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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Did We Get Here? Part 2

Yesterday I gave a brief definition of “Fundamentalism.” To give a better idea of what this looks like, here are a few well known Fundamentalists:

Dr. Jerry Falwell
Jerry Vines
Pat Robertson (yes, you can be weird and insensitive but still be a fundamentalist)
Dr. James Dobson
Dr. Charles Stanley
Chuck Swindoll
John McArthur
Jim Bakker
Chuck Smith

These are a few but they are recognizable. If you are familiar with these men, you are familiar with Fundamentalism.

You know who and what a Fundamentalist is. What is a “Fundie?”

A Fundie is the preacher in “Footloose.”
Fundies embrace a particularly legalistic and stifling version of the Gospel. Where Fundamentalists embrace Biblical principles, and not individual actions as “righteous,” Fundies do the opposite. For example, the Bible is crystal clear about being drunk. Drunkenness is absolutely a sin, no question. Fundamentalists will largely abstain from alcohol, but will admit that the Biblical mandate is against being drunk, not merely taking one sip of alcohol. (There is some disagreement about this, but it’s not something that divides) They will observe and practice the Biblical principle of modest dress, but will not define modesty as an absolute, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the believers heart.
The will go to decent movies to show Hollywood that we support good in any art-form.
They believe in having unsaved friends, and living lives that witness to the power of Jesus Christ, but not being prudes and attacking the unsaved for being so darned...unsaved.
The Fundie does none of this.
Fundies believe that even letting a drop of alcohol touch your lips is the same sin as being a drunken lout, lying in your own puke in a gutter.
Fundies believe that almost all clothing is “worldly”. Worldly is a non-specific, undefined criterion that basically means the Pastor and his deacons don’t approve of it, but they can’t find a specific Biblical principle to support them.
Movies...they’re worldly. So they are all evil.
Women wearing pants? Worldly.
Bono? He’s no Christian...he’s too worldly, regardless of his amazing life of Christ- likeness.
They decide that a man’s hair must be a certain length. They dislike all contemporary forms of worship music and go one step further...they find things about contemporary worship that they dislike and call them sin.
They demand rigid adherence to an ever changing, ever increasing list of rules and regulations.
Under all of this...they are trapped on a performance treadmill. They never quite understood that Jesus was wildly in love with them and chose to die for them as they are. So they spend their lives making up for the horror of the cross by self-flagellating,  by placing themselves under the bondage of ever tightening rules and regulations and bylaws. They preach that you can’t earn your salvation. Then they spend their entire lives trying to earn it anyway.
They saw the target, but wound up shooting themselves, and each other, instead.
They hide their insecurities and –sadly- their personal demons and wickedness behind a thin veneer of self-defined righteousness. Most of them have been hiding evil in their hearts that is greater, by far, than the evil they preached against.
Some famous Fundies would be:
Jack Hyles. Hyles probably retired the crown. There was never a Fundie so Fundie as this clown. He shackled thousands of congregants while he was having an affair with his married secretary for decades. He ruled like a tyrant and made up extra-biblical rules like a despot.
Jack Schaap. Son in Law to the guy mentioned above. Doing 15 years for raping a minor he was “counseling”. He took her across state lines to do it, so it was a Federal offense.
Bob Jones. Separate sidewalks for men and women? No explanation needed
These are the  big three. There are a lot of lesser lights in Fundie-ism but these three guys lead the charge. All three are out of the pulpit now.

So...I gave you a brief explanation of Fundamentalism and Fundie-ism. You see the contrasts. Here’s what they have to do with each other. And how it got us to this sad state of affairs in modern Evangelical life.

I grew up in the grip of Fundie-ism. My then-church came to it late. The first several years I attended, it was a wonderful place. Friendly, loving, caring, very Fundamentalist, but not Fundie. Then 1979 came. An itinerant evangelist came along and began preaching a very harsh, burdensome, legalism. The worst part was he tied it all together with “if you love’ll do...” and then he pronounced his list of do’s and don’ts that defined Christianity. They weren’t options. They were mandates. If you disagreed with his teachings (which were all the result of his personal convictions, matched to random Bible verses, taken drastically out of context) you were rebellious. And rebellion, he reminded us, was the same as the sin of witchcraft.
He divided a heretofore loving and familial church. After he left, rules dominated the scene. It became necessary to “prove” your love for God. It was a quantitative thing. If I loved God, I would read my Bible as much as I watched TV. Because I should never love TV more, and you show God your love for Him by the amount of time you spend in His word. Well that was good. But what was better was the people who decided that if they watched one hour of TV a night, they had to read TWO hours of the Bible. (An adult, reading at a ninth grade level, can read the entire Bible in 80 hours...just so you know)
Then it became the trend to simply throw your TV out the door. TV was evil. Not TV shows...TV. Rock records were evil too and so we burned them regularly. I myself burned the same ones many times.
Girls who loved Jesus wore skirts to their knee. But girls who REALLY loved Jesus wore them THREE inches below the knee. Girls who Really REALLY loved Jesus wore floor length dresses. It was a constant contest and the stakes were high. The last thing you wanted was to be labeled as someone who didn’t demonstrate your love for Jesus by the ever increasing strictness of your lifestyle.
What it really did was redefine God’s love for us. It turns out it wasn’t unconditional. It turns out it wasn’t the gift of God and not due to my performance. Sure they still preached that...but they demonstrated a very earned, works related, legalistic salvation. If you really were saved, you’d live your life like this...”
It damaged a generation to it’s core. I grew up waiting daily for God to drop his other shoe. I was a teenaged boy. I had lustful thoughts about a variety of girls from the checker in the grocery store, to Cheryl Tiegs on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I loved music...loved it. Not just Christian music. I cursed once in a while.
I spent my entire teen years in a perpetual state of repentance, because I just couldn’t out-live the endless rules and regulations. They never taught us how to think...they taught us what to think. I wrestled with a God who I felt could never love me, because I could never be good enough. But that never stopped me from trying. I worried that one day I’d be killed in a car crash or a lightening strike because I was so evil. In my heart I loved God deeply. But I was also in dread fear of Him. I literally would pause in fear before taking communion, because the thoughts of a random, stray sin that I’d somehow missed in my ritual of repentance, might render me unworthy and I might keel over dead during the service.
It wasn’t just my church. Fundie-ism was rampant. It was everywhere. It dominated the scene in the 70’s and 80’s. It ruined millions of lives. It ruined a generation.
The pendulum had swung so far to the right that it was threatening to jump off the rail.
The problem is, the pendulum always swings back. And it did in Evangelical circles. When it did what it usually does: It overcorrected and swung too far.

We’ll pick it up there tomorrow. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Fundamentals. A Brief Series...

Hey gang,
I am beginning a brief series here. Maybe five or six articles in all. But it will explain a lot. A lot about where I am heading next in life. So I hope you'll keep up with this and in the end you'll know what the future holds for your's truly.

Today's installment is called "How did we get here?"

Last week I wrote an article about “Airbag Christianity.”  In it, I outlined several points of contention I have with modern evangelicals and what passes as sermons in mega churches in this country.
Today I want to dig a little deeper. Turn over some dirt and find some answers.
Like, where did we go wrong?
I am 50 years old. I was raised in an Independent Baptist Church. It was a community church to begin with. It was a great place to belong, attend, and grow up in. Until about 1979 when Fundie-ism took over.
Fundie-ism is Fundamentalism’s bastard cousin. It’s twisted, evil, alter-ego. what is Fundamentalism? There are a lot of definitions of this, but we’ll use mine.
*Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is inerrant. We believe that it’s inspired. That man wrote it, but only wrote what was dictated to them by the Holy Spirit. This was spiced a little by their personalities, but the content, context, and principles are straight from God. We believe this entirely. I believe this. The Bible is our basis for truth and the True North of our spiritual compass.
*Fundamentalists believe that men are all lost. All of them. Now some Fundamentalists are Reformed or Calvinists, and so they believe that “Total Depravity” is something more than I believe it is. They believe that man is entirely corrupt and nothing good exists within him at all. They believe this renders him entirely unable to ever choose salvation in Christ on his own. This is a big deal and a hot-button topic, but for here and now it doesn't matter. Both sides, reformed and not reformed can be Fundamentalists.
Personally...I don’t side with them on this. I believe that since each of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and a creation of God Himself, a tiny spark of Him remains in us. I see Total Depravity as something different in this way: I am totally depraved as compared to God Himself. I can be as good as I want to be but it will never be good enough. So my depravity...whether massive or total when compared to the Holiness of God. And since He is the only standard of measure, that’s what counts. But I maintain that each of us has something of Him in us and that is why there are more “good” people on earth than bad. (Although that number seems to be tipping in the wrong direction) If we didn't have a smidgen of God in us, we would throw off all restraint. There would be chaos, we would break speed limits, pillage, rape, curse at old ladies, and cheat at cards. But we don’t for the most part, because we still are God’s creation. Something good lives in us. That’s why I believe that when faced with a choice to join in life with Christ and find that thing for which we long...we usually say yes.
Enough about that.
*Fundamentalists believe that Jesus is God. Jesus is the only begotten son of God, but He is also God himself. “Begotten” here doesn't mean “begotten” like you and I use it. Jesus wasn't the product of a sex act. Jesus existed for eternity. He existed before he became a man in the flesh. He always was. He always will be. Begotten is used to show He wasn't created. Jesus was not created. He is not the result of anything. He is not the result of any creative action of God.
*We believe in the Holy Spirit. He also always was. He always will be. Differences exist about what His role is on earth among believers. But we all agree He is our Comforter. He is our Guide into truth. He is here to convict people about their sin and the need for a savior. That much all Fundamentalists agree upon.
*We believe salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing more. No good works, no donations to the church poor box, no prayers to Saints. Just Jesus and nothing else.
*We believe that Jesus physically died, was buried and physically rose form the dead. Just like that.
*We believe that his death was the substitution for ours. That he died to pay for the sin of man. That his death was the one I deserved but He took it for me and if I believe in him, and accept what he did on my behalf, I am saved.
*We believe that He is physically coming to take his church away one day soon. Some call this “the Rapture”
*We believe that Jesus will one day destroy the earth and set up a new Kingdom on a new earth and this Kingdom will be eternal.
*We believe in a literal, physical, eternal Hell. We believe this fate awaits EVERY man and only those who accept Jesus death as substitutionary will avoid going there.
There is a lot more to Fundamentalism, but these are the...uuhh...fundamentals.
This matters because it sets the stage for the next article I will write, where I explain where we went off the rails and how that effected the pendulum swing of neo-evangelicals.

So study this tonight and get familiar with it. Tomorrow there’ll be more.