What is a True Biblical Fundamentalist?
The dictionary would define a fundamentalist as a person who believes in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture in a religion. Therefore, a Biblical fundamentalist would be someone who believed in the strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, the term “fundamentalist” has been used in recent years to define a person with radical views, somewhat similar to an extremist. Often such people are assumed to be associated with terrorism and, in general, unrest in society.
In recent times, the term “fundamentalist” has become commonly used by the news media to refer to any religious group whom they consider to hold radical views. We may recall frequent references to the mid-east Islamic fundamentalists who have been viewed as fanatics, and often responsible for acts of terrorism.
Similarly, liberal society uses the term fundamentalist to identify any Christian whom they consider to be an extremist. Generally, they classify a Christian as a radical fundamentalist if they merely believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, if they hold views against sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, abortion on demand, or any views which are politically incorrect.
From the Christian perspective, fundamentalist has traditionally referred to any follower of Christ who believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and who believes in its literal interpretation and fundamental teachings. The fundamental Christian believes in the experience of the “new birth” which occurs when faith is placed in Christ as Savior and Lord. To the world this may be viewed as radical, but is very basic to the Christian faith.
However, this is a political definition that is often assumed by those who see all fundamentalist believers of any sort to be anti-society and trouble-makers. Not all fundamentalist believers are such. This document will focus on a specific type of fundamentalist, the Biblical fundamentalist, whom we will define as a person who believes in the strict, literal interpretation of the Bible.
In order for a person to believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, he or she must make a very important assumption: that if the Bible is the truth (Thy word is truth – John 17:17) then it must be the overruling authority on all matters concerning truth. Effectively, if the Bible declares a certain truth, then such truth must automatically veto any other “truth” that is inconsistent with the Bible’s truth. All other documents that claim to be Biblical truth must be in agreement with the Bible, or be dismissed as heresy.
Any fundamentalist commentaries or books defining Biblical doctrine must also be subject to the overruling truth of the Bible. This is where it can get confusing for some who might prefer to define their doctrines from a source other than the Bible, be it church statement of faith, pastoral authority or Bible teacher. Those who claim to be Bible teachers may also use a variety of media: word-of-mouth, tapes, CDs, DVDs, books, study guides, etc. However, if they claim to be fundamentalist, they must be consistent with Biblical truth or else be termed heretic.
Any person calling himself (or herself) a Biblical fundamentalist must also be subject to the overruling truth of the Bible. Their teachings also must be assessed according to the truth of the Bible before they may be called truth. No matter what their supporting references say, nor how scholarly the authors, they may only be declared Biblically fundamentalist if the Bible itself declares them to be truth!
For this purpose, those of Berea challenged Paul concerning his teachings.
Acts 17:11 – These (the Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
The Bible also commands Christians to test all things according to the Bible.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 – Prove (test) all things; hold fast that which is good.
So why are there so many books, CDs, DVDs, etc telling us what we must believe from the Bible? For example, back in 1996 I was given The Zondervan Pastor’s Annual, which claimed to have a planned preaching program for the whole year, including complete sermon outlines (2 per Sunday) plus mid-week Bible studies, plus other “necessary” helps for such as funerals, marriages, etc. Why, a pastor could do his whole year from this one book! He could spend more time fishing with his mates, perhaps evangelising them over a couple of cold cans in his boat!
But seriously, why would a pastor need to have all his messages and studies set out for him like this? Are pastors these days so lazy that they cannot study the Bible for themselves in order to be effective spiritual leaders of their people? Is it necessary for them to have their sermons written for them? And how can mass-produced sermons, messages and studies be of benefit to specific congregations with differing spiritual needs? Why do we have to have DVDs for our Bible studies, especially when the DVD is produced by someone who doesn’t know anything about the needs of our local churches?
And then there are all those commentaries and devotionals that purport to give us homilies full of nice-sounding platitudes that please the majority of those listening (or viewing). They often sound so convincingly on-the-ball that we tend to accept at face value what they are teaching, without testing all things against the truth of the Bible. Today’s catch-cry is: if it sounds OK, then it must be OK!
When the pastor teaches on doctrinal issues, how many actually look up their Bibles to see if what’s being taught is really there? That the interpretation given is actually Biblical? Or, instead, how many are so convinced that their pastor just cannot be so wrong as to teach them false doctrines? People still take their Bibles to church (though not as many as used to), but there’s much less checking out of other Bible passages to ascertain the consistency of the doctrine being taught. All too often the pastor goes through a Bible passage or topic and generally only covers specific verses without reference to other verses for consistency. Add to this the problem that when pastors do quote supporting Scripture, he may mention them so quickly that there is insufficient time to check them out in the service, yet how many in the congregation are going to make a list of the verses and check them out later?
