Fundamentalism and evangelicalism struggle with the same doctrinal conundrum---if the body of Christ is all believers, and there is to be no schism in the body, then how do individuals and churches deal with false doctrine and practice? People claim to be saved and churches claim to preach a true gospel, but they differ in doctrine and practice. How do they unify when they don't agree? Should they unify when they don't agree?
Evangelicalism tries to get along with everyone---no schism in the body. Fundamentalism tries to have both---no schism in the body and separation from false doctrine and practice. The latter is not possible. You can't unify with everyone and separate from some. The difficulty for evangelicals is figuring out when someone doesn't believe the evangel. Someone has to go to the length of Rob Bell rank universalism to get a farewell from evangelicalism. But not really. Many evangelicals still associate with Rob Bell. And those who say farewell to Rob Bell still get along with those who associate with him. Through his methods and many contradicting statements to the gospel, John Piper still cooperates with Rick Warren, and John MacArthur fellowships with John Piper. John Piper also gets together with Mark Dever, and Mark Dever fellowships with fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism tries to draw the line somewhere, usually to protect fundamentalism itself, not doctrinal or practical error, but from some constantly morphing form of fundamentalist tradition. Evangelicalism is more consistent with the same above doctrinal conundrum. They just disregard separation. Fundamentalism thinks the body is all believers, so they disobey "no schism in the body." For many decades, they've been arguing about putting the square peg of separation into the round hole of unity between all believers.
Neither fundamentalism or evangelicalism encourage obedience to all of God's Word. If you try to obey it all, you're going to come into conflict with evangelicalism and fundamentalism. To evangelicalism and fundamentalism, God and the Bible are less important than evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Truth can't help but be cast by the wayside with either of these movements. I found that out as I remained a fundamentalist.
But I left fundamentalism, and I continue my story.
The Matter of "Letting It Go"
Fundamentalism would say, "let it go," to our situation with the mission board that took in our disciplined member. "Just let it go, there is nothing you can do about it, so just let it go." I can let things go. There are things to let go, personal offenses. Sometimes it is the right thing to do. Somebody bangs into your bumper in the church parking lot, and you have a little scratch. You let it go. But should we have just let go another church and a mission board, when they have received one of our disciplined members? We shouldn't. Why?
First, we were in fellowship with that church and we were supporting five missionaries from that mission board, so we were in fellowship with the board too. By continuing our relationship with that church and that board, we were ignoring the unrepentant sin of the disciplined member and treating his disobedience to God Almighty, our Loving Savior, like it never occurred, disrespecting God.
Second, by continuing our fellowship with those two organizations, the disciplined member would "get away with" his sin. The discipline would be nothing. We would still be in fellowship with him by means of our fellowship with the two organizations he was a part of, the church and the board. When under discipline, he could just "take off," and face no repercussions. Think of an Old Testament example. When Achan sinned, what if someone helped him escape and live, instead of receiving God's just punishment? Would that have been acceptable to God?
Third, the disciplined member was leaven in our lump (see 1 Cor 5). We got rid of the leaven, but we would still be in fellowship with the leaven by fellowshipping with the two leaven-receiving institutions. The leaven would still be leavening our lump. The leaven is a problem. We can't ignore it. That does effect purity in principle with our church.
Fourth, if I were not to lead toward separation from these two institutions, the members of our church would be confused about what fellowship was or even how we could fellowship with organizations who received our disciplined members. God is not a God of confusion, because God does not deny Himself. All truth is consistent with itself. It will not deny itself, even as God is Truth. Certainly organizations can be given time and opportunity to grow, but they don't get to disobey without repentance. And in this situation, they didn't care if they got things settled with us at all. They required us to ignore what they did, to treat it like nothing happened. Something did happen, and it must be dealt with according to scripture.
Fifth, if a church does not do anything when this happens, then what is going to stop it from happening again? A church or a board will not understand how serious this is if churches just ignore it or forget about it when it occurs. I think of the famous quote from Edmund Burke on this: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." That represents this situation well, but it reminds me of another quote from James D. Miles: "You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him." What would those do for whom we could do nothing but tell the truth? Telling the truth isn't often enough for fundamentalism, but also what can you do for me? The short-term benefits were weighed, and the truth became a casualty.
What We Did With the Mission Board
Our church and I wanted to act in the most ethical, most loving way in our relationship to the missionaries. However, I believe today we often see issues twisted around regarding missionaries and their supporting churches. Many see the most important consideration to be the church's relationship to the missionary. Churches have authority, not missionaries sent. Missionaries have responsibility to the church too. The church supports the missionary, but the missionary should also support the church. I find the latter to be mainly missing in fundamentalism. It's as if the missionary holds almost zero responsibility to his supporting churches.
I understand that the missionary is mainly responsible to the sending church, so that's how we dealt with this situation. We wrote the five sending churches and told them about the situation we had. Yes, we were looking for some sympathy. What if it was one of those sending churches that was having this happen to it? Four of the five churches were a little sympathetic. One was very nasty, almost as nasty as one could be. All we had done was support its missionary for a few years. The pastor there, who is now the president of my alma mater, insulted us for the amount we were supporting the missionary, which was $50, and told me that it wouldn't be missed. He scoffed at us expecting others to trust our church discipline---"everyone knows churches don't do right." But do mission boards and sending churches or missionaries do right? This seems to be a common attitude about the church today. Then one of the churches was a church of which I had been a member for thirteen years.
