What is a Fundamentalist?
by Missionary David Cox (c) 2003
Definition of a Fundamentalist – It seems everybody has their own definition of what is a Fundamentalist, and what is Fundamentalism, so here is yet another, my definition. “Fundamentalism is the view that there are essential doctrines of the Christian faith which one must hold to firmly or else he compromises the very essence of what defines us as Christians.”
Isn’t everything the Bible teaches “fundamental”? No. The idea that everything the Bible teaches is equal in importance is simply not so. God has priorities, and in these priorities, there is a big difference between being a Christian with some confusion on minor points, and “missing the boat completely” because you have not held to the essence of Christianity. The Jewish rulers obviously were very strict in their observance of what God had given them as instructions, but in their implementation, they obviously missed the most obvious point of all, a personal relationship with the Messiah. We must understand and acknowledge that there are degrees of revelation about different matters.
Black and White Issues: God has made some issues very clear (“black and white”) by simply saying, “thus saith the Lord, thou shalt …” or “thou shalt not ….” For example, lying, murder, fornication, adultery, etc, all fall in the realm of having a very clear definition about them by God. They are unilaterally sin. That is not to say that there are not details that can get confusing. (Murder for example is different from capital punishment or taking a life in a war or battle situation which is a different word in Hebrew.)
Guiding Principles: But God has not chosen to define every possibility and situation in life, and to give us a commentary on it all as to what to do. Many things God has simply given us general principles which are to guide us, help us, and give us direction as far as what is wrong and right in God’s eyes. Much of this relies on understanding the character of God and with whom we deal with. This topics are often lacking in many churches and preaching in our day. A clear understanding of the holiness of God, His mercy, faithfulness, grace, longsuffering, way of working, etc., helps us understand what to do in any given situation even though we do not direct revelation about it. An example of this is what about different foods. In the Old Testament they were forbidden to eat pork. (The Old Testament Law was God giving a people in a certain time and culture the general principles and their applications in their situation and for their time.)
In the New Testament, God rescinded that prohibition, teaching all foods are to be accepted providing they are first blessed and God is thanked for that food. The point is not very clear, but apparently eating pork (an unclean animal) was designed by God to teach the Israel’s to live different from the rest of the pagans around them. Living in the conditions of the day, most probably there entered in a degree of concern about pork (with no refrigeration) causing sickness (the eternal principle is that our body is the temple of God and therefore we should not do things to damage it), and the other principle of separation from pagan cultures and practices.
Convictions: A biblical conviction is something that is not a straight teaching of Scripture, but rather a derived or deduced conclusion based on biblical principles and one’s own experiences and life view. It is incorrect and confusing to equate every Bible teaching with being a “conviction”. For example, a person who has had problems with smoking or drinking in the past, but now is a Christian, may very well have a conviction that he will not enter a restaurant that has any smoking or that serves any alcoholic beverages. These are convictions. They are not clearly stated in the Scriptures, but there are principles in play that the individual takes and makes deductions.
Paul makes gives an example of a personal conviction in 1 Corinthians 8 when he deals with meats offered to an idol. The point that Paul is making to the Corinthians is that their personal conviction about not eating meats offered to idols is flawed. First of all, there is no such thing as an idol. They are all creations of men and demons. Idols do not really exist. There is only one God, and that is the true and living God. While the unsaved do not have this knowledge, every Christian should understand this. So their conviction (the reasoning behind it) is simply based on a false premise.
Secondly, Paul says those with the stronger (more restrictive and rigid) standards is the “weaker brother”. The point here is that it is not wrong to make personal convictions, this is what God wants us to do.
But we must understand that there are degrees or levels to all of this. First, what God has clearly said. Second, there are very clear deductions from these general principles of God (applications). And third, there are deductions that are not quite so firm. These we must allow our Christian brethren to differ with us without accusing them of heresy or cutting fellowship with them. There is to be room for differences in other words.
Major on the majors, minor on the minors. It is extremely unfortunate that in our modern world, and in the realm of Christianity, nobody seems to have any balance, nor can anyone distinguish between the essentials of the Christian faith, the important matters, and the minor matters. Preachers regularly “preach to death” their own personal views of what should be personal convictions. Nothing wrong with expressing them and the biblical principles and reasoning behind them, but a lot wrong with equating anyone taking a different view from their view as a heretic, not being a Christian, or as being divisive or Satanic.
