meaning, in my mind.

What I did hear about was the "follow-up" program. "Follow-up" was about seeing the new convert get baptized and join the church, start tithing, get into a ministry, and join the soulwinning program. Reaching those kind of goals as quickly as possible was in tune with that era of church growth philosophy. Follow-up was usually a short booklet and you did it in a new converts class. The pastor or a pastor led the follow-up and this was how the church integrated new converts.

I knew something was wrong with the system of fundamentalism as it stood. And as I began preaching in the Gospels of John and then Matthew, I saw that part of it was the lack in discipleship. Some equated discipleship with opposition to soulwinning---while we were busy discipling people, the soulwinning wasn't happening that would keep the lost from going to Hell. Some of fundamentalism was even opposed to it, giving the impression that discipleship was new-evangelical. I thought that might be why I rarely heard the word. If someone were to support it in a sermon, fundamentalists would mark that man as a new-evangelical. In my first few years of pastoring, I became convinced that the great commission of the Lord Jesus Christ was to make disciples.

Matthew 28:19-20 has only one verb in it, an imperative, the word "teach" in v. 19, which means "to make disciples." To obey the great commission of Jesus, one would need to make a disciple. One cannot make disciples of unsaved people, so discipleship always starts with preaching the gospel, but the great commission isn't finished until you have someone who is ready to reproduce himself in another person.

I began looking around to see if anyone else was thinking the same way as I was. I found the Navigators and read a bunch of their materials. I read what evangelicals said about discipleship because I hadn't found anything written by fundamentalists. Even though I was encouraged by much of what they said, I still saw that evangelicals were lacking in certain biblical doctrines and practices. None of the follow up programs in fundamentalism looked capable of making a disciple in a true New Testament sense, so in 1991, I wrote my own material. I became convinced that ministry technically was making disciples, so I was failing as a pastor if I was not perfecting our church members for this (cf. Eph 4:11-12).

In order to make a disciple, I saw in the Bible the necessity of involvement, so we didn't use objective type questions where someone could regurgitate answers, but ones that required thought. As well, what someone did should come out of who he is, that is, right practice should proceed from right doctrine. Jesus set up a gauntlet for professing believers to test their devotion to Him, expecting sacrifice or true worship.

Worship was another term of which I heard very little when I was in college and graduate school. I became convinced, again through expository studying, that God was seeking for true worshipers. The Gospels transformed our entire ministry philosophy with the emphasis on discipleship and worship.

A First Pastoral Conflict with Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism enmeshed itself in our church in several ways. We sent students to Christian college. This was the only pattern I knew and assumed that this should be the norm for high school graduates from our church. We began to send students to Maranatha Baptist Bible College, my alma mater. We recruited teachers from Christian colleges to teach in our school. On those trips, I preached in college chapel. Ensembles from certain colleges came and made presentations. We scheduled evangelists I had heard while in college. We sent our young people to fundamentalist camps---Lucerne and Ironwood. I attended FBF meetings, conferences, and retreats. Our school became a part of the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS). We started supporting missionaries from Baptist World Mission (BWM).

Evangelizing, making disciples, and studying for four different teaching or sermon times every week, among other duties, took up the bulk of my time. I would almost always be preaching at least two book series in the New Testament and one in the Old. I've now preached through every book of the New Testament, except for Luke (I'm in chapter 11 right now), and many in the Old (Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua-1 Kings 19, Nehemiah, Job, 120 or so of the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all the Minor Prophets). The study, more than any one thing, exposed fundamentalism to me.

Every book of the Bible I preached through changed both me and our church. At one point I was in 1 Corinthians 14 and got to verses 29-35. I was convicted by God's Spirit through those verses and then other parallel passages (cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-15) about ways that our practice clashed with God's Word. Women needed to remain silent where in the church there was a forum for challenge---preaching times and business meetings. I did a long series of sermons from all the applicable passages for our church to come together on this decision. Only men should speak during preaching or make the business or financial decisions of the church.

One family, where the wife often spoke up in business meetings while her husband remained silent, did not like what it heard. The family didn't say anything to me at that time, but one of the parents did complain to the son, who brought this matter to attention of one of his doctrine classes at school. Word traveled about this from the professor to the administration of the school, and I got a call from the president. He challenged me to "choose my battles" and to be careful not to make decisions that could hinder church growth. I wanted us to line up with and obey Scripture, whatever the consequences. Soon thereafter, I got a several page, single-space, typewritten letter from the dean of academic affairs, opposing the position I was preaching to our church. Among other things, he said that our position was a form of chauvenism, which would in fact "muzzle" our women.

Our church changed to follow the Bible and our ladies have never suffered from that. They are as fulfilled and joyous and involved as any group I've seen. The men of our church were strengthened by what the Bible expected of their leadership. Men had to lead. Today many conservative churches operate just like ours with their church government, except also excluding all of the men except for a small entirely male group of elders who decide everything for the church. What I saw as this related to fundamentalism was another example of the nature and work of fundamentalism enacted upon the superior institution, the church.

More to Come.


The Seeking Disciple said...