I note that MacArthur (in The Doctrine of Actual Atonement Part 1) says “Now, are you with me? I have listed here about fifty passages of Scripture, 5-0.” Yet, I can find only 12 quoted passages. It’s just possible that perhaps there might have been 2 or 3 more that were briefly alluded to that I missed, but I don’t think so. Even if I counted individual verses and not passages of Scripture, the number would still be well below the claimed 50. I wonder just how many of those listening actually counted them up? Or do they really care anyway? (Or perhaps MacArthur has quoted 50 passages but from what scripture? Not the Bible, that’s for sure!)
As an example of testing consistency, John 6:44 says No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. According to calvinists, this means that only those drawn by the Father will come to salvation, thus proving their doctrine of limited atonement (that is, that Jesus only died for those who will be saved). But consistency demands that this be true elsewhere in the Bible. Well, John 12:32 says And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] unto me. Note that the word “draw” is the same term in each case; therefore Biblical consistency requires that the two passages both rest upon the same truth. Thus, all are drawn to the cross of Jesus, but not all receive salvation. This is not what calvinists teach! (For further explanation on this, please see John 6:44)
Another example is 1 John 2:2 – And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world. Calvinists teach that “the whole world” means only those who are believers. Of course, that would mean that the group represented by “our” in “he is the propitiation for our sins” has to be a smaller group than “the whole world”. So calvinists teach that “he is the propitiation for our sins” only applies to the sins of Israel and that “the whole world” applies to all other Christians of all time in the world.
So, let’s look at the consistency of this explanation. 1 John Ch.2 follows on from 1 John Ch.1 in its discussion on sinning. I’ll state 1 John 1:9 to 1 John 2:2.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.
Look at “our sins” underlined above. Biblical consistency requires this to refer to the same group of Christians. That is, what applies to one must apply to the other. So why do calvinists teach that “our sins” in 1 John 1:9 applies to all Christians, whereas “our sins” in 1 John 2:2 only applies to the Jewish Christians of John’s day? (For further explanation on this, please see 1 John 2:2)
Some might say that all this thinking is too confusing and that it’s far easier to just accept what the pastor says; after all, that’s what he’s there for, isn’t he? But, “testing all things” is a Biblical requirement to think things through according to Biblical truth. And, it’s laziness that prompts most Christians to not be bothered worrying their minds over what they think is a “can of worms”. Thus, those who can talk the best end up being those who determine the doctrine. And in other walks of life, those who can talk the best we call con-men, car-salesmen, politicians etc, all people who rely upon being believable (even when many of them tell blatant lies)!
The problem with calvinism is that its doctrines are defined by Calvin’s writings in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin), rather than by the Bible itself. There are many places where Calvin teaches clearly non-Biblical views, some of which even calvinists today are not aware of. For example, Calvin taught that not all those who appear to be chosen by God for salvation are actually chosen! Even those affected don’t realise that they weren’t actually saved in the first place, because God misleads them into thinking that they were saved! Calvin taught that God gave, by “an inferior operation of the Spirit”, a temporary faith to some, and that, before they died, God would remove their faith and send them to hell. (Read this blasphemy of “an inferior operation of the Spirit” in Calvin’s Institutes Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 11)
For further information on calvinists and their idea of Biblical interpretation, please see Calvinism and Biblical Interpretation & When will calvinists become Biblical? & Oh, the persistent inconsistencies of calvinists! & Oh how the calvinists twist and pervert the Bible & Why are calvinists so unbiblical, uneducated and unscholarly?
Calvin also believed that child baptism was effective for salvation throughout a person’s life. He also believed that it was permissible to imprison or execute those who disagreed with his doctrines. This included the Anabaptists who were persecuted mainly because they baptised believers rather than infants.
Serious punishments (imprisonment or banishment from Geneva) were applied by Calvin to those who committed the crime of not attending church on Sunday morning (or any other day, for Calvin often had 3 or 4 services throughout the week). Being late for church merited a warning the first time, followed by a fine for continuing tardiness. Other crimes, such as disagreeing with Calvin’s doctrines, could be punishable by execution!
He also taught that every action of all mankind was foreordained by sovereign God, including murder. Much of his Institutes has the appearance of being in general agreement with the Bible, yet there are many places of disagreement, particularly dealing with the gospel. For such points of disagreement, it is normal practice for many calvinists today to assume that Calvin was such a great teacher that he just couldn’t be wrong. That is, to the calvinist, Calvin’s Institutes takes precedence over the Bible when establishing Biblical truth. Of course, calvinists will vehemently deny such, but that in itself cannot prove them right. Of course they will deny it, yet we must still test all things to see for ourselves if such is true! (And when calvinists cannot prove their point from the Bible alone, they often claim it to be a mystery that God does not permit us to understand! Or, if you don’t accept that, they will often refuse to speak to you!)
