May 17, 2012

The Basis of Fundamentalism: Weightier Matters of the Law

The previous article by Dr. Rick Flanders from May 7 is titled The Basis of Fundamentalism. In the discussion thread Pastor Steve Rogers posted an extended comment followed by a pointed question. I directed that comment/question to Dr. Flanders for his attention. Pastor Rogers asked,

I would ask…what I’ve been asking myself. Can a fundamentalist, as described by and defined by the word itself, and movement of the last century, be a Biblicist, committed to the whole counsel of God? I don’t think so. Your thoughts…!?” (See-Comment #1)
Having been in Africa until last weekend Dr. Flanders was unable until now to draft a comprehensive answer. Before proceeding I encourage you to read the entire comment from Pastor Rogers, which lays ground-work for his question. You may click on the link above or view the full comment in its entirety as an appendix entry in the discussion thread below.

Dear Brother Rogers:

Thank you for your thoughtful questions, as well as your serious concern for biblical Christianity in our day. I am writing you now to clarify my thinking to yours, and to bring up an important scriptural truth that relates to this discussion. Part of our difficulty in discussing these things comes from the fact that we are dealing with semantics. To talk about "fundamentalism" requires that we agree on the definition of it, which, unfortunately, has been lost in the fray for a long time. Since it is not a Bible term, its definition has limited importance, but since we are discussing issues of serious biblical importance, defining the terms is important. There is a scriptural teaching that we can overlook if we are not careful, so let me get right into that.


 The question of whether Bible truths can be in any sense "non-essential" is answered by three statements made by the Lord Jesus and cited in the book of Matthew. 1. In Matthew 4:4 we read that Jesus "answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." This means that everything in the Bible was given on purpose, and that attention to every word is essential to a healthy life. Neglect of any Bible truth is harmful. 2. Jesus also taught in the Sermon on the Mount that there are no unimportant commands or precepts in scripture. We must believe, obey and teach them all.
"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19) 
3. Although everything in the Bible is important, some things are more important than others, for various reasons. The Lord's rebuke of the Pharisees makes that point.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." (Matthew 23:23) 
Nothing in the Bible is to be left undone, but there are lesser things ("the least commandments") and there are "weightier matters of the law." So Jesus plainly taught. Tithing, although not unimportant, does not carry the same weight in importance as judgment, mercy, and faith. One's life will lack many good things if he does not believe, teach, and practice tithing, but one will be lost forever if he does not believe right about judgment, mercy, and faith. This does not mean that the least commandments are not essential to life and godliness. It just means that the truths God has revealed in His Word carry different weights.

This is where the fundamentalists came in. One hundred years ago, men became aware that teachers had crept into every church organization of any size who were denying what essentially is Christianity. Liberal theology was not just a novel way of interpreting scripture or a different take on certain issues, it was defection from the Christian faith!. The fundamentalists exposed the liberals (who had risen to positions of influence in the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist organizations) by insisting that there are certain doctrines that are fundamental to Christianity. You might still be considered a Christian even if you were wrong about the mode of baptism, the form of church polity, the security of the believer, or the doctrine of election (although all of these are important teachings), but you cannot be called a Christian if you deny the deity of Christ or His bodily resurrection! The fundamental doctrines of the Gospel are the weightiest matters of truth. Denying any of them is bringing in "damnable heresies" (Second Peter 2:1-2).

Anything that is fundamental to a larger thing is essential to what it is. If you don't have all the fundamentals of a thing, you don't really have the thing! The fundamentals of baseball are the things that make the game baseball. If you leave out any one of them (throwing, catching, batting, running, bases, etc.) it may be a game with a ball, but it is not baseball. Hotdogs, the national anthem, uniforms, and the seventh inning stretch are not fundamental to baseball, because you could still play baseball without them. The fundamentalists were saying (in The Fundamentals, at the World's Christian Fundamentals Association conferences, and through the Baptist Bible Union and their other forums) that the liberal theology was not Christianity because it lacked some or all of the fundamentals of Christianity.

Only in this sense were the fundamentalists calling certain doctrines "essential." As you noted, some truths are essential to salvation and some are not. This is all that fundamentalists were and are saying. All kinds of confusion have entered the various fundamentalist movements over the years, and I know what you mean when you observe that some involved in interdenominational activities seem to denigrate Bible truths with lesser weight than the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel (found in First Corinthians 15:1-4). In this they are wrong. Anybody who relegates any question of Bible doctrine to the low level of a "non-issue" or an "unimportant sidetrack" is making a serious and dangerous mistake. But to differentiate between issues that define Christianity and those that divide good men who are nevertheless "in the faith" (remember Romans 14?) is not wrong; it is sensible and scriptural. Perhaps you are hearing good men say or imply (as I am) that you can't really be a Baptist and a fundamentalist at the same time. There are at least three things wrong with this idea.

