Definition of Fundamentalism

Definition of Fundamentalism is an article I wrote on what is fundamentalism (from my point of view as a missionary dealing with many different churches).

I came across an interesting book by South African Johan Malan called “The Old Testament Law and the New Testament Grace“. One of his chapters immediately perked my interest, Christian Fundamentalism. Mahan “attempts” to define what is distinctive about Christian Fundamentalism. I say attempts because I doubt anybody can pin it down completely, but Malan gives it a pretty good shot.

I reproduce his main points on Definition of Fundamentalism for your consideration but read the article (link above) because it appears to be very interesting.

Table of Contents of Definition of Fundamentalism

  1. Recognition of Scriptural Authority
  2. A literal interpretation of Scripture
  3. The Rejection of Spiritualization.
  4. The Recognition of Spiritual Realities.
  5. Theological Conservatism.
  6. The biblical doctrine of Creation.
  7. The hostile kingdom of Satan.
  8. Dispensationalism
  9. The restoration of Israel
  10. Continued Reformation.
  11. Biblical Christology.
  12. The uniqueness of the Christian Faith.
  13. Evangelical Doctrine of Salvation.
  14. Sensitivity to the Working of the Holy Spirit
  15. Freedom of the Human Will.
  16. Biblical doctrine on Sin.
  17. Biblical principles and culturally determined practices.
  18. Thinking in Opposites.
  19. A defensive (apologetic) disposition.
  20. Rejection of Positive Thinking
  21. Conformity to Christ
  22. Upholding a biblical order of Authority.
  23. Cultural Diversity.
  24. The Recognition of Biological Identity
  25. No Compromise
  26. Christian morality, values, and practices.
  27. Strangers and Pilgrims
  28. Perseverance
  29. A Biblical Future expectation.
  30. Accountability to God.
  31. Fundamentalism and Radicalism
  32. Persecution.

I briefly reviewed this and have not deeply studied it, and I would probably not agree with everything Malan says, but none-the-less, his list is worthy of reading.

More Articles on US Churches and their spiritual health

Excerpt from his work Definition of Fundamentalism

7. Christian Fundamentalism

Many New Testament believers wrongly transfer legalistic rules from the old covenant with Israel to the Christian faith and then slavishly observe them. They mostly do so because they are truly convinced that their view of the Christian life is in accordance with Scripture and therefore more fundamental than those who entertain shallow theological views and live immoral lives. In a wider context they see Christian law-observance as the only alternative to licentious and lawless societies everywhere in the world. A further reason why many people accept this view and lifestyle is because they see the church as the NT replacement of Israel. Their legalistic religion is an effort to give expression to God’s covenants with Israel.

In the process they do a lot of damage to the Christian liberty which we have within the doctrine of grace. We are called upon to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and to avoid being put under bondage to Israel’s OT laws. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. Obedience to His guidance and conviction is the way to follow, and not the letter of the OT law.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit according to the principles of Christ’s grace enables us to reach much higher standards of holiness that that which was possible in the OT. Paul says the grace of God “teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age.” His grace also gives us an active and blessed hope on the appearing of the Lord Jesus at the rapture (Tit. 2:11-13). A life of this nature is not possible under the law.

We can only call ourselves fundamental, conservative, or evangelical Christians if we conform to the principles of the new covenant. Christian fundamentalism is associated with the following 32 basic principles:

Recognition of Scriptural authority. The Bible is recognised, in its original languages, as the literal and inerrant Word of God which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It contains true knowledge on our salvation in Jesus Christ, and also offers a sure foundation to our Christian life in every domain: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21). God is the supreme authority in the universe and His pre-eminence renders all pronouncements in His Word authoritative. If we fear God we should recognise the authority of His Word and diligently walk in its light. Divine blessings are promised to us if we do not deviate from the Word (Deut. 5:32; Isa. 66:2; Rev. 3:8). On the other hand, the judgements of God rest upon all people who turn their backs on Him, reject His authority and despise His Word.

