WHAT IS CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM?
Christian fundamentalism is a term widely used to describe strict adherence to Christian beliefs based on the literal interpretation of the Bible. Its usage stems from the trans-denominational Protestant movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which opposed the Christian doctrine of modern scientific theory and philosophy.
Throughout the late 19th century, many of the major Protestant churches struggled to cope with the emergence of modernism (which supported adaptation to modern views and trends), scientific naturalism, higher biblical criticism, and religious apathy. Hundreds of thousands of evangelicals left the great denominations, joining smaller churches to combat the sins of the age.
However, the vast majority of the evangelicals stayed with the mainline and sought to purify their churches from within. By the early 1910s, a massive, cross-denominational reform movement was formed based on a common acclamation to Christianity’s fundamental or cardinal doctrines.
The most famous list was “The Five Point Deliverance” of the Northern Presbyterians. The 1910 Presbyterian General Assembly held that all those who wished to be ordained within their ranks had to affirm the Westminster Confession and adhere to five basic doctrines:
1) Inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Bible,
2) The virgin birth of Christ
3) The substitutionary atonement of Christ,
4) The bodily resurrection of Christ, and
5) The historicity of the biblical miracles.
Are Christian fundamentalists raving Bible-thumping fanatics? The response for many is no. They are, in truth, a very diverse and sometimes divided group.
It should be clearly noted here that the “fundamentalism” used here is a political and social movement. It’s not about questioning Jesus or the Bible. Two-thirds of born-again Christians reject the bigotry, intolerance, and social policies of groups often associated with religious rights. Liberal, frequently hostile to all Christian beliefs, also distorts the issue by overemphasizing the small number of radicals and fanatics.
Other examples include some Orthodox and Hassid Jews, most of the Shiite Muslims in Iran, and most Sunni Muslims elsewhere. Christian but not Protestant cases would be ultra-conservatives in both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism, as well as in some Mormons (though non-Mormons also view all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day saint as “non-Christian”). Non-theistic examples may include many Marxists and secular humanists, as well as many devoted atheists. This article describes the religious fundamentalism of all kinds as political and social, not religious.
Don’t think Christian fundamentalists are a bunch of dumb rednecks; they’re not. Their leading activists are wealthy, white, most of them “baby-boomers,” and their agenda is power and wealth. Their leadership is college-educated, not a bunch of country bumpkins.
In the 18th century, enlightenment and evangelical revivals moderated each other. By the 1870s, fundamentalist Protestantism was at war with modern science and personal liberty (Modernism). Today, fundamentalists make up approximately 20 percent of the American population. Most of them are law-abiding citizens, but about one-fourth (5 percent of the population) belong to different churches and operate a kind of low-level terrorism such as racism and anti-Semitism, attacks on abortion clinics, the militia movements, etc. They are obsessed with conspiracy theories that claim that Jews, Satan, Freemasons, etc. control America and an apocalypse due any day.
The five “fundamentals” of Christian belief were described in a series of 12 paperbacks volume containing scholarly essays on the Bible that appeared between 1910 and 1915, called The Fundamentals. Those included:
1. Biblical inerrancy
2. The divinity of Jesus
3. The Virgin Birth
4. The belief that Jesus died to save humankind
5. The expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to set in motion his thousand-year reign over the world called the Millennium.
They also believe in “six-day” Creationism, the belief that the universe was created just a few thousand years ago, rather than the billions stated by conventional science. God created man and woman, and all the animals, rather than a process of evolution. Also included is the belief that the only correct Bible text is the King James Version of 1611.
Christians, who hold to the old belief that every word of the Bible is literally true — called biblical inerrancy, claim only the belief. They do not observe or abide by the laws or teachings of Jesus. The Protestant belief of “faith alone,” which Luther and Calvin had taken from Saint Augustine, makes all that at best optional or morality of any kind irrelevant. The only thing they really see as “sin” is sex, not following their religious teachings, and questioning authority.
