Sunday, November 20, 2011
Part II: Why Fundamentalists Are Not "Fundamental" Enough
In my last entry, I discussed why the primitivist's philosophy is often not primitive enough. Today my focus is on the failure of evangelical fundamentalism to be truly fundamentalist, even by their own definition, and how the Church is, in the proper sense, even more fundamentalist than the fundamentalist.
It is generally argued that the Roman Catholic Church plays fast and loose with the plain words of Scripture, whereas when it comes to the Church's own traditions, she is quite dogmatic. On the other hand, the evangelical fundamentalist regards human traditions as "human traditions", while upholding the eternal words of God. However, if you observe the actual behavior of both, you just might find that the opposite is the case. And it is more than a little bit ironic that I need to admonish my Protestant brethren for their failure to take the "plain words" of Scripture more seriously.
The Protestant Reformation began under the pretext that the Church was not Biblical enough. Now if you pass by any given church you may wonder where that sentiment has gone. Instead of reading some verse from Scripture, you are more likely to read some clever (or not so clever) aphorism. As opposed to "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son...", you get "God so loved the world that he gives us flowers in the Spring". I can certainly understand the desire to give theological context to what we believe, but to reduce the Gospel to the pastor's personal "thought of the day" is not exactly what I would call Biblical. When I see some of this nonsense on a billboard, I am half-tempted to go inside the church and demand that Protestants act like Protestants and not follow their own traditions. Indeed, a Protestant in the original sense has far more in common with Catholics than this mealy-mouthed creature that has come to us in our modern age.
Another way in which fundamentalists fail to be Scriptural is in how they pray. Please show me where in Scripture it says that you are only supposed to pray extemporaneous prayers, and in what sense this is even Scriptural? Frequently, fundamentalists describe the Mass as a kind of "hocus pocus" made up Catholic ceremony. The truth is the entire Mass is Scriptural in both theme and words. We begin outside the gates of the garden of Eden with the Penitential Rite, and ascend the mount of God, culminating with the Resurrection. In between, we say the Gloria, which is an announcement of the birth of Christ (after we repent), as well as recounting Jesus' life and ministry as we are nourished on the Word of God. In fact, during the Liturgy of the Word, we begin with the Old Testament, so in essence the Mass is meant to be a kind of representation of salvation history in miniature. The sermon is obviously an attempt to make this timeless tale intelligible for us today.
In Protestant ceremonies, everything is a set up for the sermon. In other words, Scripture is not the center of the service, but rather the preacher's ability to creatively convey an interesting message. If he can't do that, the congregation will soon look for a replacement. God knows some priests cannot preach very well, but for the Catholic, a good sermon is an added bonus, not our primary motivation for going to Church.
Interestingly, the celebration of the Mass itself is another example of a Scriptural imperative essentially ignored by Protestants. Other than the general admonition to "love one another as I have loved you", Jesus commands his disciples to "do this in memory of me", hence Maundy Thursday. He doesn't tell them to preach long sermons in his name, he doesn't instruct them to sing uplifting hymns, he doesn't even tell them to read the Scriptures in his name; he tells them to "do this." Now, if a loved one feels the need to tell me as they are about to die something they want me to do, I am going to do everything in my power to accomplish it. In the same way, the Church, Sunday after Sunday, since his ascension, has done just that. Why? Because it is the plain words of Scripture. Why don't fundamentalists do the same? I would recommend you ask them.
Recently there was a study that showed that "Bible believing Christians" were just as likely (if not more so) to divorce than anyone else. I do not know if this is the case, but it does make one wonder why Protestants are so permissive about divorce. In fact, one is more likely to see the words "Divorce Care" on one of their neon billboards, than "Marriage Care" (actually I have never seen the later, whereas I have seen the former many times). Was Jesus not patently clear about divorce and remarriage? That's right- he called it adultery. Some may rightly regard it as a difficult teaching. Even Jesus himself said "this is a difficult teaching", but that doesn't mean he didn't say it. So why aren't Protestants obeying the plain words of Scripture? Some may consider the annulment process a kind of Catholic form of divorce. But even if you argue that the Catholic deceives himself in this regard, at least he is trying to deceive himself in order to uphold the Scriptures. I cannot say what the rationalization is from the Protestant end. Which brings me to my final point.
In the end, the heretic must always be a heretic even to his own position. Why? Well, because he is a heretic and fidelity is not exactly his strong suit. To be clear, when I use the word heretic, I do not mean so much the person as the position, but it is the person, after all, that holds the position. Anyhow, the reason why the evangelical fundamentalist cannot be true to his own creed is because if he were to be he just might find himself a little too close to the Catholic Church. In some cases, he will even deny reason itself if only to maintain his particular world view. Consequently, he has retreated into a kind of devotional sentimentality. Go into any Protestant bookstore, and tell me how many books on theology you see. There are none. He has gone from quoting Scriptures to quoting doctor Phil. The man who set out to uphold the Holy Scriptures is actually turning them into a glorified greeting card; the man who once called the Word of God the foundation of his life, now betrays it in the name of the very same human traditions he once condemned in Catholics.