The August 19, 2011 Sword of the Lord
featured a top-of-the-fold article by Rick Flanders, When a Brother Says He's Leaving Fundamentalism
. I left fundamentalism. I'm not saying that he was answering my ongoing series here at WIT (parts 1
), but it relates directly to it nonetheless. Primarily Flanders is speaking to the left-leaning or departing mainly young people who have announced that they are leaving fundamentalism for evangelicalism. I would agree that is going from bad to worse on their part. But still it's easy to see he's hitting someone like myself too. Fine. If I deserve to be hit, I should be hit, but my belief is that Flanders here is the danger to real Christianity and genuine obedience to the Bible. Whether he was speaking to my series a little or not, following is my analysis of his article.
Flanders introduces everything by arguing that someone is a fool who says he is leaving fundamentalism, so he and others must answer these fools based upon Proverbs 26:4. The essence of his argument is in the last paragraph of the intro:
There is folly in leaving fundamentalism, and we ought to examine it in the light of the wisdom of God.
So Flanders will need to prove, using the "wisdom of God," which we should assume is Scripture, that leaving fundamentalism is indeed folly. My hopes aren't high in light of the circuitous route he took to slide his targets into a fool category. It's possible some who leave fundamentalism are fools, literally unbelievers, but because they've left fundamentalism? Here we go.
Before he can begin proving his point, Flanders first asserts, "let us recognize the veiled pride in such an announcement and respond by saying, 'So what?'" If that assertion is true, then there would have been no need to write the article, except perhaps to expose the obvious pride he assumes in anyone who would announce such an act. It must be pride. How does Flanders know? He doesn't say, but it seems that it must be obvious, albeit veiled. Veiled but obvious. And it must be pride. Pride to leave and say you're leaving. Humble to stay. Or humble to leave and at least not say you're leaving. And why? Because according to Flanders, leaving fundamentalism is a "defection from the truth" and it reenacts the "story of Demas." Is leaving fundamentalism a defection from the truth parallel with the actions of Demas? If you were a Demas, defecting from the truth, that is quite a bigger problem than the announcement of the defection itself. Ejection from Christianity should be the main source of concern, not the announcement that one has done so.
Flanders ends his apparent indifference ("so what?") with a contradictory expression of deep concern:
Defections only hurt the defectors, and those who pay attention to them. If a believer for conscience sake must leave an organization, withdraw approval from a ministry or a minister, stop cooperating with somebody, or take some stand, let him simply do it, and not say things to cast reflection on Fundamentalism, a legitimate spiritual movement, “lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:39). One man’s “leaving Fundamentalism” will do no harm to Fundamentalism itself.
Contradiction #1. Flanders seems himself to be paying attention and then drawing more attention to defectors, and so based on his own standard also harming his audience. Contradiction #2. If someone really did leave his fundamentalist circle of association "for conscience sake," wouldn't he want to tell other people what was wrong with it? He is operating according to his conscience after all. Contradiction #3. If his leaving really doesn't do any harm to fundamentalism, then Flanders really had no reason to write the article. In the midst of all that, he insinuates that leaving this "legitimate spiritual movement" is to "fight against God." Alright.
In the final sentence of Flander's first paragraph of this section, he says that "fundamentalism itself is not a human movement, but rather a divine truth." In the immediately preceding paragraph, he had said that fundamentalism was "a legitimate spiritual movement." We've got to make up our mind here. Is it a movement or isn't it? Or is it only "a divine truth"? Of course fundamentalism is a movement, even as Flanders himself goes on to explain. It started "a hundred years ago" as "a grass-roots uprising in the evangelical American denominations." I believe he's correct with that assessment---fundamentalism was an interdenominational movement that began in the early 20th century.
You could be a Presbyterian and a fundamentalist. You could be amillennial and be a fundamentalist. You could sprinkle infants and be a fundamentalist. You could deny the perfect preservation of Scripture and be a fundamentalist. You could be in fundamentalism and be either a Calvinist or an Arminian. You were still a fundamentalist whether the true church was visible or invisible. Fundamentalism required no church membership. You could be seven-day twenty-four hour creationist or gap or day age theorist and still be in fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a movement that binds the people of various denominations together despite these "non-fundamental" differences. Fundamentalism by nature encourages a doctrinal minimalism. The wide variety that once distinguished fundamentalism has expanded even further. Now you're still in fundamentalism whether you believe repentance is necessary for salvation or not, whether you do mixed swimming or not, or whether your women fulfill a biblical role or not.
Flanders writes beginning the fifth paragraph of this section that "it (fundamentalism) is the scriptural approach to dealing with heretics who have 'crept in unawares,' according to Jude 3 and 4." So fundamentalism is the scriptural approach to heretics? And they have crept into what? Maybe much of fundamentalism would agree with Flanders on this. He follows that "we are to reject them from the Christian family and refuse them Christian recognition." That, my friend, is not what Titus 3:10-11 say at all. A church rejects a heretic after the third admonition. Fundamentalism is not "the Christian family." Only a church has the authority to reject a heretic, not the fundamentalist movement.
