Tag: Recovering Fundamentalist

My guide to becoming a recovering fundamentalist: The conclusion

“Be holy for I am holy” ~God
“We can make God’s Word say what we want if we’re not careful” ~A Mentor

I want to close this guide with the final two good things that come from fundamentalism. Granted these two areas have been tainted by what was discussed earlier. We should still look at two key things. Holiness and a love for God’s Word is the baby. Legalism is the bath water.

God wants us to be holy. While the pursuit of holiness and the process of being set apart for God may be distorted by legalism, any movement that at its core seeks to be holy is commendable. Jesus came to forgive us our sins. Jesus is in the process of purifying His bride, the church. An emphasis on holiness isn’t legalism, it’s a focus on godliness. “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound” is a struggle all Christians face. I commend fundamentalism for its desire for holiness. We all should.

The Bible
Authorial intent of the Bible, a significant tenet of fundamentalism, is an essential element to the faith. We can make the Bible say what we want if we’re not careful. Along with sticking to the Bible, however, is the adage you can’t make everyone happy. As Jesus’ life proved, sticking to God’s Word can cause conflict. The Bible is critical as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Too often movements play fast and loose with the Bible. It should be the authority for faith and practice.

Now what?
Every movement has or will have issues. Throughout church history movements have risen and faded. We must be careful to not treat a movement as a strawman. Rather than reacting we should seek God and the Scriptures and act accordingly. Reacting instead of acting is often what sets movements in the wrong direction. Writing off fundamentalism is just reacting. Looking at heart issues and identifying what is good and what needs to change is acting with proper measure.

The Cross
Any error is covered by the cross. As long as there is breath in our lungs, there is opportunity for repentance. I understand that many have been abused or deeply hurt in highly (hyper?) fundamentalist churches. For one thing, not all fundamentalists are like that. For another, people can get hurt by other churches and movements too. Why? Because Jesus isn’t done with us yet. We must ask ourselves this: Is there a sin so great that Jesus forgave it at the cross but we can’t? The cross covers all, and our hurts should be left there as well.

The bottom line:
We have two choices in what we can boast in: the cross or ourselves. It doesn’t matter the movement. Fundamentalism promotes the Gospel, pursues holiness and highly views the Bible. These are essentials to the Christian faith. The lack of humility, legalism and unbalanced view of separation may have clouded fundamentalism. For sure there is a need for “self-policing” that needs to happen. Again, this is true for any movement for they’re issues of the human heart. We all struggle in these areas. To become a recovering fundamentalist takes three key things: 1) Boasting in the cross, not self. 2) Choosing grace. 3) Keeping the Gospel first and central.

My guide to becoming a recovering fundamentalist: The Gospel

In Philippians Paul instructs us to rejoice when the Gospel is preached. There is no doubt in my mind that the Gospel is preached faithfully in fundamentalist churches. Heart issues aside (all groups have them) fundamentalism does have at its core the Gospel. This is first and foremost one of the benefits of fundamentalism. It’s the baby from the bathwater.

Come again?
Let’s face it, the Gospel is offensive. The Bible says so and reality says so. One of the problems with the strawman we call fundamentalism is this: We figure that by bashing fundamentalists we are somehow more palatable to our culture. We can write ‘fundamentalists’ off as extremists. So, we cast aside fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words: we bash ‘fundies’ to make ourselves look good. Friends, the Gospel is offensive. Bashing any group doesn’t make the Gospel less offensive and doesn’t make us look good either.

There are false Gospels
There is and always has been movements to teach and promote a false Gospel. The Bible tells us it will happen and we see throughout history that it happens. In the fundamentalist modernist controversy we have to remember that the stance that was being taken was for the truth of God’s Word and the essential issues regarding Jesus. Paul instructs us to pay attention to our ministry and our doctrine. While we may not agree with the practical outgrowth that happened to fundamentalism, It’s founding is solid and it’s motive solid. If anything fundamentalism does teach us there is a point where you have to stand your ground and say this is truth and this is heresy.

I often say act don’t react. But like many proverbial statements, it’s not always true all the time. There are times when reaction is correct, like placing you hand accidentally on a hot stove. Galatians states how we should not be deceived, that what we reap we will sow. Fundamentalism started as a good reaction to a bad trend. To hold as vile fundamentalism by touting all its ills is a standard none would care to live by. I don’t think we want to reap that in our own ministries.

The bottom line:
One of the greatest contributions of fundamentalism is a defense of the Gospel. Such passion for the Gospel and the Bible should not be taken lightly. Further, we shouldn’t bash a movement like a strawman, as we reap what we sow. The Gospel is offensive. While we as Christians shouldn’t be offensive we must remember there is a point where we have to say what is false and what is true.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Separation or discernment?

