April 22, 2013

It’s Not About “Cultural Fundamentalism” It’s About Personal Separation

Dr. Chuck Phelps
It has become vogue to declare one’s loyalty to “historic fundamentalism” while distancing oneself from “cultural fundamentalism.”  “Historic Fundamentalism” is defined by those who affirm this paradigm as belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.  “Cultural Fundamentalism,” according to those who disenfranchise from it, is fixated on music, dress, ministry associations, and methods.1  While such an argument may be appealing, it is simply not valid.  Failure to biblically explain one’s position on matters pertaining to Christian liberty by attacking a newly created straw man called “cultural fundamentalism,” will cause increasing polarization among those who profess to know the Lord and love His Word.  Peace among the brethren will not come as a result of pummeling the straw man called “cultural fundamentalism.”  Why not?  Because it’s not about “cultural fundamentalism,” it’s about personal separation!

Does Charles Spurgeon represent “Cultural Fundamentalism?” 

In 1887, C.H. Spurgeon wrote,
“At the present time it is a matter of notoriety that preachers of no mean repute defend the play-house, and do so because they have been seen there.  Is it any wonder that church members forget their vows of consecration and run with the unholy in the ways of frivolity, when they hear that persons are tolerated in the pastorate who do the same?  . . . . The fact is that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayers, dancing and sacraments.  If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it.  When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight.  Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.”  (The Sword and the Trowel, 1887)
Think about it . . .

1. The term “fundamentalism” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws in The Watchman Examiner in 1920.  Charles Spurgeon predates “fundamentalism” and thus cannot legitimately be called a fundamentalist. Yet, those who attack the straw man of  “cultural fundamentalism” must see that the straw man of their making sounds a lot like Spurgeon.

2. The cross-denominational Niagara Conference is considered to be the seed-bed out of which fundamentalism grew.  The Niagara Creed was written in 1878.  Statement #12 of Niagara’s Creed says,
“We believe that we are called with a holy calling to walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and so to live in the Spirit that we should not fulfill the lusts of the flesh; but the flesh being still in us to the end of our earthly pilgrimage needs to be kept constantly in subjection to Christ, or it will surely manifest its presence to the dishonor of His name: Rom. 8:12-13; 13:14; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:1-10; I Pet. 1:14-16; I John 3:5-9.”
Niagara’s Creed, which both predates and lays the foundation for the fundamentalist movement sounds a lot like the straw man now called “cultural fundamentalism.” 

With the statements of Spurgeon and Niagara in mind, it is without doubt revisionist history to seek to divorce “cultural separation” from historic fundamentalism.  Personal separation predates fundamentalism and flows through every pore of genuine Christianity.  Attacking personal separation by calling it a new name fails to deal with the fact that our faith requires personal separation.  Those who attack personal separation without interacting with Scripture may garner a following but they do not promote true biblical faith that interacts with culture and the holiness of God.

It’s not about “cultural fundamentalism.”  It’s about consecration as evidenced by and through personal separation!   Article #48 of The Fundamentals is simply entitled “Consecration.” (Note:  The Fundamentals are the articles that birthed “fundamentalism.”)  It is evident to all who will read this article and others in The Fundamentals that historic fundamentalism understood and interacted with biblical instruction concerning personal separation.  Those who seek to divorce personal separation from historic fundamentalism are revisionists who demonstrate an appalling ignorance of and perhaps even cavalier arrogance toward true biblical Christianity before the birth of fundamentalism, during the formation of historic fundamentalism and flowing from historic fundamentalism. 

For the genuine Christian, “personal Separation” predates “fundamentalism.”  It is rooted and grounded in our call to holiness (I Pet. 1:15-16; I John 2:15-17).  Even the word “church” (ekklesia, “called out”) is embedded with the necessity to separate.  Sadly, there are those who want to make a movement called fundamentalism defend separation and forget that separation is defended by and declared in Scripture.   

Beware of those who belittle personal separation by attacking “cultural fundamentalism.”  To belittle separatism is to belittle Scripture and to ignore what it means to live a life of consecration.  It’s not about “cultural fundamentalism,” it never has been.  It’s about living a consecrated life of personal separation to please a holy God.

Dr. Chuck Phelps

1) Dr. Matt Olson: Pursuing Transparency With Change
Some may ask, “Are you fundamentalists?” If you are talking about believing the fundamentals of the faith, being willing to separate over them, and being committed to living a holy life before God—then the answer is a resolute, “Yes.” If you are talking about our being willing to separate over “cultural fundamentalism” and its demands to separate over Bible translations, music, dress, methods of ministry, secondary associations, etc., the answer is an equally resolute, “No.” We cannot. (Italics added)
Related Reading:
Dr. Rolland McCune, Militancy Has Always Characterized Fundamentalism

This morning (4/24/13) the FBFI’s Proclaim & Defend blog has published the article by Dr. Phelps.  Please see, Chuck Phelps on Personal Separation.


