Fundamentalism and separatism

Normally I try to keep this blog pretty controversy-free. It’s not that I don’t have strong opinions on certain subjects, but there are plenty of places on the Internet to discuss and debate issues, and I didn’t want this to be one of them.

However, I do see a lot of misconceptions about these two subjects pretty often. A few weeks ago someone was blogging about a religious leader who took a Biblical principle far beyond what the Bible meant, and someone in the comments wrote a disparaging remark about “those fundamentalists.” The man was hardly a fundamentalist, but that term seems to be applied to anyone who is religiously unreasonable and excessive. In one Christian forum I often saw fundamentalists referred to as “KJV-only and dresses-only.” Not so. šŸ™‚ And then somewhere else I saw separatists referred to in a negative way as a stumblingblock or a hindrance. I would have to say some separatists may be so, but there is certainly a principle of separation in the Bible (more on that later). I am not linking back to those posts because I don’t want to send controversy back to those sites, and I am not really writing this to answer them back. I just want to talk about what these words actually do mean.

I thought about writing a post about fundamentalism right after starting my blog, but just hadn’t yet sat down to do it. This will not be a great theological essay but rather a simple homemaker’s viewpoint. I have been a fundamentalist for 30+ years, before I ever knew there was a word for it. I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist home, so this isn’t something I was raised with. The church where I was saved was an independent, fundamental Baptist church. I wrote in my testimony how I was saved and led to this church. It was at this church I was first encouraged to read the Bible through and to study the Scriptures for myself. My own studied confirmed to me that what I was taught at that church was Biblical. I attended a fundamentalist Christian college and have been in fundamental independent Baptist churches ever since.

A fundamentalist basically means someone who holds to the “fundamentals” or essentials of the faith, and these would be: that the Bible is inspired from God and is our standard of faith and practice, that God created man, that Christ was born of a virgin, That Jesus is the sinless, holy, only begotten Son of God the Father, that Jesus’ death was the atonement for our sins, that He rose again from the grave, that people are saved, born again, by repenting of their sins and believing on Him as Lord and Savior, and that the Holy Spirit is the comes to live in the hearts of believers when they are saved.

Beyond that, it is hard to paint all fundamentalists with the same brush strokes. Some are KJO; some are not (the ESV seems to be pretty popular right now. I’m currently using the NASB for devotions). Some are dresses-only for ladies; some are not. Some are Calvinistic; some are not. Some use only the old-standard hymns; some use Southern gospel; a few use CCM. Some homeschool; some do not. Not all Baptists are fundamentalists and not all fundamentalists are Baptists. The two times we have moved to a new town as a family and began the process of visiting independent fundamental churches, though they have essentially the same statement of faith and very similar church constitutions, their practice, standards, and personality run the gamut. Fundamentalists generally, historically are more conservative than New Evangelicals (or Evangelicals — the “New” seems to have been dropped), but that’s not always so in every respect.

Fundamentalists are often accused of being legalistic and Pharisaical. I think that partly comes from a misunderstanding of what legalism is. True legalism is a depending on what one does either for salvation or, after salvation, for a right standing with God, rather than depending on His grace. But these days often if Christian A has a stricter standard that Christian B, Christian B accuses Christian A of legalism. And that’s just faulty. (More on that in another post later.)

One of the major differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals is the doctrine of separation. Yes, some people carry it way too far and separate themselves into a corner, and that’s wrong. But the basic doctrine is rooted in Scripture. Here are a few of the passages indicating it:

II Thess. 3: 6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

II Thess. 3: 14-15: And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

I Cor. 5:9-11: I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

In the I Corinthians passage, Paul says in the verses above and below that one in chapter 5 that he does not mean that we should never interact with “fornicators, coveters, extortioners, idolators,” etc., because if we did we would pretty much have to leave this world (and in other Bible passages, particularly in the example of Christ’s ministry, we’re shown that we are here to minister to them and show them His love). But Paul says when a person is a professing believer and yet engages in these activities, we’re not to fellowship with them. In the first verse in that chapter he refers to one in the church who was living in an incestuous relationship, and in v. 2, he says, “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” He tells them in v. 4-5, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” This would be the end result of a church discipline situation outlined in Matthew 18: 15-20 (interestingly, the promise “That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” is in this context.) The purpose has to do not only with the purity of the church and the need to shelter believers from being led astray, but it is also restoration. In II Corinthians this man did repent, and Paul had to tell the Corinthians that they needed to accept him back.

Those passages all deal with disobedient brethren, with those who are professing believers but are not walking in obedience to God’s Word. There are other passages that talk about separation from unbelievers. Here’s the man one:

II Cor. 6: 14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t interact at all with the people mentioned here, but we’re to avoid an “unequal yoke” (which includes marriage between an unbeliever and a believer but includes other types of “yokes” too.)

The doctrine of separation is clearly there. The trouble comes in two areas: what we separate over and how we do it. As I mentioned earlier, some separate over many things other than the fundamentals and go way overboard (I was kicked off a Christian ladies’ message board once for talking about how going to a Christian college had blessed my life. These ladies believed that a Christian woman should not go to college, that remaining under her father’s authority meant remaining physically at home until she married. I had never heard of such at the time. When I tried to convey why I felt that was wrong, I was removed for “causing people to sin.” Yes, that was extreme. But that’s not true of most fundamentalists — and I don’t even know if those women would have called themselves fundamentalists anyway). Separation over homeschooling vs. Christian schools vs. public schools, courtship vs. marriage, use of birth control or not, Bible translations, dresses or pants, and all other secondary issues ought not to be: we need to practice grace and allow that people can have different opinions on these things and still love God and be right with Him. It’s not that these issues are not important — we need to prayerfully consider what God would have us do in each instance and study any Scriptural principles involved. But in issues where the Bible doesn’t clearly speak or convey an issue to consider, we need to allow for grace.

As far as how we separate, separation doesn’t mean that when we see someone like this coming down the sidewalk toward us, we walk across the street and avoid them. It doesn’t mean we treat them hatefully. Paul said in II Thess. 3: 15 “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. In all honesty I struggle some times with exactly what it does mean. But I am pretty sure that it at least applies in a ministry related setting. For instance, years ago a famous evangelist had someone open his meeting in prayer who had previously publicly denounced the virgin birth. Personally I think that was wrong. I head up our ladies’ ministry at church, and if I had a neighbor with whom I had serious doctrinal differences, I could befriend her, talk together over the fence, have yard sales together or whatever, but I would not ask her to speak at our ladies meeting. I hope that makes sense.

The Bible does teach that believers should be unified, but it also teaches separation over disobedience to the clear teaching of the Word. That may sound contradictory, but if we remember that one of the purposes of separation is restoration, it makes more sense. Perhaps we can understand it this way: we want unity within our own families — that won’t mean agreement over every little thing, but in our hearts and in major things we want to be unified, to not have disagreements. But if one member of the family decides to go off and do something wrong, that unity is disturbed until they get that thing right. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them any less when they are rebellious, but like the father of the prodigal son, we’re waiting and watching for them to return and run out to meet them and embrace them when they do.

I was going to write a bit more about secondary issues, but this post is way long already, so I will save that for another time.

17 thoughts on “Fundamentalism and separatism

  1. I grew up in the Nazarene church and went to a church college, made wrong choices in a life partner and yet God has always been gracious to me. He has protected me and comforted me and forgiven me.

    I’ve always looked at the scriptures about being separate as a tool for living our lives as Christians. We are to be separate from the world while still living in it; our attitudes, actions, our lives as a whole should be lived in a way that a non-Christian co-worker or friend or family member can see a difference in us. When we are adopted by God we are changed and this difference, this separation from worldly living is our witness to others.

    Thanks for a great informative post.

  2. Its so true that you cannot lump us all together! I know a whole bunch of IBFers and they are all different! I know some who do things out of pride and others who do things out of a sincere desire to please God.
    I hope my motives are always pure!
    Blessings to you,

  3. Unity at all cost is not unity, but rather uniformity. Thanks for your thoughtful accessment of fundamentalism. I’ve been accused of being a pharisee and a fundie all in one week šŸ™‚

    And, thanks for letting your thoughts stray over to my blog šŸ™‚

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  6. I am a fundamentalist, and I am not a baptist, not legalistic, not a skirt-only, and not a hymn only person. Thank you for your striving for true views on words with a negative connotation. Keep it up!!!

  7. I cannot help but believe the stereotypes so often applied to Fundamentalists are the fault of Fundamentalists themselves. Fundamentalism as a historic movement was solidified as a reaction to other movements – modernism, evolutionary science, liberal Protestantism. Fundamentalists soon began to define themselves by what they were not as much as what they were, and in an effort to stay “pure” separated themselves over many secondary issues. I’m sorry, but I think Fundies reap what they sow on the issue of stereotyping, and Paul, Jesus and most of the “big” names of church history would fail the separation tests that fundamentalists churches propose.

    For the record, I’m a Bob Jones graduate, so I speak with a knowledge of fundamentalism at its depths.

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