A literal interpretation of Scripture. The literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture is foundational to evangelical Christianity. The Lord meant what He said to particular people during a particular time. Figurative language and symbolism should be confined to passages which the Bible itself indicates to be understood in that way. The rule is: When the plain sense of the Word makes common sense, then seek no other sense. Even where symbols are used, they mostly have literal antitypes and should therefore not be interpreted allegorically. The beast with the seven heads, for instance, is not an abstract concept which should be interpreted allegorically but a symbolic description of a person, the Antichrist. Descriptive names are often used in the Bible to emphasise certain moral or spiritual characteristics of a person. In this way, Christ is depicted as the light of the world, the water and bread of life, the Lamb of God, etc. When people deviate from the literal interpretation of Scripture, e.g. by alleging that Israel is the church or that Jesus only metaphorically rose from the dead, they proclaim their own, subjective rendering of the Word, thereby completely changing its basic meaning.

The rejection of spiritualization. The apostles and the early church fathers observed the principle of sensus plenior (Eng. plain meaning) when interpreting Scripture. They accepted that Scriptures only have one, basic meaning. During later centuries, this approach was increasingly rejected. Origen (b. 185 AD) is the father of allegorical interpretation and has written several books on this subject. He was strongly influenced by the Greek philosophy of Plato and tried to synthesise philosophy and Christian dogma. He regarded the Bible as a book full of symbols and allegorical constructions, and therefore did not interpret it literally. To him, the true meaning of the Bible was to be found in the philosophical-spiritual gnosis (knowledge of spiritual mysteries) to which each believer should advance. To him, there was no possibility of a literal kingdom of Christ on earth, neither of a personal Antichrist who will rule the world for seven years prior to the coming of Christ. The allegorical interpretation of Scripture has a very dubious origin as the Bible is not interpreted by itself but viewed in terms of a philosophical approach as an abstract book with a hidden, esoteric meaning. This approach is still perpetuated in reformed theology, since the reformers as well as their successors preferred to reject the rule of sensus plenior in order to, among others, avoid the idea of the literal restoration of Israel. Cell groups and care groups in churches are often encouraged to explore the multiple meanings that may be derived from Scriptures by spiritualising them. To each person, a verse may mean something quite different. In this way they rarely consider the basic, root meaning of a verse. Fundamentalists cannot accept this approach to the Bible. Different applications of the same truth are in order, but not completely different renderings of the same Scriptural pronouncements.

The recognition of spiritual realities. A literal form of interpretation also fully provides for the recognition of spiritual statements in the Bible. There is no truth in the claim by spiritualising theologians that only they understand the Bible spiritually while fundamentalists understand it literally, thereby denying its spiritual truths. This argument suggests that only they are spiritual and we are not. The fact is that we accept the root meaning of every verse. If the basic meaning of a particular verse is spiritual, we accept it on face value as a spiritual statement. We do not try to change Scriptures that have an obvious spiritual meaning. According to our understanding, it is not exegetical sound practice to spiritualise virtually the entire Bible, thereby robbing it of its basic meaning and thus undermining the authority of Scripture. There is no sound basis for true spirituality if you do not have an authoritative Bible.

Theological conservatism. A fundamental Christian is conservative since he is committed to interpreting and applying the message of the Bible in terms of its plain meaning. People who take the liberty of changing the basic meaning of a Scripture by way of spiritualising or allegorising it, are acting in a liberal and wilful way. They do not respect the root meaning of God’s Word and decide for themselves which other meaning(s) to attach to it. There are no limits to the self-willed exegesis of liberal theologians. Many of them take literal concepts such as heaven, hell, the devil, the Antichrist, Israel and the millennial reign of Christ, and then offer explanations which differ radically from those which the Bible give. They even go as far as denying the reality of some of these concepts. As justification for the their liberal presumptuousness they allege that the Bible was written in terms of an ancient worldview, when people still believed in dragons, the devil and hell. The modernist says that God’s revelations in the Bible were phrased in terms of primitive superstitions and uses this argument to actually rewrite the entire Bible. God will severely punish them, as stated in the last chapter of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The biblical doctrine of creation. The biblical statement that God is the Creator of everything that exists is fully accepted in evangelical circles. This belief leads to utterly rejecting the theory of evolution, which is based upon the unproven hypothesis that all life originated from a unicellular organism somewhere in a big marsh. The theory of evolution comprises a clear denial of the fact that human beings have other attributes than animals. Humans are also spiritual beings who were created in the image of God, and are therefore accountable to Him for their actions. The majority of evolutionists are agnostics since they think they have scientific evidence that God did not play any part in the origin of life. They are greatly deceived because there is no solid evidence to support their theory. No proof has been found for transitional species, in terms of which the assumption of evolutionary change to higher forms of life is made. Since creation, apes are still apes and have not evolved into something else. They are not our ancestors!

