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Is Fundamentalism Merely A Belief In
"The Five Fundamentals"?

David W. Cloud

[The following material is from O Timothy magazine, Volume 12, Issue 5, 1995. Permission is given for free distribution of this material, but not for resale. All rights are reserved by the author. O Timothy is a monthly magazine. Annual subscription is US$20 FOR THE UNITED STATES. Send to Way of Life Literature, Bible Baptist Church, 1219 N. Harns Road, Oak Harbor, Washington 98277. Phone (360) 675-8311. FOR CANADA the subscription is $20 Canadian. Send to Bethel Baptist Church, P.O. Box 9075, London, Ontario N6E 1V0.]

Links to Topics:

1. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Admitted By Its Historians
2. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Proven By The Fact Of New Evangelicalism
3. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Acknowledged By Historic Fundamentalist Organizations And Publications


Some have concocted a position that Fundamentalism historically was not militant or separatist, but was merely a belief in "the five fundamentals." That this is a serious perversion of history is clear from the following facts.

We must note at the outset of these considerations that Fundamentalism has never been a monolithic movement. It has never had one definition only. It has taken many different forms. There have always been those who have worn the Fundamentalist label who have shied away from the heat of the battle, who have refused to obey the Word of God and separate from error. Describing Fundamentalism is like the ant describing the elephant; one's description depends somewhat upon one's perspective. Even so, to claim that Fundamentalism was NOT characterized by militancy for truth, to claim that fighting and separating have NOT been a significant aspect of historic Fundamentalism, is to fly in the face of history. It is this gross error that we set out to disprove.

1. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Admitted By Its Historians.

George Marsden gives this overview: "By the 1930s, then it became painfully clear that reform from within could not prevent the spread of modernism in major northern denominations, more and more fundamentalists began to make separation from America's major denominations an article of faith. Although most who supported fundamentalism in the 1920s still remained in their denominations, many Baptist dispensationalists and a few influential Presbyterians were demanding separatism" (Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, p. 7).

George Dollar, one of the few historians of the Fundamentalist movement to write from the standpoint of a genuine Fundamentalist, gives this definition: "Historic fundamentalism is the literal interpretation of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-biblical affirmations and attitudes" (Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America, 1973).

Dollar divides Fundamentalism into three periods. From 1875-1900 conservative leaders raised the banner against Modernism within the denominations. From 1900-1935 these struggles resulted in men leaving their denominations to form separate churches and groups. "They were the architects of ecclesiastical separation." From 1935-1983 the second generation Fundamentalists continued the battle from outside of the mainline denominations and also had the New Evangelical movement to contend with. It is plain that this historian, who has given a significant portion of his life to the examination of these matters, identifies historic Fundamentalism with earnest militancy and biblical separation.

David O. Beale, who has written one of the most thorough histories of Fundamentalism from a Fundamentalist perspective in print, gives this definition: "The essence of Fundamentalism ... is the unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures. ... The present study reveals that pre-1930 Fundamentalism was nonconformist, while post-1930 Fundamentalism has been separatist" (Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850, Bob Jones University Press, 1986, p. 5).

I give one more illustration of the definition given to Fundamentalism by its historians. Again we use a Fundamentalist author. John Ashbrook has deep roots in the Fundamentalist movement. His father, William, was brought to trial by the Presbyterian denomination because of his stand against Modernism. After his separation from Presbyterianism, William Ashbrook established an independent Fundamentalist church. He wrote one of the most incisive books on New Evangelicalism entitled Evangelicalism: The New Neutralism. The first edition of this work appeared in 1958. His son, John, after a period of toying with New Evangelicalism as a young man, became a solid Fundamentalist leader in his own right. His book New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise is, in this author's opinion, the best book in print on the subject of New Evangelicalism. In looking back over the Fundamentalist movement since the 1930s, how does John Ashbrook define Fundamentalism? Fundamentalism is the militant belief and proclamation of the basic doctrines of Christianity leading to a Scriptural separation from those who reject them (Ashbrook, Axioms of Separation, nd., p. 10).

Those today who deny the militancy and separation of historic Fundamentalism are trying to rewrite history. Instead of admitting that they are NOT old-line Fundamentalists, that indeed they have repudiated biblical Fundamentalism, have compromised the Word of God and adopted New Evangelicalism, these revisionists are trying to redefine Fundamentalism to fit their backslidden condition.

2. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Proven By The Fact Of New Evangelicalism.

If it were true that historical Fundamentalism was a mere exaltation of "the five fundamentals," the New Evangelical movement of the 1940s would have made no sense at all. New Evangelicalism has always held to "the five fundamentals." In fact, as we have seen, one of the fathers of New Evangelicalism has noted that there at least several dozen fundamentals! The keynote of New Evangelicalism was the repudiation of the separatism and other negative aspects of old-line Fundamentalism.

In his history of Fuller Theological Seminary, Reforming Fundamentalism, historian George M. Marsden makes it plain that Fuller's early leaders were consciously rejecting the negative aspects of old-line Fundamentalism. The title of Marsden's book itself is evidence of the militant character of historic Fundamentalism. It is clear to honest historians that the Fundamentalism fifty years ago was characterized by MILITANCY, by a willingness to deal with the NEGATIVES, and by SEPARATION, and it was this fact that brought about the New Evangelical movement.

