Susan C. Anthony

Fundamentalism

We have always been taught that each individual has the responsibility to know what he believes and why. Our pastor is not our attorney. Don’t believe what any pastor says just because he says it. Don't believe what even an authority like Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says just because he says it. Test everything against Scripture. I Peter 3:15 says,

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

There have been times people have asked us what kind of Christians we are and what kind of church we go to. After thinking about that, I decided we are fundamental evangelical Christians who go to a basic Bible-teaching church. After saying that to a couple of people and seeing their expression of horror, I decided that I’d better do a little research on what a fundamental Christian believes, exactly.

Most of you probably have the Bible Book of Lists my wife put together. Like most of you, I read through it with interest. But I only got to page 2 before I had a question. On the list of “Fundamentals of Christianity”, why didn’t she list, “Jesus is God”? That seems a pretty fundamental fundamental!

She said that she didn’t make up the list. It’s from a 1909 publication entitled: “The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth” which was written in response to the fact that many churches were compromising doctrine because of the theory of evolution and “higher criticism” of the Bible. In the early 1900s, American churches split into two groups, those who believed Scripture is authoritative and those who did not. The fundamentalists believe it is.

Here’s what’s on the list. See if you believe any of these.

  1. The Bible is the inspired word of God.
  2. Christ was born of a virgin.
  3. The miracles of Christ are historical events.
  4. Christ’s crucifixion is substitutionary atonement. (That means He willingly accepted punishment for our sins.)
  5. Christ was resurrected bodily.

Now I’ve known for a long time that I was a fundamentalist but Susan was surprised and even a little dismayed to learn that she could correctly be called a fundamentalist. The word “fundamentalist” is not a complimentary term these days. Islamic fundamentalists destroyed the Twin Towers. Books are being written about the threat religious fundamentalism poses in the modern world. Here are some quotes we found on the Internet:

  • Fundamentalism is a force for evil in society.
  • The fundamentalist believes that he is right. Period.
  • Talking to a fundamentalist is like talking to a wall.
  • Fundamentalists think their religion is based on fact rather than faith.
  • It is a distorted viewpoint that sees everyone else as wrong.
  • Fundamentalists are militant, simplistic and rigid. They demand that their faith not be questioned even by themselves.
  • The implication is that if you’re one of God’s chosen, the other fellow isn’t, and that you’re therefore somehow better.

Somehow it doesn’t seem to follow that believing the Bible is authoritative should lead to all this. In fact, it shouldn’t, though it sometimes does.

We do believe in absolute truth, not relative truth. We believe there is only one way to be reconciled to God, through Jesus Christ. By extension, contrary views would be false. The problem with fundamentalism seems to arise when we think that we are somehow superior to people who believe differently, or that it is our job to force others into believing what we do.

Are fundamental Christians superior? Absolutely not. We are saved by grace alone, not by merit. We can’t boast. We are not worthy of any of God’s gifts, including the gift of salvation. God gives gifts out of love, not because we in any way deserve them.

I think it’s important to keep our job description distinct from God’s job description. Our job is to proclaim the Gospel.  God’s job is to draw people to Himself (John 12:32). Our job is to love our enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. (Romans 12:19)   We are to love God and love our neighbor. God loved us "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8), and we are to love others the same way. We are to reflect God’s light to people living in darkness. We are not to take matters into our own hands or attempt to BE God. That was the original sin. Remember that the serpent in the garden tempted Eve by telling her that she could be like God. That sin is not unique to unbelievers.

Will we be misunderstood and even persecuted? The Bible promises that we will. But our actions should not provide grounds for that hatred. John 15:18 says,

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.

Now I always thought a cultist was a member of a group that did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. Here’s an example of a different definition, from a speech given by a high government official in 1999 about how to identify dangerous cultists:

A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible, in the second coming of Christ, who frequently attends Bible studies, who has a high level of giving to a Christian cause, who homeschools their children, who has accumulated survival food and has a strong belief in the second amendment and who distrusts big government.

Any one of these may qualify a person as a cultist, but more than one of these would cause us to look at this person as a threat and his family as being in a risk situation that qualifies for government interference.

This was part of a speech by the Attorney General of the United States at the time.

Our lives and our actions should not reinforce the popular idea of what fundamentalists are and do. We are Christ’s ambassadors to a hostile world. It is not our job to make all things right or to change people. It is our job to represent Him and live lives that draw others toward Him. If we exalt Him, that will happen for people who are receptive.  If they aren't receptive, our job is to pray for them and allow them time, just as God allows them time.  If we do our job, we can sit back with a clear conscience and watch God do what only He can.

Note:  This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.

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