 1. The term "fundamentalist" was coined by Baptists (in a Baptist publication) referring to Baptists (who were battling for the faith in the Baptist convention). It was never regarded as exclusive of the Baptist point of view.

 2. Many of the fundamentalists over the years were and are committed Baptists. The fundamentalist movements of the twentieth century were led by men like W.B. Riley, Robert Ketchum, J. Frank Norris, and others whose Baptist credentials (judged by faithfulness to Baptist distinctives) cannot be reasonably questioned. Today the vast majority of people who would call themselves fundamentalists are also Baptists (far more in percentage than ever before). Fundamentalists and Baptists in the past have not seen a conflict between being both.

 3. Fundamentalism and the Baptist cause are dealing with two different sets of issues that do not overlap. There is no conflict that would prevent a Baptist from being a fundamentalist. A Baptist would not have to cooperate with a non-Baptist in order to be a fundamentalist. No Baptist ever had to do this. The ones (and not all of them did) who did sit on the same platform with fundamentalist brethren who erred on issues less than the Gospel did so to present a united protest against a problem that crossed denominational lines. Nobody on those platforms was saying that his Baptist convictions were expendable. Never. The fact is that the fundamentalist issues are still very important. A good man ought to be both a Baptist and a fundamentalist. There is a problem with what the Convention Baptists are doing. If they were fundamentalists, they would not give Christian recognition to the liberals that still perch on the branches of the denominational tree.

We don't want to abandon the road of militant separatism that fundamentalism by definition requires. When we misunderstand what fundamentalism is (and it basically is the defining of Christianity by certain cardinal doctrines) and then to give it up, we will open the door to the next generation of Baptists making the same mistake our forefathers made in the conventions.


Rick Flanders


  1. APPENDIX: Original comment and question by Pastor Steve Rogers...

    Lou/Bro. Flanders,:

    Bro. Flanders wrote,

 “The kind of evangelicalism that claims to believe the Gospel but allows that a Christian can reject some of it is not consistent with the concept that there is an absolute difference between right and wrong…Yet it must be conceded that Christian fundamentalists are not in every way true to the concept they espouse.”

    I agree that fundamentalists are forsaking their fundamentalism for a much broader movement when it comes to separation. I think we ought to forsake all movements for Biblicism, which is a commitment to the whole Bible as essential and the basis for fellowship. Fundamentalism never has done that. From the very beginning, fundamentalism, from its very etymology, is a movement of reducing separation to just essentials and non-essentials. The truth is that fundamentalism is about fellowship, not about separation, and so that fellowship turns the Divine Command for separation on it’s head, limiting it to a movement-made basis of fellowship. Evangelicals just cut the list down to the Gospel. This is my growing problem with the whole idea of fundamentalism. That is, where does God give us the idea in His Word that fundamentalists should determine which 5 doctrines are the basis of separation, any more than God gives the evangelical permission to reject some of the Gospel. Indeed, is not fundamentalism from the very beginning, limiting separation to “some” of God’s truth, while claiming “some” of God’s infallible truth is non-essential. 

Yes, some of it is non-essential to being saved, but ALL of it is essential to NT Christianity, which is the entire new life in Christ. Fundamentalism seems to scorn evangelicalism (and rightly so) for making separation only about the Gospel. However, they themselves, limit separation to the fundamentals, instead of the whole counsel of God.

 I reject what Bauder, Olson, Jordan, and company are doing, but I also reject the reductionism of a fundamentalist movement today that labels a Biblicist (Baptist) approach to separation as extreme, in the same spirit and tone, that the evangelical does with a fundamentalist, whose sphere of separation is just a slightly longer list.

    I would ask…what I’ve been asking myself- Can a fundamentalist, as described by and defined by the word itself, and movement of the last century, be a Biblicist, committed to the whole counsel of God? I don’t think so. Your thoughts…!?

  2. Bro. Flanders,

    Thank you for taking the time to address my comment and question.

    I well understand the history of the movement of fundamentalism, as you described above. My question really was a challenge to the idea that fundamentalism equals the practice of Biblical separation.

