Fundamentalism has its rifts and debates. It always has and always will. There are several concurrent debates within Fundamentalism. While some of these remain a constant, others are growing. Some of what occurs is ignorable as it is inconsequential. Other matters must not be ignored or downplayed as they represent bold challenges against the foundations of the movement.
One such growing rift is between what some have termed the “them” of cultural-Fundamentalism and the “us” of theological-Fundamentalism. The distinction between the two is in the realm of theological based stances to cultural issues. However, do not let the names fool you into which side accepts what. It is actually the theological-labeled element that is more accepting of current cultural norms in our churches.
There have already been several articles which have documented the serious shortcomings of the so-called ideal Fundamentalism which is touted as the Fundamentalism worth saving. (I personally believe that historic, Biblical Fundamentalism is still worth defending.) This widely proclaimed new Fundamentalism, which is not Fundamentalism at all but a re-packaged New Evangelicalism, attempts to chip away at all aspects of Biblical Fundamentalism. Sometimes it does so by casually changing previously accepted terms, meanings, and definitions. At other times it does so by openly advocating fresh perspectives to replace the old, worn out, static positions of the past. Examples of this are beginning to multiply especially in the area of Fundamentalism’s militancy and its ecclesiastical separation. However, Fundamentalism’s personal separation has not been immune from these current deft but deliberate shifts either. Though the spotlight has been on its militancy and its ecclesiastical separation, Biblical Fundamentalists need to rise to the occasion in defending the necessity of a personal separation for the believer in a time of increasing acceptance of worldly culture within our churches. Because the “theological” versus the “cultural” debate is the arena where the battles for and against Fundamentalism’s personal separation is occurring, it is a debate that must not be ignored.
As was stated previously, the line of demarcation between the self-described theological Fundamentalists and the “them’s,” that they have labeled as either cultural or atheological Fundamentalists, concerns significant difference about personal separation for the believer. Generally, a theological Fundamentalist believes that certain things previous generations of Fundamentalists declared wrong are actually not wrong at all. They arrived at such positions because they with their theological abilities and knowledge (abilities and knowledge that some have even honed at elite theological educational institutions) have not found sound Biblical evidence supporting the previous stigmas. They call those that still persist in declaring these certain things wrong as cultural Fundamentalists. The label is applied because in their view the cultural Fundamentalist has his personal separation positions founded upon certain assimilated cultural norms of the past rather than upon sound Biblical exposition.
A Biblical Case Study
Of the many divisions within the carnal church at Corinth, one provided a situation for the Apostle Paul to help them (and thereby us as well) to understand a Biblical perspective on a cultural issue that was affecting them. The situation he addressed had become a serious issue in the church because some believers knew for sure that what they were doing was not wrong based on what they knew the Scriptures taught though the other side saw it completely different. This will be a familiar passage to anyone who has sought out Biblical answers to questionable acts; however, most Bible expositors stop their exposition before Paul completes his teaching thus they end up with wrong conclusions.
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 2 And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him. 4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. 7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. – 1 Corinthians 8.
They erred first because of a pride that came from being well-learned but love-poor.
Paul begins his teaching by examining this serious matter as it was being argued and framed by those who were eating meat offered unto idols. His conclusion: they erred because of the pride that came from being well-learned but love-poor. Paul rejects the thinking that elevates one believer’s superior knowledge above another believer’s spiritual well-being. Basically, he is saying that even if it is true that meat were only meat no matter where one buys it, not everyone in the church at Corinth believed that. Eating meat offered to idols was an offense and a cause of stumbling to some.
Loving my brother in Christ is to be more important than my acting upon my “superior” knowledge whether that “superior” knowledge is about eating meat offered to idols or what music I listen to, how I dress, where I go, how I entertain myself, etc. In these matters love of others matters more than my knowledge. Superior love, not superior knowledge, is a mark of a truly spiritual believer. If Christian charity is to be the motive behind all of our acts, why are some even to this very day advancing their “superior” theological knowledge as the reason they can disregard the spiritual welfare of other believers?
In trying to help another believer understand how this would apply even in the area of musical choices, I explained to him the point that Paul is making in this passage. I said to him that even if he were right about CCM being acceptable according to the Bible, it still offended others included myself. I urged him out of love for others to discard his CCM. His terse retort revealed much, “You are not worth it.” Maybe you have never said those exact words to another believer, but have you lived for self-interest instead of the worth of others? Brethren, it is not love that causes a pastor or a Bible college president to change his church/institution’s position on music, etc knowing that some will reject it on spiritual grounds and will in the end be forced to leave and go elsewhere.
They erred secondly because they were more puffed with knowledge than possessing of it.
Here is where many make their mistake with Paul’s teaching on this subject. Too many think that he is done with it at the close of chapter 8; however, rather than changing gears in chapter 9, Paul gives a pertinent personal example about this very subject. He tells how that he had the Scriptural authority (i.e. a right) to live of the Gospel but refused to do so because he instead wanted to accomplish something more important in others. The desire to exercise his right was of less importance to him when compared to edifying others.
Then in the first part of chapter 10 Paul seamlessly weaves another example into the mix this time a negative one of what happened to the Israelites that lusted after (i.e. were unwilling to let go of) evil things. He uses that example to say what the actual Biblical position is concerning the practice of believers eating meat offered to idols. Paul’s words reveal that these “knowledgeable” ones did not know as much as they thought they did.
What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? 20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. 22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? 23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. – 1 Corinthains 10
The heart of their argument had been that the meat offered to idols was offered to nothing because theologically there is only one God. If the meat was offered to nothing, then what problem would it be for them to eat that same meat. Paul says that yes, there is only one God, but nevertheless what is being offered to idols was in essence being offered to demons. Based on that understanding of the issue, it is certain that no believer should knowingly partake of that meat and thus associate himself with evil.
Is much of today’s theological vs. cultural debate based on similar lines of arguments? Do we hear arguments that something is taboo only if it is specifically defined as intrinsically wrong by the Scriptures? Do we hear certain men emphatically telling the younger generation of believers that perceived worldly associations with any particular thing does not make that thing off limits for the Christian? Do we hear men making light of previous generations’ stands against bell-bottom jeans or small, round, wire rimed eyeglasses, etc.?
No, the Bible never explicitly says anywhere not to wear bell-bottom jeans, certain hair styles or small, round wire rimed eyeglasses, but that is not the end of the matter. When a pop-cultural figure or a particular movement adopts any such readily identifiable feature as associated with who they are, believers should always abstain. No believer should go around wearing a single, sequined, white glove unless he is more interested in being identified with an ungodly man rather than Christ! In other words, the Bible does teach that associations do matter.
Let us not be like the puffed-up, carnal Corinthians who were more desirous to live according to their self-interests than living to build up other believers in the faith.