March 5, 2013


The very idea of a unified Fundamentalism brings forth a chuckle of derision.  Having been personally involved in Fundamentalism for over forty-four years, I find the very notion of unity within Fundamentalism ridiculous. Fundamentalism has always been divided into numerous theological taxonomies. In most part, these various taxonomies had little or no identification or cooperation with one another other than a general taxonomy in that they agreed there were certain fundamentals of the Christian faith. They did not even necessarily agree on the details of those fundamentals. Therefore, Fundamentalism was always divided by adjectives such as Presbyterian Fundamentalism, Methodist Fundamentalism, Congregational Fundamentalism, Pentecostal Fundamentalism, Baptist Fundamentalism, or varying associations or groups of fundamentalists like the F.B.F., I.F.C.A., G.A.R.B.C., and ad infinitum. The point is that divisions have always been a defining factor within the nomenclature known as the Fundamentalist Movement. Separating from various groups within the movement has also been a descriptor of Fundamentalism. Perhaps this is what defines the word movement.  

There are those that have given the analogy that Fundamentalism is like an ocean liner that has developed huge holes in it caused by divisions. These people postulate that those dividing are actually taking big pieces of the ship with them causes the holes. Instead, I would postulate that the divisions have been attempting to deal with the holes innate to Fundamentalism by using rescue boats to escape the originally corrupt movement. It is those that have escaped the ambiguous nomenclature of Fundamentalism with definitive doctrinal positions that are the hopes for giving it any real and lasting hope and purpose. Those postulating that the divisions are the problem simply do not understand that such evolving taxonomy is normal.  

From the beginning of the Fundamentalist Movement, there has been a continual evolution of divisions that no longer cooperated with one another. Divisions within divisions even developed. Were some of these divisions nonsensical? Probably, but those within those new divisions did not think they were unimportant. They believed they would answer to Jesus at the Judgment Seat and felt compelled to act upon what they believed to be important. These new divisions acted upon convictions or preferences they thought important. I want to understand what they believe and I want to talk with them to discover why they think a new division is essential. I may persuade them or they may persuade me, but I will listen and hear what they have to say. These are conversations in which I regularly participate, especially with young pastors just going into the ministry.

The latest unity craze within Fundamentalism is really a form of Ecumenicism between various professing Fundamentalists, Conservative Evangelicals, Evangelicals, and even many New Evangelicals. Within this New Ecumenicism are included almost all forms of Reformed Theology, Covenant Theology, and those holding to non-cessation of miraculous gifts such as tongues and healers. Ecumenicism is defined as dialogue between diverse theological beliefs in order to set aside many doctrinal distinctions in order to promote a common good. Those within Ecumenicism are those willing to cooperate together in the common good. This common good within broad, or universal Ecumenicism, has evolved into political and social activism in promoting the social gospel and the advancement of Socialism in the world.  

Most New Evangelicals immerse themselves in Ecumenicism. This Ecumenicism became apparent in the formation of Ministerial Associations in cities all over the country. In the city of Hutchinson, MN (about 13,000 people), almost every pastor in town (but me) belongs to the Ministerial Association.  

Old Fundamentalism completely rejected Ecumenicism. New Fundamentalism has developed its own form of Ecumenicism within their newly redefined parameters. These New Fundamentalists are no longer content with having considerable and uncooperative divisions within their Fundamentalist Movement. These New Fundamentalists want a new Ecumenicism that promotes some kind of pseudo-unity for the common good. This never existed in any real way within the Fundamentalist Movement before. There were a few organizations that attempted conferences promoting such unity, but they never achieved it in any practical way. They got along fairly well as long as no one started talking about theology.  

The very idea of unity within the broad stream of Fundamentalism is ludicrous. It is not ludicrous because we should not discuss differences in beliefs with those with which we disagree. It is ludicrous to think that there can be some kind of unity within diverse theological divisions just for unity's sake. The very notion is bizarre. Unity is the outcome of unifying beliefs, unifying practices, and unifying attitudes/emotions. We cannot simply create a taxonomy called Unity and put within it anyone willing to be included. How would such taxonomy be defined? - All Those That Do Not Care about Doctrinal Unity. This defines New Fundamentalism as New Ecumenicism.  

Old Fundamentalism has always been divided into numerous uncooperative theological divisions. New Fundamentalism condemns that, even calling what has historically been normal to be now abnormal. There is an uncertain trumpet being sounded here. These New Fundamentalists are speaking in a language of words that have no meaning. How can one have unity where there are doctrinal divisions? How can that happen without changing areas of disagreement? Unity within disunity - really, is there anyone gathering to the sound of that uncertain trumpet?