    The more I look at it, fundamentalism was and even more so today is, only militant about separation in certain areas, the fundamentals. Those fundamentals may be a good start when it comes to Biblical separation, but a movement that promotes the idea that the mandate to practice militant separation ends with, and Biblical fellowship begins with, a list of 5 doctrines seems to me to really be promoting disobedience to the rest of Bible doctrine that Jesus said we are to live by, or in other words, our faith and practice. Paul said there was to be consistent doctrine practiced in every NT church, as given by the Apostolic epistles (I Cor. 4:17), not just 5 fundamentals, and the rest is Romans 14 ground.

    My concern was regarding the inconsistency of saying that fundamentalism equals Biblical militant separation, when, as you admitted, Baptists (Biblicists) who were some of the fathers of the fundamentalist movements of the early 1900s, overlooked doctrinal distinctives such as believer’s baptism, and sat on platforms with (fellowshipped/partnered with) Non-Baptist fundamentalist brethren, “ to present a united protest against a problem that crossed denominational lines.”

    “Nobody on those platforms was saying that his Baptist convictions were expendable. Never.”

    What were they saying by their presence and partnership? Is that not the danger to Baptist churches today, seeing them ignore their distinctives in order to participate in and promote a movement that allows for and even promotes the toleration of non-Baptist doctrine? Do we not today have more baptistic fundamentalists that partner within the movement with men/ministries who are not Baptists?

    Baptist distinctives, I hope you would agree, are not Romans 14 issues. Romans 14 deals with issues where scripture does not give specific doctrinal guidelines, diet, days, etc. Certainly, although not one of the fundamentalist movement’s approved separatable doctrines, our Baptist forefathers would and did say by their blood, that Believer’s baptism (immersion) was a doctrine worth dying for, a ‘cardinal doctrine of Christianity.’

    Perhaps you are defining Christianity as only salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, but those first called “Christians” at Antioch, were labeled so, because of a lot more than just the fact that they were born again believers. The faith of which we are to contend for, is the whole body of truth that makes up Biblical Christianity.

    I close with another question. If I am a Biblicist (Baptist), and thus already practice militant separation, not just based on the fundamentals, but rooted in a conviction holding to every Apostolic doctrine as given in the entire NT canon, why would I need/want to identify as a fundamentalist, when, like back then, you can be one today without that conviction?

  3. Dr. Flanders/Lou,

    Just thought of another couple of questions. Hopefully, I have not already been castigated for questioning why separation is limited to the fundamentals. Here goes.

    Who determines what the "weightier matters of the law" are for the NT church age believer?

    Certainly, we are not under the OT Law, which is what Jesus was referring to.

    Are we not under the law of Christ, the law of the Spirit, and grace?

    I'm not sure that Jesus' comments are proof text that the 5 fundamentals are the weightier matters, especially given the dispensational difficulties in making those texts apply to the question at hand regarding fundamentalism and separation.

    I realize I may be the only one to touch this stuff with a ten foot keyboard, but I think the importance of these matters transcends the politics of a movement, and so I ask.

    1. Posted on behalf of Dr. Flanders

      Dear Pastor Rogers:

      I fear that maybe I have overexplained myself and left you mystified somehow. Let me give you a short answer. Maybe it would be good to make a short list of answers!

      1. Really, "separation" is not limited to the fundamentals of the Gospel. We are to "love in the truth," fellowshipping based on the truths we mutually embrace (see Second John). Any disagreement about the truth brings division to some degree. We can work more closely with those with whom we agree the most in regard to Bible doctrine, without being disloyal to the truth. Yet any disagreement produces a degree of separation while not necessarily preventing all contact.

      2. Jesus taught that all that is taught in the Bible is important, but that some teachings are more important than others. It was He Who spoke of "the least commandments" and of "weightier matters of the law." The term is "weightier." There is relativity here. He gives more weight to some of the sayings than to others, although they all are true and all are vital to our lives. We must judge how much weight to give the various teachings in the light of the scripture illumined by the Holy Spirit. Now we must live by every word, but there are situations where we must judge how much weight a teaching has in comparison with others.

      3. Fundamentalists say that there are some errors that put those who teach them outside the Christian family, and some that do not. We Baptists certainly do this. Errors in regard to church polity, or even "modest apparel" (dress standards) or "spiritual songs" (music standards) are serious and harmful but may be taught by folks we regard as erring brothers rather than as wolves in sheep's clothing. Errors in regard to justification by faith, the deity of Christ, or His bodily resurrection would correcty brand the teachers as infidels. I'm sure you see the difference.

