Historic fundamentalism is the literal exposition of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes.
I would love for that to have been or to be the definition of fundamentalism---if so, there may even be hope for my being a fundamentalist. However, it quite obviously is not. No way. The most out-of-place two words in the fraudulent definition are the two usages of "all." Fundamentalism is not looking to expose "all" non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes. That could even be said to be a joke, it's so opposite of what fundamentalism is and how it operates.
A true church can fulfill that definition of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism itself cannot. Someone is much more likely not to follow that definition by actually being in fundamentalism. Fundamentalism will tend toward masking many affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and covering up the non-Biblical ones.
For a long time I criticized fundamentalism by saying that it was an interdenominational movement. Being an interdenominational movement was indeed a problem in the practice of Dollar's definition. It remains a criticism from me, but I don't see it as the major problem any more. Fundamentalism doesn't even have the capacity to agree on what the gospel is. And denominations are not the major factor in not exposing "non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes." Lots of nots there, but you get the point. From my perspective, those things are not exposed in order to protect fundamentalism itself.
Fundamentalism does not have a scriptural basis for handling disputes. No final authority exists in fundamentalism, like the congregational authority of a church. As a result, fundamentalism stumbles and bumbles at resolving bad situations. There is not authoritative pattern by which it can operate, so it feels its way along, pretty much making it up as it goes, leaving wreckage in its wake.
Why Does Fundamentalism Exist?
All of the above should make someone think. Why does fundamentalism still exist? It isn't in the Bible, which is sufficient. If we needed fundamentalism, God would have it in Scripture.
Buttressing the beginning of fundamentalism was invisible church doctrine, which arose from the allegorical interpretation of Platonic philosophy. Some will scoff at that sentence, but it is true. The biggest danger to Christianity in the first and second centuries was a subjective approach to Scripture. They began to spiritualize the meaning of Scripture. This affected all the doctrines, including salvation, but we continue even more so with the mess in ecclesiology and eschatology.
Politics were involved then too. An individual church wasn't enough in many's estimation to solve the big problems and to offset the authority of the Roman government. Not enough power existed in separate churches to combat the opposition to Christianity. And then Catholicism grew and grew. The separatists became a problem to Catholicism. Cyprian in the third century wrote:
God is one, and Christ is one, and His Church is one; one in the faith, and one the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body. . . . Nothing that is separated from the parent stock can ever live or breath apart; all hope of salvation is lost.
Splitting "the church" was worse than sound doctrine and practice. New practices developed out of desire to preserve the coalition.
The beginning of fundamentalism mirrored that of Roman Catholicism. It started as a reaction to worldly problems in accordance with allegorical ecclesiology, which will never harmonize unity and separation. Sometimes a solution in the long run can be more destructive than the problem it's trying to solve. Roman Catholicism used tactics to keep control of its people, as has fundamentalism, albeit in a less powerful and intrusive way. I believe the adherents have often been well-intentioned in their desire to preserve the enterprise, thinking that they are serving God for the well-being of many. They equate the cause with the truth.
The doctrine of separation and fundamentalism are not synonymous. You can be a separatist and not a fundamentalist. And you will not accomplish either biblical separation or unity if you stay a fundamentalist.
How Can You Function Without Fundamentalism?
The first major hold of fundamentalism is emotional. It is understandable. When you make your break, you will be marked off by many. I had professors at colleges tell me, "Don't burn your bridges." An overused cliche, but this particular bridge is the bridge to nowhere, another cliche, but quite fitting here. They are offering a warning. If you get too vocal and then start doing something about some of what you are saying, then you'll lose out on those fundamentalist opportunities that you once thought marked ministry success. And that's not all, because your break will be leaving former acquaintances behind.
Why I say the emotion is understandable is because this is also how church discipline works. The fundamentalist cold shoulder isn't church discipline, but it carries with it some of the same feelings, which God has created us with, that motivate us to get right with our church. I put pressure on people all the time when I believe they are disobeying scripture, and they feel something from that. In this you will have this feeling that you are abandoning some of your friends, and, therefore, not being a good friend to them. Real friendship revolves around the truth. If your emotions are invested in God and the truth, you'll be able to cope with the loss.
Another aspect of the emotion is in your perception of success. Success may have been wrapped up in the approval you felt from some part of fundamentalism. You would have reached a certain level of it by the mere accomplishment of staying in line with fundamentalism. You could feel acceptance and receive praise for your faithfulness within the system. But were you obeying God? Were you sorting out what Scripture said and doing it? True affection for God starts with the right kind of thinking. And the desire for the approval of fundamentalism is not the proper way to be thinking.
For myself, I wouldn't even have time for fundamentalism. It would be too difficult to maintain with everything else I've got going in my life, most all of which I enjoy. I have family. Love it. I have my church, got lots of friendship there. I've got all the projects I work on, including writing on this blog. I have regular obedience to Scripture---preaching, evangelism, prayer, exhortation, discipleship, etc. And then I have school, orchestra, soccer, odd jobs, reading, exercise, keeping up with the news and the government, and more.
A second major hold of fundamentalism is certain resources that churches become dependent on, even addicted to. These are convenient, but unnecessary. I am familiar with many of these in my break with fundamentalism, because I had to rethink how I would operate outside of fundamentalism.
I'm going to talk about each of these in the next edition of this series.