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Contending for the Faith

by Fred Moritz

What is Fundamentalism?

O wad some power the giftie gie us

To see oursel's as ithers see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us,

And foolish notion:

What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us

And ev'n devotion!

–Robert Burns, "To a Louse"

Robert Burns's words whimsically remind us that we need to evaluate ourselves periodically. The poem, "To a Louse," bears a subtitle that reads "On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church"! Apparently, several characters in this incident needed to see themselves as others saw them. Burns shows us that Jenny had no idea how silly she looked with the louse parading across her finery. It seems the preacher could have used a good dose of objective evaluation as well. Perhaps the worship was dull and the preaching quite boring that Lord's Day if a louse could so capture the poet's attention! We really do need to see ourselves as others see us.

This chapter is going to examine several evaluations of Fundamentalism from history. As we see scholarly evaluations of how this movement began and what distinguished it from the beginning, we can learn much. Dominant traits appear that become the "irreducible minimum" in describing Fundamentalism.

Scripture declares that David "served his own generation by the will of God" (Acts 13:36). Understanding the classic distinctives of Fundamentalism from generations past will enable us to maintain a balance and sense of direction as we seek to serve the Lord in our own generation. Perhaps we can also avoid some of the "blunders and foolish notions" of which Burns wrote.

A Brief Overview

Larry Pettegrew has succinctly described the historic use of the term "Fundamentalist":

Actually, the term, "fundamentalist," was first used of a movement in the July 1, 1920, issue of The Watchman Examiner. The editor, Curtis Lee Laws, was suggesting possible terms to describe a group of Bible-believing Baptists in the Northern Baptist Convention which was opposing a growing apostasy in the Convention. He concluded his search for a good name by saying: "We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called 'Fundamentalists.' "1

Pettegrew, and Curtis Lee Laws before him, saw two elements in nascent Fundamentalism. The movement contains at least a doctrinal element ("the fundamentals") and a militant element ("do battle royal"). Rolland D. McCune sees three major elements in Fundamentalism today, which he names "crucial doctrine," "the distinctive of militancy," and "the distinctive of ecclesiastical separation."2

Fundamentalism's Doctrinal Development

The "fundamentals" were variously defined as the Fundamentalist movement developed. One of the first doctrinal formulations of what believers deemed fundamental to the faith came from the Niagara Bible Conference in 1878. The Confession of Faith listed fourteen articles:

  1. The verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures in the original manuscripts.
  2. The Trinity.
  3. The Creation of man, the Fall into sin, and total depravity.
  4. The universal transmission of spiritual death from Adam.
  5. The necessity of the new birth.
  6. Redemption by the blood of Christ.
  7. Salvation by faith alone in Christ.
  8. The assurance of salvation.
  9. The centrality of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
  10. The constitution of the true church by genuine believers.
  11. The personality of the Holy Spirit.
  12. The believer's call to a holy life.
  13. The immediate passing of the souls of believers to be with Christ at death.
  14. The premillennial Second Coming of Christ.3

From this beginning, further revisions emerged. The most well-known listing is the famous "five fundamentals," which are commonly cited today. Pettegrew describes their origin and content:

The 1910 General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church listed the following five: (1) Inerrancy, (2) Virgin Birth, (3) Substitutional Atonement, (4) Bodily Resurrection, and (5) Authenticity of Miracles. Later fundamentalists usually combined number five with one of the first four and included some statement on the second coming of Christ.4

These doctrinal "fundamentals" will be referred to regularly in this book.


Contending for the Faith. ByFred Moritz. ©2000. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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