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August 4, 2010

Christian Fundamentalism

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 1:00 am

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I converse and debate often with Christian Fundamentalists, usually friends of mine. Obvious, it is quite helpful to know what they believe and understand their perspective on Christianity before engaging in these conversations. This page is a culmination of notes from various sources, beginning with the first eight chapters of Karl Keeting’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Keating-1), and supplemented by Wikipedia and other sources, as well as my own experiences and observations.


Fundamentalism Defined

According to the Wikipedia article on the topic, fundamentalism broadly “refers to a belief in a strict adherence to a set of basic principles, often religious in nature,” though the word was “originally coined to describe a narrowly defined set of beliefs that developed into a movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century”. The article also notes that the term is often used in a critical or perjorative way.

History

According to Keating, the Fundamentalist movement began in the 1890s, with the earliest traces being a possible product of the Great Awakening of 1720, having no real historical link to the Protestant Reformation and no single founding event. (Keating-1, pp13,18) The Wikipedia article on Fundamentalism claims that the movement was started by Presbyterians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1900s and spread to Baptists and other denominations quickly. It also states that the term originated with the Niagara Bible Conference, held annually between 1878 and 1897.

Beliefs

Five fundamental points are shared by most, if not all, Fundamentalists:

  1. Inspired and inerrant Scripture
  2. Christ’s virgin birth
  3. Christ’s death for the atonement of sin
  4. Christ’s bodily resurrection
  5. Christ’s second coming (or the reality of his miracles, depending on the source)

The first of these five points includes the belief that the words themselves are inspired, separate from meaning, such that a “plain language” interpretation is always possible and inerrant. This effectively strips the Bible of all symbolism, and thus, many of the ties between the Old and New Testaments. This does not mean that they necessarily interpret the Bible as literal, at least not all the time (e.g. man is not literally the ‘salt of the earth’). It is unbelievable to most Fundamentalists that an informed Catholic might actually have a differing interpretation of the same Scripture, or that he might read the Bible at all. They believe that Catholics were simply raised to follow along blindly and not study or think for themselves.

Also noted by Keating, Fundamentalists don’t actually base their beliefs on the Bible, but they use the Bible to justify their beliefs. The basis for belief in Christ’s divinity is not Scripture or the teaching authority of the Church, but each individual’s conversion experience. The resulting relationship with Jesus is strictly personal. Fundamentalists also reject Church rules in general, yet seem to adhere to a strict rule base of their own. They often view the early Church as pure, yet they reject the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The idea that Christ not only received the penalty for sin, which is death, but also punishment from the Father is a Fundamentalist one.

Dispensationalism and millennialism are important discussion topics for Fundamentalists. One major difference between dispensationalism and traditional Christian thought is that it separates Christ and his Church from the Nation of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises thereto, instead of realizing that they are the fulfillment of the said promises to Israel. This should come as no surprise, given what was said about the inspiration and “plain language” interpretation of Scripture above. Likewise, since there are ardent disagreements regarding millennialism, it stands to reason that the second coming of Christ (point 5) isn’t always included in the list. While it was a mildly-popular belief in the early Church, though by no means a universal one, millennialism has since been rejected by her as evident in CCC 676.

The Niagara Bible Conference wrote a fourteen-point creed that includes various traditional Christian doctrines such as the inspiration of scripture, the trinity, the fall of man and original sin, and the redemption from sin through the death and resurrection of Christ. Since all of these points are based on Sacred Scripture, all points having references to various supporting passages, there is much truth to be found within them; however, there are several notions included that are contradictory and dangerous to the faith of a Catholic, including but not limited to explicit expressions of the once-saved-always-saved doctrine (point 7) as well as dispensationalism and premillennialism (point 14) already addressed. Point 6 is particularly deceptive. While it is true that Christ is the sole source of redemption, the implication here is that a Christian’s faith and conduct are irrelevant. The passage listed that most-directly relates to conduct is 1 Pet 1:18,19; however, this interpretation is in direct opposition to the spirit of the passage when read in context. Verse 17 tells us that the Father “judges impartially according to each one’s works”, so “conduct yourselves with reverence” not just once, but “during the time of your sojourning”, or in other words, from the time of your conversion until death. Indeed, the call to be holy begins with verse 13. The affect, if not the intent, of point 6 is to prevent the faithful from seeing the value in living life as Christ instructed, since they see only faith and not works as necessary for salvation. This is direct attack on the understanding that faith and works must occur in unison for either to bear fruit.

