Glad to be a “Fundamentalist”

I’ll be the first to admit that the term “Fundamentalist” is pretty broad and causes heartburn for many on every part of the theological spectrum. Some embrace Fundamentalism as the counterpart to Evangelicalism. Others reject Fundamentalism as weak and shallow and a major proponent of “Easy-Believism.”  Quite a few Fundamentalists still hold to the historic “fundamentals” as identified by the early proponents of the movement. More than a few reject Fundamentalism because of its ecumenicism. That might strike many readers as strange given the historic “hyper-separatism” of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism stretches way across the spectrum, and you can find Fundamentalists who embrace beliefs and practices that I reject out of hand. Various taxonomies have been attempted to categorize the potpourri of Fundamentalists one might encounter.

I did some time in the “nut-wing” of Fundamentalism, under the influence of Jack Hyles (primarily). That is not historic Fundamentalism, but it did become a significant player in the 1980s.   Probably the easiest, most recognizable way to categorize Fundamentalism is based on the various Fundamentalist colleges. I won’t attempt to provide a chart here, as I doubt we could reach any actual agreement on it. Besides, it is beyond the scope of this article. The opposite side of the spectrum from the Hyles wing (which includes about a half dozen or so Bible Colleges that still align with the Hyles tradition) is the Bob Jones /Maranatha/Central Seminary wing, which tends to be closer to “classic” Fundamentalism. And in between are colleges like Pensacola and Crown and West Coast. Again, this is not an attempt at a genus and species hierarchy – only recognizing that there is a broad spectrum of “Fundamentalism.”

This article does not mean I embrace all that could be included with broader Fundamentalism. I don’t. There are many “Fundamentalist” churches, as Churchill once said (about prepositions, not Fundies), “up with which we shall not put.” Some I wouldn’t cross the street to attend. And some, to borrow from Spurgeon, I would cross the street in order not to attend. Here’s to you, Tony Hutson.

Photo by Elianne Dipp on Pexels.com

I don’t usually call myself a Fundamentalist for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I could write about that in the future. I agree with what my friend Kent Brandenburg wrote on this topic (He has a lot to say on it). However, most outside of my church would tag me as a Fundamentalist. Our church sign has “Fundamental” on it. I didn’t put it there, but it has been twenty years since I became the pastor, and I have never bothered to take it off. The scorn and ridicule heaped on Fundamentalism is also often heaped on me. And it is in that sense that I am here embracing that particular tag. I’m not embarrassed about my fundamentalist roots, and I’ll not be cool-shamed by those who call us cultists, legalists, primitive, and in general, the offscouring of all things.

Before I dig in my heels, let me conclude this preface with the following: I’m no friend to Big Shot Fundamentalism. I want nothing to do with Jack Trieber, Tony Hutson, John Hamblin, Keith Gomez, or Paul Chappell. I left that stuff long ago, and I’m not returning. I don’t need to involve myself in the intrigues, and I dislike the spouting and bloviating that masquerades as preaching these days. I don’t have any Man o’ God list I follow. I’m not defending those guys and their tiny little massive empires. 

I write this in defense of the “little guy” who isn’t so little in my estimation – the faithful Independent Baptist pastors all across America, working their field and preaching the Bible and making disciples for Christ. May their tribe ever increase. I count it an honor and a privilege to be numbered with these men, unknown and unloved though they be. I’m glad to be associated with them. It is in this sense and only in this sense that I am glad to be a “fundamentalist.”  Here are some reasons.

They tremble at the Word

The stereotype tends to be that Fundamentalists pander to their preferred “Man of God,” providing an echo chamber where the same tired precepts get hammered relentlessly. I don’t deny that there is some truth to this criticism. And this is why I have tried to distinguish between Big Shot Fundamentalism and the faithful Independent Pastors in Unaffiliated churches across America – churches that do not align with any particular “Man of God” but have a higher loyalty to the Word of God.

And there are many such. These believe the Bible absolutely. You might take issue with certain positions they hold, but you will need to bring your Bible to the debate. They love the Word of God without reservation or hesitation. They receive God’s Word as it is in truth – the very revelation of God Himself. They look to the Bible for direction, attempt to define their stand from the Bible, and when they believe the Bible requires a particular standard, they hold to it tenaciously. No amount of cool-shaming on the Internet can shake them off a position once they see it in the Bible. 

Dismiss us as kooks, label us as legalists, call us provincial or sectarian or “hyper-separatists,” but these men hold to the Bible as the only rule for faith and practice. And they would rather lose every friend in the world, and all credibility among other Christians, than ever compromise on a single conviction that they believe is established on the Word of God. 

I’m glad to be counted with them.

They are sound in doctrine

Big Tent Evangelicalism has shown its true colors over the past few years, as the “Least Common Denominator” brand of Christianity has exposed a weakness for acceptance in our world. As a result, compromise is on the rise all around our country and on foreign soil. 

Though I would fault some of the sloppy exegesis and shallow preaching I hear among fellow Independent Baptists, I cannot deny the fact that, by and large, “Fundamentalist” churches have not moved from their historic roots. We have not followed the mainline denominations down their wormhole of minimalistic theology. We have not given up the doctrines that historic Fundamentalism rose up to defend. We still champion the historic Christian faith.

Much of the criticism of Fundamentalism is that we teach tradition as doctrine. Our preaching tends to be shallow, and our emphasis on doctrine weak. And I agree that this is problematic in many ways. I’m not a big fan of the boilerplate statement of faith that tends to be nearly universal among our churches, and I would like to see more effort made to preach doctrine carefully and to stress it in our churches. 

But it is undeniable that Independent Baptist churches have upheld the great doctrines of Scripture. Maybe you disagree with certain practices or standards amongst IFB churches. But by and large, you will find that the “fundamentals” are still rigorously defended in our churches. 

They preach

Some might call it ranting; some might call it spouting; some might call it opinionating. I have long been grieved by the tendency to play ventriloquist with a text, making it say things it does not. No doubt, IFB churches have problems with their preaching. I will deal with that in a later article.

But you always know you will get one thing when attending an Independent Baptist church service. It is the central activity of our Lord’s Day gatherings. If you visit an IFB church, you know you will get preaching. You know that it will be personal, that the preacher will not tickle your ears or massage your egos or promise you your best life now. It is far more likely that he will stomp on your toes. And if he hears a crunch, he might stomp again.

I find much that is faulty in the preaching I hear among Independent Baptists. I would love to see greater attention to the context of a passage, greater carefulness to explain the passage before making applications, and more concern for faithful application rather than some of the stretchers preachers make. 

But I am grateful that our Independent Baptists still put primacy on preaching.

They have a zeal for souls

Call it old-fashioned, outdated, or ineffective, but Independent Baptists still go door-to-door and meet people at their front door to preach the gospel to them. That is almost unheard of in this day and age. I am not a fan of some of the tracts we hand out, but we still hand out tracts. We still look for opportunities to witness to our neighbors and loved ones. We still strive to win the lost to Christ.

I won’t defend every method used; I refuse to support “easy-believism” in any form. Of course, we should be more careful when dealing with the eternal souls of fallen men. But as the man said, “I like our way of doing it wrong better than your way of not doing it.” 

Outreach is a commonplace feature of Independent Baptist churches. It would be good if we saw more participation. It would be great if we were more diligent in preaching to give the fullness of the gospel. But I am glad that Independent Baptist churches are still going, still reaching, still zealous for souls. 

I count it a special grace that I can am numbered with them.

They lead their people to Christ

I anticipate a little pushback from the “IFB is a cult” faction of Evangelicalism. And I don’t deny that there is some fault here. But again, Independent Baptists, generally speaking, seek to point men to Christ. And I am thankful for that.  

Despite our faults and shortcomings, we still believe it is all about Jesus. We still believe that our ultimate goal, the highest ideal, is to be like Christ. We still desire to be changed into His image. We aren’t trying to be cool (good thing!). We are cutting edge for the 1980s, but certainly not for the 2020s. But we preach Christ and we point people to Christ and we promote Christ and we praise Christ. 

And that makes me glad to be numbered among the Fundamentalists.

They have not bowed the knee to Baal

As “Wokeness” plagues Evangelicalism, as Southern Baptists fight for their lives in the face of cultural compromise, I am happy to say that I have not heard of Independent Baptist churches going into that muck-hole. Independent Baptist churches are not ordaining women pastors. They are not compromising on homosexuality. They are not hosting “Revoice” conferences or finding creative ways to let the LGBTQ participate more fully in their services. They still hold the line against the cultural rot that plagues churches across America.

