fundamentalism applied to conduct

In the comments on “fundamentalism defined”, a certain ambiguity in the FBFI definition was noted at this point:

3. Endeavors to practice Biblical conduct in all areas of his life.

A question could be raised here: “So exactly how does this aspect of the definition differentiate you fundamentalists from conservative evangelicals? Don’t they believe in practicing Biblical conduct in all areas of life also?”

In my reply, I noted that other phrases of the definition might more clearly differentiate a fundamentalist from a conservative evangelical. I am willing to concede that in many ways, conservative evangelicals agree with fundamentalism in terms of “Biblical conduct in all areas of life.”

I will also concede that the statement as it stands is pretty open-ended. Everyone thinks that the way they apply the Bible to their life is the ‘Biblical’ way.

However, let’s be really clear… Fundamentalists are not vague and uncertain about what they believe to be biblical conduct.

If you were to survey those churches and individuals represented by the FBFI membership, you would find broad agreement in philosophy, teaching, and practice in these areas. The general culture of the churches would be similar, albeit not entirely identical.

That generally agreed upon culture is also articulated in the FBFI resolutions. I would suggest rather than defining fundamentalism, they refine what FBFI members mean by the definition.

As I survey the resolutions in my database, I find a good number of them that apply to this area, and I find that they often do so in ways that would distinguish fundamentalists from conservative evangelicals. Prior to the 2009 resolutions, I find these:

  • 12 Resolutions on Music
  • 5 Resolutions on Moral Fidelity
  • 3 Resolutions on Holiness
  • 2 Resolutions on Culture
  • 2 Resolutions on Hollywood
  • 1 Resolution on Disney
  • 1 Resolution on Spirituality
  • 1 Resolution on Legalism
  • 1 Resolution on Balance

Obviously a big issue in the practical application of fundamentalism to conduct, those of us in the FBFI have an intense interest especially in distinguishing ourselves in terms of the kind of music that appears in our homes and churches. The 12 resolutions on music over 30 years of fellowship meetings represents a significant concern – strong enough to warrant some statement more than 33% of the time.

You will notice also specific resolutions addressing Hollywood and Disney – a reflection of fundamentalist concern with the entertainment industry.

While conservative evangelicals might share our concerns in these areas to some extent, it is my observation that they do not fully agree with what FBFI fundamentalists mean when it comes to Biblical conduct in these areas.

The resolutions are too numerous for me to cite them all for you, but here are a few of the most pertinent:

From the 1979 resolution on music: “The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship rejects the sensual trend of the religious music of today because it contradicts and nullifies the spiritual emphasis of the preaching and teaching ministries of the church.”

The 2001 resolution on praise choruses: “The FBFI recognizes that the modern "Praise and Worship" movement (which includes related music publishers and recordings) is a by-product of the Charismatic movement, with a similarly dangerous emphasis of promoting emotion over reason. We therefore urge discernment and caution in using Praise Choruses in any ministry of our churches. While we understand that simplicity and repetition have legitimate use as teaching tools, we note that they form the foundation for hypnosis as well. Since Christians are clearly instructed in Scripture to worship God in Spirit and in truth, we must avoid what Jesus called "the vain repetition of the heathen" (Matthew 6:7). The modern Praise Chorus uses bald repetition as a mantra-like phrase repeated over and over again for emotional incitement, not for instruction. We do not condemn all choruses per se, but appeal that choruses accompanied by appropriate music be used which teach truth rather than emotionally inciting the audience.”

From the 1997 music resolution: “The FBF rejects the notion that music is not a matter of separation. Clearly, we would separate from a pastor or church that used rock music either to attract a crowd or — God forbid — in worship. Therefore, we recognize that it is a separation issue. The encroachment of "CCM" or Contemporary Christian Music as a musical genre has been ignored too long. It is wrong to judge motives subjectively, but it is essential to discern the implications of methods, particularly in music. Fundamentalists should be able to agree that we must be committed to Godly, Christ-honoring music.”

From the 1997 resolution on the entertainment industry: “Whereas American culture has become obsessed with entertainment and amusement while fascination with immorality, violence, and irreverent foolishness preoccupy the minds of most who are in the industry, and whereas the effects of television, movies, and the widespread presence of facilities for amusement that divides families rather than building them, the FBF rejects the lustful, hedonistic lifestyle that characterizes much of our society and calls on churches and Christians back to Biblical obedience and personal separation from the world. Many who properly stood against the movie theater have fallen silent about the VCR which brings the same messengers of evil into the home.”