Being Protestants first and foremost, Fundamentalists have a very binary view of salvation: you are either saved or not. The answer to the question as to whether or not you can lose your salvation depends on the flavor of Protestantism. In constrast, the Catholic Church has always examined other faith traditions with respect to their degrees of catholicity, in other words, how close thier beliefs are to the revealed truth of God. Just an aside, it would interesting to know if the only exception to the once-saved-always-saved doctrine would be conversion to Catholicism after accepting Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior.

Literature

Tactics

Faithful Profiling Keating notes that a disproportionate number of Catholics have converted to Fundamentalist beliefs in comparison to other religions and denominations. This evidence would imply that Catholics are targeted specifically, though it is entirely possible that the lack of solid catechesis amongst the faithful also makes them easy targets as well. Through the personal accounts of others and in my own experience, I have found that Fundamentalists generally agree on one thing – it is impossible, or at least extremely rare, for a Catholic to be “saved”.

Sola Scriptura Being Protestant, it should be expected that Fundamentalists will hold fast to the Sola Scriptura doctrine. The tactic used, however, is to insist on debates based solely on Scripture. In itself, this is not a roadblock to discussion, but it is a trap. At best, differences in interpretation must be handled (and correctly at that). At worst, the Fundamentalist derails his debate opponent, and wins the debate as well as a convert. All Catholics should know that the Bible is not the sole source of Catholic doctrine, even if they cannot identify each and every topic in which it matters – though it should be noted that saying things like “well, if it’s not in the Bible then it must be in some other Church document somewhere” is not going to impress any Fundamentalist and will likely invite a barrage of accusations about how legalistic (Pharisaic) the Roman Church is.

Selective Quotation A recurring theme in Catholic apologetics is the necessity of reading Bible passages in context. When given a “proof text”, one must evaluate its meaning in relation to the story or lesson being told. Fundamentalists will often throw out phrases or single passages to make a point in an argument. If you agree with what they say (i.e. their interpretation of the passage), they automatically win the point; however, if you desagree (or even hesitate to agree), then they dismiss your point as “not scriptural” and often unleash another half-dozen passages to reinforce their position. This “soundbite” mentality must be rooted in the idea that the words themselves, regardless of meaning, are inspired. Some have suggested, as a rule-of-thumb, to read five-to-ten lines before and after the passage to get the context; however, I think it is a better idea to read the entire section, which is usually titled and may be encompass entire chapter or, more often than not, only a part thereof. This works because Fundamentalists do not read the Bible as a cohesive whole, but as a string of supporting proofs.

Oversimplification A Fundamentalist will often make a bold and authoritative-sounding statement about the Bible and/or against the Church. Such a statement may be very well-rehersed, enhanced by natural charisma, and made with confidence since this is what the person honestly believes is true. Most such statements are oversimplifications that require much more detail to address than the person is willing to discuss.

Filtering Communication with a Fundamentalist can often be simplex, and specifically, outbound only. These types do not address orthodox points, but talk over them. They are automatically perceived as orthodox, ergo errant, and dismissed. The Fundamentalist will either keep making his point as if your rebuttal never happened or switch topics to avoid losing any ground to actual theology. Sometimes, the intent is to impress onlookers and humiliate the Catholic debater by appearing to have superior knowledge or understanding of Scripture.

Anachronistic Logic The logic employed by Fundamentalists is modern and distinctly Western. This is a large factor in their interpretation of Scriptures as well as in their debate tactics. The New Testament was authored by Jews in the Middle East two millennia ago, not by Baptists in the United States two centuries ago.

Attacks on Church Wealth “Complaints about the alleged wealth of the Church are always excuses for something else.” (Keating-1, p.60)

Attacks on “Religion” Fundamentalists often view religion as a man-made, rule-based system by which man can attain his own salvation. From the simple definition of the word, from Merriam-Webster for example, it would seem obvious that Fundementalists are indeed religious; however, it seems that their main objection is that people will claim that their religion saves them (with an emphasis on its doctrines and practices) when the Fundamentalist will counter with the fact that only their faith can save them. Some Fundamentalists will not accept that religion is an outward expression of faith that, in turn, stengthens that same faith.