I am grateful for this. Maybe we have a bad attitude about it. Maybe we could be more gracious. Maybe we should deal with issues more carefully. Maybe we should be more studied instead of being so stodgy. But Independent Baptist churches know where they stand. They know how to stand. They will not pander to the world on any of these issues. 

During COVID, most IFB churches fought to stay open, pushed back against government encroachment, and refused to be shut down. Our churches have been standing against Roe, seeking to overturn it, fighting abortion since the 1970s. We aren’t green, we aren’t woke, we aren’t “enlightened,” we aren’t soft. We have not bowed the knee to Baal.

I’m glad to be called a Fundamentalist.

They know where to find the Words of God

I’m not in agreement with “English-only Preservation.”  I don’t believe preservation began in 1611. I don’t believe God somehow transferred His words to the King James and let the Greek manuscripts pass into oblivion. I find fault, in other words, with some of the loony ideas of preservation among some Independent Baptists. 

And while I recognize that this might turn some away from what I am writing, I will hasten to add that I am glad that, at the very least, Independent Baptists know where the words of God are. They do not believe that the words are up for grabs. I might find fault with where they think the words are found, but I do not find fault with their commitment to the doctrine of preservation. 

Quite possibly, the single issue that has contributed the most to our cultural rot has been the matter of preservation. About twenty years ago, one of my Southern Baptist aunts pulled me aside and confessed something. She told me that she had always had a hard time with our commitment to the King James and that she despised it. And then she said, “now that I am older, I think I see a point to it.”  She explained it this way: when she went to church, she said, “we never knew which version of the Bible the pastor was going to use. People in the pew would use at least ten different versions. So, as a result, the pastor read things that quite often were either very different from what we had in our own Bibles, or in some cases were altogether missing from our Bibles. And it undermined our confidence in the words. We weren’t sure what the Bible actually said.” 

In my opinion, her insight points to the big reason why the SBC is now fighting for its life in the wake of Social Justice and wokeism. I believe with all my heart that the insistence on using the King James Version has insulated Independent Baptist churches from worldly influences that are now destroying many churches.

Another reason I am glad to be called “fundamentalist.”

They hold the line on standards and convictions

I find a pretty broad application of standards – music, dress, etc. – among Independent Baptists, and I am not in complete agreement with the positions taken by many churches. Independent Baptists aren’t monolithic. 

Since the point of this article is not to critique or to argue a particular position, I will stick to what I appreciate about the IFB. In this day and age, it is rare to find pastors willing to address standards. If a brave pastor dares speak about clothing, he can expect a whole lot of pushback and charges of legalism. I am grateful that Independent Baptists are mostly unafraid to address entertainment, clothing, music, and personal conduct from the pulpit. I am thankful that the vast majority of Independent Baptist churches attempt to keep worldly culture in rebellion against God out of their churches and seek to expose its influence to the light of Scripture. I appreciate the effort to maintain standards of personal separation. Perhaps this explains why, when discussing the IFB, the critiques tend to center on legalism rather than wokeism and why the areas of conflict tend to be over the application of standards instead of whether we should have a mask or vaccine requirement to attend church. 

Sure, some of our standards attract a lot of ridicule. “Fundamentalism” (speaking broadly) still resists single dating, immodesty, and rock music. And we do have a fair share of “one-off” standards, like prohibitions against wire-rimmed glasses or pleated pants or hoods on jackets (yes, I have seen that) or open-toed shoes. I am not praising the strange prohibitions that some have championed. I am not promoting legalism here, though I have noted the tendency to call anything to the right of me “legalism” and anything to the left “licentious.”  I am not glad for every standard held by every IFB church. But I am so happy that, by and large, in the IFB, the lines are still drawn, and churches continue to resist cultural influences that lead to compromise.

I am grateful that “fundamentalists” care more about applying Scripture than the labels they are often given.

They are bold

Some might say “cranky.”  Some might say “Karen.”  Independent Baptists can be a feisty bunch. But I am glad to say we still have some fight left. I say this because I have watched evangelicals soften their stance until they get rolled. Think “Gospel Coalition.”

Would I like to see more grace from Independent Baptists? Absolutely.  Do I think we could do better at compassion and kindness? Youbetcha.  Do I wish we would love the brethren, even if we can’t fully cooperate with them, even when we have strong disagreements over doctrine and practice? I do. 

