As many Christian churches employ more and more syncretistic tendencies, absorbing popular culture faster than a Kalihari-based sponge absorbs H2O, fundamentalism remains a holdout. For this they should be thanked.
If only it were that simple. Simple being the key word.
The Gospel is simple. “Yes” and “No” are simple. “Black” and “White” are simple. However, basic math does not mean that the Gospel is simply “Yes” and “No”, “Black” and “White.” That system was tried and found to be unable to save; it was called the Law.
Still, that is what much of fundamentalism offers: a “Christianized” Law. It is a religion based on what one does, not who one knows intimately. In many ways it is centered on Man, not God.
I’ve sat in the seats of some large fundamentalist churches. The characteristic that primarily comes across is the pride of being other. “Everyone else is succumbing to the world, but not us” seems to be the mantra. Even the hymns often reflect a peculiar arrogance of not being like everyone else. Strangely, very little talk of God can exist. I sat through a “message” at one of the largest churches of this type in the country that at no time discussed the Gospel. The pastor merely told how one church after another was becoming worldly, but not their church. Am I the only Christian who finds it odd that the one Person missing from that message, Jesus Christ, is the whole reason for having a church in the first place?
The problem with all this is that while it is easy to say “only we are doing it right,” self-aggrandizement does not make that statement true. Jesus’ opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, shared that perception—and we know how they turned out.
The Spirit of Christ was given to move us beyond the Law. The full gospel tells us that we cannot save ourselves; apart from the Holy Spirit, we are not in Christ. We can memorize every verse in the Bible and expound them for decades and the emptiness in our own hearts still betrays us. Hell is filled with theologians. Nor does repetition of a set of spiritualized activities constitute a living, vital relationship with an infinite God. In the end, what alone is eternal life? Knowing Christ.
We are like sheep, and most people have a faulty desire to be told what to do, to have life condensed into an easy to follow list that can be checked off. However, God gives His Spirit in order that we no longer need an external set of rules in order to live – it is far harder to live according to the Spirit than by a checklist, yet that is what God asks of us. If we succumb to a Christianity that merely says “Don’t!” then we fall into the trap described in Colossians 2:13-23:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:”Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
If we make Christianity nothing more than a set of rules, we have stripped God of His sovereignty in our lives. This is idolatry: a god of our own making.
And there are more problems that go beyond simple legalism. Fundamentalists love to quote Galatians 1:8-9. It’s a proof text used whenever fundamentalist preachers disagree with a theology being espoused by another Christian group:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
There’s only one problem with this. By the very standards they hold, they are preaching another Gospel. Why? Because most fundamentalist churches are cessationist, believing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit typically claimed by charismatics (see 1 Cor. 12) are no longer for today, having stopped when the canon of Scripture was completed. Any casual perusal of the New Testament shows the gospel being associated with the blind receiving their sight, the deaf their hearing, the lame walking, the dead being raised and such. The Book of Acts records these power encounters in detail with the Gospel (chapter 3 being especially apt). Paul wraps these miraculous gifts up in everything he preached as gospel truth.
Paul warns that in the last days people would come who called themselves Christians, acted like it, too, but denied the power of God (2 Tim. 3:5). The Strong’s Concordance leaves no hedging on the word for “power”, stating that this power is not mere power, but the very miracle working power of God. I contend that this power is no different than the power of God behind the gifts in 1 Cor. 12. Therefore, to claim that that power is no longer for today is to deny it altogether.
If fundamentalist churches are not preaching healing the blind by the gift of healing, if they do not tell the people in the pews that the miraculous power of God can work through them via the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aren’t they preaching another gospel, one devoid of power? They appear to be guilty of the very failure they claim for other theologies.
The Christian Church at the beginning of the new millennium needs more than legalism and cessationism. Life everlasting requires that we live by the Spirit or perish. And as much as the fundamental churches have championed adherence to the Scriptures, that is only one part of our life of faith and not its entirety.