Greek Appeal Few Catholics know Greek and Fundamentalists capitalize on this ignorance. Matthew is often misinterpreted, since they forget that the original was actually in Aramaic, not Greek.

Influential Anti-Catholic Fundamentists

Loraine Boettner Author of Roman Catholicism, sometimes called the Anti-Catholic Sourcebook or Anti-Catholic Bible, as well as other anti-Catholic works. In writing his book, Boettner skipped all literature between the Bible and nineteenth-century anti-Catholic works. He presents a one-sided view and does not test his arguments, check his sources for errors, or properly footnote Catholic sources. He doesn’t refute Church teachings as they are, but builds a Catholic strawman based on misconceptions and burns it. He, criticizes the Church for its “inventions”, but often without explanation. He also criticizes the Church for its “unbiblical rules”, ignoring that Fundamentalism has a good share of its own, such as abstinence from alcohol. Keating cites several pages worth of Boettner’s objections and explains how each is a ridiculous claim, stating “The list could go on, but why bother?” (Keating-1, p.49)

Bart Brewer Founder of Mission to Catholics International. Brewer’s writings are based on the works of others that are often negligibly errant (e.g. Bob Jones) or of non-Christian origin (e.g. secular humanist Paul Blanshard). He published a newsletter titled The Challenger, which typically included a preaching page, conversion stories, reader correspondence, and ads for Brewer’s books and speeches. He also wrote Scriptural Truths for Roman Catholics, which is comparable in quality to Boettner’s work. Keating notes that Brewer uses several popular tactics, such as attacks on church wealth and appealing to the original Greek of the New Testament (both described above), and that his interpretations of Scripture are quite construed despite his support for the plain reading of the Bible. He also quotes, though does not give credit to, Boettner’s writings in his tracts. It is interesting to note that the Mission to Catholics International website has an article on Bishop Strossmayer’s speech of 1870, which quotes but omits certain details from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the same.

Donald F. Maconaghie Founder of the Conversion Center. Maconaghie, like his fellows, refused to play fair. An example highlighted by Keating is when Maconaghie (mis)quotes Cardinal Newman’s The Developmentof Christian Doctrine. In that work, Newman cites his own early writings that condemned the Papacy and retracts them as erroneous, but Maconaghie presented this material (a selective and embellished quotation) in his August/September 1986 newsletter as though Newman had held these same opinions as a Cardinal. Oversimplification and anachronistic logic are favorites tactic of the Center. In 10 Reasons I Am Not a Roman Catholic, several themes of the Church are explicitly called hoaxes and Bible passages are provided so that the reader can draw his own conclusions, the error being that Catholic beliefs are based on the ‘big picture’ of Salvation History, not just a few passages out of context. The ninth reason, as Keating points out, is a tactic that plays on the loyalties of American citizens who, generally speaking, do not subject themselves to foreign powers such as “a deluded Italian Prince”. In Lincoln’s Warning, the Center portays the former president as being very suspicious of the Catholic clergy and claim that he was eventually assassinated by Catholics. The Lincoln quote uses out-of-period language and the real author is believed to be Charles Chiniquy.

Bill Jackson Lecturer and founder of the well-networked Christians Evangelizing Catholics organization. Jackson and his organization focus on exploiting the ignorance of clergy and laity alike. He claims that the Church has attacked the Bible by banning it, added to it, and holding a very liberal interpretation of it. A prime target is the Catholic who knows the Bible, but cannot explain how it relates to Catholicism (i.e. little study of apologetics).

Jimmy Swaggart Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) televangelist. Swaggart is a household name and knowledge of his various scandals is common. Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism was published in 1988, the same year of Swaggart’s “I Have Sinned” confession speech, so the book doesn’t include this detail. Swaggart’s anticatholicism peaked in the mid 1980s with the publication of “A Letter to my Catholic Friends” (1983), a series of articles in “The Evangelist” (1985) and his book “Catholicism & Christianity” (1986). The first gives “reborn Catholics” reasons to leave the Church. His writings misrepresent the Church’s actual teachings and history, and he ignores the Church Fathers and other sources when explaining Catholicism. He also cannot adequately reference and footnote, possibly indicating a lack of substantive research. Keating acknowledges that Swaggart does believe what he’s been told by his sources and believes that he has been truly misled.