“You have no business promoting public schools!”
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” St. Paul

First, separation is a command
The Bible teaches separation. There is no avoiding that in Scripture. Our associations, friendships, business partners, ministry partners have to be viewed through a lens of separation. I often hear from those chucking church or fundamentalism that “separation is wrong.” Oddly, they then “separate” from fundamentalists. The issue is whether separation is a core doctrine or a matter of wise discernment. I take it to be discernment.

Separation as objective idolatry
For some fundamentalists separation is a core tenet of the faith. Not always by articulation, but often by practice. This unbalanced view of separation leads this idea of a particular articulation of theology and/or method of doing ministry as being pure. Others as to be critiqued and questioned. Theological correctness becomes more like a God and not the God of correct theology.

Theological separation isn’t dead
In reading about the emerging church split that evolved into “missional” and “emergent” circles, the lines of separation were similar to the liberal/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. If people are going to deny the Gospel, there is an obvious line and clear expectation for separating. There are times when discerning whether to separate or not is blatantly clear.

In the world
Jesus in his priestly prayer talks about how we’re to be in the world and not of it. The great commission sends us into the world. The Gospel and the church are culturally neutral and able to contextualize the Gospel in a way that doesn’t violate Scripture or the Gospel. Still, in North America the issue of proclaiming the Gospel in a way that our culture understands gets clouded by an unbalanced view of separation. An unbalanced view of separation is a fortress mentality, not a discernment one.

Fear of man
An unbalanced view of separation focuses on one’s self and not God. Yes God is all holy and to be honored. But we shouldn’t neglect grace to fulfill the command of separation. A hard focus on separation creates an environment of distrust, is poisons grace and it often leads to an unloving culture. I often observe that it seems more about gaining approval of certain men the focusing on what God. We all love the pats on the back for standing firm in the faith by our peers or congregants. Jesus was called a friend of sinners- not always as a compliment.

The public school
I remember an intentional “you’re not going to be invited back” conversation based on a comment I made in a workshop. “The easiest place to live a dynamic Christian life is the Public School. There you have no choice, you’re either on fire or a hypocrite.” Apparently, I violated the doctrine separation by that statement. After being instructed on separation, I was then told that nothing good comes from public schools, broken homes, etc. A good christian has no place in a public school.

By God’s grace, I was able to start a Bible study, hold a regular morning prayer meeting and witness in my public school. I remember conversations about respecting parents, not having an abortion, being a servant and others. I remember people accepting Christ and being affirmed in the faith. I came form a broken home, and again by God’s grace, I’m a minister of the Gospel pointing people to Jesus. This explanation wasn’t good enough.

The bottom line:
An unbalanced view of separation distracts from the mission of making followers of Jesus. It violates love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. It pulls us away from the world. Separation is a command in Scripture to be obeyed through wise discernment. It’s not a command to build a fortress and hide until the rapture. Don’t react out of a fear of man or protectionist ideology. Act out of wisdom, applying the Scriptures to each situation.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Legalism

“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” ~St. Paul

Legalism as the issue
There is a bit of legalism in everyone. As we look at the concept of becoming a recovering fundamentalist it’s important to focus on heart issues and not a strawman. Legalism is a major heart issue to overcome. Often people who flee traditional legalistic churches swing to progressive legalistic churches. It’s the same heart issue, just a different “standard” of what being spiritual looks like. So, be careful and don’t thank God that “you’re not a legalist like those people over there.”

Legalism lacks faith and is really about control. There is a strong desire for us to want to merit Grace. We simply need to trust Jesus. God already showed His love towards us. Apart from Jesus, anything good we do is rubbish. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. We desire legalism because we desire control. Sometimes we even call things legalistic that aren’t because we hate to submit and desire to control. You and I are control freaks. Faith means placing trust in and submitting to God. It means He’s in control and not us.

Gospel plus nothing
Legalism is adding to the Gospel to be saved or sanctified. It’s a false Gospel. The Bible clearly teaches it’s the Gospel plus nothing equals salvation and sanctification. Simply, the Gospel is the “life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Act by placing faith in God. Don’t react by trying to control, you and I are lousy at being God.

I missed the boat
When we think of heresy we think of denying Scripture, the cross, miracles, etc. Legalism is right up there with that list. I often viewed legalism as an issue to be addressed, and not a false gospel to be condemned. Look up what accursed means and you’ll see my point. Paul’s quote above is in the context of dealing with legalism. Fundamentalism would be viewed differently if the movement vehemently stood against legalism as other false Gospels.