Dr. Lance Ketchum
Reprinted by permission


  1. How tight should we draw the "fellowship" circle? I appreciate Bro. Ketchum's remarks about how he attempts to learn from other fundamentalists who disagree over issues. I believe it is good to discuss important issues, both to strengthen our own doctrinal positions and challenge them.

    I wholeheartedly agree that it is a mistake to join together with Reformed leaders and Evangelical leaders. There are some very fundamental differences here! The tension is this - do we draw our circle of fellowship so tight that we are merely associating with virtual clones of ourselves? Striking the appropriate balance in seperation, especially if it is beyond the local church level in academic contexts, is difficult. The clear need for firm seperation from those we honestly believe are in error still stands, however.


    1. TylerR,

      You said.."The tension is this - do we draw our circle of fellowship so tight that we are merely associating with virtual clones of ourselves?"

      The truth is that we are all supposed to be in the process of conforming to the image of Jesus Christ through the work of the HS and the Word of God. With that in mind, NT Christians should look more and more like each other. We are not to become clones of ourselves as such, but of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      This goes back to the idea that Biblical separation is not so much about dividing from compromise and error but about unity with the truth, which allows fellowship with God. Separation is not just being set apart from error but it is also being set apart UNTO the Lord.

      I don't need to fellowship with disobedient brethren in order effectively stand for truth. I don't need to know all the ins and outs of their theological and doctrinal perspective in order to get the full picture. I have the full picture in the inspired, preserved Word of God and the infallible illumination of the Word by it's author, the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. This is the essence of my Biblicist conviction. Movement politics, conferences, colleges, fellowships and associations etc. do not affect it, because it's rooted in a conforming to Christ, not men. Whatever or whoever leaves (idea of heretic) that truth, will look less and less like my Savior and thus hopefully, less and less like me. My focus is to be Holy as HE is Holy. There is no tension with this practice of fellowship, no matter who the brethren are that are being discussed.

    2. Steve:

      You are correct about the goal of progressive sanctification. I want to make it very clear that I agree with you - I am even going to borrow your remark "Biblical separation is not so much about dividing from compromise and error but about unity with the truth."

      My point is that the circle we draw around what is "disobedient" can very quickly become so tight so as to exclude everybody. For example - pretend we have Pastor X and Pastor Y, both independent, fundamental Baptists, dispensationalists, premillennial, etc.

      Pastor X's honest belief is that God preserved His word indirectly and therefore any Bible translation is the faithful word of God insofar as it reflects the extant copies of the various manuscripts we have in our possession. Pastor Y believes God miraculously inspired the KJV and this is the only Bible He uses - period. Pastor X has no problem with the KJV, he even uses it when he preaches in certain venues so as to not cause disunity and uproar. He bends to accommodate Pastor Y and others in their cooperative fellowship, and does so gladly. Pastor X eventually "finds out" Pastor Y is not a "KJV man," and after much prayer, decides to separate from him. He cannot, in good conscience, tolerate the false teaching of liberal theology which tolerates perverted Bible versions.

      Storytime is over - is this issue worth separating over? The point of my little fairytale is not to launch into a KJV debate, but merely to illustrate a very practical point - there is a great deal of tension where the rubber meets the road. Again, should we draw the circle so tight that we exclude virtually everybody? Talk theology with other Pastors long enough, and I mean going deeper than surface level, and you'll find something you don't agree with. The tension is where, precisely, we should draw the circle.

      We're on the same page with more clear-cut issues. When things are a little murkier, and we're kidding ourselves if we say they are always so clear, than we see this tension firsthand.


  2. Lou,

    You have to love that SharperIron site. As a blog for fundamentalists, it's very selective in its coverage. For instance, it reported on the Bob Jones racial issue with tenacity. And of course it crucified Chuck Phelps. But nary a word about NIU. The omission is thunderous. Someone's covering for someone.


    1. The NIU thing is weird. I don't see why it doesn't merit a filing, at least.


  3. TJP, to add to that list of faux pas at SI, is the SGM debacle that is being talked about in an SIfiling. As you said, they have "crucified," villified Pastor Phelps...but CJ Mahaney and the SGM elders? Heavens NO! We really don't know them...but we know Pastor Phelps! What rubbish! What double standards! What duplicity! And yes, the silence about NIU is DEAFENING! The NIU ship has slipped its fundamentalist moorings for evangelicalism and not nary a word from SI.

  4. To All:

    They will deny it to the death and to their dishonor, but Sharper Iron (SI) has from its inception practiced censorship by omission. See these articles...

    SI: Censorship by Omission

    SI: "You LIE!"