Keith Green Late singer/songwriter and founder of Last Days Ministries, Lindale, TX. Green’s Last Days Newsletter carried a short series called the Catholic Chronicles explaining the departure of the Church from Biblical teaching. He attacks the Eucharist (idolatry, Mithraism), the Mass (“another” sacrifice), the Catholic teaching about Salvation, and Vatican II (a PR scam). Overall, his arguments are unoriginal. He does cite Catholic sources, but then counters inline with selected Bible proof-texts.

Donald Spitz Founder of Solid Rock Ministries. Associated with the violent anti-abortion group, the Army of God.

Jack Chick Chick Publications. Chick tracts and books are (apparently, at least at one time) extremely popular. I’ve read some. There is a fine line between satire and blasphemy. They are also ridiculously fictional, which is why Keating believes Chick is worthy of mention. Chick is an effective smokescreen for more effective Fundamentalists, because he makes them look moderate (read: harmless) by comparison. Reportedly, many Fundamentalists even consider him to be extreme. Jack T. Chick is a recluse who refuses to be photographed. I find it humorous that his picture on Wikipedia is a pen drawing by Catholic Answers apologist Jimmy Akin who interviewed Chick and published the conversation in This Rock magazine. Keating also notes that Chick’s driving force was fame.

Alberto Rivera Chick Publications. Jack Chick’s partner, Rivera claimed to be a former Jesuit operative and secret bishop who was tortured by the Church. He was a conspiracy theorist, so Chick’s belief that the Vatican murdered Rivera with a poison that causes cancer (see Jimmy Akin’s interview) should come as no surprise.

Tony Alamo Tony Alamo is a tract writer/publisher who cofounded the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, renamed the Holy Alamo Christian Church, Consecrated after his wife’s death. Like Chick and Rivera, he is a sensationalist and effective smokescreen for the average anti-Catholic. He has also been convicted of various Federal crimes, and will be in prison for quite a long time.

Bob Jones Senior, Junior or III, pick one. The senior Jones founded Bob Jones University. His son by the same name called the Church a “satanic counterfeit”. This quote from Bob Jones III, taken from the Wikipedia page linked above, proves that he doesn’t actually understand what the Church does indeed teach:

All religion, including Catholicism, which teaches that salvation is by religious works or church dogma is false. Religion that makes the words of its leader, be he Pope or other, equal with the Word of God is false. Sola Scriptura. From the time of the Protestant Reformation onward, it has been understood that there is no commonality between the Bible way, which is justification by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and salvation by works, which the faithful, practicing Catholic embraces.

Doc Marquis Marquis is an author of sensationalist and conspiratorial literature similar to that of Chick, Rivera and Alamo. Besides being an avid anti-Catholic, Marquis apparently is a “insider” expert on the Illuminati. Apparently, once a “Master Witch”, Marquis was Born Again and became very vocal, earning him a page on the The Witch’s Voice website.

Samples of Anti-Catholic Literature

Included below are works of “Christian” literature that attack the Catholic Church. Some are tame and try to tastefully present the opposing view, whereas others are most vile.

Cutting Edge Ministries This ministry, found at www.cuttingedge.org and based in Lexington, SC is in the business of selling sensationalist literature, much of which authored by Doc Marquis. This article in the “news” section, titled Roman Catholic Pagan Heresy — “Eating Jesus”, expounds upon how the Catholic Church adopted the pagan doctrine of transubstantiation. With a lengthy introduction, the focus is on a work by one Rebecca Sexton titled Transubstantiation Is Witchcraft: The Catholic Priest Is Taught That He Can Command Jesus From Heaven And On To The Sacrificial Alter. [Note: I kinda wonder if the misspelling of the word “altar” wasn’t an intentional pun.] Sexton does reference a (very) few Catholic sources, but repeatedly cites Marquis’ books for “proof”. The material is so contrived, it isn’t worth the effort to address all of its points. I am quite amused, though, by the second copyright notice, which states that unauthorized use of the document “is also a violation of Jesus’s moral law.” Can’t really argue with it – stealing is stealing.


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