The hostile kingdom of Satan. Fundamental Christians believe in the existence of an opposing kingdom of darkness which is controlled by Satan and his demons. The Lord has prepared the lake of fire as an everlasting place of condemnation for the devil and his angels, as well as all unsaved sinners (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). Because our first parents were deceived by Satan they became sinners; consequently, we were all born with a sinful nature (Rom. 5:12). We can only be saved from the power of Satan and the destructive effects of sin by Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; 1 John 3:18). We must prevail over our sinful nature (Gal. 5:16-17) and also put on the full armour of God that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10-13). Spiritual warfare is the way to achieve victory in our personal battle against Satan. We should not use this method in unbiblical efforts to evict Satan and his demons from cities, countries, continents, or even from the entire world. During this dispensation, we are living in a world which lies under the sway of the Wicked One (Gal. 1:4; 1 John 5:19). We are engaged in a struggle against evil, and this struggle will intensify while we approach the end of this dispensation.

Dispensationalism. A literal interpretation of the Bible commits one to a dispensational exposition of God’s revealed truth. Every dispensation (or age) has its own characteristics, although it may also share certain similarities with other dispensations. Dispensational distinctions, for instance, should be taken into account in statements of faith which are based upon the crucifixion of Christ in the New Testament (NT) which obviously differ from Old Testament (OT) statements of faith. It is impossible to maintain the correct perspective if one does not consider dispensational realities. When different dispensations in God’s counsel for mankind are confused with one another, serious deception and false expectations may result. That happens when aspects of Israel’s dispensation of the law in the OT are confused with the NT dispensation of grace (the church dispensation) by promoting a legalistic form of worship. Major deception also follows when the church dispensation is equated with the future dispensation of the kingdom – that is Christ’s reign of peace on earth which will only be established after His second coming. By not clearly distinguishing between these two dispensations, the false expectation is advanced that the devil can now be bound and stripped of his power, that Christians can now take over the world and have dominion over it by ruling as kings, and that signs and wonders can proliferate as part of their show of kingdom powers. Such people are deluded and have no understanding of biblical prophecies which describe a world that progressively deteriorates during the final stage of the church dispensation (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The restoration of Israel. Fundamental Christians recognise the modern state of Israel because they believe in the literal fulfilment of the many biblical promises on the end-time restoration of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 31:3-10,20-21,31-39; Ezek. 11:17; 36:22-29; 37:21). Israel is currently in a process of returning to the land of their fathers (Gen. 13:14-15; 17:8; 26:3; 28:13). They have an undeniable biblical mandate to this land, which clearly implies that it cannot be denied to them – neither can it be divided. The two-state solution which the US and the UN are imposing on them demands the dividing of this land into two states – Israel and Palestine – but this is in direct conflict with the Bible. Severe judgements of God will come upon the Gentiles who enforced the dividing of Israel (Joel 3:1-2). The Lord not only attached His name to Israel as a people (Jer. 31:1), but also to Jerusalem as their spiritual and political capital – a status which it will fully enjoy during the Millennium after the coming of Christ (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; Isa. 2:1-4; Jer. 3:17).