      Rick Flanders

  4. Dr. Flanders,

    I do feel like we may be playing on 2 different fairways, to use a golf analogy. (I have been thinking about it an awful lot with the beautiful weather here is PA, but not able to go because of the busyness of the ministry schedule.) I digress.

    Let me try again, because to this point, I have not gotten a sufficient answer in my mind, from any of the promoters and defenders of fundamentalism, as to why I should wear the label and tow the line of the fundamental movement, when it waters down the practice of separation outside of the Gospel.

    As I said, I know that fundamentalism teaches separation from false teachers. I am sure that as an independent Baptist evangelist, you agree that Biblicist Baptists have and do separate from those same ravenous wolves, men preaching damnable heresies. NT Christianity has been doing that for 1900 years before fundamentalism came along. The question that needs to be answered here is whether or not, fundamentalism is a necessity for the Biblicist Baptist, who clearly would not only separate from a false teacher who rejects the Gospel doctrine in any facet, but from any brother as well that does not walk in accordance to ANY Apostolic doctrine as revealed in the NT canon. Why does NT Christianity need fundamentalism, when the NT demands separation in ALL doctrinal truths?

    What I have observed is that fundamentalism a movement that reduces and downplays separation/fellowship, so that as long as a man is a fundamentalist, then I can/should have Biblical fellowship with him. The test is “Is he a good fundamentalist?” FUNDAMENTALIST FIRST is the attitude of fundamental Baptists I know. In fact, they separate from men who are Biblicist Baptists, if they don’t wear the label and promote the movement, and it’s plethora of para-church organizations. To them, fundamentalism covers the multitude of other doctrinal errors besides Gospel doctrines. I don’t agree.

    Isn’t putting fundamentalism first, exactly what those Baptists did (and many still doing it today) that you mentioned in your article, those fundamentalist fathers?

    Did they not reason, as fundamentalists do today, that they could disobey scripture that mandates, not suggests, separation from erring brethren, as long as that brother is a fundamentalist?

    Were they not doing exactly what fundamentalists criticize men like Bauder, Jordan, Doran, and Olson for, when they sit on platforms with Rick Holland, JMac, Mark Dever? Are any of these men not saved?

    Did not fundamentalism promote then and now, the idea that it is Biblically permissible to sit on platforms with men who yes, held to the doctrines of the Gospel, but erred in other doctrinal truths of Biblical NT Christianity, as you said “to present a united protest against a problem that crossed denominational lines”????

  5. I am well aware that the Bible teaches that we should view an erring brother, (who the HS thru Paul said is ANY brother, fundamentalist or not, that obeys “not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”) not as an enemy, but as a brother. Different from a false teacher, I get that.

    You said, “We can work more closely with those with whom we agree the most in regard to Bible doctrine, without being disloyal to the truth. Yet any disagreement produces a degree of separation while not necessarily preventing all contact.” I don’t get that. That’s what Bauder and Olson and Jordan are saying. The Bible does not give me that liberty with any brother, when it comes to separation based on NT doctrine. NONE.

    Exactly where in Paul’s doctrinal epistles which are the basis for the NT church and believer, does Paul say that there are degrees of separation or fellowship. “NO company” seems pretty clear in II Thess. 3:24. Earlier in II Thess. 3, Paul says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”

    Command doesn’t seem to indicate it’s optional or degrees of fellowship. What I have observed is a danger of fundamentalism is the making gray, areas of separation that the NT makes black and white. And yes, I’m talking about doctrine outside of Gospel truth. My proposition is that any deviation from NT doctrinal truth is that which demands withdrawal from that brother on the part of the NT believer/church…even if he is a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism never has and never will take separation to it’s NT completeness, therefore, it is fundamentally flawed in my mind.

  6. Dr. Flanders to sum up the discussion

    It is my hope that this conversation has not been wearying to Brother Rogers, and that it has done some good for us.

    It appears to have degenerated into confusion caused by our discussing too many subjects at once. Let me just make clear that the point of my article was that the principle of Christian fundamentalism is based on the truth that there is an essential difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, light and darkness. That fact leads to the various application of the doctrine of separation in our lives and ministries. The vital point in this concerns the principle of fundamentalism more than any fundamentalist movement, and it and it cannot be denied. God divides the light from the darkness. May we do the same.

    Rick Flanders