Monday, February 18, 2013

What Is A Fundamentalist?

We all hear much about fundamentalism and fundamentalists in the news and on the internet, whether religious, political or from another area.  What I'd like to do here is provide a working definition of "fundamentalist" in the context of the Christian religion.  So, more specifically, what is a Christian fundamentalist?

I would say that a fundamentalist is: one who reduces the Christian faith to a core set of fundamentals of his own choosing.

While I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with identifying a set of core beliefs within Christianity, a problem arises when something lies outside of those core beliefs.  Can they be viewed as Christian, or can Christians live life outside of those core beliefs?  The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of a hundred years ago or so saw liberal theology attack certain ideas of historic Christianity.  Conservatives reacted by concentrating on five "fundamentals" of the faith: 1) inspiration of the bible and inerrancy of Scripture; 2) The virgin birth of Christ; 3) Christ's death as atonement for sin; 4) the bodily resurrection of Christ, and 5) the reality of Christ's miracles.

While the original intent of defining fundamental beliefs may have had its merits, I believe it had a long term negative effect.  Fundamentals came to be viewed as all that was necessary for the faith.  One who takes this approach is a fundamentalist, and that is where I get my definition.

But the Christian faith consists of much more than fundamentals.  Just as a championship sports team may execute the fundamentals of the game very well, they also do most everything else in the game well.  Take music as another example.  A fundamentalist ideal might be that all music must be explicitly Christian with religious lyrics.  A song on the radio about how a sunny day makes people feel better isn't explicitly religious, and therefore may be viewed as unchristian or even sinful in and of itself.  Is it part of the Christian faith to sing about what God has created?  Sure.  But not necessarily to the fundamentalist.

The key problem as I see it with fundamentalism and fundamentalists is the tendency to reduce the faith, rather than expand it.  Different fundamentalists reduce the faith to differing sets of beliefs.  This is why fundamentalists don't often agree with each other.  One thing I try to do when I read the theological beliefs of others is to determine if any reduction of the faith has occurred in their arguments.  This has been tremendously helpful over the years to me as I have developed my own beliefs.  Are you a fundamentalist?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Elders Behaving Badly: Speak Up or Hush Up? (1)

"But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;"  Ephesians 5:3 NASV

"Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret."  Ephesians 5:11-12 NASV

In the debate that has taken place over the rise of so-called "spiritual abuse" or "survivor" websites and blogs, one argument that has been made is that such people ought not discuss any sins of spiritually abusive pastors due to the above verses.  But before I go any further, I want to note that there has been more than one way that this passage is interpreted.  And the interpretations I have come across can lead to opposing beliefs about speaking up.  They are...

Hush Up

I have heard this interpretation my entire Christian life.  People have been taught to interpret these verses so that we should be silent about sin.  This is not a rare interpretation, and I think it has led to comments like this one.  The commenter asserts that it is shameful to even talk about their misdeeds.  Here's the thinking behind the interpretation.  "...for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret." v12.  One grammatical possibility for this verse (and there are more than one) is this.  I emphasized the word "even" to show the point.  Not only is it disgraceful to speak of the things done openly, it is even disgraceful to do so in secret.  So we can't discuss the sins in question among us, even in secret, for it is a disgrace.  So, in this interpretation, the speaking about sin is what is in view and it is disgraceful.  The sin itself is not in view.

This is given support by the same type of interpretation of verse 3.  The two interpretations go together.  "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints."  This interpretation puts forth the idea that the names given to various sins should not be used in our conversation.  The sins should not be named.  And this is proper among saints.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, or a coincidence, that some of the people speaking out against the abuse blogs are people influenced by John MacArthur.  I found a site that compares commentaries of scripture, and if you scroll down far enough here, you will see that he warns about describing sin in his Eph. 5:12 comments.

So what does this interpretation have to say about exposing sin, as in "but instead even expose them"?  As the commenter said in my first link, we expose sin by the light of our proper living before God.  The summary of this "hush up" view is, "we shouldn't discuss or name the sin, but expose it by godly living.

Speak Up

A "speak up" interpretation might look something like the following.  Contrary to the "hush up" view, the disgrace mentioned in verse 12 lies not in speaking about the sin, but in merely speaking about it in secret.  Secrecy is not where the sin should be spoken about, but rather it should be exposed: "but instead even expose them."

And the exhortation in v3 to not have immorality named among the saints does not mean that we should not name sin, but that none of us should commit those sins so that the name can be pinned on us.

This does appear to be a difficult passage to interpret and apply consistently.  I will attempt to speak more to it in another post.