I think most people would agree that when we hear about Christian fundamentalism, we often have images of angry street preachers or glimpses of Jerry Falwell on the television. Fundamentalism has become those people who scream and yell, condemning people to hell for not believing as they do. They attribute all the words problems to God’s judgment upon the earth because of humanity’s sinfulness.
Interestingly, this was not how fundamentalism got its beginnings. As Christian Liberalism began to spread to America from Europe, theologians began to question some of the important beliefs in the bible. Higher Criticism began to question how the bible was written and put together. It questioned whether or not Moses wrote the first five books of the bible. For some Christians, this was seen as a very dangerous thing because it was questioning the very authority of the bible that they believed in for finding faith. In 1895, a group gathered in Niagara Falls, New York and grouped together 5 fundamental beliefs that they felt had to be believed by Christians.
1. Inerrancy of Scripture
2. The Divinity of Jesus and the Virgin Birth of Jesus
3. Jesus death on the cross as a substitute for our sins
4. The physical resurrection of Jesus
5. The immanent return of Jesus
The aim of this group was to say that while we may argue over some less important issues of the faith; these five things are what have to be believed by Christians.
To be honest, I would adhere is some way to all five of the points mentioned above. I have no real issue with them. I may have some explaining to do on point one, but for the most part, I am in agreement. However, fundamentalism began to move from just the five points listed above and slowly added more “fundamentals.”
In the 1960’s, the fundamentalist camp felt that evolution was the issue that most challenged the Inerrancy of the Bible so they vigorously attacked school systems how taught Evolution. Evolution became a test to measure if someone is a real Christian. After time, fundamentalist saw themselves as being the true interpreters of the bible. This has been the case so much so for some, that they have seen themselves as carrying out divine judgment by bombing abortion clinics and protesting at the funerals of our military people when they have been killed in combat.
Westboro Baptist Church says this on their website, “Since 1955, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has taken forth the precious from the vile, and is therefore as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19).”
The question I want to begin with today is, “What would Jesus say about fundamentalism? Specifically, I want to talk about “Christian Fundamentalism.”
There were movements in Jesus’ day that we may associate with “fundamentalists” called “zealots.” This group believed much like the Pharisees, and may have even included some, that Israel should go back to living out their faith in God, be faithful to the law. Unlike the Pharisees, they went one step further in that they thought the only way to do this was to remove Rome from power by force. Several groups tried to do this, but failed. These groups led to the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
In the Sermon on the Mount, after Jesus shares the beatitudes, he says,
13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus begins by saying that we are the salt of the earth. He says that if the salt looses its saltiness, then it is cannot be made salty again and it is good for nothing except to be trampled on by men. The he says we are to be the light of the world. Instead of covering up our lamp, we are to put it onto a stand and let it shine before men.
I think Jesus used salt and light as examples because these two things were essential to life for those who were listening. Jesus was telling the disciples that they were vitally important to the lives of those around them. The disciples were to be “perseveres of life” for the people they came into contact with. If they were to loose their saltiness, they would no longer be able to provide life. If they were to hide their light, then they could not longer show the way that leads to life. The disciples were to allow others to see their good works and praise God.
Jesus tells his listeners that he has come to fulfill the law and that they too are to be doers of the law. He then says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
New Fundamentals of the Faith
I believe that Jesus, if he were speaking to fundamentals, he suggest the following
(1) Take the Bible more seriously than you take yourself: Jesus told those listeners that “not one letter will be dropped from the law or the prophets.” He also was complimentary of all those who lived out the teachings of the bible and who taught the bible.
Fundamentalism claims to take the bible seriously. They claim that every word in the bible in “inerrant.” In other words, there are no mistakes in the bible and every word is given by divine inspiration. So obviously, they do not have an issue taking the bible seriously, but I think Jesus would say that they take themselves was too seriously.
Jesus warns against acting like the bible scholars of his day. They had set themselves up as the religious authority’s policy and judging how people should behave. They used the bible like a briefcase to beat people over the head with it. They believed they were the main authority of interpreting it, thus giving themselves a false sense of importance.
I think Jesus would tell modern day fundamentalist that while he agreed that the Bible was important, they are not the only people who can correctly read it and interpret it. The bible should not be their weapon for battle, but a means for helping people fall in love with God.
(2) Right Belief Does Not Always Equal Right Behavior: Sadly we see too many people on television or maybe in churches on Sunday that say all the right words when it comes to affirming the doctrines of the church, but completely ignore the message of the person we hold these beliefs about. I am always blown away by the quote from Ghandi, “I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
In our passage this morning, Jesus asks his followers to be the salt of the earth and a city on a hill. He says that we can do this by letting our good works be seen. Notice what he doesn’t say. He does not say be the salt of the earth and a light by getting all your theology correct and then telling people they are wrong for not agreeing with you. He says that the way to be salt and light is by doing good deeds.
I think Jesus would tell fundamentalist that while they may have some theology correct, the best way they can influence culture is by showing love to others. Instead of doing things that will cause others to run from Jesus, we are to do things that draw others close to Jesus.
I want to end by suggesting a broader definition of “fundamentalism.” In this sermon thus far, I have suggested that Fundamentalist are folks that embrace only the fundamentals of the faith. Recently though, I have discovered that people on the other side of the theological spectrum can be just as fundamental in what they believe. For example, some people believe so strongly in the Pro Homosexual argument that if a person questions their stance, they are immediately judgmental and therefore, not followers of Jesus.
I want to suggest that the real issue with fundamentalism on both side of theological debate is that our strong belief often gets in the way of being the salt and the light to the people around us. We take our own opinions and positions and elevate them up so much that they place barriers around us, causing the gospel of Jesus to be missed. Even when some listen to us, the gospel is more about an agenda than it is about the good news of salvation in Jesus for the world. It becomes about being pro gay or ant gay, prochoice or prolife, evolution or creation. Instead the good news should be about making know God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ.