In response to the recent MACP presentation on separation, I posted some questions. Today, I’d like to post a few objections. That is not to say I object to the basic concepts concerning separation as presented, I thought that was quite helpful. But I do have some objections to particulars and I think they should be noted.
First of all, one problem that seems to be fairly frequent these days is the problem of historical revisionism. The general outline of the history of separation is presented, but certain details are somewhat distorted in order to make a point.
Before I mention a specific example, let me say that I am not saying that anyone’s distortion is deliberate or malicious. We all have faults of memory and can often say a thing a certain way enough times that we think we are telling the story correctly, but it is a distortion nonetheless.1
In the third lecture, a point was made concerning the early fundamentalist movement being one where Christians found their fellowship outside their local church in ‘parachurch’ gatherings. The notion was that since their churches were so divided they couldn’t find likeminded fellowship there, so their outside the church gatherings became their place of spiritual camaraderie and involvement.
I don’t doubt that some churches were divided like that, and that in some cases, people found themselves involved in churches where there was so little gospel preaching and belief that conferences and gatherings outside their own local churches provided a welcome relief. However, I can’t imagine that those churches led by the men who eventually came out of the Northern Baptist Convention were as described. That is not to say they may not have had some problematic non-Gospel believing people in their churches, but if these had the Gospel convictions that could provide that ‘welcome relief’ to Gospel-starved individuals in ‘parachurch’ conferences, it is hard to see how their own churches would not be beacons of true Gospel fellowship, belief, and practice.
Thus, I think there is a bit of a distortion of the state of things in the historical presentation of the first wave of fundamentalism. While this distortion may be relatively minor, there are many such distortions being promoted in the ‘Fundamentalist Modification Movement’ which attempt to make points about ‘what’s wrong with fundamentalism’ and to point to some new kind of attitude and orientation.
Second, in the fourth lecture, a pretty good definition of worldliness is offered. I’ll attempt to paraphrase it: “Worldliness is adopting the beliefs and values of the world in an enjoyment of its sinful pleasures and the pursuit of its earthly treasures.” The definition is really good, I think. But the following presentation keeps reiterating only part of the definition which seems to weaken the position of separation from worldliness that Fundamentalism has usually been noted for.
That is, a statement is repeatedly made to this effect: “If the activity can be said to actually be sinful then we need to separate from it, but if it isn’t clearly sinful, then we need to be tolerant.” I am not quoting directly, this is my paraphrase! But this is what I came away with: an activity must rise to the level of clear sin before it can be objected to.
For example, this makes some forms of music less problematic for Dave than for many other fundamentalists. That is, he is less bothered by musical styles than has been argued for, although his personal taste and practice is very conservative.
Now, I don’t want to get sidetracked on music alone here. My problem with the presentation is not some specific application. I think I would be more bothered by some music styles than Dave would, but that is not my point.
The problem is that the whole presentation in lecture 4 had to do with the “enjoyment of its sinful pleasures” part of the definition and made no mention of the “pursuit of its earthly treasures” part. It does seem to me that worldliness isn’t simply a problem with identifying something that is clearly sinful. It is a problem with a world-admiring value system, with lusts and desires that exalt the earthly rather than the spiritual. This part of the definition was left alone and as a result, separation from worldliness came down to separation from sin (clearly identifiable). Well, duh!
Finally, I have an objection to some comments that were made with respect to the ‘errors of fundamentalism’. In the presentation, we are told to be patient with evangelicals who are moving in the right direction. We are told that one deed doesn’t a pattern make. But then we have raised again an issue that occurred within fundamentalism. We are reminded yet again about someone’s teaching concerning the blood of Christ. This is mentioned as an example of fundamentalism giving someone a pass because he has a fundamentalist ID card, whereas an evangelical wouldn’t get the same treatment (supposedly).
I agree that the particular point of view isn’t biblical and it isn’t really acceptable. However, I question whether the view is actually one that undermines the gospel itself. I also question whether it is a pattern that leads to erosion of orthodox doctrine. What I mean by that is that denials of the virgin birth, of the supernatural in general, of inspiration, etc, all hallmarks of liberalism, certainly eroded orthodox doctrine and devolved into a kind of social gospel, good works salvation, modernistic teaching. How exactly did this one odd view of the blood of Christ work out into that? I don’t believe it did.
Dave has brought this thing up many times in the past. It appears to be something that seems to be a big objection to fundamentalism at large in his mind, and in the minds of several others.
I don’t defend the teaching, but it never had the impact on orthodoxy that any liberal aberration did. If in fact we should be patient with the errors of others, why shouldn’t we be patient with this one? Where did it lead? (Nowhere) What was its effect? (nothing). What’s the big deal? (It’s an opportunity to use as a whipping boy for fundamentalism)
And, as far as fundamentalism is concerned, it’s ancient history. No one is promoting it currently, it isn’t putting anyone at risk, and it is an evidence only of an error that essentially has corrected itself.
In the end, I think there is a good deal of value to the basic presentation of fundamentalist separatism as Dave has given it to us. There have been some overly separatistic practices by some on issues that were not ‘gospel-oriented’ essentials. This is true. I object to that kind of divisiveness as well.
I am concerned, however, that some issues might be minimized in this presentation of separation that shouldn’t be minimized. I am concerned that too much might be made of other, rather minor issues. And I am concerned that sometimes a distortion of history may lead to faulty conclusions.
Nevertheless, I do appreciate the presentation as it is. I think everyone should listen to it. I see Dave is writing out his views on his blog. It is worth reading.
- I recently caught myself in such a distortion with respect to the purchase of our church property – for years I have been telling people that the appraisal was one number when in fact it was an entirely different number. [↩]