Marion Reynolds, director of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association in Los Osos, California, has a rich heritage in the Fundamentalist movement. His father was an early Fundamentalist leader and Marion himself has been in the forefront of Fundamentalism for at least forty years. This man knows the true history of American Fundamentalism inside out. In replying to the charge by Jack Van Impe that today's Fundamentalist leaders have left their heritage and that Fundamentalism of old was not a militant confrontation with error but more a positive affirmation of the doctrinal heart of Christianity, Reynolds gives the following overview of Fundamentalism's history:

"(1) The first generation fundamentalists were battling unbelief in their own denominations BEFORE the liberals had gained control. Separation from disobedient brethren was not the issue as it was later to become. (2) Along with the love and appreciation the first generation fundamentalists showed to each other as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder against a common foe, there were plenty of tears, heartaches, trials, misunderstandings and disappointments as some fundamentantalists weakened in the heat of the conflict and opted for `more love' rather than continued confrontation. First generation fundamentalists fought a valiant battle but they did not labor in the `ideal situation' which Dr. Van Impe imagines it to be. (3) After some 30 years of the historic struggle between first generation fundamentalists and liberalism within the denominations, true fundamentalists, recognizing that the liberals could not be removed, obeyed the command of the Lord to `come out and be separate' (2 Cor. 6:14-18). As a result, new churches and denominations were established and fundamentalism was used of God to preserve the purity of the Word and the Gospel. (4) It was in the early 1940's that a further separation occurred and the evangelical movement was born. It was at the time that the very same spirit and attitude now being advocated by Dr. Van Impe was the moving force in the launching of the evangelical movement. From that time forward the continuing battle between fundamentalism and liberalism has been complicated by this third movement, evangelicalism, which took an in- between, compromised position. Claiming to hold to the fundamentalist position doctrinally, evangelicalism advocated a `more positive position' and a `broader fellowship.' A major issue then, as it is today, revolves around the question of how to treat brothers who walk disorderly and whether or not it constitutes `disorderliness' for a brother to remain in fellowship with those who deny the Fundamentals of the Faith. True fundamentalists believe that all brethren who fellowship with false teachers are definitely disobedient and are walking disorderly. Therefore, the command to separate from such disobedient brethren is no less important to obey than God's command to separate from false teachers" (M.H. Reynolds, Jr., "Heart Disease in Christ's Body: Fundamentalism ... Is It Sidetracked?" Los Osos: Fundamental Evangelistic Assocation, nd.).

3. That Historic Fundamentalism Was More Than The Affirmation Of "The Five Fundamentals" Is Acknowledged By Historic Fundamentalist Organizations And Publications.

Consider The Fundamentalist, published by J. Frank Norris, a powerful Fundamental Baptist leader of Texas. Independent Baptist historian George Dollar describes Norris's The Fundamentalist in this way: "The Fundamentalist alarmed and alerted ... Reading the 1920-1930 back issues of The Fundamentalist, one can almost see the smoke and hear the battle cries of those times" (Dollar, The Fight for Fundamentalism, published by the author, 1983, p. 3).

Norris's paper is representative of that entire generation of Fundamentalism in that it was a generation noted for its bold militancy for the truth.

An accurate definition of Fundamentalism was given by the World Congress of Fundamentalists, which met in 1976 in Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland:

  • A Fundamentalist is a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who--
  1. Maintains an immovable allegiance to the inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired Bible.
  2. Believes that whatever the Bible says is so.
  3. Judges all things by the Bible and is judged only by the Bible.
  4. Affirms the foundational truths of the historic Christian Faith: The doctrine of the Trinity; the incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and glorious ascension, and Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; the new birth through regeneration by the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of the saints to life eternal; the resurrection of the ungodly to final judgment and eternal death; the fellowship of the saints, who are the body of Christ.
  5. Practices fidelity to that Faith and endeavors to preach it to every creature.
  6. Exposes and separates from all ecclesiastical denial of that Faith, compromise with error, and apostasy from the Truth.
  7. Earnestly contends for the Faith once delivered.

The World Congress of Fundamentalists summarized their definition in this way: "Fundamentalism is militant orthodoxy set on fire with soulwinning zeal."

As we noted at the beginning of this study, many varying definitions of Fundamentalism have been given through the years, and the truth of the matter is that Fundamentalism has taken a great variety of forms. As a movement it has been largely interdenominational, yet many independent, separatist churches, such as independent Baptists and independent Bible churches, have accepted the label. Regardless of this variety, though, one of the chief hallmarks of Fundamentalism--its very essence, if you will--has always been a MILITANCY for the Faith of the Word of God. Anyone who is not truly militant in standing for the Truth has no title to biblical Fundamentalism.

We close with the words of G. Archer Weniger, who showed the fallicy of the view that Fundamentalism is merely a concern for "the five fundamentals"--

"The five fundamentals have only to do with the Presbyterian aspect of the struggle with modernism. ... The bulk of Fundamentalism, especially the Baptists of every stripe who composed the majority by far, never accepted the five fundamentals alone. The World's Christian Fundamentals Association, founded in 1919, had at least a dozen main doctrines highlighted. The same was true of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, which originated in 1920. A true Fundamentalist would under no circumstances restrict his doctrinal position to five fundamentals. Even Dr. Carl F.H.

Henry, a New Evangelical theologian, listed at least several dozen doctrines essential to the Faith. The only advantage of reducing the Faith down to five is to make possible a wider inclusion of religionists, who might be way off in heresy on other specific doctrines. It is much easier to have large numbers of adherents with the lowest common denominator in doctrine" (G. Archer Weniger, quoted in Calvary Contender, April 15, 1994).

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