“Fundamentalism” is a bit of naughty word in our society. It’s certainly not cool or hip.To many, it’s down right scary. To some, it conjures up images of masked men with explosives tied to their waist. Others imagine a wild eyed preacher pounding his 1611 King James Bible. To others, it’s a synonym for legalism and hypocrisy.
Les Ollila, former president of Northland Baptist Bible College, said, “There are those, even in Christian circles, who have mockingly said that a fundamentalist is one who has a lot of fun and a lot of dam but very little mental.” There are many people who find that characterization to be perfectly accurate – except maybe for the part about Fundamentalists having fun! Dr. Ollila acknowledges, “Sadly, some in the fundamentalist movement have tragically provided enough observable data to fuel those views.”
But the term fundamentalism doesn’t have to be a bad word. In fact, everyone is a fundamentalist! Everyone has certain fundamental principles that govern his or her life. Therefore, the question is not whether or not you are a fundamentalist, but what kind of fundamentalist you are.
At Bethany, we are Christian fundamentalists. We hold to fundamental doctrines of the historic Christian faith. This term caught on in the Twentieth Century when Bible-believing Christians were forced to take a stand against modernism and liberalism. These Christians rallied around such fundamental truths as the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. Though many in the fundamentalist movement have not done a good job representing the label, we still consider ourselves Fundamentalists because we are glad to hold to the fundamentals of our faith.
The Moody Handbook of Theology has this to say about Fundamentalism: “The word fundamentalist was first used in 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws, Baptist editor of the Watchman-Examiner, to identify someone who stood for the historic doctrines of the Christian faith in contrast to modern religious liberals who rejected doctrines such as the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and the genuineness of miracles.”
In this sense, “Fundamentalism” is a just another name for historic, biblical, orthodox Christianity. Even Kirsopp Lake, a liberal theologian and critic of Fundamentalism, said this: “It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the…survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians…The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church are on the Fundamentalist side.”
The simplest definition of Fundamentalism is that it is the adherence to those core, “fundamental” doctrines that have defined the biblical Christian faith. These fundamentals are central to all that we do at Bethany Baptist Church. If you look through our doctrinal statement you’ll see that we hold to the basic tenets of Christian orthodoxy. We believe that God is triune; that the Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and sufficient; that Jesus is the Son of God; that man is sinful and in need of redemption; that we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; that Christ is coming again; and many other of the central teachings that make Christianity unique. And like the Fundamentalists of the past we believe that these truths are not only worth believing but worth fighting for.
While perusing through our doctrinal statement, one will also see that we hold to an entire cluster of doctrines that have been associated with historic Fundamentalism. For those of you who like the technical terms, we’re classical dispensationalists, young earth creationists, complementarians, cessationists, mediate theologians, separatists, and premillennialists.
Why do I mention this as a “Bethany distinctive”? Afterall, there are many churches who adhere to these doctrines. But you may remember that it’s not any one idea, but the entire cluster of ideas, that are distinct to Bethany Baptist Church. We believe it’s important to state that, while holding to a philosophy of ministry that is different from many churches within the Fundamentalist movement, Bethany still holds to all the major doctrines that have defined historic Fundamentalism.
But these concepts and doctrines are more than just cold words printed on a paper. We passionately believe in the importance of sound doctrine. Here are a few reasons for holding to doctrine.
Why doctrine matters
Doctrine affects the way we live
One of the designations of theology is “practical theology”. I’ve always kind of chuckled when I’ve heard that. Oh, I get it. Practical theology is theology studied in such a way as to emphasize its practical application or uses instead of looking at it abstractly. I get the distinction between practical theology and systematic theology. But I still smile at the term because it seems to imply that there’s such a thing as impractical theology. There’s not a single doctrine that’s truly impractical. In some cases the application is more obvious. But everything we believe affects the way we live.
Who is God? What is He like? What did Jesus do for us? How does the Holy Spirit operate? How do I get saved? How should I live once I am saved? What is the basis for evangelism? How do I know what truth is? These are all questions that are answered by our understanding of theology. The answer to everyone of those questions affect how I live my day-to-day life.
Here at Bethany, we believe that one of the best ways to equip saints for Christian living is to ground the entire congregation in sound doctrine. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a bookwormy theologian. But all Christians should have a healthy grasp of the truths revealed in God’s Word.
Orthodoxy exists for orthopraxy.
Doctrine is the basis for unity
Most Christians desire unity. And who can blame them! It’s a praiseworthy goal. But what is the basis of our Christian unity? Unity is only as good as the principle it’s built upon. Therefore, it’s important to build Christian unity on a solid rock.
Some churches unite merely around their philosophy of ministry. They get a bunch of people together with a similar approach to ministry and try the rally around that, without much thought given to doctrine. At Bethany we do have a very definite philosophy of ministry and we believe it’s important. But without the foundation of sound doctrine, it’s proven to be a very insufficient foundation for unity. Churches that are built solely around their philosophy of ministry are often shallow and vulnerable to division and collapse.
