In Part 1 of this Blog, I shared eight statements describing a fundamentalist mindset. How do these principles play out in congregational life and theological understanding? Gene Wilder offers insight into core issues that were at play in the SBC takeover. Examine these divergent understandings and reflect on how they have shaped and formed your congregational identity, theology, and practice over the years into the present.
Issues Regarding the Bible
Fundamentalist viewpoint – Biblical inerrancy
The Bible has no errors—textually, historically, or scientifically. While some error may exist in current translations, none existed in the original autographs.
Moderate viewpoint – Biblical reliability
The Bible may contain slight textual error. Whether the original autographs contained error is irrelevant since no originals exist; the point is moot. Any textual errors evident in Scripture have no effect on the spiritual truth it teaches. The Bible is reliable and is authoritative for living when applied as intended, namely, to teach us how to be in right relationship with God and in right relationship with others God created. Since the Bible’s purpose was not historical or scientific, we need not fret over coordinating biblical text with science and history.
Issues Regarding Theological Education
Fundamentalist viewpoint: Education is not a search for truth. We have the absolute, concrete truth (as defined by fundamentalists) found in the inerrant Word of God (as fundamentalists interpret it). Therefore, education is not a search for truth but smacks of indoctrination. In the end, theological education is a process of cloning, a system designed to mold students into exact replicas of those who “teach” them.
Moderate viewpoint: Moderate educators believe sincere students are life-long searchers of divine truth. They believe divine truth cannot be embodied in the collective opinion of any one group at any given time in history. As God said in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Moderate educators see themselves as facilitators not indoctrinators. For them, education is a process of examining the past while exploring the present in an attempt to unearth greater truth. The process of theological learning is more than simply studying a set of facts and doctrines. Theological education is teaching students how to think theologically, reflectively, and critically. It’s a process of equipping students to be life-long seekers of spiritual insight.
Issues Regarding the Place of Women
Fundamentalist view of women in church leadership: Women, while given gifts for service, must always be submissive to a man’s leadership because God has ordained it so in scripture. Examples: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Ephesians 5:22-24. Based on strategically selected scripture passages, fundamentalists who control the denomination’s agencies refuse to allow women to serve in pastoral leadership roles. Occasionally, conventions and associations led by fundamentalist groups oust churches that ordain women as pastors or deacons.
Moderate view of women in church leadership: God has called and continues to call people to all areas of leadership regardless their gender, race, or nationality. Passages in scripture that assign women to subservient roles simply reflect the prevailing social attitude of the day and not the will of God. Verses instructing slaves be submissive to their masters also reflect cultural and historical bias. These infrequent teachings are clarified by other passages negating gender and race requirements (see Galatians 3:27-28).
Separation of Church and State Issues
Fundamentalist viewpoint: America was founded as a Christian nation and its laws and policies should be dictated by Christian tenets. While those who espouse other religions (or no religion at all) should not be persecuted by the state, the state should give priority status to Christianity.
Moderate viewpoint: America, founded upon the ideals of religious liberty, was intended to be a country where all persons may conduct their lives according to the dictates of their conscience. To maintain that freedom, the government should do nothing to prohibit an individual or religious group from freely practicing faith as they see fit. Concurrently, government should do nothing to bestow privileged status upon any religion or attempt to establish select religious dogmas as the country’s corporate ideal.
The Impact of a Fundamentalist Viewpoint
Examining these differing perspectives gives keen insight into why there is so much misunderstanding about what it means to be a Baptist. Folks who call themselves Baptists claim these viewpoints, and some would even claim more liberal or progressive understandings.
Why bring up these issues that prompted moderate Baptists to leave the SBC and form Cooperative Baptist Fellowship? The issues are still alive and well today—especially in dually aligned congregations. Folks sitting in pews together embrace divergent understandings; they often break up into different Sunday School classes according to what they want affirmed. Diversity is a good thing, but for those who embrace a fundamentalist mindset, diversity is seen as a threat. Naturally, that shuts down conversation and even the ability to listen and discern where God wants to lead. There is always a forward trajectory to God’s kingdom as we grow in our capacity to love more and include all under the full embrace of God’s love.