To avoid the accusation of legalism people often try to hide it using various terms. Rules, standards, being missional, oh my. Let’s be honest and call it for what it is, it’s legalism. Even the touch of “we do this to honor God” sugar coats the idea. Legalism springs to judgement of one’s spirituality based on a set of rules. It creates a putrid environment whereby people look to please people instead of focusing on pleasing God. If the “standard” is a mark of spirituality it’s legalism.

Two examples
Legalism is: I visited a church where everyone (infants included) was in a suit or dress. I was one of the few (the only in the coming conversation) not in a suit. As a person was striking up a friendly conversation the tone shifted dramatically when I said I was a pastor. This wasn’t a fluke as the conversation happened numerous times. The eye glares were interesting to say the least. I was wearing a white polo shirt and khaki’s (a friend of mine calls them baptist pants) and brown dress shoes. The temperature was in the upper 80’s. I was on vacation.
Legalism isn’t: Doing open air evangelism in New York city we were told to dress and carry ourselves a certain way, no exceptions. This was a mater of safety and also respect for the cultures we were trying to reach. Do I have the freedom in Christ to wear want I want? Yes. I also have the freedom to give up that right to best meet the spiritual needs of those I’m trying to reach. Standards of conduct do not equal legalism.

Methods and programs
Often legalism set’s itself up in the form of a method or program. We think that a certain way of doing ministry will make us more spiritual or God honoring. We get so tied down with performing a certain way that we look down at (really we’re judging) others for how they do ministry. I’m not anti-program or anti-methodology. Our faith, prayer and theology should come before our programs and methodologies. We should act in faith & the power of the Spirit.

The bottom line:
Legalism is a false sense of control. It’s heart issue we all struggle with and a false Gospel of grace by works. Legalism is one of the great heresies of our day. Act in faith instead of reacting by trying to control. God already loves you. In Christ your salvation is secure. Rules do not mean legalism, but can easily become such.

On Humility: My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist Part 3

“You should read my book, ‘Humility and how I achieved it.’” ~Unknown
“Every side has it’s ‘fundamentalists’.” ~Joe M.

Admit it
You’re arrogant. We all struggle with pride. Arrogance isn’t exclusive to any movement. This is why it’s best to deal with heart issues; not create a strawman. For example, I interacted with two churches that made this statement:

“They’re not [blank] because they’re wearing [blank]. It’s important to [blank] to [do what God wants].”

One church was a hysterical fundamentalist church. The other was a progressive outreach oriented church. Both had the same heart problem and both make a good point. Name the issue and its most likely there is arrogance on both sides.

Humility modeled: Dr. Arp
“Right now, this is what I believe what the text is saying,” said Dr. Arp. My tongue dropped to the floor. I’m in seminary, the professor is to be the grand know all guru of all things Bible. Dr. Arp amazed me by his humility. He was a student of the Word. (And a really hard grader!) More than anything he discipled me to approach the Scriptures with humility and to listen. Confidence and humility are not exclusive.

Humility modeled: John Calvin
I read Calvin’s Institutes of Theology. I wanted to see if I was truly a “Calvinist” or not (a discussion for another day). I was amazed by the humility and grace Calvin projected in his writings. He demonstrated confidence in what he said, but also grace and approachability. Those who debate “Calvinism” could learn a lot from Calvin’s humility.

Humility prescribed: St. Peter
Peter had what I like to call “foot in mouth disease.” Ambitious or spirited people often struggle with that. He says this in 1 Peter 5: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” It’s in the context of shepherding the church. This attitude stands out as I see Peter struggling with this area.

Jesus didn’t stand out in a crowd. He didn’t come into the world with much fanfare. As much as we bash religious leadership of his day, He did interact with them and some came to believe in Him. Jesus was a man’s man, and Jesus was fully God. Jesus dealt with and pointed to heart issues. There was times He was stern, and times he was very approachable. Our task is to be like Jesus. Without humility, we wont’ get very far.

The bottom line:
To become a recovering fundamentalist you need to be humble. Act with humility and grace instead of reacting to a strawman out of arrogance and vindictiveness. We all struggle with pride and arrogance. No movement claims a monopoly on this. Listen, be approachable, and seek to be like Jesus.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Part 2

“Someone asked me if I was a fundamentalist. I don’t know what to say.” ~Friend
“I resolve to make fun of fundamentalists for fundamental reasons.” ~Driscoll

Mr. Strawman, you’re dismissed…
In Part 1 I said that ‘fundamentalism’ is a bit of a strawman. It’s easy to couch a group of people under one term, then make that term dark a derogatory. Metaphorically speaking, we light the term on fire. Again, bash fundamentalists and you’ll get accolades. Here’s the problem with that. It’s not right, not gracious and I’d say not biblical. It’s time we stop with the strawman battles. Yes, we all do this.