You can see the general tenor of fundamentalist thinking with respect to Biblical conduct by these samples. Now some will debate these points, and the conservative evangelicals do. They will not apply Biblical teaching in this way to these issues I don’t believe. Certainly they don’t apply them as comprehensively and thoroughly as a fundamentalist would attempt to do.

There may be some adjustment and movement on some of these points of application today among fundamentalists, but our general viewpoint of these issues appears to remain unchanged if you consider the resolutions put forward at the 2009 meeting.

For example, there is one resolution getting some hot debate over at Sharper Tongues1, the internet gathering place of all sorts of ‘wisdom’. The main body of the resolution isn’t the part that is stirring up fire, rather it is part of the preamble. Here is the main body of the resolution on ‘Fundamentalism and Culture’:

The FBFI denies that Fundamentalism is simply a product of culture but affirms that it is the result of Biblical truth applied to culture. We assert that true believers must interact with culture while separating from its sinful values and practices. Such an interaction will demand a deep understanding of the Word of God, a true humility and submission to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to sacrifice any object, habit, or affection that might displease or dishonor the Savior. Fundamentalists must guard against an anachronistic set of rules that fails to see the true intent of Scripture and creates a caricature of New Testament Christianity. At the same time, Fundamentalists must be honest with themselves about the presence of worldliness within our own churches and individual lives and not forsake true holiness under the guise of a false Christian liberty. We cannot have true revival without an attending holiness, and we will not truly reach the world without the power of God that accompanies true revival.

This seems to me to be wise statement about our stance towards the culture. We are not led by culture but attempt to apply truth to culture, interacting with elements of culture while rejecting and separating from sinful values and practices.

Well, as I said, this part of the resolution isn’t drawing fire, it is instead this part of the preamble:

And whereas sins previously not named among believers such as the use of alcohol as a beverage, premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, profanity, vulgarity, immodesty, and much more are now not only viewed unashamedly by believers as entertainment but also practiced without shame among those who name Christ,

Note the bolded phrase! There go those wacky fundamentalists again, daring to call drinking sin!

I’ll not get into the debate at this point on that topic. (If you want to engage it, go to my review of Randy Jaeggli’s book on drinking and have at it.)

My point in noting it here is that we are talking about definitions and identification here. While I am not going to say that we will have absolute crystal clear unanimity even on these points of application within fundamentalism at large or even more narrowly within the FBFI brand of fundamentalism, I will say that our differences in these areas are very, very, very minor among fundamentalists. At the same time, our differences with respect to applying the Bible to culture are still pretty significant if we are comparing ourselves with conservative evangelicals.

Finally, on this last point regarding the stand against alcohol, I am willing to be so bold as to say that if you disagree with the FBFI here, you are probably not really a fundamentalist at all. It is quite likely that someone who supports drinking alcohol as a beverage also refuses to submit to the definition posted earlier and will have a good deal of disagreement about music, movies, dress, and a host of other cultural disagreements.

Thus, it isn’t that hard to see what fundamentalists think they are or what they think other fundamentalists ought to be. It might be helpful to us all if we fundamentalists actually preached these subjects a little more publically and frequently in our meetings. It would likely have a cathartic effect.



  1. just a little joke, there, eh?… ok, very little… []


  1. Well Don….I can embrace most of the “definitions” of the FBFI version of fundamentalism that you’ve laid out here and still call myself a fundamentalist…

    I obviously have a pretty big problem with the notion that music is a separation issue. This seems to be a hill that “Fundamentalism Proper” is willing to die on. Without getting into it here I’ll just say that I find that line of thinking horribly destructive.

    I also have a minor issue with the interpretation method that leads one to state emphatically that drinking alchohol is a sin. I no longer imbibe (with very few and extremely rare exceptions), but I have a problem seeing that “the use of alcohol as a beverage” is deemed as being on par with adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, and the like. Again, I’m not interested in the debate here (I’ve grown weary of it), but this seems nuts to me.

    Those things aside, I have no issue with these other things you’ve mentioned. The FBFI is spot on, IMHO. The embracing of worldliness and culture has done (and is doing) extreme harm to the church of Christ. Frankly, most of us are so emerced in this world that we have grown numb to the wickedness around us. The stance against these things (hollywood, etc.) are important ones that we all ought to embrace…this is clearly spelled out in the N.T…..

  2. Hi Don,

    I’m glad you covered this topic. I have noticed that the “cultural” restrictions are the restrictions that vary the most between fundamentalist churches. The same goes of Jewish Synagogues, for that matter. As an example, there is a church near my hometown that forbids the use of any worship instruments other than those listed in Psalm 150, stating “Psalm 150 refers to a large list of instruments that we are commanded to use in praising the Lord”. The pastor argues that it is sin to use any instruments not commanded in Psalm 150.