Continued reformation. Serious Christians should be involved with an ongoing process of bringing the theology and practices of their church or house assembly in line with God’s Word. Bible study as well as research resources should be used to gain a deeper insight into the Word, followed by actions to implement the new knowledge. Care should be taken not to perpetuate unbiblical convictions and creeds which may have survived for a long time as church traditions, but have never been seriously investigated or challenged. Many of the reformed churches are guilty of this, and neglect to critically examine the serious errors which their church fathers have embedded in their creeds. In this way, even completely unbiblical, Roman uses and tenets have sneaked into the church of the Reformation and survived to this day. Instead of a true reformation which is a movement back to biblical principles and standards, many churches are involved with an unbiblical reformation in which the remaining evangelical beliefs in the church are uprooted and rejected. In South Africa, there is a New Reformation of this type, which is responsible for extensive theological destruction. This is not a reformation to bring the church closer to the Bible, but a deformation aimed at destroying the church’s foundations of faith. New reformers maintain that the “master-story” of Christianity is based upon the limited and often erroneous insights of the church fathers and the authors of Bible books. Through modern research, which amounts to nothing more than postmodern deconstruction and misplaced “academic reflection” they are constructing a “historical Jesus” who was not born of a virgin, who is not God, whose death on the cross has no redemptive significance, and who did not rise bodily from the grave. This “research” is done in pursuance of the Jesus Seminar in the US. To them all, the Bible is not God’s inerrant Word, but religious opinions and speculation by primitive thinkers. They also equate Christianity with the non-Christian religions. This process of religious deformation should be rejected and countered by a true reformation.

Biblical Christology. Fundamental Christians believe in the full revelation of Jesus Christ in the Bible, and proclaim it accordingly. There must be absolute clarity on His eternal self-existence, His role in the creation of the world, the equal position which he occupies as God the Son in the Trinity, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, His virgin birth during His incarnation, the full significance of His atoning death on the cross, His bodily resurrection from the dead, His ascension, His functions as Prophet, High Priest and King, as well as His revelation as King of Israel and the whole world at His second coming. Then He will rule the world in His millennial reign of peace from the throne of David in Jerusalem. His attributes should also, in a dispensational context, be correctly understood. In the church dispensation, the emphasis is on the crucified Christ who is rejected by the world, on His High Priestly role to intercede for us at the Father’s throne, and also on the special way in which He guides His disciples through the Holy Spirit, and empowers them for their commission to evangelise the world. During the millennium He will physically be on earth. Then, the emphasis will be on His role as King, and every knee will bow before Him.

Uniqueness of the Christian faith. In our relationship with the outside world we should take a strong stand on the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Nobody can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). “Nor is salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No credibility whatsoever can be given to non-Christian religions; neither can ecumenical ties be forged with them. Brotherly relations cannot even be maintained with nominal Christian churches that do not have a clear confession of salvation based upon the atoning death of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical doctrine of salvation. The Bible clearly says that the condition for salvation is repentance and the receiving of Jesus Christ by faith as our Saviour (John 1:12; Acts 16:31). Through His death on the cross, Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (Acts 17:30; 1 John 2:2). A sinner should express his faith in the crucified Lord Jesus, who, through His resurrection, also conquered death and the grave and ever lives to make intercession for us. No person can be declared justified on any other grounds, e.g. on his good works, or his baptism and confirmation (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). There is no biblical basis for the common reformed view that the Lord has chosen certain people for salvation before the foundation of the world, and that their predestination is confirmed by the covenant baptism of infants. This is the Roman-Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration. The Bible plainly and repeatedly confirms that God wants to save all people (John 3:16; Acts 17:30; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). The door of grace is open to everybody, and each person must decide whether he or she wants to enter in.

Sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit. The most important ministries of the Holy Spirit are related to conviction of sin, regeneration, empowering, teaching and comforting. Gifts such as the speaking in tongues were only meant for the transitional period, when the new dispensation of the church of Christ among all nations was established. Through this sign, the Lord indicated that the gospel message was to be preached to all nations and linguistic groups. This statement has clearly been made during the first century, and nobody has a biblical right to keep on praying for the gift of tongues. In the promise of Pentecost the Lord Jesus only mentioned the power of the Holy Spirit – not the gifts of speaking in tongues and of healing (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). We should have great sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and heed it, also when He convicts us of sin, because He never enforces Himself upon people. He can easily be grieved (Eph. 4:30), which means that such believers act outside the will of God. We should also be cautious not to ascribe strange manifestations in the physical and mental dimensions to the work of the Holy Spirit, such as slaying in the Spirit. This phenomenon usually leads to trances and bizarre, drunken behaviour such as uncontrolled laughter, incoherent speech and the making of animal noises. When testing these strange manifestations in the light of Scripture (1 John 4:1) they are clearly proven to be inauthentic and in conflict with a fundamental interpretation of Scripture.