Evangelical conservatives, like myself, have no problem affirming the fundamentals of the faith. However, where we part with Fundamentalism is in our differing views on the tertiary issues that are non-essentials of the Christian faith. John Piper, in his book Contending for the Faith, gives us a glimpse into the life of Dr. Gresham Machen. Machen was often hailed as a hero by the Fundamentalists of his day because he insisted on " defending the great doctrines" that had come under attack by liberals by "vigorously defending the truth."
However, Machen did not like being called a "Fundamentalist." Listen to his own words:
"Do you suppose that I do regret my being called by a term that I greatly dislike, a "Fundamentalist?" Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a great common foe (liberalism), I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God."(Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, p. 337).
John Piper gives seven reasons why Machen never spoke of himself as a Fundamentalist. To Dr. Machen, Fundamentalism meant. . .
(1). The absence of historical perspective;
(2). The lack of appreciation of scholarship;
(3). The substitution of brief, skeletal creeds for the historic confessions;
(4). The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine;
(5). The pietistic, perfectionist tendencies (i.e., hang-ups with smoking, drinking alchohol, etc . . );
(6). One-sided otherworldliness (i.e., a lack of effort to transform the culture), and,
(7). A penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: premillennialism).
Recently I received the following letter from a pastor of an Independent Baptist Church who has applied to be a missionary. He has given me permission to use the letter. This pastor and missionary candidate has brilliantly and practically articulated what Machen feared intellectually. I have highlighted some of the pastor's key points (in bold print).
Brother Wade Burleson,
I want to thank you for your thoughtful and honest blog of June 2006 on the use of alcohol. I resigned the pastorate of an Independent Baptist Church because of the Lord’s clear direction to pursue a missions calling. I went on deputation but want to clarify that I am not strongly opposed to the SBC system or the IB system, though I do see problems in the implementation of them both. Of course, I’m best acquainted with the problems in the IB system. The mechanical clumsiness is something I can manage (though its difficult to see something so broken go on without repair), but a different issue seems to be testing my patience nearly to its end. Worse, my conscience is completely in turmoil over it.
I am a conservative Baptist. My convictions about the scripture are that they are so holy that we must not subjugate them to our prejudices or second hand judgments. Surely, I have been guilty of this in my life, but I dread it almost more than anything else. I have dear friends who love me and fellowship with me though we may not agree on every point or every practice. I think they are somewhat open minded, but mostly, they are loving. However, the overall mood of Independent Baptists is one in which intolerance and intellectual dishonesty about issues like this one with alcohol, or eschatology, or missionary methods, or the textual issue, etc. are so pervasive that those who are willing to explore these matters biblically tend to keep silence while a herd mentality – which I believe is motivated by pride and perpetuated by fear – demands complete conformity on things that really need to be openly discussed and considered. The result is that our expression of religion is getting contorted. You know all of this, I’m sure.
Because I have made friends over the years who graciously respect my work and calling and because I practice some diplomacy and happen to hold the ‘right’ positions on the issues that come up in preliminary communications, I’ve been able to schedule meetings in churches without much trouble. But here and there I am confronted with these kinds of issues. The conventional wisdom is that I should just keep my mouth shut, raise my support, and get to the field so I can do whatever I have to do there. It makes sense and I’m willing to defer for the cause of the gospel. On the other hand, I’m the kind of guy who works in a team and believes in networking in order to maximize the impact for the world evangelization. I also believe in being pretty transparent. Furthermore, in the IB system, missionaries are somehow expected to represent each and every church and the secondary issues are often more important than the fundamental truths of the faith. On top of that, though the sending organization I’m part of knows my demeanor and respects it, I don’t really know if they can take the heat if my views become widely known. Actually, I’m pretty sure they can’t.
To cut to the chase, I feel like I’m in position where I would have to sell out my convictions for support and I really just will not do that.
Please forgive this overly lengthy email. I just want to thank you for your courageous stand. I never buckled on these kinds of things when I was a pastor, though I was sensitive to how much truth people could handle in a sitting. By the grace of God, I endeavored to preach all and only what the Bible taught and was learning more about how to do that year by year. Now my mind is constantly weighing the great need for the gospel in the field I am called to against the need for it to be delivered with integrity. I love my friends and would not want to offend them or discourage them. But if I don’t deal with this correctly, I will only forestall the offense and create organizational difficulties. Your blog article was an encouragement to me as were so many positive comments made by others. They represent the testimony of countless sincere believers who treasure God’s Word above their personal preferences or cultural traditions. It’s refreshing.
Your Brother in Christ
My prayer is that we who are evangelical Christians, and associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, might continue to love and respect our Independent Fundamentalist Baptist brethren, but gently resist the tendencies of Fundamentalism that are contrary to the spirit and a tenor of Christ and the history of our convention.
In His Grace,