    As another example, many of my friends growing up went to churches who permitted listening to Christian rock music, while we were taught that even Christian rock was sinful (and perhaps worse than secular rock). Of course, we weren’t explicitly taught that my friends were apostate, but some in the congregation would argue such.

    I have never had a problem with pastors imposing cultural restrictions on the congregation, and I would consider them remiss if they didn’t. But I am puzzled by pastors who go through scriptural gymnastics to justify such prohibitions as being direct scriptural commandments.

    Isn’t it the pastor’s job to shepherd the flock, and the congregation’s job to respect and follow the pastor? The Bible gives the pastor significant latitude to set restrictions and regulations that will be beneficial in molding and protecting the moral character of his flock.

    From your book review, it seems like the case for alcohol prohibition is not, “Scripture forbids any drinking of wine”, but is instead something like “Scripture commands that we not be worldly, intemperate, or self-destructive; and given our current cultural milieu and understanding of science, the leadership has determined that consumption of wine is incompatible with those commands.” And that seems like a perfectly defensible statement.

    What am I missing?

    • Hi Ellis and Joshua,

      I want to write some posts specifically on alcohol later. I have been thinking about it lately with respect to New Testament teaching. I am coming to believe that the New Testament is much stronger against it than has been commonly thought. However, that is for another post. Josh, your summary would be close to my take from Jaeggli’s book, but I would say that “wisdom demands” the position rather than “leadership has determined”.

      With respect to music, I realize that not all Christians, including not all Fundamentalists, draw the line in exactly the same place. What I am defining here is not where the line is but that there is a line. Fundamentalists are going to separate with people over music. This can be as mild as the notion of “limited participation” where you might just withdraw from close contact to an all out line-in-the-sand we-aren’t-going-to-go-there public rebuke and stance against a church or individual who is promoting unacceptable music.

      Your comments on Hollywood, Ellis, bolster this point of view. Fundamentalists are going to make fellowship decisions and public pronouncements about cultural issues. Music and Hollywood are just two areas (sometimes overlapping) where those positions and decisions are going to be made.

      In the end, that is what my post is about. Fundamentalism applies its principles in every walk of life, including culture. I am not saying that we will always be entirely consistent with one another or even that our applications will always be entirely correct. What I am saying is that this is the way Fundamentalists think.

      And that generally speaking these things are not even on the conservative evangelicals’ radar screen. I suppose some of them will reject the most egregious forms of Hollywood and music, but they are generally much more tolerant and accepting here than fundamentalists are willing to be.

      It is a marker, and where you see people resisting the mark, you see people ‘leaving’ fundamentalism.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. I do not drink alcohol as a beverage at all (we don’t even cook with it…grape juice and apple juice work perfectly well in recipes). Family history of alcoholism makes me unwilling to even take a chance. But.

    While I would not describe my position as supporting drinking, I am fully convinced that the Scripture does not forbid it completely. Drunkenness, certainly and repeatedly. Drinking, well no. The difference is quite clearly spelled out in Timothy where we read “not given to much wine” when it could easily have said “not given to any wine” if that were meant to be the standard. But like you I’m not really interested in debating that point.

    What I’d like to address is whether I am still a fundamentalist given my position on this issue. I think so. Your mileage may vary. I’m certainly not an FBFI fundamentalist (either Sweatt or Bauder varieties), but I believe in and support contending for the fundamentals…just not for the ancillaries (almost said secondaries, but that might be too big a little joke).

    • Thanks for the comment, Watchman.

      I’ll not go into the specifics on alcohol here, I’ll save it for another post.

      I think most FBF fundamentalists would agree that the Bible doesn’t strictly forbid drinking. I would agree with that view myself.

      However, the FBF is pretty clearly against the beverage use of alcohol. There are a number of angles from which to preach that point and I think these angles are accompanied with varying levels of biblical authority. For example, we will preach it as a matter of wisdom. I think a pretty good case for that angle can be made here. I am hinting in my responses here that I think there is another angle that hasn’t (to my knowledge) been promoted. I think it has strong interpretational authority. But that is another post.

      But what I am saying is that fundamentalists, even those who will concede that the Bible doesn’t strictly prohibit alcohol consumption, still will contend for a position that is antagonistic towards beverage use of alcohol. I think I get that from your own comments, or am I reading you wrong?

