A Response to an Article on Christian Fundamentalism

Some thoughts about this article:

Having been a close observer and participant in the evolving Christian fundamentalist movement, I feel there are several concerns we need to address.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina. Beside the standard hymns, it was distinctly southern gospel in its music. I do not recall the word “fundamentalist” being used until I moved to an independent Baptist church in Texas. I do, however, recall the reverence that ushered in the Sunday morning worship service. About 15 minutes before the service began, the organist would play sacred hymns as people came in quietly and took their seats without conversation. As a child, I absorbed the message that this was a place and a time where the congregation as a whole met with a holy and awesome God Who made a difference in what we believed and how we lived. Even as children, we knew better than to disrupt the service with leaving to go to the bathroom, whispering, wiggling, or reading anything other than the Bible. We learned to respect this place and this time in a way reminiscent of the way the Children of Israel respected the shekinah glory of God in the tabernacle. We saw sinners saved and saints surrender. And in the small community we saw the same people that filled the altar at church live out what they believed in the way they treated others and avoided sin. I thank God for that kind of foundation that grounded me through many trials later on.

As I grew up, I encountered the world of fundamentalism. I had mistakenly thought that the people that looked holy were holy. However, one of the hardest things about growing up is that people you looked up to were not who you thought they were. They had all the holy trimmings, but inside they were hiding evil thoughts and motives that resulted in a double life. They were not changed inside. They adopted the legalistic lifestyle that allowed them prestige and power without the clean hands and pure hearts. These were the cultural fundamentalists. These were the ones who believed women should not wear pants, and that men should not have long hair. These were the ones who thought a rock beat was a sin and dance was evil. These were the ones who “beat” their wives into submission and in their greed for lust, money, and power, they gave absolute power to the bully pulpit.

These were also the ones who cheated on their wives, committed incest, and abused their children. These were the oppressors of women and children. These were the ones that made the rules without the relationships. They thought what they looked like on the outside and what they stood against won them brownie points with God, but there was no godly authenticity here. These were the ones who chased away the children and stripped their wives of dignity and respect, while they played games of one-up-man-ship with those to whom they felt superior.

Is it any wonder that the pendulum swung entirely the opposite way in the church? Is it any wonder that the young people left the legalistic church in droves? And the only way they were persuaded to reenter the doors of the church was with the party atmosphere of pizza and rock music that offered them something their fundamentalist parents and church did not; a feeling of love, belonging, and acceptance. This was an atmosphere far from the one they had left that had offered them a god that carried a big stick and conditional love.

I understand this. I have swung with the pendulum back and forth many times. The pendulum still swings a bit for me, but for different reasons. I am searching still for a place to belong, not so much in the sense of needing acceptance, but in congregational worship that brings back that sense of entering into a place and time where a holy and awesome God still makes a difference in they way people believe and live.

I am wary of pastors who forget as Charles Swindoll says, that a sermon is “not the performance of an hour, but the outflow of a life.” And this life is not one that is characterized by what you are against, but how you love.

Love. Is there anything more complicated and yet so simple? Love is involved in the way we treat others. God’s love treats people with respect and compassion. Human love treats people as objects to be used. God’s love is a holy love. Human love is feigned, flawed, and tolerant of evil. God’s love holds people accountable for their own good. Human love is about what makes people feel good.

So the search continues. While I appreciate the reasons others want the hype and excitement of the upbeat contemporary Christian rock music, I am past that. I have encountered God that makes me want to bow in His presence and acknowledge that I am nothing and He is everything. I need to meet Him on Sunday morning as I meet Him on Monday morning; as a needy sinner who can do nothing without Him. I want to be reminded that He is a majestic, marvelous, awesome God who deserves reverence and respect; one Who the angels stand before singing “holy, holy, holy,” an “immortal invisible God only wise.” We tremble in His presence and are brought into deep settled joy at the realization of His great mercy and marvelous grace. We celebrate from the heart, an inward rejoicing that displays a gladness not distracted by the pressure of how much I sway or how often I put my hands in the air so I can be pegged as spiritual.
Peer pressure meets us at every turn and in every environment, secular and sacred. When we stand before God, we stand alone, and we will give an account for the way we lived, the way we loved, and the way we worshipped.