Where the true church has strayed from the fold somewhat is in failing to test all things against the truth of the Bible. They consider those esteemed “teachers” and “pastors” to be teachers of truth yet they never check fully enough just what these people are teaching! Churches are falling away from the fundamentals of Biblical truth because they blindly trust those whom they have put in charge of their flocks. Far too many pastors are getting their “truth” from material produced by people who do not have a firm understanding of the truth of God’s word.
Many churches have books and other materials produced by well-known calvinists such as MacArthur, Piper and Sproul, and lesser-known people such as Tripp, Friel and Thomas. But, it’s not only the calvinists we’re trusting too much. All too often I hear of people extolling the virtues of Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and the like. Many might admit that such people may be controversial, yet they refuse to reject their teachings in spite of the serious heresies involved. In fact, far too often they are simply not aware that much of what such people teach is actually heresy!
And why do they not know about such heresy? Simply because, without using the Bible as absolute truth, they have no way of assessing the lies of heretics. If you wish to expose a Biblical heretic, you must use the Bible to do so. It never comes down to common sense or logical debate, much of which has more to do with philosophy than Scriptural truth. And the church today appears to have little idea of how to use the Bible to assess the truth or otherwise. So, they just leave all that interpretation to the “trusted experts” who have often been recommended by other “trusted experts”. However, if the Bible is for all people to read and learn from, then it must be understandable, at least for all the basics (or fundamentals) of the faith!
Thus, if a church desires to be truly Biblically fundamentalist, then it has to learn to test (prove) all things. It must be prepared to look critically at the materials it uses in its various church activities, and to reject those materials that do not adhere to the truth of the Bible. And this isn’t just for the pastor or the church leaders; all the Christians in that church must take responsibility for testing all things according to the Bible. Remember, you can’t be saved just because the pastor might be saved, so why should you leave your understanding in the hands of the pastor? Sure, that may cause some to have a lot more work than before, but what’s the alternative? Be lazy and unaware of the heresy creeping in? (Especially if you use materials produced by other alleged “trusted teachers”!)
It is interesting that all of the calvinist (or reformed doctrine) believers that I know that speak of the beginnings of their calvinist beliefs have a common feature in their testimonies. They all declare that there was either a person or documentation that “opened their eyes to the knowledge of a higher view of God’s sovereignty” (or similar words, with perhaps “grace” instead of “sovereignty”). It is also interesting to note that genuine Christians who read the Bible alone for the learning of doctrine will rarely, if ever, turn to calvinist beliefs without reference to extra calvinist literature or material.
Calvinists almost always talk about those people who “opened their eyes” at some point in time, be it pastor, reference book (or other media), commentary, or friend. Often their understanding of the Bible changed radically after this contact, such that they literally took a new direction, away from the direction they’d been originally been going.
Most of such people tend to quote other “learned teachers” (such as Sproul, MacArthur, Piper, Mohler etc), documents such as the Westminster Confession and Calvin’s Institutes, and studies based upon the teachings of calvinists. There is an extremely strong tendency to avoid all references except those from calvinist sources. The emphasis has clearly shifted from the Bible itself to what calvinists teach about the Bible.
Being a qualified statistician (with a 3 year major at university) I have a good appreciation of the patterns that exist in society. In fact, the study of societal patterns is an extremely interesting and rewarding activity. Based upon my observations of many Christians over the years, I have observed some patterns similar to those I have just noted above. Christians who faithfully study the Bible without any pre-conceived ideas tend to be what I would call evangelical fundamentalists. Many of them have little understanding of calvinism either, yet have a strong faith that cannot be shaken from its foundations in the Bible. The Bible is the only source of absolute truth for such people; all other “truths” must be measured up against the truth of the Bible. To support their doctrines they quote the Bible without any extra added teaching from elsewhere. This is commendable.
On the other hand, I see many alleged Christians using other sources for their claimed doctrines. The Uniting Church, for example, years ago had a statement saying that the Bible contained the word of God. It wasn’t “The word of God”, mind you, but just contained it! That is, some of the Bible might not have been the word of God, and perhaps the word of God was contained in other documents as well. No wonder their doctrines are so ungodly!
But calvinists are no better. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses with their Watchtower Society, or the Mormons with their Book of Mormon, or the Seventh Day Adventists with their writings of Ellen White, or even the catholics with their catechisms, the calvinists have their documentation, without which the Bible cannot (according to them) make as much sense! It is Calvin’s Institutes (and the plethora of calvinist “teachers”) that define calvinist doctrine from the Bible, not the Bible itself. Without Calvin’s teachings, calvinism wouldn’t have existed! Without Calvin’s teachings, Christians could be free to study their Bibles without other “truths” crowding in on them. Calvinism cannot exist without Calvin’s teachings. One comment to our website said, “Calvinism simply quantifies many passages of the bible, and the doctrines of Calvin or doctrines of the Bible. He merely helps to magnify theology.” Apart from being grammatically vague, it appears to claim that Calvin makes sense of the Bible. Yet the Bible should be making sense of Calvin!!