Fundamentalism, according to Flanders, "is the dividing of light from darkness." I would assert and can easily prove that it is just the opposite. Fundamentalism unifies light with darkness. Through its parachurch organizations---mission boards, colleges, fellowships, and camps---it ignores doctrines, including the gospel, to cobble together a coalition.
Flanders is right in pointing out that the mainstream media has misunderstood and misdiagnosed fundamentalism in the same way as right wing Islam. He is wrong in saying that "leaving fundamentalism" is "actually disassociating themselves from one grouping of fundamentalists." You can leave fundamentalism and leave all of it, leave all its groups and organizations. You can limit your fellowship to only non-fundamentalist churches because you wish to obey the biblical doctrine of separation, not the unscriptural fundamentalist version of it.
His begins his next section, "Too Bad!," with this first paragraph:
Whatever the people are doing who are “leaving Fundamentalism,” it is bad. “Leaving Fundamentalism” inevitably means backing off from policies and principles that have characterized those who stood most faithfully for the Bible in our lifetime.
When I left fundamentalism, I did so because it is impossible to stay in fundamentalism and still be faithful to the Bible. Fundamentalism has never been faithful to the Bible.
More contradictions come. Earlier Flanders said that fundamentalism rose up in evangelical American denominations, and now he writes that "the mainline denominations have not stood for the Bible or the Christian faith." OK. And then "broad evangelicalism has not really stood for the truth, although they work to spread it." Evangelicalism doesn't stand for the truth, but they do spread it. Uh-huh.
Flanders writes that "fundamentalism is contending for the faith, and good men have paid a great price to follow it." Then he lists the names of these that paid such a great price for the faith. What price did they pay? They paid the price of becoming a famous fundamentalist by means of compromising in areas of denominational differences. When they operated free-lance outside of the bounds of churches, they got more famous and actually more wealthy in the movement. But they had liberals hate them? Wouldn't that have happened if they were fundamentalists or not?And "the faith" is what? It is all the truth of Scripture. Has fundamentalism really been a movement that contends for all the truth of the Bible? No way. With the supposed exception of "the fundamentals" (not "the faith"), fundamentalism has spread false doctrine more quickly than if it never existed by its false unity, toleration, and compromise. R. A. Torrey circumvented church authority and propagated an erroneous view of spirituality. Bob Jones, Sr. started a university that encouraged students to skip church on Sunday mornings. BJU was too big to allow students church attendance on the Lord's Day. Fundamentalism in the case of Bob Jones was bigger than the church. Fundamentalism tied Christians into false teachings such as these. Instead of marking and avoiding, they ignored and united with disobedience. And then the doctrine of separation then became about kowtowing to whatever BJ and like non-authoritative institutions said.
For what does someone leave fundamentalism? He could leave it for the true church alone. Isn't the church good enough and big enough for the Bible believer? Fundamentalism isn't in the Bible. Scripture is sufficient. Fundamentalism is just another ox-cart. And ox-carts are poor replacements for what God actually said to do.
In the fourth paragraph of this section, Flanders writes: "In some cases, he is rejecting separatism in some form of its application." I contend that you can't remain in fundamentalism and practice biblical separation. This is seen in Flanders' very appearance in the Sword of the Lord. He disobeys scriptural separation by joining with that crowd of preachers for this common endeavor. I say to Flanders, "come out from among them and be ye separate."
Flanders continues by attacking the men who won't separate over issues of personal separation. By its very nature, fundamentalism doesn't separate over those issues. They are not fundamentals. By remaining a fundamentalist, Flanders will only encourage more of the same. He exposes that inconsistency when he says, "They did not make an issue over English translations, but what version of the Bible did most of them use almost all the time"---"most of them" and "almost all the time." What translation you use does not distinguish you as a fundamentalist. John R. Rice himself wasn't King James only, the founder and longtime editor of the Sword of the Lord.
As Flanders comes to a close, he writes that "fundamentalists should not be rejected just because fundamentalists need revival." But if fundamentalists need revival, what does God instruct us to do with them? If they won't be "revived," aren't they heretics who should be rejected? He ends by saying that "fundamentalism has a wonderful future, because it is based on the truth of the Bible." It is inter-denominational. It says separate only over the fundamentals. Today it doesn't even separate over a different gospel. It harbors no-repentance and 1-2-3 pray-with-me without separation.
Rick Flanders should have joined me in both leaving and encouraging others to leave fundamentalism. He hasn't at all proven that leaving fundamentalism is folly. Fundamentalism itself is a sinking ship that I encourage all churches and Christians to depart. It has never been the right idea or a scriptural movement. For Flanders to convince us that those who have left are fools, like so much of fundamentalism, he relies on worn platitudes, contradictions, and traditions. Zero exposition of Scripture. If Bible-loving people really want to yield to the truths they believe, as Flanders encourages, then they should join me and leave fundamentalism.