Fundamentalists have become masters at taking one step forward followed by two steps backwards. What started out as a movement in the 19th century to stem the rising tide of evolutionary theories and modernist Biblical criticism has now mutated into reactionary subset believing it has the right to judge every piece and part of others.
Fundamentalists could go so much farther for the cause of Christ if they would follow after the path Jesus walked and start being shepherds over the flock instead of being herdsmen that seek to place a ring in the nose of congregants; attempting to lead them by the tugs and pulls of man-made rules and regulations. President Cleveland said to the department heads within the government, “Officeholders are the agents of the people, not their masters.” That statement if applied to fundamentalist leadership should read, “Ministers are the agents of the people, not their masters.”
A church historian said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Fundamentalism has followed down a precarious slope, fallen into an abyss and become the dead faith of the dead. In their zeal they elevated correct doctrine, Scripture inerrancy, separation and standards to being the indispensable conditions necessary for authentic Christianity. In doing so, many of them have overlooked communion with God and replaced it with relationships among others within their denominational subsets. Within their camps spirituality has been diminished by rigid enforcement of human doctrinal formulations supporting their movement; interpretations that supersede the Scriptures. God is not a cruel judge who demands blood before he will love and forgive. He shed His blood, His own blood that we may have the remission of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists seem more apt to shed everyone else’s blood for the furtherance of their movement.
This is not to say that fundamentalist churches have been devoid of bringing the lost to Jesus Christ; many have done a good a work in presenting the Gospel. It is only when their focus has deviated from the founding principles of fundamentalism do they miss the mark. I believe most congregants attending a fundamentalist church, or even their church leaders; have any understanding as to the original tenants of fundamentalism.
The basic elements of Fundamentalism were formulated almost exactly a century ago at the Presbyterian theological seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, by B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge, among others. What they produced became known as Princeton theology, and it appealed to conservatives who were concerned with the liberalizing trends of the Social Gospel movement, which was gaining steam at about the same time.
In 1909 the brothers Milton and Lyman Stewart, whose wealth came from the oil industry, were responsible for underwriting a series of twelve volumes entitled The Fundamentals. There were 64 contributors, including scholars such as James Orr, W. J. Erdman, H. C. G. Moule, James M. Gray, and Warfield himself, as well as Episcopalian bishops, Presbyterian ministers, Methodist evangelists, and even an Egyptologist.
The summation of those volumes can be narrowed into five key fundamental doctrines: (I) the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, (2) the deity of Christ (including his virgin birth), (3) the substitutionary atonement of his death, (4) his literal resurrection from the dead, and (5) his literal return at the Second Coming.
The continuance of fundamentalism is partly due to discipline. For all their talk about other denominations being “rule-laden,” there are perhaps no Christians who operate in a more regimented manner. Their rules, often operating outside of the Scriptures, extend not just to faith and practice, but to facets of everyday life. The oppressiveness of man-made rules has caused many to leave fundamentalist groups citing they had no time, or room, for personal endeavors; everything was centered on the church. All their friends were members; all their social activities were staged by it. Not to attend Wednesday evening services (in addition to one or two services on Sunday), not to participate in the Bible studies and youth groups, not to dress and act like everyone else in the congregation immediately place one under scrutiny; this meant being ostracized, and a silent invitation to conform or to worship elsewhere.
The errant metamorphous of fundamentalism occurred when it trended toward becoming inherently totalitarian, insofar as it sought to remake all aspects of society and government based on its ideologies. The founding principles took a backseat to political involvement. The core beliefs of fundamentalism are not focused upon Second Amendment rights, same-sex marriage issues, local, state and federal elections or personal interpretations that judge a person’s style of dress, denominational affiliation, frequency of worship, choice of Bibles, watching movies or plays, naming of children, career paths, etc. Men with personal agendas, opinions and theories have moved fundamentalism from its original Scriptural basis into groups that embrace bigotry, zealotry, militancy, extremism, and fanaticism; characteristics that are sorely lacking in Grace. Some even seek the violent overthrow of national governments and the imposition of particular forms of worship and codes of conduct that would nullify a person’s right to political self-determination, freedom of worship and personal choice.
Irony: Most Muslims insist on conformity to a code of conduct based on a literal interpretation of sacred scripture. They also insist that their beliefs encompass all aspects of life; therefore, fundamental beliefs and politics cannot be separated. Like most fundamentalists, they generally have a Manichaean (dualistic) worldview: they believe that they are engaged in a war against their evil enemies; whoever, or what; they decide those enemies to be.