The Insufficiency and Error of the Fundamentalist Movement

The following is excerpted from our book New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit, which was first published in 1995.

Let me emphasize my own conviction that old-line evangelicalism and fundamentalism at their best were biblically deficient. I am a fundamentalist insofar as I believe in biblical dogmatism and militancy for the truth and separation from error, but I am more than a fundamentalist. The goal of my Christian life and ministry is not to be a good fundamentalist (or even to be a good Baptist). My goal is to be faithful to Christ and His Word in all particulars. Following are two weaknesses in fundamentalism as a movement:

The first weakness is the transdenominational character that has characterized fundamentalism. I do not accept the philosophy that limits the basis of fellowship to a narrow list of “cardinal” doctrines, such as the infallibility of Scripture and the deity of Christ. While the Bible does indicate that some doctrines are more important than others (e.g., Matthew 23:23), all teaching of the Bible is important and is to be taken seriously. Timothy was instructed not to allow any other doctrine than that which Paul had delivered to him (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:13, 20; 2 Tim. 2:2). Paul was concerned with the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This position on doctrine does not allow me to overlook denominational differences such as the mode of baptism, the manner of the Lord’s Supper, eternal security, the woman’s role in the ministry, or the interpretation of prophecy. I can accept as true Christians those who differ with me on such things, because these are not issues of “damnable heresy” (2 Pet. 2:1), but I cannot have joint ministry with them, because I do not believe the Bible allows it.

The second error of historic fundamentalism is the “universal church” mentality. It is common among to view “the church” as composed of all professing Christians in all denominations. To call all of the denominations the “church” naturally produces an ecumenical mentality and makes the purifying of the churches impossible. Harold J. Ockenga used the many divisions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism as an excuse for the non-separatist mentality and warned about the “shibboleth of having a pure church” (Ockenga, “From Fundamentalism, Through New Evangelicalism, to Evangelicalism,” Evangelical Roots, edited by Kenneth Kantzer, p. 42). This is dangerous and unscriptural thinking. God’s Word does call for a pure church, but it is not a universal church that we are to purify; it is the New Testament assembly (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). To attempt to purify a universal church is something the New Testament never envisions or requires. God has given His people clear instruction about discipline of sin and heresy, and those instructions are in the context of the assembly (i.e., 1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3). Regardless of what one believes about the New Testament definition of the church, it is a fact that in any sort of practical sense biblical church truth can be applied properly only to the assembly.

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