Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Fundamentalism to Reformed Baptist Theology - My Journey: Part 1

Greetings once again, earthlings.

Yes, I have returned from a hiatus of several months, this time to give my personal testimony from the past few years and how it is that God, by His grace, led me from hyper-fundamentalism to Reformed Baptist theology.  I know that there are some of you who are still in fundamentalist circles, so my blog is not intended to offend any of you, nor am I directing any attacks at particular groups in this case.  I am simply sharing my story and how God has led me to the place I am currently in.  I pray that the Lord will use my story to do four things:

1. Encourage those who have left fundamentalism or some other form of legalism.  You are not alone in your journey.  Others have trod those paths before you and understand what you are going through.

2. Encourage those who were never part of those corners of the Church, but are blessed by the testimonies of those of us who were, and to help others identify those aspects of Christianity which are legalistic and border on being cultish.

3. Warn those who are still part of fundamentalism or legalism, and to encourage them to think critically about what they believe and why they believe it.  Encourage them to engage with other believers of different denominational backgrounds, read and study the writings of their Baptist forefathers, and challenge themselves with the Scripture to prove their doctrinal and philosophical positions.  To adopt the motto in our thinking, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."

4. To bring glory to God alone and His Son Jesus Christ, through whom all of these things have come to pass, by His immutable will and foreknowledge. Soli Deo Gloria!

Part 1

The beginning of my story starts the same as most who grew up in a Christian home in North America: going to Sunday School, Junior church and Vacation Bible School from the time I can remember, hearing the Gospel taught and preached every week, memorizing Scripture, and all the other things that go with growing up in an evangelical Baptist church in the 1970s.  I was 10 years old (a little older than most who grow in these types of circumstances) before I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.  I was baptized by immersion a month later by my pastor, and became the youngest member of my church a year later.

When I was twelve, a missionary who had served in Papau New Guinea during the 50s and 60s came and preached at our church. It was at this time that I gave my life to the Lord to serve Him in ministry.  Several things happened in my family's life at this time that would have a profound impact on me for the next two decades.  The most important event that follows my journey is that my parents left the Baptist church I had grown up attending.  This is the church where I was saved and baptized, where most of my friends and their families attended, in short, the church family that I associated everything that I knew about Christianity. I am not judging my parents on their decision, because they certainly had legitimate concerns with the direction the church was taking (which played out many years later and justified their concerns), however, we took a different direction in the type of church we began attending.  The church I had grown up in was a typical evangelical Baptist church, and was not much different than what you might find in the conservative evangelical churches today.  When we switched churches, we moved to a whole different spectrum of Christianity known as Fundamentalism.  

At this point, I will give a brief description of Fundamentalism and a comparison with the church I grew up in. Independent Fundamental Baptists (hereafter referred to as IFB) trace their heritage to the great doctrinal battles of the first two decades of the 20th Century between orthodox Christians and the liberals who denied many of the fundamentals of Christianity, including things like the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the vicarious atonement of the death of Christ, the literal resurrection of Christ, and so-on.  A group of those who defended the faith against these heretics came to be known as fundamentalists.  They were not confined to one denomination, but over the years the most predominant denomination which became associated with fundamentalism were the Baptists.  This group became known for its very strict, hard-line separatist stand against any kind of compromise on what they viewed as the "fundamentals".  The problem with this was that, as with any movement, the group was dominated by a few big personalities who foisted their own particular views on certain things they viewed as being "fundamental", but not necessarily Scriptural.  This is not to say that there were many good men within the movement ( I know some of you don't like that label, but that's what it is, historically!) who were trying to do what they believed was right and stand for truth.  However, the opinions and agendas of a few men with big ministries often overshadow the views of less-prominent men with smaller ministries, and the "success" of bigger ministries is seen as the blessing of God upon a man and his ministry-philosophy.  Thus, his opinions and views are spread throughout the movement because he is seen as having more insight, or Holy Spirit-power, or wisdom that others ought to pay attention to.

IFB churches today are mainly characterized by several things: an adherence to the King James Version of the Bible as the only Bible in English (there are several variations to this position as well); a strict dispensational interpretation of eschatology (the study of the end-times), particularly a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-millenial position of the return of Christ; strict standards of dress, especially on ladies, mainly as a dresses and skirts-only, no pants allowed at any time philosophy; and a very strict separatist stand from any group who does not adhere to these standards.  This was very different from the Baptist church I had attended growing up.  We used the KJV, but we also used the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New International Version (NIV).  Every lady I knew, including my mom, wore pants (though not usually to church).  We associated with other evangelical denominations, so separation was from the world, not other Christians.  (A couple of things at this point for those of you who have little or no background in some of these theological terms I am using: I will try to keep them to a minimum, or I will offer to give definitions as clearly and concisely as I can in footnotes or links to articles that give definitions. For the rest of you, I know that I am generalizing somewhat in my characterization of IFB churches, but it is a huge topic on its own.  I am trying to streamline as much as possible to keep the story moving and interesting, without getting bogged down in the finer details.)

To continue with the story, when we entered the IFB world, it was completely different from anything we had experienced before.  It was like I had left earth and gone to another planet.  Looking back these many years later, I still experience feelings of bewilderment at having been wrenched from my evangelical world into what really is a sub-culture of Christianity that is very detached from reality.  But, being young and impressionable, it didn't take me long to absorb the teachings and philosophies of this movement, and to begin to espouse them myself and distance myself from others who didn't view these things the same way I now did.  Over my teen years, we bounced to a couple of different IFB churches in Southern Ontario, never really getting very close with anyone or getting too heavily involved in the ministries of these churches.  I continued to attend, but spiritually I began to drift  and my heart was more in tune with the world than God's will for my life.

I close this part of the story with the end of my high school years.  I was gifted as a teacher and in music, and thought that perhaps I would be a music teacher.  I also love history, and even thought of a double-major in music and history.  I had not forgotten my call to ministry, but it was far from my mind and I had many other things that were clamouring for my attention and affections. Because we had left behind most of my Christian friends in my childhood church, and since I attended a public school, most of my friends were from my school and were unsaved and unchurched, and this affected me as well. They were great people, but they did not share my faith, and were therefore unable to help me in my Christian walk.  I was longing for a place to really belong, and Christian people who shared my faith, a place where I could really grow and serve the Lord.  But I was also a worldly young man, and as the Scripture says in James 1:8, "He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."  This describes the end of my teen years perfectly.

To be continued........

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