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Contending for the Faith

by Fred Moritz

What is Fundamentalism?

Major Distinctives of Fundamentalism

We easily observe widespread agreement about the essential nature of Fundamentalism. Those who have written from a Fundamentalist perspective arrive at several common conclusions about the movement. They identify the following major distinctives:

  1. Fundamentalists stand for the Bible as the supernaturally revealed, inspired Word of God.
  2. Fundamentalists embrace a doctrinal frame of reference, most commonly identified by "five fundamentals." The 1910 General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church first articulated this formulation.
  3. Fundamentalists show a militant opposition to apostasy, otherwise known as modernism or liberalism.
  4. Separatism is a major distinctive of Fundamentalism.
  5. Fundamentalism has been, from the beginning, an interdenominational movement.
  6. A premillennial viewpoint is prominent in Fundamentalism, though this is not a test of fellowship.

Fundamentalism and Premillennialism

The issue of the premillennial rapture deserves comment. We list premillennialism as a distinctive of the movement because from the 1878 Niagara Confession of Faith forward, many held this view of the Lord's return. Liberals such as Sandeen, as well as several Fundamentalists, list it as distinctive of the movement. It is important to understand that not all Fundamentalists are premillennial, nor is it necessary to hold the premillennial view of Christ's return to be considered a Fundamentalist. Nevertheless, premillennialism is prominent in the movement. Beale says, "Most Fundamentalists agreed on a general premillennial scheme of eschatology but agreed to disagreeat least for a timeon minute details."24

Fundamentalism and Interdenominationalism

We have already seen that Fundamentalism places primary emphasis on the supernatural character of the Bible as God's revelation to the human race. We will develop that Fundamentalist belief in the next chapter. It is safe to say that Fundamentalists are what they are because they believe Scripture to be a revelation from God, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That conviction is the Fundamentalistsí foundationit is our very reason for being.

We who are Baptists are quick to assert that the very same tenet, the authority of Scripture, is also the reason we are Baptists. The same Word that teaches us our doctrine also mandates our practice. Chester E. Tulga stated, "The basic tenet of the historic Baptist faith is that the Bible is the Word of God and the sole authority of faith and practice."25 British pastor and historian Jack Hoad states, "It is the Biblical doctrine of the church, with an unqualified submission to Scripture as the Word of God, which becomes the test of what is a Baptist church."26 "The Baptist is a Scripture-ruled believer."27 In the New Testament, we find that local churches were independent of any outside controlling authority. They enjoyed a voluntary, fraternal relationship with one another (Acts 15:1-35). We find that only saved people became members of New Testament churches (Acts 2:47). The New Testament teaches only two officers in the local churchpastors and deacons (I Tim. 3:1-13)and only two symbolic ordinancesbaptism and the Lord's Supper (Rom. 6:3-5; I Cor. 11:23-34). Scripture declares that each believer is a priest before God and has direct access into the presence of God through the blood of Christ (I Pet. 2:9; Heb. 10:19-22). Jesus taught that the Christian lives in two frames of reference"Caesar's" and "God's" (Matt. 22:20-21). Therefore, we believe the church and the state should be separate. We hold that these issues of church practice (commonly called the Baptist distinctives when combined) come from and are mandated by Scripture.

Having said that, we must understand that Fundamentalism began as an interdenominational movement. Christians who believed the Bible and opposed modernism set aside their denominational distinctives to come together and lift a united voice for those truths that made up the "irreducible minimum" of Christianity. They fought against liberalism in their own denominations and also united outside denominational frameworks to fight against it. Richard Harris, himself a Baptist, explains the thinking of most Fundamentalists on this issue:

There have always been honest differences of interpretation on church organization, as well as on other issues, among good men who love Christ. There was a time when men could amicably differ on issues which did not affect fundamental Christian doctrine and still respect and firmly defend one another. Great Christian leaders of the past were able to respect those differences and yet recognize that the men with whom they differed were still Fundamentalists and brothers in Christ. They were Christian statesmen.28

Speaking of the formation of the American Council of Christian Churches in 1941, Harris goes on:

It made no difference that some of them were Baptist, some were Evangelical Methodists, some were Bible Presbyterians, and some of other persuasions. Their fellowship was characterized by their common belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant Word of God. All of them believed in the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement for sin, His bodily resurrection and ascension into Heaven and His coming again in power and glory. Each believed the Bible taught that the Church should be separate from apostasy and Christians should be obedient to Christ.29

The early Fundamentalists represented many denominational traditions, and Fundamentalism was an interdenominational movement. There should still be a place for Fundamentalists of various persuasions to come together and stand together for "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and against "certain men crept in unawares" (Jude 4). The American Council of Christian Churches still performs a legitimate service. It is still proper for the International Testimony to an Infallible Bible to call Fundamentalists from around the world to stand united in a World Congress of Fundamentalists. We need to help and encourage each other.


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: www.bju.edu/store.)

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