  1. Lou,

    Here is a part of a related article on this subject. It can be found in whole at the Faith Theology and Ministry blog.

    "Fundamentalism has its rifts and debates.  It always has and always will.  There are several concurrent debates within Fundamentalism. While some of these remain a constant, others are growing.  Some of what occurs is ignorable as it is inconsequential.  Other matters must not be ignored or downplayed as they represent bold challenges against the foundations of the movement.

    "One such growing rift is between what some have termed the 'them' of cultural-Fundamentalism and the 'us' of theological-Fundamentalism.  The distinction between the two is in the realm of theological based stances to cultural issues.  However, do not let the names fool you into which side accepts what.  It is actually the theological-labeled element that is more accepting of currentcultural norms in our churches.

    "There have already been several articles which have documented the serious shortcomings of the so-called ideal Fundamentalism which is touted as the Fundamentalism worth saving.  (I personally believe that historic, Biblical Fundamentalism is still worth defending.)  This widely proclaimed new Fundamentalism, which is not Fundamentalism at all but a re-packaged New Evangelicalism, attempts to chip away at all aspects of Biblical Fundamentalism.  Sometimes it does so by casually changing previously accepted terms, meanings, and definitions.  At other times it does so by openly advocating fresh perspectives to replace the old, worn out, static positions of the past.  Examples of this are beginning to multiply especially in the area of Fundamentalism’s militancy and its ecclesiastical separation.  However, Fundamentalism’s personal separation has not been immune from these current deft but deliberate shifts either.  Though the spotlight has been on its militancy and its ecclesiastical separation, Biblical Fundamentalists need to rise to the occasion in defending the necessity of a personal separation for the believer in a time of increasing  acceptance of worldly culture within our churches.  Because the 'theological' versus the 'cultural' debate is the arena where the battles for and against Fundamentalism’s personal separation is occurring, it is a debate that must not be ignored."

  2. Last week was the first time I had ever heard or read the term "cultural fundamentalism". It was in the article that Matt wrote documenting the changes that he has spent the last few years declaring weren't changing. Dr. Phelps' article is excellent. When I first saw the term, the first thought I had was that those who would use it and defend it are those who refuse to seriously consider the term "worldliness" and how to apply the relevant Scriptural passages. It IS about personal separation and to minimize this by deceitful terminology is nothing but an excuse to feed the flesh. I'm truly sorry that a friend of nearly 30 years has chosen such a path and that he is pulling many people down with him.

  3. In an attempt to further evangelism, many have abandoned the need for sanctification. How we act, what we listen to, and what we look like, does make a difference. God tells us to be "Holy" as he is "Holy". The hallmark of Christianity is to be like Christ in both our proclamation and our practice. Men need to see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. When man comes to the end of self, they need to know that there is something different not a repackaged worldliness which they know does not work. Both evangelism and edification are part of the great commission.

  4. My thanks to Lou to and Pastor Phelps for addressing this phenomena of "cultural" fundamentalism. The other comments are pertinent to the topic at hand as well. Far too many have tried, for one reason or another, to paint "historic, authentic fundamentalism" as an ideal time in history, when it clearly was not. We are looking at history but more importantly we are dealing with men, men who still possessed a sinful, fallen nature. We are all "works in progress." In some form or fashion and on some level each generation has had to deal with these issues. This will always be the case because our world is not static.
    It is foolish to accept the notion that certain "cultural" issues are somehow of secondary importance. Most, if not all are tied to key doctrines, fundamentals, if you will, which we stand militant for. KJVO is an example. Certain advocates of such have done damage to the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy with their new found beliefs concerning the KJV translation. Last I knew both the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy were considered "fundamental" doctrines.
    I share with you a quote which was shared with me recently. "Religion today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society’s own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender." – A. W. Tozer

  5. Gentleman:

    I appreciate the comments you have posted here. This morning the FBFI's Proclaim & Defend blog has published the article by Dr. Phelps. Please see, Chuck Phelps on Personal Separation.


  6. With all of the discussion of late, what I am left wondering is:

    Those who are using the term "cultural fundamentalism" to rename "historic fundamentalism"...what do they do with all of the verses on worldliness, being separate, etc. Do they have any boundaries at all? What are they? If they do have boundaries of some sort, then why deride others who with their soul liberty and conscience choose tighter boundaries?

    And then, they also seem to think we are focused on minor issues and negating the gospel...why is it hard to understand that we believe that all aspects of a Christian's life should REFLECT the gospel and the Lord? We do have a larger purpose in mind.

    1. Anonymous...some very good questions!

      Eventually, they will settle into their "new normal standards" and do just what they accuse more conservative folks of doing: They will build their OWN "cultural fundamentalism" (their own levels of separation, really). They do this because they usually see culture as generally neutral.

