Drifting Down the River

I began my educational career at Wheaton College in the happy days before new evangelicalism. One of the favorite dates for upper-class men was to take their girl friends to St. Charles, Illinois and go canoing on the Fox River. One of the campus leaders became famous on such a date. He paddled his lady up the river on a spring afternoon, pulled in the paddle, and lazily enjoyed good conversation. Unaware of the slow current, he and his lady love were suddenly awakened when they went over the dam. They became folk heroes on campus.

Ineluctable Drift
I was reminded of that incident when I read a paragraph in the May, 2004 issue of the Calvary Contender. The paper quoted John Leo from the U. S. News and World Report who wrote: “Many advocacy groups start out straight, then drift ineluctably left.” [I had to look up ‘ineluctable.’ It means, ‘not to be resisted by struggling; not to be overcome.’] He also said, “Call this ‘mission creep.’ A group starts out with a clear mandate that commands respect across most of the political spectrum. Gradually it moves to a broader and vaguer agenda, typically headed left.” Leo calls this, “O’Sullivan’s First Law,” after a former National Review editor who said: “All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing.”

The thesis of this article is: Unless a church, school, or movement is militant in its teaching of biblical separation it will inevitably drift toward new evangelicalism.

The teaching of biblical separation lies at the heart of fundamentalism. It simply teaches that it is wrong for believer and unbeliever to be united in spiritual work. The corollary is that it is also wrong to be united with the believer who unites with those who disobey. That doctrine is taught with clarity by the “Be not unequally yoked,” “Come out from among them,” “be ye separate,” and “touch not the unclean thing,” of II Corinthians 6. It is reinforced by the “not to keep company,” of I Corinthians 5:11, the “from such withdraw thyself,” of I Timothy 6:5, the “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly’ of II Thessalonians 3:6, and the “avoid them” of Romans 16:17.

On the other hand, new evangelicalism has adopted a different set of words to describe its relationship to unbelief. It has chosen to “stay in,” “associate,” “infiltrate,” and “dialogue.” The difference between the two sets of words is simply that one set is scriptural. The other set is the figment of human reasoning. However, human reasoning is popular with humans; and, on that basis, new evangelicalism has become the reigning philosophy of nominal Christianity in America.

A Philosophy of Cooperation
Dr. Harold J. Ockenga, who spoke as the father of new evangelicalism, declared that the three founding principles of the “ism” would be to: (1) repudiate separatism; (2) give a summons to social involvement; and, (3) engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It has done what it said that it would. If I had to define what new evangelicalism has become in our religious culture I would say: New evangelicalism is a philosophy of cooperation which allows men to cooperate with men and things from which they should scripturally separate.

The idea of dialogue has become the hallmark of new evangelicalism. When Martin Luther stood before the German Diet and was commanded to recant his writings he said: “Here I stand; I can do no other; so help me God; Amen.” New evangelicalism never speaks that way. It seems to have no unforsakeable convictions. When faced with ecumenical cooperation, rock music, worldliness, holy worship, or the importance of preaching, it says, “Let’s dialogue about it.” When believer and unbeliever compromise their views it is only the believer who has ground to give.

The river of sinful human nature consistently flows toward compromise. Satan always pushes that strategy. He habitually attacks leaders taking a stand and glorifies those busy at compromise. Unless any church, school, or movement, is militant in its teaching of biblical separation it will inevitably drift toward new evangelicalism.

Silent Fundamentalism
As a young man, just out of seminary, I joined the Independent Fundamental Churches of America. I found happy fellowship there. In 1959 I was elected to the National Executive Committee. I began my three-year term under a new president. He was a godly man. I believe that he sincerely believed in the fundamental position. However, he led the group on a new tack. His thesis was that the Fellowship had been too militant. The official Magazine, The Voice, took a militant position. It carried biblical articles on separation, news stories about the apostasy, and the testimonies of men and churches which had recently left the modernistic denominations. The featured speakers at the national conventions were men with separatist convictions. The new policy for the group was that it would continue to be fundamentalist, but that it would cease talking about it all the time. We would be silent fundamentalists. Under the policy of silent fundamentalism the crusading articles were removed from the magazine. With the cutting edge removed from the flagship organ, the door was opened to independent men who were not separatists, but who desired a place to hold independent ministerial credentials. Under the policy of silent fundamentalism the group moved into a type of silent new evangelism.

It is my conviction, illustrated by that experience, that a church, school, mission, or fellowship, cannot maintain a position without crusading for it. I observe that many churches, schools, missions, and fellowships try to maintain their fundamental heritage by giving lip service the word “fundamental” in their name or constitution without crusading for that position in their preaching, proclamations, and policies.

Young men attend schools bearing the name, “fundamental,” and graduate to found churches, join missions, and associate with movements which are new evangelical. Somehow their schools failed to communicate the foundation of fundamentalism, failed to warn them about the nature and peril of new evangelicalism, and neglected to give them the direction which would produce convinced fundamentalists.

The New Evangelical Hatchet
The founding fathers of new evangelicalism, while professing the virtue of love, did a hatchet job on the early fundamentalists which exists until today. They pictured the heroes of fundamentalism as bitter, vindictive, contentious men, guilty of many abuses. That fabrication is still serving Satan. Many who claim to be fundamentalists are continually apologizing for their forebears. Those men had witnessed their happy denominations plundered by the dishonesty of modernism. The early modernists denied every foundation of the Christian faith and yet they called themselves Christian. They mocked the Bible and humanized the Savior. What were godly men to do? It was time to fight for their faith and they did. It was a time to fight heresy and heretics and speak for the truth of the Bible and the deity of Christ. The battle for the faith was not a time for mild words.