I understand that the old-timey “Fightin’ Fundamentalists” have damaged many people, and I do not defend that. Nor do I consider it a good thing, a mark of holiness, how churches protect predators and sexual misconduct in our churches. Those who do should be ashamed of themselves, and as far as I am concerned, I wish you to be culled out of the IFB and sent packing. Nothing in this article should be considered a defense for those who defend abusers. But then, I have said enough already about Big Shot Fundamentalism – where the main offenders dwell.

We could learn when to get out the long knives and when to put them away. But I am glad that we at least have some fight. We are bold in our witness, bold in our defense of the faith, bold to confront error and sin where we see it. We live in a day when this is greatly needed, and I am glad that many of my fellow fundamentalists know how to take a stand.

Praise the Lord for the boldness of the IFB.

They don’t cave to cultural pressure

Do I repeat myself? I will only add that fundamentalists are used to being the offscouring of all things. They haven’t had a seat at the table of Big Tent Evangelicalism, and from what I know, they don’t especially want one. They can be mocked and ridiculed and scorned, and they remain unperturbed. Perhaps some will take this as an indictment against Fundamentalism. There have been excesses. But I have also noticed that when my fundamentalist brethren decide that the Bible teaches against a particular cultural issue, they are inclined to take their stand without a care for who might mock them or ridicule them. And the truth is, the broader evangelical church would be much better off today if they had not ripped out their own spine and handed it meekly over to the world. 

Count me among those stodgy fundamentalists.

They paid me a tidy bonus to say all of this

Just kidding! Wanted to see if you were paying attention. Nobody asked me to write this, and I doubt it will get much circulation unless the anti-Fundamentalist podcasts and Twitter handles get ahold of it. Then, perhaps, someone besides my groupies will read it. 

But I’m glad to say it for free. And I know it won’t do anything to make my name famous – infamous maybe, but not widely respected. Still, I believe these are good things, things worth mentioning in a world terribly hostile to the IFB. After all, as John Piper once pointed out, the reason Jesus could be relevant for the world was that He didn’t strive to be relevant in the world. Not an exact quote, but pretty close. 

They are happy to labor in obscurity

Excluding Big Shot Fundamentalism, of course. The vast majority of the IFB consists of pastors and churches in small towns and suburbs around the world where the pastor labors diligently (many, many IFB pastors are bi-vocational) to make a difference for Christ in their corner of the world. They aren’t trying to make a name for themselves, but they are trying to reach the lost with the gospel. They aren’t trying to turn the world upside down, but they are trying to be faithful in the field where God has placed them. They don’t want a booth at the next Big Eva Convention; they are okay with being disliked; they prefer the “Well done, good and faithful servant” to any “atta-boy” they might garner from the world or any other preacher. They get involved with their local elected officials because they want to preserve their liberties for future generations. They aren’t out tooting their horns or building their brands. They just want to serve the Lord in their generation. 

*****

With so many prominent voices on the attack against Fundamentalism, I wanted to encourage faithful pastors and missionaries around the globe. Stick with it! 

Blessed are ye when shall revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake…

Are we the outcasts? It might seem that way at times. We are reviled and hated by the world and sometimes even by our brothers in Christ. Podcasts and websites target our churches and seek to draw people away – and many have probably succeeded. Our standards get mocked, our convictions ridiculed by “friend” and foe alike. Our sermons are nitpicked and cherry-picked for some rogue comment. Our motives are questioned. Our sincerity doubted. Our flaws paraded. 

Still, I watch as many labor on for the Lord. You won’t be the next mega-church. You don’t offer much in the way of entertainment or pizzazz. You are miles away from the “cutting edge” of contemporary Christianity. You won’t have a praise band (though some would love to have a piano player). Your sermons won’t be published in newspapers, and you don’t get invitations to preach at important conferences. You are unknown, and yet well known. The world or worldly Christians may not love you, but our Lord and Savior is not ashamed to be called your God. 

Let the naysayers nay and the snipers snipe. Keep one hand on the sword and the other on the trowel. Keep plowing and planting, and be content to labor in obscurity. Your reward in heaven will not be taken away, despite those who would withhold it on this earth. 

May God bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you!

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