      Many seem to think the gospel should be attractive, luxurious, or perhaps entertaining to the world. But even more so, they believe that the Christian's lifestyle should be neutral in these"minor issues". Yet, they will spin around and say a Christian's life should be a "whole-life-worship" model. Well...doesn't whole life imply...whole life??

      Some even call these areas of Godly living "minutiae". Since when is worship of God minutiae? Since when does God overlook HOW He is approached in worship? Wasn't it Jehovah Who laid out the minute plans for the temple and temple worship? Does the worship of God "in spirit and in truth" allow for any-old-style of worship? Does the worship of God "in spirit and in truth" mean ONLY heart attitude?

      In one particular ministry setting, our faculty and staff were urged and taught to think in and teach "critical thinking". Yet, when I attempted to apply critical thinking to the area of worship/music style, I was told that I needed to "raise the bar of the discussion" instead of arguing about minutiae. If worship styles are all neutral to the Lord, then we have large chunks of the Old Testament that will need to be edited.

      Of COURSE it matters what attitude and turn of heart one has. Genuine fundamentalism has always stood for that. (And yes, I know there are examples of imbalanced ministries.) But our God is also a consuming fire because of His holiness. Where is the discernment and today of erring on the side of wisdom instead of constantly pushing the envelopes of separation or "cultural fundamentalism"? They seem to believe that since there is always someone or some ministry more liberal than they, that their new tolerance levels are quite safe (and they ARE safe by comparison to those other extremes, but not necessarily safe compared to God's principles).

      And, Anonymous, one more thing they tend to do: They redefine worldliness. Whether they do it intentionally or not, they tend to redefine many terms...and unwary, good-willed Christians gradually get caught in this kind of word-transformation, thinking that because so-and-so has a doctorate, surely he knows the latest previously undiscovered Bible truths.
      A genuine fundamentalist, what I call a "heart-fundamentalist", (1) STANDS STILL and STRONG with compassion for souls on both the stated truths of Scripture and the principles of Scripture, (2) STEPS BACK by constantly returning to and reviewing basic truths, and STEPS FORWARD by carefully sifting through "new teachings and new techniques" (often involving minutiae) and earnestly compares them with Scripture lest he too quickly embrace a faulty doctrine OR practice.

      Be a Christian gentleman/or Christian lady, but may I say kindly, listen to what people say, but know that in the long run, people (including me) will DO what they truly believe. Eventually, the words will catch up with what their hearts believe as well. God sees and evaluates our thoughts, intents, attitudes, words, and works. It seems to me that "separation" or "Godliness" expresses these truths far better than the words "cultural whatever-ism".

    2. The extended comment immediately above was submitted by Dr. Dana Everson former NIU music faculty member.

  7. Unfortunately, the terms "cultural fundamentalism," "biblical fundamentalism," and/or "historic fundamentalism" are not, nor have never been, synonymous with biblical Christianity. Brother Everson has articulated this well. The point is that these terms, as they flesh themselves out, come no where near to a term like "godliness."

  8. Well stated Bro. Everson.

  9. Lou,

    On the heels of all that is happening at NIU, I what to ask the question I have not yet seen asked in a public forum: What about all the evangelists who spend their summers at Northland Camp? When will Steve Pettit, Will Galkin, Jeremy Frazor, and Aaron Coffee be required to take a stand in regards to the new Northland? It is my understand that both the Camp and the College are under the same umbrella organization--Northland Mission. How can FBFI men publicly reprove NIU and Dr. Olson, but then invite his friends and co-workers from Northland Camp to ministry in their churches and speak at their fellowships? The present unwillingness for these men to take the initiative and separate from all that is Northland will cause others to follow their lead and hesitate to separate as well. Some may even continue to send their young people to NIU.


    1. Gordon:

      You raise a good question. I am aware of a number of off-line conversations about the Northland ministry evangelists. One of the evangelists you name above has become persona non grata among certain ministries/fellowships (that once welcomed him) in part for his participation at and silence about what has become of Northland.


  10. From The Hufhand Report (April 26, 2013)

    As it relates to Dr. Matt Olson’s open letter entitled, “Pursuing Transparency with Change,” this is my only comment. Dr. Olson has come out of the closet and has officially declared what direction the school is going. Like many other schools who have openly declared their position on what we would consider “fundamental issues”, Northland has now joined ranks with such schools as Cedarville College, Taylor University, Grace College, Moody Bible Institute, etc. We now know where they stand on certain issues relative to the Doctrine of Separation, so let’s let them go their way and pray for them. We have written off several other schools who have gone the same way. My suggestion is simply encourage your young people to go elsewhere and if they choose to go to Northland, so be it. They haven’t denied the faith or turned their backs on the whole body of Christian truth as some schools have done over the last hundred years. No doubt there will be enough of their kind to keep the school afloat and I for one applaud their forthrightness in finally coming out of the closet, declaring their position. At least we now know where they stand officially and where they are headed.

    Dr. Larry Hufhand

  11. Good article. If only it were easier done than said.