Other churches try to unite around unity itself. To them, unity is the most important thing and doctrine is an annoying frustration that prevents Christians from getting along. But, the fact is, even these kinds of Christians can’t avoid doctrine. The statement “unity is more important than doctrine” is (ironically) a doctrinal statement. Furthermore, these kinds of churches have made it the most important doctrine. This is the one doctrine that they will unite around, at the expense of all others. Functionally, they even separate from those who reject their simplistic creed.
We highly value unity at Bethany. But we also believe that sound doctrine is the only reliable, biblical basis for Christian unity. Ignoring doctrine for the sake of unity might create union, but not true unity. By uniting around the fundamentals, we are fellowshipping around the Word of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ. Rather than being the enemy of Christian unity, doctrine is what makes unity possible.
Knowledge exists for koinōnía.
Doctrine leads to worship
What if I claimed to adore my wife but couldn’t tell you anything about her? What if I could tell you some, but not much? An adoration that’s not based on any knowledge won’t be very deep or meaningful. The same is true of our adoration of God. We can’t worship a God we don’t understand. Therefore, theology is essential to fueling our worship of God.
Some doctrines seem to affect our worship more than others. It’s easier to get excited about the doctrine of God’s amazing grace than the memorialist view of Communion. But ultimately all theology goes back to God Himself. Every doctrine we hold to makes some kind of statement about what God is like. The better our theology, the better our worship!
So, anyone who cares about the worship of God should also care about theology. That’s why I think it’s sad that many Christians view doctrine as something cold and stuffy (and that many theologians also portray it that way!). I can’t think of anything more exciting than studying the wonderful, amazing, awesome God who is!
Theology exists for doxology; orthodoxy for orthopathy; doctrine for devotion.
Defending sound doctrine
Because doctrine is so important it’s vital that we defend it. Bad doctrine will lead to incomplete or unholy living. A lack of doctrinal understanding will undermine true unity. Shallow or false doctrine will inhibit our ability to worship our God. These are serious reasons for defending the truth.
At Bethany we’re strongly committed to defending sound doctrine. One of the ways we do this is through expository preaching. The word expository come from the word expose. Preaching expositionally means that the preacher exposes the Bible passage that he’s preaching from. Preaching expositionally helps root all of our teaching at Bethany to the Word of God itself. Rather than being drawn away by trends or opinions, we work hard to make sure that our instruction comes from the teachings and principles of the Bible.
In addition to regular expository preaching, we also have less formal times of teaching. In our integrated Sunday school class, we focus on what the Bible has to say about specific issues. We’ve used different formats for these classes. Often, these classes are less formal and involve discussion and feedback.
One of our goals at Bethany is to provide all Christians with the knowledge and wisdom they need to take that next step of spiritual growth – whatever that may be. We provide resources for brand new Christians to help them understand the first principles of the faith. We also instruct long time Christians on the full range of issues that the Bible addresses. There’s also specific instruction for people who are interested in studying the deeper issues of Christian theology and practice.
Heart to heart
In this day and age, defending truth is not easy. The world assaults us with relativism and pluralism, undermining the very category of truth. Young people are rejecting Christianity en masse. Apathy and apostasy prevail over professing Christianity. Conservative churches have responded by producing newer, better, and more plentiful materials to teach Christian truth and apologetics. This is a very good and important thing to do. Yet still, believers seem to be losing the battle for truth.
How do we pass on these vitally important, fundamental truths to the world and the next generation? At Bethany, we believe that the context in which these truths are communicated is as important as the truths themselves. Educators call this approach “situated learning” “which essentially means that educators pay attention to the context as well as the content to make sure that they match in a manner to optimize development.”
We believe that the best context to pass on Christian truth is a loving relationship. It’s been said that heads speak to heads, but hearts speak to hearts. In both the family and the local church, relationships are formed around love and trust that enable truth to be effectively passed on from person to person.
Often, truth fails to “stick” in a person’s heart and mind because his affections are out of order. Head knowledge can point people in the right direction but often fails to motivate them to go there. We believe that authentic, loving relationships help foster ordinate affections in people and motivates them to take the actions that truth requires of them.
Therefore, discipleship in its many forms – evangelism, childrearing, teaching, leadership development, ect.- at Bethany happen in the context of relationship. We believe that the family and the church are uniquely equipped by God for this sort of interpersonal disciple-making. By engaging the heart, as well as the head, we believe we can better pass on God’s truth to other people and generations.
Defending sound doctrine is a key part of life at Bethany. We believe in the vital importance of learning, accepting, and defending the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We do this through expository preaching, socratic teaching, theological education, and interpersonal discipleship. All of this is saturated in loving relationships that point people to God. In this age of deception and confusion, the church must stand as a beacon of light that points the lost to God’s truth.
Les Ollila, Forward to Douglas R, McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, MO; American Association of Christian Schools, 1993)
Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded (Chicago, IL; Moody Publishers, 2008)
Quoted in David O. Beale, The Pursuit of Purity (Greenville, SC; Unusual Publications, 1986) p. 4
See also, “BETHANY Distinctives: Age-integrated Philosophy”
Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (New York, NY; Cambridge, 1991)
“Practicum Manual” (Ames, IA; BILD International, 2016) p. 6