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.