Because Calvin, Luther, and Augustine all see human beings as “depraved” and “born into sin” provides a negative outlook on humanity. Their idea of “elect” creates an attitude that is somehow “chosen” above all others. This puts them at odds with the “mainline” or liberal Protestant churches that reject Augustine’s notions of human depravity.
Fundamentalists trace their roots back to the New Testament, but fundamentalism actually arises at the end of the 19th century. They view themselves as “keepers of both the Christian heritage of the first century and the American heritage of the Puritans and the Founding Fathers. Though, the sense of religious mission associated with the Puritans disappeared before the American Revolution. They will quote the Puritans as the foundation of America, but the Puritans founded those backwater English colonies, not the United States of America.
Also, Protestantism had undergone massive changes before the American Revolution and continues to change today. The majority of Americans in 1776 were Protestants, creating a “Protestant empire.” The first and second “Great Awakenings” appeared to ensure the position of evangelism in America. Those days are what fundamentalists have long-awaited. And even before the American Revolution, the European Enlightenment had made its way into Protestantism.
Some fundamentalists are loath to democracy when it applies equally to others. One cynical conservative had this to say, “democracy is the root of all the world’s problems … humans are under God’s law, and so they can’t do whatever they want or say what they want to say … democracy, ultimately, began with Satan… we can’t rule ourselves. God must rule us … those who originally set up America and made up the rules were people who didn’t support Christianity.” Christians who lived during that time disagreed with those in power or rather the founding fathers. They saw them as ultra-liberals, and truly, they were.
The American Revolution was a conservative revolution, unlike the violent French Revolution that set the stage for Fascism and Communism. American founders wanted liberty and freedom of conscience within the structure of the established society. They realized that problems such as slavery and women’s status could not be resolved in their time, so they left a way open for later changes. They emphasized individualism, which already existed in a Protestant culture, to begin with.
The French Revolution sought immediate change through the use of force to destroy France’s entire culture and society. (Communism would have borrowed from this model.) In Catholic France, there wasn’t any real sense of individualism as in Protestantism, nor did they have the earlier, far less bloody, English Revolution to be built on.
But it was the belief in God that led the Founding Fathers, but not the raving Bible-god of Augustine and Calvin. To quote: “Jefferson and the other founders were Deists, who believed in the universal God and the scientific universe.” Since their writings establish the government’s legal foundation, it is worth noting what they wrote and from where they derived their principles: natural law. Drawing from Locke, the declaration of independence is based on its legitimacy in the people; but why are the people the final authority? This is because “they are endowed by their Creator with specific unalienable rights” and institute governments to protect these rights.
In a way, the Civil War broke the back of Protestant America. With thousands of dead and one-third of the nation in ruins, changes began to occur to form a modern industrial state.
Business, science, and technology were taking over where tradition, prayer, and faith had left off. The streams of European immigrants coming from Catholic and Jewish traditions, and religious pluralism had become a fact of American life. “Old assumptions (mostly Protestants) have been replaced by new dogmas of industrialism, secularism, and historicism. Religion gradually became compartmentalized in the family, private, and leisure fields, leaving political, scientific, and economic affairs to the secular experts.”
In the human sciences, psychology, and sociology started to question the nature of human responsibility, fate, and free will. In natural sciences, Charles Darwin’s ideas started to change the way scholars view the physical universe. Although evolution in no way disproves God, it disproves a specific fundamentalist’ view of creation. The Six-Day Creationism claims are the largest single issue they have because it is so discredited in every significant scientific field. In the process, they undermine the entire faith.
In theology, scholars started to analyze biblical content as if it were ordinary ancient literature that reported events that might also be described in natural, human terms. This entailed a shift in public education from a church-dominated curriculum to one that prepared students for a democratic and industrialized society.
Although fundamentalism is a reaction against modernism, it has also adopted all kinds of new beliefs and practices, most of which have been infiltrated by non-Christian modern theology itself, such as Christian Identity and Christian Re-constructionism. Much of this is associated with racism, occult, and anti-Semitism. Christian identity is particularly dangerous due to its apocalyptic theology that creates a paranoia mindset and ease of infiltration into churches.
