At the same time, I understand that old-line evangelicalism and fundamentalism as movements were biblically deficient.
The following is an excerpt from my report “New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit.” This free eBook, available from www.wayoflife.org, was first written in the early 1990s.
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 God’s Word.
Following are two weaknesses that I have observed in fundamentalism as a movement:
The first weakness is the trans-denominational character that has often 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). When the Bible instructs Christians to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), it does not specify only some narrow aspect of the faith. “The faith once delivered to the saints” refers to the whole body of New Testament truth delivered by the apostles and prophets by divine inspiration. When God instructs preachers to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), no particular part of the Word is specified. He is to preach all of the Word of God. Obedience to these commands does not allow me to overlook denominational differences such as the mode of baptism, the manner of the Lord’s Supper, eternal security, spiritual gifts, 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, assuming that they hold a sound gospel and give evidence of the new birth, 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 weakness is the “universal church” mentality of fundamentalism. It is common among a large number of fundamentalists to view “the church” as composed of all professing Christians in all denominations. To call all of the denominations the “church” or the “body of Christ” is a great confusion that naturally produces an ecumenical mentality and makes the purifying of the churches impossible.
Harold J. Ockenga, one of the ounders of New Evangelicalism, used the many divisions of Christianity and the “shibboleth of having a pure church” as an excuse for the non-separatist mentality (Ockenga, “From Fundamentalism, Through New Evangelicalism, to Evangelicalism,” Evangelical Roots, edited by Kenneth Kantzer, p. 42).
Ockenga was saying that it is not possible to have a pure church, because he defined “the church” in a broad sense encompassing all churches. This is dangerous and unscriptural thinking. God’s Word does call for a pure church. This is no “shibboleth” (Judges 12:6). 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 does not envision. 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). It is the church with elders and deacons that is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), which, of course, is the assembly.
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 consistently and fully only within the context of the assembly. It is obvious, at least to me, that God intends for His people to be content with the assembly and not to busy themselves with para-church and trans-denominational institutions.
By the way, I also reject the Baptist Bride position and its “local church only” foundation. See the article “Are You a Baptist Brider?” at www.wayoflife.org.
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