Like the catholics (who declared Augustine to be the Doctor of Doctors) and the Lutherans (note that Luther was an Augustinian monk), calvinism is based upon the teachings of Augustine. From one apostate person (Augustine, who was an avid learner of Plato and the Manicheans) has come the doctrines that not only built the catholic church, but also the calvinist dogma. A brief study of Augustine should satisfy any realistic Christian that he was not a good role model for proper living. So why do we pay him so much attention?
Many of our churches that used to be fundamentalist a generation or two ago are now sadly slipping into serious heresy. The saddest part of this is that most of them just do not realise that they have strayed from true Biblical teaching. The reason for their slipping away (which is not testing all things according to the Bible) is the same reason that they do not realise how far they have slipped. Bit by bit they have permitted their leaders and the materials they use to take control of their beliefs. No longer do they read the Bible to see for themselves what they should believe; instead they have grown comfortable in listening to their leaders and trusting all that they teach. It’s the path of least resistance, for it does cause some friction when people are prepared to test all things against the truth of the Bible.
Churches are more like social groups than ever before. This can particularly be seen in America where large churches may be involved in not only Sunday services, but education, psychological and counselling services, some medical assistance, old-age care, day-care centres, and so on. Many church members provide special services (such as plumbing, electrical, mechanical etc) to other church members. Some churches have reached the stage where they are involved in just about every facet of the church member’s life. People often choose their church on the basis of the social grouping attending that church. Some even change jobs and/or shift across country to be part of such churches.
However, the payoff is savage: the last thing that appears to be researched when choosing a new church is the actual doctrine itself. If the people seem nice and “normal”, then the church must be alright! People just seem to want to trust the pastor, and pastors in general prefer people to trust them. It saves a lot of argument if no-one actually tests what the pastor says. People who test pastors may get a name for being trouble-makers with pressure being brought to bear upon them through public disciplining, or even to depart for another church, all because they are obeying the scriptural command to test (prove) all things!
Don’t rock the boat, some will say. Others will point out that we are not to judge others, quoting Matthew 7:1 – Judge not, that ye be not judged. Yet how many realise that, in context, it really means that the way we judge others will be the way we will be judged. Look at the whole passage here in Matthew 7:1-5 – 1Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [is] in thine own eye? 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
That is, if you judge another, firstly make sure you are not guilty of the same offence yourself.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians telling them that they had a responsibility to judge those who were within their group; the one who sinned had to be judged and dealt with!
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 – 12For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Others who were unruly (the word means disorderly; out of ranks – often so of soldiers; immoderate; deviating from acceptable behaviour) were to be warned, based upon a judgment of their behaviour.
1 Thessalonians 5:14a – Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly
Still others will say that we are to be peacemakers, especially among the brethren. Yet being a peacemaker never requires an acceptance of heresy, for those who teach heresy should be put out from among the brethren.
1 Timothy 1:3b – that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine
Titus 3:10 – A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;
And because the church today has lost its sense of testing all things scripturally, people don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to judge others, even when something might smell bad, very bad. They are afraid to be seen as causing trouble because then others won’t like them as much – that appears to be very important today! Those who stand firm on the truth of the Bible are often condemned as troublemakers.
In this way, Biblical fundamentalism has nose-dived into a morass of heresy taught by an ever-increasing group of opportunistic con-men who are achieving their aim in life: to live well at the expense of the more gullible. There are so many false teachers out there, and the only way to assess any and every one of them is to put their teachings under the scrutiny of the truth of the Bible. But, with so many to test today, it is essential that every born-again Christian learn the truths of the Bible for himself (or herself), thus reducing their dependence upon the opinions of other “teachers”. The real truth of the matter is that in order to be able to test all things scripturally, a Christian has to have a good working knowledge of the Bible him/herself. And, if a Christian has a good working knowledge of the Bible, then it lessens the risk of deception by false teachers.
Even if a person is a new Christian and unsure of his/her understandings of scriptural truths, that person should avoid learning from anyone whom they cannot implicitly trust concerning their teachings. There is no easy way for any Christian, even new ones, to learn scriptural doctrines; in order to avoid false teachers, they must test all things (including those who teach) from the beginning of their Christian lives. Biblical fundamentalism requires a strict adherence to the truth of the Bible, and this can only be learned by studying the Bible for oneself! No-one can (or should) do it for you; you will only grow if you do the training for yourself!
1 Thessalonians 5:21 – Prove (test) all things; hold fast that which is good.
2 Timothy 2:15 – Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
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