So this brings us to the million dollar question, What are the Fundamentals of the Faith? Well, we are not quite there yet. Before discussing the Fundamentals of the Faith, we must have some framework for deciding what is and what is not a Fundamental of the Faith. We cannot discuss this without establishing some kind of legitimate criteria for deciding what is and is not a Fundamental.
We can define a fundamental as an essential doctrine that is at the core of Christianity. These fundamentals are not things which good, godly people differ on in general, but rather they are things which fallen with most godly ministers holding to one position, and liberal, ungodly, and cults holding to the opposite.
A fundamental then is most definitely the key or core issues in salvation, which are salvation only by Jesus Christ, by believing (no works) in his work on the cross. Other key concepts are the inspiration of God’s Word, because when you remove that, you cannot have confidence in anything, i.e. the Word of God would cease to be authoratitive. Another issue is the person of God, i.e. that God exists, he is holy, he is one, God exists as a trinity, etc. These issues define God, and the things that define God’s nature or morality is very important.
Another issue related to salvation is the definiteness of the events of salvation, such as the need (man’s sinfulness), Christ’s coming to earth, dying, resurrection, and return for the redeemed.
Criteria for defining a Fundamental of the Faith
by Missionary David Cox (c)
When we seek criteria for a Fundamental of the Faith, we must have something that would defend “our” definition of that Fundamental. The criteria then is that a Fundamental must be something so essential, that there can be no variation without losing the essence of Christianity.
Some people want to include a particular hair style, or clothing standard, or version of the Bible as a Fundamental of the Faith, and we must resist this. A Fundamental is something that is essential both everywhere and in every culture (and language), and also is something that is essential across time, both in New Testament times and the present time.
Although this is a broad definition, it is also narrow in a sense. Missing a Fundamental of the Faith must be equivalent of “gutting Christianity of its essence”. Moreover, we must understand that within any one doctrine or point, this can be expanded to overlap dozens of other doctrines. Although the deity of Christ may be developed to include dozens of conclusions and other points about the deity of Christ, not all of those “other points” necessarily are essentials or Fundamentals.
THAT PERTAINING TO OUR SALVATION
So, the first and foremost criteria for the Fundamentals is that of pertaining to our salvation. Whereas many doctrines and points can be made in the Scriptures, the ones which affect salvation are the most essential. In the case of cults and false religions, they claim to have the same Jesus as the Bible, but for example in redefining Jesus to not be God, they remove the essential point of what saves. It is Jesus’ deity that makes His death propitious for others. We will elaborate on these on the next page. We would defend the importance of salvation issues in being a Fundamental because that is what separates us from so many religious groups. We simply are dealing with “apples and oranges” when we mix real Christians with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, Catholics, etc. The difference is very obvious. The point that we do and should view them as needing our Savior instead of seeing them as brethren is very important.
Apparently salvation is very important to God, because God arranged the situation as He deemed fit (He could have made things different if He wanted to), and God wanted us to understand how important salvation is to Him, so He arranged that salvation could only come through the death of His only begotten Son. This is a teaching that every parent will easily understand, and find very painful to even consider what if they had to pay such a price. God arranged this salvation to COST GOD DEARLY! It is because it is important to God.
THAT PERTAINING TO GOD, HIS CHARACTER
Beyond that which pertains to salvation, we can also include another key point, things pertaining to God, specifically the character of God. We cannot understand salvation without delving into the character and personality of God which is behind the motivation of the Savior. For example, without understanding the Holiness of God (His repulsion and absolute non-tolerance and hatred of sin, or not doing His will), we cannot understand why God just doesn’t let sinners into heaven even though they are sinful. Once we grasp this, we understand why separation is a Fundamental of the Faith. Without understanding the love of God, we cannot understand the price God gave, or why He even provided a way of being saved in the first place. When we consider that God is faithful and true (truthful in His expressions, words, declarations, promises, etc) to us, then we understand why inspiration is a Fundamental of the Faith. It is a reflection of His character.
These elements that reflect into the very essence of God and His nature and character are also key to our being saved and having the very essence of Christianity.
THAT WHICH IS CONSTANTLY ATTACKED BY SATAN
Although we should not be influenced by Satan so much, we also need to recognize that Christianity (viewed through the centuries) has responded significantly to Satan’s continued attacks on certain key doctrinal points. These may fall into either of the two above, but we also recognize these fights by the faithful against Satan’s attacks and heresy.