Saturday, November 19, 2011
Why Fundamentalists are not fundamental enough...
It seems to me that among Evangelical Protestants there is a competition when it comes to naming their church. What they are trying to do is to come up with a name that sounds more primitive than their competitor. For example, there is the “First Church of the Nazarene”, or the “Baptist” church. Indeed, there are some, in great nominalist fashion, who ignore their own church’s affiliation, and refer to themselves simply as “Bible believing Christians.” I thought we were supposed to be Christ believing Christians, but I digress. The idea follows the same logic as the consumer market, which is to present a product that seems to be the most original or antique. My complaint is not that these individuals (many of whom are genuinely devout) are being primitivists— the complaint I lodge is that they are not being primitive enough. If the goal is to go back further and further why not declare yourself the Church of the Big Bang or the Church of the Land Before Time. Do not tarry with such figures as John the Baptist, but rather go straight to the heart of the matter. If you really want to get primitive, why not begin with the Prime Mover. I am not trying to make a mockery of evangelical fundamentalists; what I am trying to point out is that when it comes to the fundamental position of our separated brethren, what they attribute to themselves is actually more attributable to Catholics.
First, we need to define terms. A fundamentalist is generally one who claims to take the Bible at face value; one that wants to get back to the church as Christ intended it. Therefore, they say, simply looking to the Bible is the best way to do it. However, if they really wanted to return to the early Christian community, they would be operating with no “Bible” at all. As recounted by the Book of Acts, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Notice that the last thing that they were said to have done is to “devote themselves to the prayers,” not simply to prayer itself. This implies that there were already formal prayers that they were obliged to say. What is notably absent is any mention of Scriptures. Why? Because apostolic teachings were already in a certain sense the Scriptures. Let us not be idolaters of even the Good Book, for it is the content, not merely the words, that make it holy. To put it another way, the early Church didn’t read the Bible because there was no Bible… with the exception of the Hebrew Scriptures; which brings me to my second point.
If evangelical fundamentalists are so bent on making the Bible their modus operandi, then why do they spend so little time with the original Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament)? Indeed, the only time they speak about it is when they are discussing, either the end of the world, or when they relate it to some moral or ethical issue of today. This reductionistic approach to the Hebrew Scriptures turns a dynamic history into a defanged parable. The Church’approach is far more fundamental and interesting. The events of the Old Testament, from her point of view, are meant to foreshadow in a most dramatic fashion, the coming of Jesus Christ. Yet it is not enough to say that it is mere symbolism, rather it is a symbolism that makes sense out of all that Christ accomplished. What does the Last supper mean without an understanding of the Passover? What does our “baptism into death” mean without the Great Flood, or that miraculous escape at sea? What does the change of Simon’s Peter name mean apart from the story of Abram? And what about those primitives known simply as Adam and Eve? Can we even begin to rejoice over the wedding feast of Revelation, without a proper understanding of that original debacle? In order to be true “angels of the good news,” we must first know why it is so good in the first place; otherwise what can it even mean to ask the question; “Are you saved?”
In my next entry, I will discuss, how fundamentalists fail to be fundamentalistic even as it relates to the New Testament. I will also attempt to show how the Church takes the Scriptures more seriously than do “Bible believing Christians”.