It was my privilege to know some of those early fundamentalists. I was a boy. They were men. They sat at our table and talked with my father. Merrill T. McPherson, Harold S. Laird, Robert T. Ketcham, J. Oliver Buswell, Carl McIntire, and Charles Woodbridge are some whom I remember. They were not loose cannon. They were godly men fighting for right. All men are but men. In the heat of battle they spoke heatedly. However, I could quote just as many rash statements from the mouths of the new evangelicals who designed the accusations against the fundamentalists. Humanity is not limited to fundamentalists. When we apologize for those early fundamentalists we are apologizing for the heroes of the battle to save our faith. It is like Americans slandering George Washington. Without them there would have been no fundamentalist movement. When fundamentalists slander those early heroes it means that they have bought into the unjust slurs of new evangelicalism. Satan has always launched fierce attacks on God’s leaders who were going the right way. Luther, Calvin, and Knox were vilified for the simple fact that they were fighting the Lord’s battle.

The Fruits of New Evangelicalism
Think what the dialogue of new evangelicalism has brought forth. Billy Graham dialogued with modernism about evangelism and produced what we know as ecumenical evangelism. What was lost in that dialogue? The doctrine of a pure church was dialogued away.

New evangelical musicians dialogued with rock musicians about music and produced what we call Christian rock and contemporary Christian music. What was lost in that dialogue? The holy psalms and hymns which had taught the church for centuries were dialogued away.

New evangelicalism dialogued with Hollywood about the movies. Bible-believers had always known that the movies were a dangerous part of the world which would educate the church to worldliness. Movies became acceptable to the church and Christianity Today started a movie column. What was lost in that dialogue? Hollywood became an accepted instructor in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. A fence that protected the morals of youth was torn down. That protection was dialogued away.

More recently, the founders of the seeker sensitive churches have dialogued with the world about what it would like to have in the church. What was lost in that dialogue? Preaching, holy music, preaching against sin in particular, appropriate dress in the Lord’s house, and reverence were dialogued away.

New evangelicalism has debated the subject of worship. Worship has always been men seeking to do what pleased God. Now, contemporary worship has espoused what pleases man. What was dialogued away? The idea of humble people bowing before a holy God was eliminated from worship. It was dialogued away.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” These are the fruits of new evangelicalism.

The Drift
But, let us move back to the subject of fundamentalism. In the last fifty years thousands of fundamental churches have moved into the camp of new evangelicalism. I know of no churches which have moved from new evangelicalism to fundamentalism. Thousands of people from fundamental churches have moved to other cities and settled into new evangelical churches without a pang of conscience. Hundreds of young men have graduated from nominal fundamental institutions and have become snarled in the web of new evangelicalism. Likewise, young missionary candidates have joined new evangelical missions with no sense of the right questions to ask about their potential association. Fundamentalist institutions have educated the servants of new evangelicalism.

Our Churches
Why is this inconsistency tragically true? Unless a church, school, or movement is militant in its teaching of biblical separation it will inevitably drift toward new evangelicalism. Our churches and schools have assumed that, since we call ourselves fundamental, we will continue to be that way. A fundamental church has the responsibility of training a congregation to stand for fundamentalism. The preaching must produce a clear understanding of scriptural separation. The people must understand fundamentalism and the unscriptural heresy of new evangelicalism. The church must use literature, programs, and missions which are fundamental. The people must understand why the church makes the choices it does. New evangelical books, literature, and programs produce new evangelicals. That is what they are designed to do and they work. Don’t sell them. Don’t use them. Don’t participate in them. The fundamental church must names and identify new evangelism nationally and in its own community.

Our Schools
What about our schools? Most of the schools which we fundamentalists use were founded by outspoken fundamentalists. However, most of these schools today are not nearly as fundamental as their founders. They may use that time-honored statement, “We stand where we have always stood,” but it is not nearly as obvious. The new evangelicals opine that fundamentalists are against education. That is another new evangelical lie. Our fundamentalist forefathers were great starters of schools. Even most of the schools of which the new evangelicals boast were started by fundamentalists in days gone by.

The purpose of a fundamental school ought to be to produce fundamentalists to serve in all the disciplines of life. It should be the aim of the fundamental schools which produce pastors, missionaries and Christian workers to produce fundamentalist leaders. If that is the aim of a fundamental institution, then it must have an academic program, a chapel program, and a spiritual life program which will lead to that end. Its program must not only explain fundamentalism but generate a love for it. Its program must explain the peril of new evangelicalism and identify its men and movements. Is it too much to expect fundamental schools to turn out students with an understanding of fundamentalism and a love of its heritage? Should not pastors who recommend schools, and parents who patronize them, insist on such an outcome?

I have watched many college publicity films. Most seem to be aimed at the shallow things which young people love – great sports, lots of fun, good food, and many friends. Should it not be the aim of fundamental Christian institutions to produce graduates with great convictions?

Ineluctably Left?
The boater who ignores the current of the river will suddenly go over the dam. Fundamentalism in America seems to lie peacefully in that boat. It is drifting ineluctably left to new evangelicalism. Unless a church, school, or movement, is militant in its teaching of biblical separation it will inevitably drift toward new evangelicalism.

May/June 2004


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