      And my overall point is that fundamentalists can be marked out by contending for certain conduct in the personal life. It is reflected in our attitude towards music, movies, booze, drugs, tattoos, piercings, etc. We will speak against them in general (though with some ‘nuances’, admittedly). But the mark of fundamentalism is that when it comes to conduct, you can discern a distinction between the fundamentalist and the conservative evangelical.

      Does that make sense? Am I reading you right?

      Or am I completely out to lunch? (Always a possibility… and I was eating lunch as I typed all this so… )

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Thanks Don,

    I also like “wisdom demands” or “prudence demands”. Although, when we appeal to wisdom or prudence, it always implies a judgment call. On some things, the members of the congregation can make their own judgment calls. But on other things, the pastor will want to take the role of the shepherd, place fences around the congregation to protect them from the wolves, and ensure cohesiveness and consistency. So it seems appropriate to me that people would respect their pastors on these matters, even when there isn’t a direct or explicit biblical prohibition.

    Obviously, this appeal to “respect the authority of the pastor” could be abused, and people can take the “shepherd” analogy too far. But it feels equally dangerous to insist that the pastor’s authority extends only to being a reciter of laws that were passed down 2000 years ago. But still tentative in my thoughts on the matter..

    • Hi Joshua,

      Ok, I see where you were going with that. I suppose we could say that the church body could join in a covenant together also as a matter of authority over themselves as well. And indeed that is exactly what some churches do.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. In matters of liberty, Paul commanded Corinth to be imitators of him, in addition to many other guidelines he provided (1 Cor 11:1). I thought you explained pastoral authority well, Joshua. It is real authority—Christ holds the pastors in his right hand of authority (Rev 1:19-2:1).

    It seems what you are describing Don is biblical. I don’t think I can put my finger on historic fundamentalism. It seems that there is commonly described the version that Watchman is talking about where we separate only on the fundamentals. I can’t defend that position scripturally. Certain fundamentalists defend it historically, but on what scriptural basis? I don’t get an answer from them, usually just silence or scoffing. Then there are fundamentalists that believe that history shifted with new-evangelicalism and fundamentalism adapted, so that separation over these cultural issues is now historic fundamentalism. It seems like it all depends on who you’re talking to.

    I can defend separating over everything that our church teaches. Bauder would call that everythingism. I would call it something I can defend scripturally, and I labor that I might be accepted of Jesus.

    • Hi Kent

      The notion of “historic fundamentalism” as described is similar to the Catholic authority of “tradition”, don’t you think? i.e., since this is the way it was practiced by a certain segment of people in church history, this becomes the authoritative position, the ‘authentic’ tradition.

      In a sense, everyone pretty well practices an ‘everythingism’. That’s why we have distinct local churches. There are reasons we don’t worship with another group of people down the street and it isn’t just so that our pastor can have a job. It is because we believe distinct things about doctrine and practice.

      However, I believe that it is legitimate for local churches (or individual Christians) to cooperate with one another in endeavours beyond the ministry of the local church. For that to occur, we will have to tolerate some differences since we don’t all agree on everything. Fundamentalists have defined the limits of their cooperation by statements like the FBFI resolutions. For myself, I am willing to cooperate with other churches and pastors based on a general common ground represented by these resolutions. Most other fundamentalist efforts have established similar parameters, whether they have put them in writing or not.

      And I think these parameters / resolutions are defensible from the Scriptures, which is our authority.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Don,
    You said: “Fundamentalism applies its principles in every walk of life, including culture. I am not saying that we will always be entirely consistent with one another or even that our applications will always be entirely correct. What I am saying is that this is the way Fundamentalists think.

    And that generally speaking these things are not even on the conservative evangelicals’ radar screen. I suppose some of them will reject the most egregious forms of Hollywood and music, but they are generally much more tolerant and accepting here than fundamentalists are willing to be.”

    This is a good and accurate observation I think. Coincidentally, it mirrors a conversation I had with a friend after church last night (he also happens to be a board member of the FBFI). In Fundamentalism there is (sometimes) an “overreaction” or misapplication of plain Biblical principles. Whereas, even in Conservative Evangelicalism, there is often a lack of action when it comes to these things. Herein lies the frustration for guys like me. It seems that ofttimes some of these controversial matters come down to a perceived “all or nothing” decision.

    To be clear, I am grateful for the FBFI putting out resolutions that are dealing with the necessity of striving for holiness and separation. I find some of the “peripheral” comments troubling (the things that seem to take up so much of the conversation today), but I appreciate the commitment to holiness and godly fellowships.

    Thanks for the conversation here, Don. It’s….educational… :)

    • Hi Ellis,

      I would agree that we have a tendency to see ourselves as hammers and every problem as a nail. God deliver us from pride!

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3