The battle over words…
I give no loyalty to words, and few words I defend. I don’t defend the word baptist nor fundamentalism. I take seriously what Paul tells Timothy about false teaching that “has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil, suspicious, etc.” (1 Timothy 6:4) Attacking fundamentalism as a blanket category is much about attacking words. A key to being a recovering fundamentalist is to let go of the battle for words. Need a blueprint for this? Read 2 Timothy 2:22-26!

Civilian casualties…
In war people cringe at civilian deaths. Attacking broad categories is analogous. Bringing everyone under a broad category and then bashing that category, we create disdain for innocent people. People who are good, godly, and pursuing Christ with a loving and pure conscience. When we react out of emotion rather than act out of grace, we do what we claim ‘fundamentalists’ do. We become be the Holy Spirit. Yes, I’m saying many anti-‘fundamentalists’ act like fundamentalists.

It’s the heart…
Focus on the key heart issues. Like it or not, there are ‘fundamentalists’ who we can learn from, respect, emulate and even admire. Every person struggles with sin. It’s a matter of what sin a person struggles with. Let’s focus on the heart issues of arrogance, legalism, fear of man, “majoring on minors,” and bitterness. You and I struggle with these issues too! If you can’t stomach that, remember we’re all one church, and Jesus died for “their” sins as well as yours and mine.

The bottom line:
There is a key choice to become a recovering fundamentalist: Will I focus on bashing a category or on helping heal key heart issues. It’s easy to bash a categorical word because there isn’t a face attach to it, only negative emotions. Too many people have categorically rejected fundamentalists and treated such with putrid disdain. While for some it’s understandable, that doesn’t make it right. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV) To rephrase our choice: Will I choose bitterness or love?

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Part 1

“Hi, I’m Ty, and I’m a recovering fundamentalist.” The men in the room laughed, and the lead pastor stated humorously, “No, its true, he is a recovering fundamentalist.” I grew up in what I’d call a community church, but in college and through most of my ministry was a part of fundamentalist circles. There is a lot of un-health in fundamentalism, and this is the first in a series of posts.

What is a recovering fundamentalist
A recovering fundamentalist is a person who was/is part of a fundamentalism and wants to embrace the Gospel and chuck legalism. To use an old cliché, it’s to rescue the baby from the putrid bath water. Being a recovering fundamentalist means getting back to Scripture as guide, the Gospel as central and grace the a mandate. It’s a call to repent.

What it is not
If you want accolades in Christianity, just bash fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a bit of a strawman (just like the word religion is). This isn’t a “Let’s bash fundamentalism” tirade. I’ve seen too much of that. It’s understandable that some do that, fundamentalism has casualties in its wake. Reacting can lead to just more problems and not health. Being a recovering fundamentalist is about acting, not reacting. It’s about healing and repenting, not another tirade.

Act don’t react
Act don’t react is a proverb I often go by. A pattern I’ve observed in human history, especially church history, is we react to a previous movement. Reactionary movements are inherently unstable and lead to error in a different way. Fundamentalism in large part was a reactionary movement. It centered on key “fundamentals” to the faith. This can be known as “historical fundamentalism.” What we have today is “hysterical fundamentalism.” Reactionary movements have a hard time discerning when the fight is over.

In the movie Patton a German officer is tasked with being an expert on General Patton. Germany lost and the officers are burning everything. The officer makes this statement as he lights General Patton’s picture, “The lack of war will be his end.” This plays out in the rest of the film… Historical fundamentalism won the day. Most of evangelicalism holds to the fundamentals of the faith. There will always be those who don’t, but essentially the battle was won. The lack of the fight lead to being hysterical.

Hysterical fundamentalism has two idols: 1) Separation and 2) Theological “correctness.” I say idols because the focus is on separation over mission under the guise of “purity”. I put correctness in quotes because the focus is on a particular articulation of theology, often lacking humility. As the doctrinal battle was essentially one, methodology took the banner. Given the protective and isolationist nature, there became uniformity of doctrine, but the challenge of one’s doctrine softened. So, a hysterical fundamentalist has to look, act and talk a certain way. This allowed legalism to take root.

The bottom line:
Being a recovering fundamentalist is repenting. It’s a return to the Gospel being central and the Bible as our guide. It isn’t about attacking fundamentalism, but it is recognizing a difference between historical (a focus on the Bible and the Gospel) and hysterical (focus on separation and a particular methodology) fundamentalism. In this call to repent the win is to live God’s instruction to Joshua: “do not turn from [Scripture] to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”