the mark of fundamentalism

I continue to delve into the DBTS theological journal and again commend the very first article in the first volume of the journal, The Self-Identity of Fundamentalism, by Roland McCune. I started reading the article last week. Recent ministry experiences brought the article to mind again, especially the section where Dr. McCune begins to write about the distinctive characteristic of Fundamentalism.

Militancy has been a defining characteristic of fundamentalism from the beginning. On that there is near unanimity of opinion.

Roland McCune, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 1, 1:22 (Detroit Baptist Seminary, 1996; 2003).

This really is true. Fundamentalists declare it, their opponents discern and disparage it. I suppose that the opponents misunderstand it, but they do see it as perhaps the distinguishing mark of Fundamentalism.

Before we go further, perhaps a more thorough definition of militancy might help.

What exactly is militancy, anyway? One dictionary says it is to be “engaged in warfare or combat…aggressively active (as in a cause).” It springs from one’s values, is expressed as an attitude, and results in certain behavior. One’s values are those things in which one strongly believes. They are what one believes to be fundamentally important and true. From this comes an attitude which is unwilling to tolerate any divergence from these fundamentally important truths and which seeks to defend them. It results in behavior which speaks up when these truths are attacked or diluted and which refuses to cooperate with any activity which would minimize their importance. The term is a military one and carries the idea of defending what one believes to be true.

George Houghton, “The Matter of Militancy,” Faith Pulpit (May 1994), quoted in Roland McCune, “The Self-Identity of Fundamentalism”, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 1, 1:23 (Detroit Baptist Seminary, 1996; 2003).

Here are some thoughts I posted in another thread concerning militancy:

  1. The militant mood permeates the fundamentalist mindset, applying to one’s personal life, one’s local church life, and extending to every other association of life.
  2. The militant mood manifests itself when the fundamentalist encounters error deviating from the fundamentals. I have a few examples in mind.
  3. The militant mood is not belligerence (though tempers are too often strained, at least, and the flesh is ever present, alas). Rather, the mood is one that is ready to confront and expose error as vigorously as necessary for each instance of it, and often that necessitates public censure and exposure.

Last, the militant mood is always surrounded by a suffocating crowd of men-pleasers who attempt to stifle the militants as only a few ‘wing-nuts’ on the fringes.

What does militant fundamentalism look like in the microcosm? In the personal life?

The militant fundamentalist personally seeks to discipline himself, to exercise the devotional disciplines, to keep himself unspotted from the world, to excise the works of the flesh and the failures of character that so often are manifest in one’s life. In short, the militant fundamentalist seeks to separate himself from the world and the ways of the flesh, imitating the apostle Paul who said:

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

What about militancy in the life of the local church? First of all, there is the notion of accountability as the genius of the church, creating a society for the provocation of love and good works. There is positive encouragement and building up in a Biblical church and also rebuke and correction. The local church calls its people to live separate from the world and guards its pulpit by attempting to keep unworthy men out and by eliminating the confusion of unworthy associations with unworthy men or ministries.

In these debates over Fundamentalism and its definition/application, we all seem very familiar with the distinctive characteristic of ecclesiastical militancy when it comes to the division and distinction between Fundamentalist churches, schools, ministries, and all the others, be they Evangelical or beyond. We are quite familiar with what militant Fundamentalism looks like here, or at least we think so, anyway.

Some are telling us that we need to ‘nuance’ Fundamentalism more carefully. I am not sure exactly what is meant by ‘nuance’, but I suspect it means that we need to be less militant. I submit that to the extent we become less militant in our Christianity, to that extent we depart from Fundamentalism. We value the Fundamental position less if we will not fight for it.

Is the Fundamentalist position against modernism and heresy? Then why will some who say they are Fundamentalists want to see the things heretics get right? [Please note: there are a few militant voices on this thread – you read it and see who they are.]

Is the Fundamentalist position against the cults and apostasy? Then why will some who say they are Fundamentalists boast about the performance of their work by cults and apostates? I realize that when you publish your work anyone can use it – but couldn’t we at least have some embarrassment about this? Where is the militancy?

Some may follow my links and attack me for asking such questions. Fair enough, I’ve made a public statement. But I ask you, is George Houghton right when he says the following?

One’s values are those things in which one strongly believes. They are what one believes to be fundamentally important and true. From this comes an attitude which is unwilling to tolerate any divergence from these fundamentally important truths and which seeks to defend them. It results in behavior which speaks up when these truths are attacked or diluted and which refuses to cooperate with any activity which would minimize their importance.

[See above for the full quote and citation.]

You see, the only militancy that seems to be coming from some circles of Fundamentalism is against the militants. What values do such attacks reveal? What divergence are such attacks unwilling to tolerate?

The issues confronting us today call for the most vigorous responses. We live in a ‘child-centered’ age. Militancy is gone from the personal life, from the home, from the church, and from the wider ecclesiastical world. If you won’t be militant with yourself, or in your own home, how will you ever be militant in a wider circle? Many fundamentalists are failing globally because they won’t act locally! [To purloin a phrase!]

As a postscript, I have written a page for our church website along these themes, speaking of a distinctive we are trying to achieve in our ministry of Vigorous Christianity. I plan to preach a message on the topic this coming Sunday afternoon.

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