What is a Fundamentalist? It seems like the term can mean anything to anyone ranging from Islamic terrorists to Christians who claim God inspired only one translation of the Bible for the whole world. In modern times, the term has lost much of its intended purpose and has been severely abused. On a number of occasions, I have been asked if I am a Fundamentalist. Prior to answering that question, I must ask the inquisitor’s definition. I certainly am not a Muslim, and I do not believe God forces all men to read one Bible translation. I do hold to certain doctrinal truths that are imperative and fundamental in orthodox Christianity.
To understand the definition of “Fundamentalist,” one must turn to the very source from which the term gained its identity. The Fundamentals is a twelve-volume set of ninety essays written from 1910 to 1915. The essays are on topics such as basic doctrines, the identity and inerrancy of the Bible, and cultural battles that downgraded American Christianity. In 1917, R.A Torrey edited the set into four volumes and it was reprinted by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.
The reason The Fundamentals was written was to combat the doctrinal nosedive of Christianity at the turn of the 20th Century. Liberal theology started questioning the very core doctrines of the faith that stood for two millennia. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution started to take hold, Sigmund Freud’s infatuation with perversion took center stage, and men like Friedrich Schleiermacher openly criticized the Bible’s origin. In response, sixty-four different authors composed ninety essays as an attempt to correct liberal theology. Those who agreed with and promoted these articles were labeled, “Fundamentalists.” In truth, they were simply orthodox Christians who refused to compromise or downgrade Biblical doctrine.
These early Fundamentalists, from many different denominations, banded together to stand against liberalism. Not only did they battle for the core doctrines of the historic Christian faith, they also battled cultural downgrades in the practice of these doctrines. Topics included such things as false religions, atheism, modern philosophy, archeology, an assault on the literal tabernacle in the wilderness, foreign missions, forms of preaching, finances, Sunday school evangelism, and even socialism. The first Fundamentalists were cultural Fundamentalists according to their own writings.
A confusion that also needs to be addressed is the assumption that Fundamentalism is based only upon just “Five Fundamentals.” This is far too simplistic. In 1898, the Niagara Bible Conference published a fourteen-point creed (https://truthisfundamental.wordpress.com/1878-nbcc/). In 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church dismissed three men from its assembly for questioning the validity of the Virgin Birth. The assembly then passed a resolution of five points, or Five Fundamentals, that were essential to the Christian faith. From 1910 to 1915, the ninety essays, The Fundamentals, were published. Many other creeds or doctrinal statements were published that strengthened the identity of Fundamentalism. While the Five Fundamentals of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church give a short context to Fundamentalism, they do not and have never defined the movement as a whole.
The purpose of this brief article is not to review the entire history of Fundamentalism, but rather point to the inception of the early Fundamentalists. I desire to do this because of two basic thoughts. First, many people refer to themselves as “Fundamentalists”, yet they may not be aware of the movement’s foundations. We need to fix that, and will attempt to do so! Second, much of Fundamentalism has lost its identity from within and without. It is my belief that any Christian today can be encouraged and challenged to keep pure doctrine by examining the foundation of early Fundamentalists.
I would like to challenge you. Beginning today and continuing for the next forty-five weeks, I will be publishing two essays from The Fundamentals each week. I would encourage you to read them. Some of the scholarship may be lofty at times, but bear with it. I truly believe the spiritual warfare that we fight today is not all that different than the one from a hundred years ago. We can learn much from the past, as those who choose to ignore it are destined to make the same mistakes.
The essays will be published on this blog, and the Facebook page of New England Shores Baptist Church, where I shepherd (www.facebook.com/nesbcnh).
Here is the link to Essay #1 in PDF form: