Why am I So Hard on Christian Fundamentalists?

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No dancing

No dancing (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)

I agree with most of what Christian Fundamentalism accepts–the virgin birth of Christ, the incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the resurrection and judgment of all people at Christ‘s second coming. I am pro-life on the abortion issue (even in cases of rape or incest the act is objectively morally wrong). I believe that premarital sex and any kind of homosexual activity is sinful. It would seem that Fundamentalists should be blood brothers. Yet some of my posts have been rather “outspoken” against Fundamentalism, to the point that I offended some old friends of mine. I owe them–and anyone who reads this blog–an explanation.

It is true that I largely agree with Fundamentalist positions. I think it is far better to be part of most Fundamentalist Christian Churches than to be part of a liberal Protestant body such as the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). However, Fundamentalism harms Christianity because the unfounded positions of many Fundamentalists, the rabid legalism and Puritanism of some Fundamentalist groups, and the extreme ignorance of some Fundamentalist Christians drive people away from the Gospel of Christ.

One example is the Fundamentalist belief in the strict inerrancy of Scripture, even in historical and scientific matters. All I would have to do to discount that view is to have students read two different Gospel accounts of the Limited Commission, one in which Christ exhorts His disciples to take a staff, and the other in which he exhorts them to take no staff. I could also point out that Genesis 1-11 is modified from earlier Babylonian accounts of the creation and flood and reflects the ancient world view of a flat earth, a solid firmanent in the sky with holes for the sun, moon, and stars, and an underworld wherein dwell the shades of the dead. The Bible is not absent of theological error–no Christian should emulate the attitude of the psalmist in Psalm 137, who says, “Happy is he who takes your little ones [i.e., babies and children] and dashes them against the rock.” Holy Scripture is inerrant in all matters necessary to our salvation–but there is no theological requirement for a stronger doctrine of inerrancy.

Young-earth creationism is a view held by some Fundamentalists–the view that the earth is several thousand years old and the Great Flood made most of the fossils and geological formations we see today. As I have noted before in this blog, this position does not fit the facts, such as the difference between flood-based deposits of sediment and sediment laid out over a long period of time. Although there are concerns with how some scientists interpret evolution, evolution as such is not contrary to Christian faith. A young person who is brought up on young earth creationism as the only proper way to interpret Genesis may lose his faith when confronted with the actual evidence.

Puritanism is a part of some Fundamentalist groups. Some forbid dancing, not realizing that there is a difference between the lewd, simulated sex in dance today and the traditional forms of dancing. The same groups allow kissing but not “necking” or “petting,” apparently oblivious to how much a kiss can turn on people. Where I went to school, dancing was banned, so many students engaged in horizontal “dancing” in the dorms. Such hypocrisy is inevitably the result of legalistic moralizing.

Forbidding consumption of alcohol ignores the fact that Jesus drank wine (no, dear Fundys, it was not grape juice–it was wine and one could get drunk on it) and that drinking in moderation is not unhealthy. Some people should not drink alcoholic beverages, not because it is wrong in itself, but because they have a propensity not to stop drinking once they start. For others, however, there is nothing wrong with moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages.

A more serious problem is the acceptance of Dispensational Premillenialism by many Fundamentalists. This had led Christian Fundamentalists to support Israel blindly and to be warmongers, especially if the war involves fighting nations they perceive to be a threat to Israel. Some of the most rabid voices hankering for war with Iran have been from Christian Fundamentalists. They ignore the symbolic nature of the 1000-year reign (10x10x10, a perfect number symbolizing the fullness of time) of Christ, and locate that reign in a literal Jerusalem. Such a view of God’s kingdom was rejected by Jesus Himself (“my kingdom is not of this world). It ignores the fact that the Book of Revelation was written to be understood by its original readers, who would have known that the opponent of God in that book is the Roman Empire that was persecuting Christians.

Fundamentalists are often consumed with fascination about Satan, demons, and hell, to the point that every teenager wearing a trench coat and listening to heavy metal music is a violent threat to others. Fundys fear difference of any kind instead of using practical reason to determine which differences are worthy of negative judgment and which ones are not. The Robin Hood Hills murder suspects who were wrongfully convicted (the “West Memphis Three“) of murdering young cub scouts were convicted by ignorant Fundamentalists who saw Satanism everywhere. Damien Echols had a name that reminded them of the movie, “The Omen,’ and Fundys were too stupid to realize that Echols was referring to Father Damien when he changed his name. His use of the name was to honor the great priest who labored among lepers and eventually died of the disease himself. I listen to heavy metal music (and to classical, jazz, bluegrass, anything but rap, hip-hop, and most contemporary country). I enjoy Iron Maiden, Pantera, Rob Zombie, Anthrax, Zao, and Yog Suggoth. Does that make me a Satanist? Some Fundys would think so–and they would be dead wrong. It is sad that Echols states in his autobiography that the behavior of Christian Fundamentalists in getting him wrongly convicted turned him against Christianity–even so, he has a rosary and engages in some Christian spiritual disciplines. How many people who otherwise would have become active, loving, and orthodox Christians have been driven off by the extremism of Fundamentalism? God only knows, but those guilty of driving others away from the faith will answer for it.

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On Being Reared in the Churches of Christ

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Church of Christ at Wedderburn, Victoria

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How would you react if you left the only home you had known, found a new home, knew it was better, yet part of you longed to go back? Those are my thoughts as I look back on being reared in the Churches of Christ. This church came out of the nineteenth century Restoration Movement, a Christian movement that spawned three churches: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which I was a member three years after leaving Churches of Christ; the Independent Christian Churches, and the Churches of Christ. Churches of Christ are noted for their belief in believer’s baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the Lord’s Supper being celebrated every Sunday, and not using instrumental music in worship. None of these beliefs are unique in the Christian community. Primitive Baptists sing a capella, as do some Reformed Churches and some Eastern Orthodox Churches. Believer’s baptism is shared with Baptists, Anabaptists, and with the Independent Christian churches. Baptism for the remission of sins and having the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is shared with the Independent Christian Churches, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and some Anglicans. Lutherans and some high church Calvinists also have the Lord’s supper every Sunday.

What is different about Churches of Christ is their belief (at least in the majority of churches today and in almost all when I was a child) that they are the restored New Testament Church. They considered the New Testament to be a pattern to follow as a rulebook for doctrine and practice. Since they believed that obedience to the precepts of the New Testament was necessary for salvation, and since they included the beliefs mentioned above (including a capella music in worship), they held that all churches who did not accept the entire “New Testament pattern” were lost. Although if you asked a preacher to his face if he thought Baptists, Methodists, and all other “denominational” people were going to hell, he would say, “Well, you realize God is the ultimate judge,” which really means, “Yes.” When my Grandpa Potts, who was Southern Baptist, died in 1977, I was afraid he would go to hell. I prayed God would make an exception..

“The Church,” as many members called it (at funerals Church of Christ members might ask one another about the deceased, “Was he a member of the Church?”) believed that works play a role in salvation and not faith alone. I have no problem with this as long as it is understood that works are not works of merit and we do not earn our salvation. But Churches of Christ tended to be so legalistic that I wondered if I had done enough works, and I agonized over my many sins (“many” is true–I may have been a goody-goody for the most part in school, but at home I had a tongue like a sailor and still do sometimes). When I was twelve I thought I’d committed the unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and I was going to hell. As a teenager I tried to be more traditional than the traditionalists and was totally rigid in my legalistic output. It was not a spiritually healthy situation.

After three years at David Lipscomb College (now University) and three years at Harding Graduate School of Religion, I was convinced that pattern theology was incorrect. I found that my beliefs did not square with  Churches of Christ, and I was too honest to remain in them. So I joined the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After three years there, I found them way too theologically liberal, and I have been a member of the Anglican Catholic Church since 1989. Ironically, the ACC believes in both baptism for the remission of sins (although they also believe in infant baptism) and in having the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist) every Sunday. Thus, if I argue with Baptists over the nature of baptism, I use the old arguments I learned in the Churches of Christ in favor of baptism being for the remission of sins. I have had fundamentalist Baptists tell me I am going to hell for believing that.

The Churches of Christ have changed a great deal, at least among large urban churches. Between the bubble-headed “praise and worship” services they have adopted and the traces of theological liberalism among some Churches of Christ scholars, I prefer the old-fashioned Churches of Christ, legalism and all. I love singing the old gospel hymns, even if they are about our feelings about God rather than about God. I love the simplicity of the service which has its own kind of beauty. I love the logical reasoning preachers use which was a refreshing difference from the emotional Baptists and Pentecostals. Churches of Christ may have begun with the wrong premisses, but their rationalism is part of me to this day. It is one reason I am a philosopher. Churches of Christ accept the key teaching of Christianity such as the Trinity, the full divinity and humanity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the Virgin Birth. They are also sharply anti-Calvinistic, which I believe is a good thing. To this day, not only do I believe Calvinism to be theologically wrong, but I believe its conception of God to be evil. It is a system I personally loathe, and I believe part of that loathing came from my background in the Churches of Christ.

I am not bitter toward the Churches of Christ. I visit my aunt’s church in Tennessee when I return there to visit my parents. I believe that members of the Churches of Christ who are faithful to Christ will go to heaven–they might just be surprised at whom else they see.