American fundamentalism is facing a growing conflict within its own ranks over its traditional practice of separation from liberal and evangelical churches.
Fundamentalists, as represented by such denominations as the Baptist Bible Fellowship and Bob Jones University, have traditionally stressed that any association with “liberals” and more moderate evangelicals violates biblical teachings. Even such a strongly conservative body as the Southern Baptist Convention (from which most fundamentalist groups have split off) is viewed as influenced by liberalism and theological compromise.
But now three major fundamentalist groups are under attack by fellow fundamentalists over such issues as using contemporary worship and associating with the SBC Baptists. The fundamentalist Sword of the Lord newspaper (Sept. 27) targets the Baptist Bible Fellowship, the Southwide Baptist Fellowship and the World Baptist Fellowship (which amounts to all the prominent Baptist fundamentalist networks or denominations) for “compromising their platforms,” by inviting Southern Baptists to their meetings, including SBC President Jerry Vines, and for allowing contemporary worship in its meetings (which would include the use of contemporary music written by evangelicals and charismatics rather than strictly traditional hymns).
The move of BBF pastor Jerry Falwell into close association with the SBC several years ago was interpreted by some as blurring the lines between evangelicals and fundamentalists. It now appears that Falwell’s move reflects the attitudes of other fundamentalists desiring to leave behind their isolation from other conservative Christians and to reach out to the unchurched through contemporary methods.
The editorial concludes that the “`contemporary’ philosophy weakens everything we hold dear. The [SBC] Convention has a track record of compromise that does not commend itself to us. Our independent, fundamental crowd needs to stay clean and clear of both.”
(Sword of the Lord, P.O. Box 1099, Murfreesboro, TN 37133-1099; http://www.swordofthelord.com)