I’m not sure what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘fundamentalist’, but for many people, it’s not at all a desirable label.
Today, fundamentalist carries the connotation of someone who is very hard-core, uncompromising, tone deaf, ultra conservative, “Bible-thumping” — a kind of Christian fanatic. Not exactly anything that’s in vogue right now!
And, sadly, many believers (including myself at times) have lived out aspects of this negative sense of the word fundamentalism. Whenever we take minor issues and blow them wildly out of proportion, or loudly respond to some nuanced cultural event with Bible verses ripped out of context, we are not doing the church a favour!
Whenever we take minor issues and blow them wildly out of proportion, we are not doing the church a favour
But have you ever checked out the history of the fundamentalist movement? It’s actually quite surprising and instructive — and ironic.
The Christian fundamentalist movement started in 1910-1915 with the publication of an essay series called, “The Fundamentals”. These essays were responses to challenging ideas arising out of Europe — scholarly criticism of the Bible’s reliability, for example. More than three million copies of The Fundamentals were mailed out (you can read more about them here).
In effect, these essays defended the core ideas of the faith. They outlined the beliefs the authors thought Christians should all agree on at the end of the day.
In my opinion, those Christians 110 years ago did a great job boiling down the complexities of theology and summarizing them in a succinct, thoughtful, and understandable way. Although I don’t agree with every single essay, they wisely responded to the challenges of their day by reminding themselves of what the central gospel message is.
And that was the genius of the original fundamentalist movement. It was an attempt to recapture the core truths of the Christian faith; to dig through complex secondary issues, set those aside, and come to rest on bedrock, foundational beliefs.
Saints, I suspect it may be time to do that again. What do you think?
To be honest, whenever I look around at the church today, I’m discouraged to see how much energy, emotion, and time behind the pulpit is spent diving into ideas that are — at best — secondary, and — at worst — completely inconsequential. Countless relationships are ruined, churches split, and hours wasted because we lose a sense of proportion about what is primarily important about our faith.
I love how Paul put it: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
There’s a reason the apostles reminded people what the gospel was primarily about (see 1 Timothy 3:16 for another example of this). Likewise, the early church wisely developed short creeds to summarize the essential tenets of the Christian faith. And then, The Fundamentals essays tried to do the same thing.
When it’s all said and done, our opinions about today’s cultural and political events won’t matter as much
These examples are well-worth learning from. We should strive to be more fundamentalist in our views — not in the sense of being more extreme, uncompromising, or militantly opinionated, but rather by planting our flag in the essentials of the faith.
When it’s all said and done, our opinions about today’s cultural and political events won’t matter as much. But do you know what will always matter?
As Paul put it: Christ died and was buried. He was raised. And through Him, we have salvation. That matters. Those are the essentials, the fundamentals of the faith.
Let’s be known by our commitment to those.
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