Christian fundamentalists usually focus on creating and maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus to be saved. Susan Rose, professor of sociology at Dickinson College, said they are less likely to engage in interfaith events than other Christian traditions. Fundamentalists have historically viewed themselves as separate from the secular world, leaning on the idea of being in but not of the world.
19TH CENTURY BEGINNINGS
The Tent Revival was the backbone of several early evangelists and is still with us today. In a way, these became sideshows competing for the attention (and contributions) of small towns and border farms all over the growing Americas. In 1830, a great backlash against education and scholarship in many churches began and continued to this day. Several of America’s cult churches started here.
Several of these preachers were at best semi-literate who opposed most traditional churches and education generally. They were inclined to rely on the Bible as the only source of inspiration and preached their own opinions. That is how we have so many new cults/churches of today. Thus, anything could be “the word of God.”
The rise of modern Premillennialism (end-time theology) is common to a variety of religious splinter groups: Plymouth Brethren (developed dispensationalism), Millerites (became Adventists), Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals.
Most of these churches seek to discredit traditional Christianity by claiming that all the influential commentaries, all the church fathers, and even the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc.) were deluded by “man-made doctrines.” The new revelation is claimed, and their leaders also claim to have obtained “new truth” or, at other times, “rediscovered truth” that had been missing since the apostles. Enthusiasm was beaten up on the pretense that the coming of Christ was imminent. Frequent false predictions didn’t seem to stop this enthusiasm.
Dispensational Premillennialism was marketable in the same manner as cult-like groups. For these groups, the only Scriptures addressed particularly to Christians was the Gospel of John, the Acts, and the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. Their moral code was that of the most barbaric parts of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. One will hear “born again” endlessly, but little attention is paid to the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that contain the essence of the most important moral teachings of Jesus. Therefore, the moral teachings of Jesus become optional; thus, fundamentalists believe they are saved, and their personal conduct is forgiven. This “faith alone” absurdity is salvation for nothing. They construct God in their image.
It should also be seen that these splinter/cult churches all hold mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as “spirits of the Antichrist.” Many of their claims are totally non-Biblical, such as “secret rapture,” and the word “rapture” is not even in the KJV Bible. What they preach are their politics and the occult.
I don’t consider these churches Protestant (they are separate sects) and really question whether they are Christian at all. Their leaders, such as Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, etc., have no recognized credentials as theologians. But, the damage they do to the emotional well-being of others cannot be calculated.
It comes from leaders such as A. T. Pierson, C. I. Scofield (Scofield Bible) and A. J. Gordon to Reuben Torrey and A. C. Dixon, William Jennings BRYAN, and J. Gresham Machen.
Make no mistake; their stated aim is to impose, with force, if necessary, a theocracy and to eliminate all modern scientific theory and social philosophy. This means that entire scientific fields and research would be prohibited, curtailed, or restricted. As we know it now, all the civil law would be replaced by the biblical law based mainly on the most brutal sections of the Old Testament. Even several Christian churches would be banned for their lack of “Christian correctness.”
The potentially lethal combination of politics, religious bigotry, and belief in non-Biblical dispensationalism is a challenge to our free society. That was behind the Y2K debacle, with fundamentalist preachers wiping eggs from their faces.
In the broad sense, fundamentalism can be used to define Christians who are uncompromising, conservative, and who make the most of their beliefs — exactly how any believer should live. Due to the recently increased activism by those known as fundamentalists, who have advocated unethical actions such as violence against abortion clinics, doctors, etc., some academic circles claim that our society has redefined fundamentalism. They claim that the doctrine of fundamentalism (at least in the eyes of the world) has grown into a legal type of extremism, with beliefs too extreme for a normal, evangelical Christian. Thus, fundamentalism can no longer be a term that accurately conveys what Orthodox Christians believe.
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