We asked those churches if they would have their missionary leave the board. We understood that the missionaries could lose support, so we promised that we would at least double their support and then help the missionaries find other support. I also figured that none of them would leave the board. I saw how things were going, especially when no missionary would interact with my case study, even though we were a supporting church.
We dropped the five missionaries. I liked those missionaries. Two of them I knew very well, but we weren't going to be connected to Baptist World Mission any more and their sending churches weren't going to change on their board situation. None of the missionaries or their churches would support what we were doing. They were too tied into the board in order to change. The board itself was bigger than the situation to them.
The whole situation opened my eyes to board missions. Now we support only missionaries sent by the church---no board affiliation. I found that many other churches operate the same way. It has been an incredible breathe of fresh air. We support churches with whom we fellowship in their sending out of their missionaries. A board isn't in the Bible, and a board isn't necessary for missions to take place. Boards are the invention of men, based upon man's reasoning. When you support a board missionary, you also support what that board does, just like you would a convention or an association.
Something I Read in that Letter
I told you that the pastor had threatened me with sending all over the country a slanderous letter with baseless accusations. I mentioned that there was one part of the letter that was true. Here's that part of the story.
We had a church member whose job was moving him to another area, and he was going to join an independent, Baptist church there. About the time he was making that decision, we had an evangelist in our church. That was only a little time before I concluded that the "evangelist" in scripture was nothing like that particular role or task. This same evangelist shortly was to become the next president of my alma mater. It was the second time he had come to our church for a week of meetings. I told this "evangelist" the church where this future former member was looking to join.
The "evangelist" knew of the church and its pastor. He told me that the family should not join that church. I asked why. He said that pastor of that church had committed adultery with one of his relatives. I thought, "Wow, that sounds very trustworthy. It's his own relative." I asked him if he would pass along that information to this church member while he was with us. He did so and in my presence. This is where the slanderous letter came into play.
The slanderous letter said that I had told this former church member that pastor had committed adultery with the "evangelist's" relative. That wasn't exactly true. I told our former church member that the evangelist had something to tell him about the pastor of that church. And he told the church member. The pastor who wrote the slanderous letter had later seen that former member and asked why he had not joined that particular church. The former member said that I had told him that information. Then the pastor called the "evangelist," who was now a president of a college. The "evangelist" said that I had indeed been the one to have given that information to that former member. And that it was not true. And as far as the evangelist, now president, knew, I had never checked that out with the pastor about whom the accusation had been made.
This sounds like it must be fiction, I know. These situations convinced me that indeed truth is more often stranger than fiction. Well, as soon as I read that accusation in that letter, the very day, I called the pastor about whom the accusation had been made. I repeated to him the exact story I'm telling you and I apologized, said I was wrong, and that I was very sorry. He forgave me. I had only facilitated the evangelist talking to our former church member, but I was wrong to both listen to that accusation and then be involved with the telling of it to the church member. Then I asked him if the evangelist, who was the one who had made the accusation to me and to the member, had ever called him to apologize or to make right this accusation he had made. I thought surely he must have done that, or he would not have said what he said to the pastor who wrote the slanderous letter about me. He said, "No." He had never said anything to him about it.
I proceeded to communicate with the now college president (and now part-time evangelist) about this incident. He told me that indeed he had never talked to the pastor about which he had made the accusation, but that he would talk to him. I don't know if he ever did. The college president never apologized to me for saying what he said to the pastor who made the accusation. And that pastor, of course, never checked to see if those false details were true. He was still willing to send the false accusation about me all over the country, however, if I didn't do what he wanted me to do. None of his letter needed to be true; it just needed to be scary and effective.
How could that evangelist/president make that statement about me to that pastor (slanderous letter writing one), included in his slanderous letter, when he was the one who told me anything I knew about that "adulterous" pastor? There are likely more than two points to this, but think of two with me. First, he didn't think I would ever hear about it, when he told him. Second, he considered what the consequences would be if he told him the truth. He was the one that spread the rumor. He made me the guilty one and then was able to remain in favor with the pastor of a church that was sending several students to his school. Those two pragmatic reasons would provide a suitable basis for doing what he did. Is this like fundamentalism? It is.
As I've written this whole story, some have commented that just because there are these kinds of problems all over fundamentalism, one doesn't have to leave fundamentalism to avoid them. I don't agree with that particular comment, because I believe that it is fundamentalism itself that in part causes these situations to occur. More can be said about that point and will be later.
Second, men want to portray this all an axe to grind. That is not truthful, to say it in a nice way. It all occurred well over ten years ago. I truly have never been happier than I have been since I left fundamentalism. What men meant for evil, God meant for good. The people of our church know the story, but I've written over 500 posts here without every telling about it. It's true that I left fundamentalism for principled, theological reasons, but this story is what helped me realize or recognize those principles and doctrines. I believe others will have experienced something similar in fundamentalism. This story helps expose it for what it is. Men can and will be better off outside of fundamentalism.
More to Come