I am enjoying these posts brother. As someone who didn't grow up in a Fundamentalist church nor was I saved in one, I am nonetheless sympathetic toward them because I see so much sin in our society. I feel the pull to want to get away from it all and meet with people who are viewed as "extreme" in their standards, ways, traditions, etc. but then there are other aspects of the Fundamentalist movement that I don't enjoy.

d4v34x said...

Interesting point about the elder led congregations excluding women (and many/most men). I think in some churches, the elders are approved by both, though.

As far as the self-confirming system, I don't think that's too different from IBdom in general. IBs recognize other IBs or not. Its a mutual acceptance group based on certain criteria. Similar to Fundmentalists. The debate is the grounds of approval (as well as the parachurch orgs, I guess.)

MShep2 said...

Great article.

I have for long contended that "fundamentalist" fellowships exert more control over their constituent churches (or pastors) than "denominations" like the Southern Baptist. The fear of being shunned drives many practical decisions in those fellowships.

I work as a missionary in an "evangelized" African country and see the result of decades of "soul winning" with very little discipleship. When I first began ministry I was so excited to see all of the raised hands and salvation "decisions." However, I now see that the Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep. I have asked God to help me to "make disciples" in my future years of ministry.

Anonymous said...

Do you have tapes or CDs of your sermon series you mentioned? I wrestle with this issue off and on. We have made some changes here in the last few years, but I don't believe we have come far enough.

I continue to enjoy this series, by the way.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. Someone has commented anonymously, same person, twice, that I did not post, but here is the second one. I've included it because I thought everyone might get a kick out of it. Anonymous wrote:

Once again I challenge your long sob story of how you were a nerd and never invited to the in crowd that you seem to have wanted so desperately to be a part of. This is a sad tale of Nerd Revenge! You have a key board and now the www. 20 years ago you would have had to really work and do something with your time, but now you can type and sadly people will read and comment. I know you won't post this because it is anonymous. Which you call cowardly. Change your server because that is what is offered to me. Do something with your time--actually do something profitable with your time PLEASE!!!!!!!!

philipians2511 said...

Awful, really. The anonymous poster can sign up for a free ,yes free, gmail account and use that log in to post.

It's free, easy and you get a great email account all in one.

Hope all is well brother Brandenblogger (ha ha Titus!).

Respectfully Submitted,

Br Steve


Unknown said...

anonymous commentators or writers seem to fit in with Psalm 64:3-4. Not good. Many a times their writings are not worth reading.

d4v34x said...

"Do something with your time--actually do something profitable with your time PLEASE!!!!!!!!"

I've been looking for a way to get this said, I'm glad someone brought it up, so Bro. B., if you could maybe, in addition to being a full time pastor, perhaps help with a church plant a couple of hours away, be a good husband and father to your wife and four kids, teach some history in your Christian School, then squeeze in the writing of a few couple-hundred page books, then, THEN, you can come back and blog about this.


See you tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you are ready to get out of the gospels and preach what Paul is teaching.

Colin Maxwell said...

From time to time blog posting facilities give problems and you are left with no other option but to use the "Anonymous" route. However, despite the title, there is nothing to stop anyone simply signing their name at the bottom of their comments. It's a bit like the old story (is it true?) of NASA spending millions of dollars trying to invent a pen that would write in space, while the Russians simply used a pencil.

P/s Interesting posts.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't the correct place to ask a question, but I could not find an email. Anyway, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Westboro Baptist Church?

Thanks! :-)

Kent Brandenburg said...

You are anonymous and you want to know my thoughts on Westboro Baptist Church? What's the point? I can't think that you're serious. What are your thoughts about Joseph Stalin?

If I'm going to answer the question, I want to know more about you anonymous, name, where you are coming from, etc. If you don't, then I'm going to assume that you're not serious.

D said...

Coming back to read this commentary again, five years later, to find that my experiences since then echo your perspective even more. Ironically or not, even on the mission field we all strive to recreate that same kind of coalition...when honestly, hardly anyone seems to like each other, or those unspoken differences hinder honest, open and edifying dialogue. Perhaps God doesn't mean for our paths to cross, if he calls us to another city. Are we made stronger, does it truly encourage us, do we do more for God, when we unite and do stuff together? Not always, but often I feel kinda flat afterwards. Or, is it one person's ambition -- or desire for companionship -- that everyone else gets swept up in? Stateside, I certainly felt that on a few large, beautiful church campuses that I was looking at the ambition of man, not a work of God. Now that I am "one of them," I frequently feel like the untalented, unsuccessful missionary that pastors pass over. We're not the only ones, so it's not about us, but it needs to be said in the context of the continual stream in the last decade of Dear John letters making their way from US churches to EU missionaries. Pastors are not being patient. Perhaps that is part of the reason many of us aren't seeing people come to repentance, and the younger generation of missionaries comes for one or two terms and then leaves. I hope as I begin the other half of my life post-50, I can truly rely on God to make me strong while I am weak, and not man. Help is not coming from the hills anymore, because it never did. Praise the LORD for opening my eyes to that truth! Our sufficiency is of God.